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The newsletter for rental home owners, BY rental home owners: helping you use the internet to get year-round bookings.
Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home Issue number 1
  How to prepare your home  |  Make your site visible again  |  Owner's Secrets  |  Subscribe to Newsletter  |  Past issues

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Hello again! Here's another Lay My Hat with more advice and views on the business of renting your property.

By now you should have a good idea of what sort of year 2004 will be for bookings. In my experience (and yours in many cases), bookings are harder to come by this year. I think this is partly because there is more choice for the renter, and partly because people are leaving it later and later to book. So instead of a mad rush in January, there is a steady trickle of enquiries throughout the year. That's the theory anyway...

With bookings harder to come by it's essential to get some return visits. In this edition we move on to the next step in the renting process - preparing your home for guests so they like it enough to come back next year. I am also recounting my adventures in the world of pay-per-click advertising - I didn't like the sound of it before I looked into it, but now I'm hooked! I think it's a great tool for us home-owners, see what you think.

As always, I would love to hear from you because this newsletter is intended as an exchange of ideas in the community of rental home owners. Email me here with your views, suggestions and tips.

All the best,

Paolo De Paolis signature
Paolo De Paolis
Editor, Lay My Hat

UPDATE! Since I wrote this newsletter, the Lay My Hat forum has been launched. It's where rental owners talk about anything to do with the business of rentals, and plenty else besides! See the forum by clicking here.

Top tips for preparing your property

You've got the booking, now you want to impress your renters so much that they will come again next year. Here are my top tips for preparing your property so it makes the right impression.

  1. The most important thing by far is that your property is spotlessly, beautifully clean. Every surface shining, every spot and cobweb banished. Nothing is more off-putting than someone else's dirt.
  2. Make a good first impression with a welcome pack. This can be celebratory (bottle of wine or champagne), functional (milk, butter, bread etc.), or both. Free is best, or you can offer to buy in certain items to be paid for on arrival.
  3. It's worth buying good-quality towels for your rental home. They last longer, and they make a good impression. White towels often look best but can be harder to wash, especially when those mystery stains show up.
  4. Have a small library of books on your area, from the major guidebooks to local histories. If you can't find them in shops, try Amazon, which is also excellent for second-hand and out-of-print books.
  5. Take the time to write up-to-date information on how everything works in the property, under clear headings. Print out and place in a folder with plastic page-holders. It's also a good idea to write about recommended things to do/places to see nearby
  6. Collect leaflets and brochures on local tourist attractions, sights worth seeing, maybe even restaurant menus, and place them somewhere prominent. Guests will add to the pile.
  7. The weather is not always perfect so in-house entertainment like board games are always popular. You can buy second-hand and ' out of print' board games cheaply on auction websites like eBay. And don't forget a pack of playing cards.
  8. Does the kitchen have everything you would have in it if you lived there? It should do! And plenty of extra glasses, because your renters are on holiday and don't want to be washing up all day.
  9. Provide cleaning products, including dishwasher and washing detergent, toilet paper, etc. Renters will not appreciate having to buy all these things for just one week's stay.
  10. If you cater to families, have cots and high chairs freely available. Charging for them may cause resentment because they are a necessity, not a luxury. You can buy these second-hand, they won't cost much.

Find this useful? Disagree? Tell me what you think, and send in your best tips for responding to an enquiry-email me at

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Owner's secrets

Owners share their trade secrets-if you find them useful, why not join in? Email to

Owner's secret #1

Attractive photographs of the rental home and its surroundings made into simple postcards and greetings cards and left available for the guests to buy at a small charge and send off to friends. A nice individual touch plus an opportunity for spread the word e.g. "we're staying in this lovely cottage"-include the contact details obviously.

[Editor's note: I would even make these free. There are websites that offer a postcard service - looks good value at $50 for 250 cards, and has local sites for several countries at the bottom of its homepage.]

Thanks to Natasha for this tip.

Owner's secret #2

We always phone people in the week before they are due to arrive. They can then ask their last-minute questions like "are towels included?" or "how do we pay for electricity?". At the same time, if we know the previous occupants are leaving early, we can offer an earlier arrival time. If not, we can confirm the actual arrival time, which might prevent those dreaded arrivals at 11.00 am with "we just thought it might be ready" when you actually haven't even started cleaning yet.

The contact only a few days before breaks the ice, particularly if the earlier contact has been only in writing or email-the first impressions has been made even before they drive onto the property.

Thanks to Liz for this tip. You can see her rental property here:

Do you have any good owner's tips? Let's share what we know about holiday rentals-email your tips and suggestions to and we'll discuss them in future newsletters.

Where am I?

In the last issue John and Liz (right) were at Crater Lake, Oregon. The first correct answer came from Michael and Karin, whose rental property is on Paros in Greece. (You can see their lovely part of the world here:

Here's Michael on the left-but where in the world is he? First correct answer wins a sensational prize-you get to set the next 'Where am I?' photo quiz.

Email your answer to me at

Owner-to-owner services

There is no advertising in Lay My Hat but some of you do offer relevant services that fellow owners may find genuinely useful. I will be adding a page listing these owner-to-owner services soon.

UPDATE!  You can now post your owner-to-owner service at the Lay My Hat forum. Click here to go there.

To pass this newsletter on to other owners, you can just send it on like an ordinary email. Hit your 'Forward' button and put in the address you want to send it to. You can also type a message at the top of the newsletter to explain what you are sending-this newsletter looks like a webpage but it behaves like an email.

If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, you can ensure you receive future editions by clicking here to subscribe.

Remember, the point of Lay My Hat is that it's an exchange of ideas and opinions for holiday rental owners, so please don't be shy in sharing yours. Here's my address:

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What to do if your site sinks without trace (like mine did)

I recently created a website for my rental house to see if it could bring in any bookings. Previously I have relied purely on rental listing sites and had great success, but I wanted to find out if I could get some ' free' bookings of my own.

As Google is easily the biggest player in the search engines, I measure my success by my site's ranking with Google.

At first I was riding high, on the first page of results for several search terms. Then Google, as it often does, changed the way it ranks sites. Now I have completely disappeared. Effectively my site does not exist unless you put in a ridiculously specific search phrase to find it.

All the many sites above me are rental listing sites. I am a great fan of these, as you may know. I get all my bookings through them.

So is there any point in having your own website for your property? Will anybody find you? Yes! You can still get quality traffic to your site but it is no longer free. It's called pay-per-click.

The Google version of pay-per-click is AdWords. When you do a search on Google you will always see on the results page a column of boxes on the right with ads that link to sites. You may not have noticed them before and you probably haven't clicked on them. A very small percentage of internet users do, but that is still a significant number of people.

Each time someone clicks on your ad they connect to your site and you pay Google for the click. What you pay depends on the popularity of the search phrase. It can be as little as £0.04 / $0.05 / €0.05. You state the maximum you will pay and you can specify a daily budget you don't wish to exceed.

' Pay-per-click' may sound frighteningly expensive but it can be a very effective way to get visitors. If you specify in the ad exactly what you are offering, you will minimise wasted clicks. Only people who are predisposed to renting your type of accommodation will go to your site.

My recommendation: AdWords is a good thing if you rely on your website for bookings, and cannot be easily found with a regular search. Even if your site is stuck in position 12 million for the most popular search phrases, e.g. ' Tuscany rentals', you can still be present right at the top of page one for that search.

Some numbers: in one month I have had over 200 visitors through AdWords and I have paid an average of £0.15 for each of them. Of these, about 20 have emailed a booking enquiry. So I paid £1.50 per firm enquiry. Is this value for money? I think so!

To find out about Google AdWords go to and click on 'Advertising programs' or click here

It's pretty straightforward - believe me, I have trouble changing a fuse, but I managed to sail through pay-per-click.

Get an internet health-check

Are you getting the bookings your home deserves? If not, there may be something wrong with your site or ad. Ask me for a check-up. I'm not a doctor, but I am a travel copywriter who spends his whole life on the Web.

I think I can help you get more bookings. To give your web presence a health-check that won't cost the earth, email me at

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Tip my hat...

The Lay My Hat newsletter is free (mainly because I didn't realise how much work it would be). However, my wife is not happy. As she puts it: "Why do you spend all your time on that ****** newsletter when you should be earning money to buy me shoes and handbags?" So to appease her, if you find Lay My Hat especially useful, you have the option of making a small donation towards its upkeep. Just click on the button below, no amount is too small. PayPal is free to use and secure. But please don't feel obliged-how many shoes can one person wear anyway?

Copyright 2003-2004 Paolo De Paolis. All rights reserved in all media.