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The newsletter for rental home owners, BY rental home owners
Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home Issue number 5
  How to get repeat renters  |  Website tips  |  Owner's Secrets  |  Subscribe to Newsletter  |  Past issues

Paolo pic.

Me and my monkey


Hello again! In this Lay My Hat, more advice from rental owners on what we all want in life: more bookings.

For most of us this is a busy time of year - I know it's hard to sit in front of a computer when the sun is shining but don't wait till the autumn to read this newsletter - you'd miss some top tips on turning your guests into repeat visitors.

Many of you have asked me to take a look at your site and I have noticed the same basic problems cropping up again and again - see my check-list of the most common faults on the right. If you feel your site is under-performing, this may tell you why, and it's not hard to fix.

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 - you'll also notice that contributors get a link to their own site, giving them a nice boost in the search engine rankings!

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.

The secrets of my success

If you think you should be getting more bookings, you may be interested to hear what successful owners are doing. In this edition, Annick from Brittany tells us all the good things she does to turn renters into repeat guests. Here are the secrets of her success...

  • It's the welcome that counts. If you receive guests with a good coffee or cup of tea, perhaps with a homemade cake or some Breton galettes in our case, that really gets a good feeling going, and you won't have any problems when they leave. When they do leave our guests sometimes give us a present from their home. That's how happy they are made to feel by a good welcome.
  • I never mention departure times when guests have just arrived. I bring it up at a later date just to confirm their intentions, usually on a Thursday. If they are going to leave early I can tell the next guests.
  • We give guests some carefully prepared documentation, which they find very useful: places to visit; market locations for every day of the week, with distances and opening hours; location of the best beaches with a map and distances; good restaurants nearby; an itinerary of places to see within xx km.
  • I make a folder with all the tourism leaflets from within 1 km, 5 km, 10 km, etc. This is highly appreciated.
  • If the weather is not going to be good, we supply some videos and books on the region.
  • Walking enthusiasts really appreciate a map of the best walks nearby.
  • Because I live 7km away I ask guests to call me when they are half an hour away - that way I can go and welcome them. If they arrive before the cleaning is finished I invite them to leave their bags and go and do some shopping. Before I introduced this I sometimes waited all afternoon at the house for them to arrive.
  • For me the customer is always king, I try never to leave them waiting.

You can see Annick's rental property here:

Thanks to Annick for sharing - if you'd like to share your rental know-how, please email me your tips here:

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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

"Print out the 10-day weather forecast from [non-US countries at bottom of page], or other sites like Yahoo Weather - These are often wrong, as you might expect, but they can give renters a rough idea for organizing their stay."

Thanks to Massimo -

Owner's secret #2

"I keep a mailbox of people who enquired about weeks that were already booked, and I had to say 'no' to. At the start of the following year I email them all a message wishing them a happy new year and reminding them of my site - I tell them not to leave it too late if they are still interested in visiting my region."

Thanks to Marie-Josť -

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 Michael (right) was at Gallarus Oratory in County Kerry, Ireland. This was correctly identified by Lucy from Tipperary in Ireland. You can see Lucy's rental cotttages here:

Here's Lucy with friends - but where in the world is she? First correct answer wins a sensational prize - you get to set the next 'Where am I?' photo quiz.

Email your answer to me at

More about baby cots

In the last Lay My Hat I advised that baby cots should be supplied free of charge. I should have specified I meant travel cots, the type that do not have a proper mattress. This is because babies should not sleep on a mattress that has already been used by another baby.

June emailed with this information which is especially relevant to property owners in the UK:

"I have recently had a visit from the Trading Standards Safety Officer. After inspecting my premises he advised me of the latest legislation regarding the supply of articles like cots and high chairs.

"These articles must be of the highest specifications, and all equipment used by children, especially babies, must be sterilised after each use. I do have grave reservations regarding the supply of cots because of the passing on of any germs. I voiced my opinions to the Officer who agreed with me that it is better not to supply them unless they can be replaced every season, and more importantly mattresses need to be absolutely new each visitor. In consequence I have decided to be very up front with any enquiries and advise them to bring their own travel cot and explain why. I have found no objections so far, on the contrary mothers have been grateful for the information."

Other owners have made the point that they do not supply high chairs and cots because they do not want to risk being sued if a child is injured (even when it is not the owner's fault).

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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Don't scare off your visitors!

Having looked at hundreds of rental owners' sites I am struck by the fact that the same usability problems come up again and again.

What is usability? It simply means making your site easy to use - that's essential because internet users need very little excuse to leave. If your site isn't user-friendly, there are plenty of others that are, and they will move on, never to return.

But fixing the problem is not difficult. These are the biggest usability issues that I have encountered on owners' sites:

1. The text is too small. Our target audience are not as young as they used to be, and nor are their eyes.

2. Pages are hard to read - fancy backgrounds get in the way of legibility. Try to maximise the contrast between text and background, e.g. dark text, light background (like this page).

3. Pages don't print properly. A lot of potential renters assemble a sheaf of printouts to discuss options with their other half. Under no circumstances should one need to scroll sideways to see all of a page.

4. Use of animations, scrolling marquees, blinking text, sound effects, in short any fancy features, is almost certainly a bad idea: they look tacky and make the site harder to use.

5. The heading is crucial. Say what the site is about and why your visitor should care. Don't just state the address of the website, e.g. "", or "Welcome to Villa Maria", or show a logo - they don't care about that, they want to know what's in it for them. Tell them in the heading and they will stick around.

6. All the good stuff should go at the top of the homepage, so you don't have to scroll down to see it. Internet users are notoriously lazy, and they don't like scrolling around for information.

7. If you do need users to scroll down a page, you can encourage this by having a picture cut off at the bottom of the screen, so that you have to scroll to see all of it.

And if you make sure you're not falling foul of any of those, you are well on the way to having a great, user-friendly site!

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.