VRBO’s presence and success is growing dramatically. What is VRBO? VRBO is www.vrbo.com or vacation rentals by owner online. The website is a relatively no frills but highly effective portal for over 90,000 vacation homes available for rent worldwide. In the past 15 years many websites were incubated to link resort property owners and their potential renters. One very successful one started right here in Mammoth. But VRBO appears to heading towards becoming the granddaddy. Many owners and renters utilize more than one site, but VRBO is rising to be the primary choice.
In Mammoth, owners of condos and homes go about offering their properties for rent. The owners pay VRBO a fee to advertise their properties including a photo gallery, extensive description of the features and benefits, rental rates, availability calendars, etc. Potential renters get to view and compare properties and emails and phone calls are often exchanged. Negotiations can occur based on conditions (not likely for prime times.) The potential renters get scrutinized by the property owners (one of the favorite aspects for many owners.) And there is no management cut like with a major reservation company (35% to 55% in most cases.)
It’s not for everybody. But it is becoming increasingly and incredibly popular for owners and renters. Owners typically collect the rents as well as security deposits and a cleaning fee prior to the stay. Many newcomers to the program emulate the style and systems of existing, successful owners (each market, like Mammoth, has different issues.) And a whole new level of industry is evolving and growing in Mammoth to serve the needs of owners and renters. Beyond the basic absentee homeowner services and snow removal, a specialty menu of “concierge” services is available to suit the needs of owners and renters––from daily housekeeping to mints on the pillows to pet services.
Part of the popularity of VRBO is driven by simple economics. Owners of vacation homes are looking for more net cash flow and are willing to be part of the process to earn it. Even negotiating rates during the “off season” periods can produce solid revenue––sometimes renting for weeks or months at a time. The renter is taking advantage of the process and benefiting economically too. The system even allows owners of properties to trade times in their resort properties. And email is a superior enabler in the process.
All of this stirs up the old debate of nightly (transient) rentals in single-family homes here in Mammoth. When the Town incorporated in 1984, the ordinance prohibiting nightly rentals in the single-family neighborhoods was rapidly put in place. This is very unlike many (most) mountain resort communities where freestanding homes are prized rentals and large bed tax generators. (The Town of Mammoth runs on bed tax.) The Town knows all of this is going on and is certainly in a quandary. Policing and enforcing this activity is an enormous task. On the other hand, what municipality doesn’t want tax revenue––especially the kind they don’t have to share with anyone else? And some of the local bureaucrats still remember all the Town staff layoffs and downsizing of the 1990’s.
So can the community continue to miss this economic opportunity? One of the problems is that second homeowners don’t get to vote in local elections. And some owners feel they have “legal” ways around the ordinance. Recently, someone forwarded me a copy of a letter from a law firm in Jacksonville, Florida that was sent to the City Attorney for Sedona, Arizona. Apparently, this law firm has successfully overturned a similar ordinance in the City of Key West and are joining in the fight of a similarly proposed ordinance in Sedona. They claim that they have been successful in proving that these types of ordinances are “constitutionally defective.” They assert that such an ordinance violates the property rights laid out in the Constitution.
The convergence of demand for greater cash flow in Mammoth properties, the desire for increased Town bed tax revenues, and the growing popularity (and usage) of the Internet and websites like VRBO, is likely to bring this debate to a head. There is no doubt the renting consumer loves renting single-family homes. Or maybe the Town will just leave the second-home owning and renting attorneys alone and we’ll just continue to muddle through. Stay tuned. I think this is on the verge of coming to the forefront. And slower economic times tend to drive these sorts of things out of the closet.