Before hiring any short-term property manager, you need to conduct a few interviews to ensure you’ll be getting exactly what you need.
31 Questions to Ask Potential Short-Term Property Managers
In your interview with a potential short-term property management company, you should ask several in-depth questions, such as:
- What Kind of Services Do You Offer?
- How Do You Market and List Properties?
- How Do You Handle Repairs?
- How Do You Handle Inspections?
- Do You Handle Accounting Tasks?
- How Do You Screen New Guests?
- How Do You Evict Problematic Guests?
- Who Inspects Rooms After Check-Out, and What Does That Entail?
- Do You Handle Housekeeping and Similar Services, or Outsource?
- Who Provides Landscaping Services?
- How Long Have You Managed Short-Term Rentals?
- How Many Properties Do You Manage?
- How Many Staff Members Do You Employ?
- What’s the Worst Scenario Your Team Has Encountered, and How Did They Handle It?
- What is the Estimated Occupancy Rate for My Property?
- Do You Have References from Previous Clients?
- How Often Do You Communicate with Property Owners?
- What is Your Guest Communication Policy?
- How Do Owners End Contracts with You?
- Who Pays Taxes?
- Are You Fair Housing-Compliant?
- If I Want to Sell My Property, Do I Have to Sell it Through You?
- Do You Allow Me to Stay in My Property?
- How Much is Your Property Management Fee?
- What’s Included in the Property Management Fee?
- Am I Charged During Vacancies?
- How Do You Charge for Repair Costs?
- How and When Do You Provide Payments to Property Owners?
- Are There Any Other Fees I Need to Know About?
- Are You Licensed, Certified, and Insured?
- Last Question: Why Should I Choose Your Company?
1. What Kind of Services Do You Offer?
Common services offered by short-term property managers include:
- Handling guest check-in and check-out
- Cleaning of rooms after guests leave
- Marketing your short-term rental properties and vacation rentals
- Collecting income from rental guests and providing you with your cut of the profits
- Handling guest unit repairs
- Handling landscaping and groundskeeping tasks
However, some short-term property managers specialize in certain types of services or others. For example, you may find a short-term property manager that offers a comprehensive, all-in-one service package. They tackle everything your properties may need to ensure a profitable, enjoyable experience for your guests.
Other property management companies might specialize more in marketing, booking, and listing services while leaving most of the housekeeping to you or other companies.
Remember, the property manager’s response should match what’s stated in the contract. Words aren’t binding; if a property manager says that they provide a certain service, but that service is not noted in the property management contract, they are not legally liable to perform that service.
2. How Do You Market and List Properties?
Good marketing and listing practices are vital to ensure your short-term rental properties:
- Are popular among prospective guests
- Are competitive on listing sites like Airbnb and Kayak
Generally, experienced property management companies know how to list properties effectively and persuasively. For example, your property manager interviewee might explain how they take excellent photographs of properties they oversee, then put those photos on listing sites to ensure that guests have a good first impression of each rental unit.
Don’t forget to get specifics about where a property management company lists rental properties. For example, if the company lists rentals on Airbnb, you might then need to ask a question about how fees are split up (since Airbnb can charge hefty fees depending on the location of your property and its type).
By knowing where a company lists its properties, you’ll have a better grasp of how its fee policy will be and how much money you’ll make overall.
3. How Do You Handle Repairs?
Some companies handle most repairs in-house, while others outsource most or all repair jobs to others.
For example, if an air-conditioning unit in a short-term vacation rental goes out, will your property manager handle it themselves, send an in-house employee like a maintenance technician, or contract a third party/hire a maintenance technician from outside the organization? Any of these can be viable solutions, but they will impact things like your fees, the response time for your guests, etc.
4. How Do You Handle Inspections?
Depending on local rules and regulations, your properties may need annual or semiannual inspections for things like asbestos, poisoning, and foundation stability.
Your property manager may tackle these inspections themselves. But note that some inspections have to be carried out by licensed third-party inspectors.
5. Do You Handle Accounting Tasks?
Accounting tasks include, at a bare minimum, keeping detailed books, sending you copies of records, and keeping close track of income. All of that should be part of the standard services included in a property management fee.
However, some property management companies go above and beyond and handle additional accounting tasks. For example, they may handle tax prep work for you. Note that this is not common or expected, so it could be a way for you to identify a truly stellar or extraordinary property management company you should partner with.
6. How Do You Screen New Guests?
Make sure you find out:
- How they get new guests
- Whether they have a policy about guest reviews or if they use an existing platform’s guest review tools (such as Airbnb)
- What they look for in an ideal guest
- How they can tell whether a guest will be a good pick
What you’re looking for is any satisfying or detailed answer. If a property manager can’t tell you what separates a good guest for a short-term rental or vacation rental, odds are they don’t have enough experience to be a good fit for your rental properties.
7. How Do You Evict Problematic Guests?
From time to time, every property management company will encounter bad guests, even with strict screening protocols and processes. If a property manager knows how to evict bad guests quickly and with as little stress as possible, they’re a great choice for managing your properties as well.
Be sure to ask:
- Do you charge an extra fee for evicting guests, or is that included in your property management fee?
- Do you require anything from the property owner to evict guests?
The more information you can get on this topic, the better. How a property manager handles evictions can tell you a lot about how well they’ll handle your properties.
8. Who Inspects Rooms After Check-Out, and What Does That Entail?
Every short-term property rental requires a detailed inspection and cleaning session after a guest checks out. To that end, ask a short-term property manager who’s responsible for room inspection.
Be specific: ask the property manager what exactly they do to make sure a rental unit or room is ready for new guests. This will ensure that the manager fully inspects rooms and knows of this task’s importance.
9. Do You Handle Housekeeping and Similar Services, or Outsource?
If a short-term property manager handles housekeeping services personally, you may pay a lower overall property management fee. If they have to employ a full roster of housekeeping staff, that means your property management fee will likely be larger.
Many property managers take care of the following tasks when inspecting and cleaning rooms:
- Checking to make sure amenities and technology are working properly
- Swapping out the bedsheets
- Cleaning any other linens
- Replacing replenishable items, like food and beverages
- Sweeping and mopping the floors
- Wiping down the windows
If your short-term property manager interviewee answers with all of these items, that’s a great sign. Get clarification on what exactly they do for room inspection and cleaning, as it will help you determine whether the property manager is a fit for your particular properties.
For instance, if a given property manager focuses more on groundskeeping maintenance, they may not be the best choice if you need a manager for a bunch of vacation rooms or hotel rooms. After all, such a company may not have a full staff roster of housekeeping workers.
10. Who Provides Landscaping Services?
Landscaping services can take quite some time depending on the properties they oversee.
These services can include tasks like sweeping, shoveling snow, blowing leaves in the fall, and picking up any other debris. It may also include cleaning the exteriors of buildings.
Most property managers include some landscaping services as part of their service packages. However, some companies tackle this work personally, while others outsource it to landscaping companies.
Any answer will do, provided that the short-term property manager can give you a set answer quickly and clearly. Again, this is a sign that the property manager knows what they are doing and has a lot of experience handling landscaping needs for property owners.
11. How Long Have You Managed Short-Term Rentals?
All else being equal, property management companies with more experience are usually more valuable than newer companies without as much experience. If a company has been in business for 10 years, they’ve probably seen more and dealt with more difficult situations compared to a company that has just been in business for two years.
12. How Many Properties Do You Manage?
There is an important balance in property management. If the company juggles too many properties, your properties may not get the attention they deserve. However, if they manage one property, it may be a sign of an inexperienced property manager. Here are a couple of follow-up questions to consider:
- If a short-term property manager currently oversees a dozen properties: Ask how many staff members are on their team to ensure they can handle the workload.
- If a property manager only manages a few properties: Ask more about their experience with your property type. Even if they have been in business for a few years, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a wide range of experience.
Keep in mind, that a well-qualified property manager may have recently come out of a contract and this could be the reason for a lower number. If they are looking for a new partner for the long term, it could be a great deal for your business.
Use your best judgment when analyzing their answer. If a property manager handles a lot of properties but has the evidence to show that they have it all under control, they could still be worth partnering with.
13. How Many Staff Members Do You Employ?
This can help you determine whether a property management company is stretching itself too thin or if working with them will result in a great experience for you and your guests.
Keep in mind that property management companies with more staff members per unit they manage will usually charge higher property management fees. Companies with fewer employees might be better if you have a limited budget or you only need one or two properties to be overseen at maximum.
14. What’s the Worst Scenario Your Team Has Encountered, and How Did They Handle It?
This is a crucial question to ask because:
- It allows a property manager to establish their experience level. If they have stories to share with you, it’s because they’ve been managing properties for some time and have a lot of experience that they can bring to bear on your properties.
- It lets a property manager demonstrate how they will handle difficulties in the future. If, for instance, they share a story about a problematic eviction or getting rid of bad guests, and you are satisfied with how they handled it, you know you can rely on them.
This question will be difficult to answer for companies or individuals without a lot of experience, of course. But it’s still a fairly standard interview question that property managers should expect when sitting down with you for a meeting.
If they can’t answer, consider moving on to find a company that has more experience or more clients. Similarly, if the company doesn’t have a good answer to the scenario they present, seek out a different partner.
15. What is the Estimated Occupancy Rate for My Property?
Any short-term property manager worth your time and money should be able to estimate the occupancy rate they’ll be able to secure for your property given its size, location, and price.
If it seems too low, you won’t make enough money. Too high, and they’re not telling you the truth. This question can help you gauge what your profit numbers might look like moving forward with this property manager.
16. Do You Have References from Previous Clients?
References from previous or current clients allow you to ask about the property manager without them in the room. Specifically, you should ask:
- How much they pay for the property manager’s services
- Whether they are satisfied with a property manager overall
- Whether they’ve had any issues with the property manager in the past and, if so, how the situation was resolved
- Whether they would recommend the property manager to other investors or property owners
If a company doesn’t have any references, you might still consider hiring them, but do so carefully. Do a lot of research on Google and with your local social network to learn as much as you can about them as possible. Without references, it’s tough to know whether a manager will be reliable during any tough challenges ahead.
17. How Often Do You Communicate with Property Owners?
Communication policies are vital because they affect how often you receive updates from your property manager and how you can contact your property manager if you have a question. Generally, a management company with an open, frequent communication policy is better than the opposite.
If you’re more of a hands-on property owner and want regular updates about the status of your properties, be sure to stress this when interviewing a property manager. Some property managers have strict communication policies – they may request that you only contact them briefly so they can focus on their duties. Others are more relaxed.
Property management companies should provide you with lists of contact information or specific points of contact for any questions or concerns you have. For example, if you haven’t received your monthly payment for collected guest booking fees, you should have a specific person to contact with your question.
18. What is Your Guest Communication Policy?
Most short-term property managers don’t want property owners communicating with guests under any circumstances. This is because:
- It confuses guests by giving them multiple points of contact instead of just one
- You may accidentally contradict what your short-term property manager or their employees say to guests
Given these risks, it’s usually safer to just prevent property owners from communicating with guests under all circumstances. However, if you live on the property with potential guests, you’ll need a more relaxed communication policy.
In any event, the entire reason you’re looking to hire a short-term property manager is to do less work on your properties, so this shouldn’t be a point of contention or stress. Just ask the question to make sure you fully understand what the short-term property manager wants or needs from you before signing a contract.
19. How Do Owners End Contracts with You?
Most short-term property managers allow you to exit contracts painlessly and easily when they naturally expire. The expiration comes at the end of a contract’s stated term. Depending on the property manager you work with, your contract may have a term of up to one year or several years.
Many short-term property managers include clauses within the contracts that stipulate early termination fees. These only kick in if you try to end a business contract before the term ends naturally.
Ask your property manager if it’s easy to exit a contract or if there are any penalties for doing so. If they respond, “yes,” ask what those penalties are. Then be sure to read through the property management contract thoroughly to ensure they gave you the whole story.
20. Who Pays Taxes?
With short-term rentals, you may be charged sales or other taxes. Ask your short-term property manager who is responsible for paying the taxes (i.e., whether it comes out of the property manager’s cut of the booking income or yours).
Generally, you’ll be responsible for paying any sales taxes on rental income, so they will come out of your bottom line. Taxes can include sales taxes, room taxes, and so on. However, some short-term property managers may be willing to take on the tax burdens in exchange for something else, like you footing the bill for any replenishable supply costs.
21. Are You Fair Housing-Compliant?
The Fair Housing Act is an important piece of legislation that prevents property owners and management companies from discriminating against potential tenants or guests on the basis of protected attributes, like sex or religion.
All you’re looking for is a “yes,” plain and simple. If a property manager doesn’t know what that means, it’s a red flag.
22. If I Want to Sell My Property, Do I Have to Sell it Through You?
Some property management companies require you to sell any properties they oversee through their services. This puts them in charge of marketing the property, taking photos, connecting with real estate agents, etc. As a result, the property management company takes a cut of the profits from the sale.
If you don’t want to give this power to your short-term property manager, make sure they agree with you on this point. Then make sure the contract has language cementing it before signing.
Many property managers have this policy because they take full control over the properties they oversee and have a better understanding of how best to market and sell them to prospective buyers. There’s no right or wrong answer here; it just depends on your goals and preferences.
23. Do You Allow Me to Stay in My Property?
If you wish to stay in your property alongside short-term guests, you need to ask your property manager whether they allow it.
Let’s say you have a duplex, and you want to rent out one of the units. Practically all states will legally allow you to do this, but your property manager may want to rent out both units if it’s their policy not to keep property owners in the same buildings as guests.
There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer here. Asking questions about your specific situation lets you know if the company is a good fit or if you need to move on to a different business partner.
Property management companies may have policies to prevent guest/owner interactions or to maximize income from the properties they manage. If an owner lives in a rental unit, the management company can’t make any money from it.
24. How Much is Your Property Management Fee?
Generally, short-term property management fees are between 25% and 50% of the collected income. That’s much higher compared to the fees typical of long-term rental properties, but that’s because short-term rental property management often includes more work and requires more dedicated staff, like housekeepers and check-in staff.
As a side note, specifically, ask a property manager whether the fee is based on collected income or estimated income. All property management fees should be based on collected rental income, not estimated income – otherwise, you could be on the hook to pay your property manager money for rentals that never manifested.
25. What’s Included in the Property Management Fee?
Generally, short-term property managers include the following services and labor in the monthly property management fee:
- Check-in and check-out services
- Guest management services
- Room cleaning and maintenance services
- Property maintenance services
In short, the property management fee should include the majority or all of the work a property manager performs. But get a specific list from them so you know exactly what you’ll pay for throughout the contract.
26. Am I Charged During Vacancies?
Generally, vacancy fees are signs of predatory property managers, so you should avoid them in most cases.
Vacancy fees are ostensibly to compensate property managers when business is bad, but when they still need to pay for the salaries of their staff members. In this sense, limited vacancy fees are acceptable, such as one-time, low-cost fees if a unit goes unrented for a month. But if a property manager tells you they charge ongoing vacancy fees, don’t sign on with them.
Such vacancy fees incentivize short-term property managers to keep properties vacant. After all, with these fees, they can keep properties vacant on purpose yet still collect money from you without making any profits at all.
27. How Do You Charge for Repair Costs?
Some property managers include repair costs in the monthly fee, incorporating it into the estimated expenses they assume they’ll face each month. More commonly, short-term property managers require you to keep a certain amount of money in a third-party escrow account or repair reserve fund.
With this policy, the short-term property manager can dip into that fund whenever they need to, getting the money they need to quickly enact repairs on behalf of guests without having to alert you. Then you just have to replenish the repair fund or escrow account as needed.
Some companies may alternatively choose to invoice you for any repair costs they encounter. In this case, you’ll just receive a monthly invoice with repair bills.
28. How and When Do You Provide Payments to Property Owners?
When you hire a short-term property manager, one of their chief responsibilities will be collecting payment from guests. This question isn’t because you’re worried they’ll stiff you; it’s so you can both be on the same page and you can plan around it.
29. Are There Any Other Fees I Need to Know About?
Recap the fees you know about or have scanned in the contract, then check to see if there is anything else.
Hopefully, the answer is, “no.” But from time to time, property managers may have one or two extra fees they charge for limited scenarios or potential events. Once you know about these, you can decide whether any of them are deal breakers or if they are acceptable elements of your upcoming business relationship.
30. Are You Licensed, Certified, and Insured?
Any highly qualified property manager who views their job as a long-term career should have the appropriate education and insurance. Depending on your state, licensing may not be required. However, it is still important to ask if they are licensed and hold any certifications (like the Vacation Rental Management Certification).
Short-term property managers are also typically required to have several types of insurance, including general liability insurance, errors and omission insurance, and worker’s compensation insurance. Discussing their types of insurance helps ensure that you are working with a company that meets the legal requirements in your area.
31. Last Question: Why Should I Choose Your Company?
This forces the property manager to summarize previous positive points (such as low fees, reliable service, etc.) or to prove that they’re worth your time and money in some other way. If the answer isn’t satisfactory, you can dig a little deeper or look for a different short-term property manager depending on your needs.
Choosing the Right Property Management Company
With an estimated 25,000 vacation rental management companies in the U.S., the competition for your business is high. It’s not a bad idea to interview more than one short-term rental management company for the job. Don’t be in too much of a rush that you are willing to settle for unsatisfactory terms.
After the interviews, take a day or two to go over the answers to the questions and look over the fees and any important policies. Compare any positive or negative elements of each company’s policies and come to a decision.
Be sure to at least write an email for any companies you do not choose to work with. Maintaining a professional business relationship can be beneficial should you need different representation in the future.