Have you got what it takes to run a holiday home?
According to figures released earlier this month by TripAdvisor, the business of holiday home rentals is booming! Research shows that 67% of travellers booked a holiday rental in 2016, jumping from 59% in 2015 and 52% in 2014.
For many of us living and working in Singapore, holiday homes are nothing new. Each year, many of us search madly for somewhere to stay on those breaks back home, when sleeping in the spare rooms of friends and family isn’t practical or appealing and living continually out of a suitcase has simply gotten too much. And we are often looking for places that offer something for the whole family to have a wonderful trip away without the huge costs of hotels.
But whilst many of us have experienced holiday homes as a guest, there are a growing number of women who are taking on holiday homes and running them from here as a business.
Interested to know more about this growing trend, we spoke to a few to learn from their experiences. Whether the home is in the UK, Thailand or Europe, there are common threads to the work that’s required. Challenges are aplenty but there are always ways to overcome them, and the rewards are great.
Read on to find out what these women have to say about why they got into doing what they do and what they’ve discovered along the way. Having looked at all the wonderful properties they have between them you’ll likely to find a somewhere you want to go and visit, too!
Shona owns Balgedie House, a stunning historic house in Scotland, just north of Edinburgh overlooking Loch Leven.
Shona and her family had been overseas for almost 10 years, in Dubai, India and Australia, and whilst she was very happy being an expat, she also wanted to be sure that her three boys had roots so that, wherever they were living in the world, they would always have a sense of where they were from. Being Scottish, and with family back there too, there was no doubt in her mind where that should be!
When she came across Balgedie House, she fell in love with it instantly. It was everything they had always talked and dreamed about as a home. They bought it in 2014 and assigned it to a long term let, thinking they would move back to it in a few years. However, in 2015 they were posted to Singapore on a 5-year contract.
“Having lived in so many different rented places, I was so looking forward to getting to our own place, for the boys to climb the tress, too muck about in it and for us to enjoy it all together. But the Singapore posting changed all of that and I was worried that, by the time we got back there, the boys would have grown up and left!”
She and her husband had been working on plans for the house since they bought it and so they decided to stop long term letting, do all the renovations they wanted to, and then let it out as a holiday home. “That way, we could use and enjoy it when we wanted to, but could let it out when we weren’t there too.”
The project took a year to do, including everything from the major building work and sourcing all the furniture and fittings, and they’ve only recently started renting it out now.
“It has been a huge challenge and a full time job keeping it all going, but I am so glad that we have done it! The boys see it as their “Scottish home” and we all love it whilst also appreciating all we have here in Singapore too!”
The business side of things has also been incredibly rewarding too. “I’m suspecting it may wear off in time but there is no denying the thrill when the bookings start coming in and it’s hugely rewarding when the feedback from guests is so lovely!”
Alongside Balgedie House, Shona also owns Balgedie Lodge, the gate lodge at the end of the drive.
“Having Balgedie Lodge had never really been part of the plan but it was very odd; a week before we were about to start the work on the main house, the Lodge came up for sale!”
The Lodge had been run as a holiday home for about 6 years by the previous owner and so taking it on and to continue running it in the same way, to complement their plans for the House, seemed like a very natural fit.
However, Shona couldn’t believe how much work was involved! “When others had said it would be busy, I thought they were exaggerating but I found out pretty fast they weren’t! But it was a great way to get to know how things worked and served as a good training ground for the main House.”
With a background in PR and marketing, Shona decided to not to take on an agency and is pleased to be running it herself. “I’m very picky about how things should be and what should happen, and I like being in control of it all. It wouldn’t suit everyone but I really enjoy it.”
Victoria owns two holiday homes; one is a gorgeous garden villa in Koh Samui.
She moved to Singapore with young twins for her husband’s job 10 years ago. Two years in, they went on holiday to Koh Samui and instantly fell in love with the place and so decided to look at the possibility of having a holiday home there.
After lots of research into rental rates, occupancy, beach or not on the beach, and Thai ownership laws she found Baan Jasmine and put in an offer which was accepted. “To have an opportunity to own our own home in Asia, a place to escape to for short or long breaks with our children, just over an hour’s flight away, was too good an opportunity to pass up!”
Victoria had had experience of renting out property in the UK, but that was only as long term, not short term. And working in Thailand posed different challenges, too. “It was quite a steep learning curve at first but my family have been involved in the house building and renovation business and I’ve always loved it and was really excited about taking on the challenge! It was also great to be able to work whilst also bringing up my twins!”
Ban Jasmin has been running for several years now and is highly sought after. Much of its success is due to the team the Victoria has created on the island. “I am really particular about service, quality and comfort when travelling, especially with a young family and I needed to be sure I had people I could rely on to make that happen. It works really well now but it took time and patience to establish.”
On the back of the success of Baan Jasmin, just over two years ago Victoria started looking at buying something in the UK too, driven principally by the want to have somewhere of their own to stay in when they went back on holiday each year. They initially looked at London but then moved west and found themselves in Bath.
Although Victoria had already done a renovation and set-up from afar, managing one in the UK with the time difference posed different challenges. “There were lots of very late night Skype calls with all the tradesmen!”
But once it was up and ready, Victoria was able to use all she had learnt from her first project and now has a very successful holiday business. Interestingly, although when she bought it she had always considered that they may return one day to live in it themselves, Victoria says that’s no longer the case. “It’s doing so well, I’m going to continue to manage it as a holiday home and we’ll find somewhere else nearby to live in and call home!”
One of the best pieces of advice Victoria was given when she first ventured into owning a holiday home was to make sure you love your property. “There’s always something to do, whether in the tropics or in the UK! But update, refresh and love them often, and your guests will be sure to love them too.”
Sadie owns a traditional fisherman’s cottage set on the Coastal Path in Coverack on the Lizard Peninsula in South Cornwall.
Sadie bought their home in 2009. They had done what so many expats families do and spent summer holidays travelling back to see friends and relatives, living out of suitcases. After several years, they felt they couldn’t keep relying on friends and family for a place to stay and really wanted their own space!
Sadie was lucky to find a place in the same village as her parents, a place she was obviously very connected to and knew well. “It’s so lovely to be able to spend our holidays there, so close to our family.”
But the decision to buy the cottage was also as an investment. When she found their place, she knew that with the beach on the doorstep and direct access to the coastal path it would make a perfect holiday let.
She also found a great local agency to help her market and manage the property, but even with that and all her local knowledge and connections, there are still challenges being so far away. “It is incredibly frustrating when something goes wrong as you can’t just pop over and fix it!”
However, all the frustrations are a small price to pay. “There’s always something to do and organise and I’m keen to keep updating, refreshing and decorating it so it always looks lovely for our guests but we love it, and I’m so pleased we have it. In fact, I’m not quite sure what we’d do without it now!”
Juliet owns a beautiful house in Crinan Harbour in Argyll on the West Coast of Scotland.
Juliet and her husband bought Anchor Cottage while they were living in Dubai, 10 years ago. With two little ones and a third on the way and their house in London rented out on a long term lease, they decided they needed a base for the holidays. “We went up to visit and fell in love with the harbour! It was such a perfect spot and we could imagine family, friends, children and one day grandchildren spending many happy times there!”
They decided to set the house up for holiday lets because they simply couldn’t be in it as much as they wanted to be – from London it was hard enough but from Singapore, impossible! “We didn’t want it to be empty for our sake or that of the rest of the harbour. We feel that it is good for a house to be lived in and we love the fact that everyone who goes there feels as passionately about it as a place as we do.”
Juliet chose an agency, Scottish Country Cottages, to run the property and handle all the bookings. She felt setting it up from afar was a challenge she wasn’t equipped to take on; it was also 10 years ago when things weren’t so automated and Internet friendly. And whilst the agents take a commission on each booking, the arrangement has been worth it. Juliet also has a reliable cleaning agency to manage all the change overs and be the point of contact for guests while they are staying.
This project was never a business decision for Juliet, it was about the times they would have there. “I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone, we don’t make much from it! But, 10 years on, we love it more and more every time we go! It was a rather rash purchase but probably the best one we’ve ever made!”
Sukie bought their beautiful home in Italy long before living in Singapore. She and her family were moving around a lot – Milan, Russia and Holland to name a few – and Sukie felt it was important that the children had a base somewhere.
Four years on and Sukie has never looked back. “We absolutely love it and spend as much time there as we feasibly can. It’s tricky with holidays but we are there for a few weeks in the summer and a couple of weeks skiing in the winter, too.”
As with others, finding the right people on the ground to keep things running and make things work has been fundamental to the success of their property. “I do all the running of the bookings from afar and it is a lot of work, especially when you factor in the time differences. And I couldn’t do without my team of people on the ground!”
Another challenge for Sukie is the marketing, and whilst she freely admits she could do more on that front, she believes it’s all about getting the balance and currently it’s working well. “I don’t think we’ll ever live in it long term as a family but I’m keen to keep it going as a holiday home, for us and others. And if I we end up retiring there, with all those memories and those views, I’d be very happy indeed!”
Some top tips from these Sassy Mamas if you’re considering managing an overseas holiday home from Singapore:
- Having someone reliable on the ground to take on the roles of housekeeping and maintenance is essential. You may have to pay a premium for this but, it’s worth it.
- If you want to make money from it, rather than buy a home for yourself, buy in an area which isn’t too seasonal and be clear of your target market when you are kitting it out.
- Know that guests may move things around and things can get broken. Take out special holiday home insurance to cover yourself and don’t fill it with personal items that you are going to worry about.
- Be prepared to be responsive to guests’ needs! They can be demanding at times, but most of the time they will be lovely!
- Do lots of research to check your local market and location to ensure there’s a good market and you’ll have return guests.
- Before you buy, always make sure you have up-to-date financial and tax advice in the local country where the property is based.
- When you are budgeting, include costs for purchase, maintenance, house management fees, local taxes, utility bills, housekeeping, linen, furnishing, marketing, website, online advertising sites.