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Building a Tech Stack for Automating Your Short Term Rentals

One of the first things I researched when we decided to start our own Airbnb’s was “What technology should we be using to make this easier and more automated for us?” I wanted to know how to perform automated check-ins? How do you send automatic messages to guests for routine communication? How do you sync calendars between different booking sites? How do I make bookkeeping and saving receipts easier? These are just some of the common questions regarding technology. While we have not been able to test every piece of hardware and software that can make short term rental owner’s lives easier, here is our guide to what we have tried and what we use to increase the success of our business.

You may have come here for the technology and software information, but none of that matters without the right hardware in place first! There are a few pieces of essential hardware to install in your short-term rental and a few more that may be useful in certain situations or for more piece of mind. We always install a Wi-Fi enabled smart lock, a Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostat and obviously great Wi-Fi! Some optional hardware is cameras (outdoors only!), video doorbells, decibel monitor and security lights.

Hardware to Optimize Your Success

Smart Locks

Smart locks are essential for automated check-ins and controlling who has access to your property and at what times. We use the Wi-Fi enabled Schlage Encode at all our properties. This lock is easy for anyone to install and will fit most exterior doors with just a screwdriver.

The Encode will allow you to enter permanent access codes for yourself, cleaners, maintenance, or any other permanent code you need. Additionally, Schlage has integrations with most Property Management Software (PMS) and booking platforms that allows you to automatically set part of your guest’s phone number as their access code for the duration of their stay. This means you never have to remember to give guest access or worry about them having access before check-in or after check-out. The other great thing about using guests phone numbers is they won’t forget the access code and you won’t get calls from them being locked out in the middle of the night!

The Schlage App makes controlling the lock extremely easy. In the app you can add and remove access codes and view what codes are active and scheduled to be active. You can get notifications when access codes are used and a feed to show what codes have been used when. These notifications are a huge stress relief until you are comfortable your systems are working as they should! The app also lets you lock or unlock the door from anywhere, just using your smart phone.

When you install your smart lock, we suggest replacing the door handle new exterior handle without a lock. We learned this the hard way after a guest locked the thumb turn and couldn’t get back into the property. The other thing you should do is place a lock box outside of the property with a key to another exterior door and the smart lock as a backup. The Encode will warn you when the battery is low but better safe than sorry!

Smart Thermostats

A smart thermostat can help you save on utility bills by setting up programs and lowering costs when the property is vacant. We started using the Nest Thermostat and although it has worked great at several properties we had to replace it at one property. The Nest got disconnected from our Wi-Fi and the Nest app and unfortunately Nest is the only smart thermostat that will not operate at all without being connected to Wi-Fi. Since we live almost 12 hours away from this property, we had to have an air conditioning technician come install a new thermostat. They suggested the Honeywell Lyric T6 and it has worked great for us since then!

There are a few things you should remember when setting up your smart thermostat. You are in the hospitality business and reviews are EVERYTHING! While you can set programs and lock temperature ranges on most smart thermostats to save money, your guests comfort and good reviews will always pay you back more than saving a few dollars on your utility bills. Also, don’t forget about your cleaners or maintenance people being at the house. Keep them happy by maintaining good temperatures when they are there, they are an integral part of your team! Check out or post on Building your Team for more information.

Security Cameras, Video Door Bells, Decibel Monitors and Security Lights

Some optional hardware for your property are outdoor security cameras, video doorbells, decibel monitors or security lights. Some owners like the peace of mind to be able to check how many guests are coming into the property and that they match the profile of the person that booked the reservation. Cameras or video doorbells can be great for this, but they are for outdoors only and most booking platforms require you to disclose them in your listing.

We have installed a SimpliSafe security system at one of our properties and love it! At first glance it may seem expensive when you are just starting out, but you absolutely get what you pay for. Their cameras enable you see everything happening clearly around your property and the option to use batteries, solar or hard-wiring makes it easy to fit the system to your needs. Their app is easy to use and makes it simple to check on your property any time you need a little peace of mind.

Decibel monitors can be useful if potentially have a party property or are worried about disturbing your neighbors. These can be set to notify you if a certain sound level is reached so you can reach out to guests or authorities if needed. Security motion sensor lights can be helpful if you are worried about when your property is vacant or making sure guest can see when they are coming and going at night.

Now you know what hardware you need at your property, but what software do you need to make your life easier?

Software to Optimize your Success

Booking Platforms

Let’s start with the fun part, where do your guests find and book your property? We would suggest starting with one booking platform until you are comfortable your systems are working well. There are a few main platforms to choose from; Airbnb, VRBO, and your own direct booking site.

The best platform to start with is the dominant one for your market. In some markets, Airbnb has the most bookings but in others it is VRBO. Utilizing a tool like AirDNA or Mashvisor will easily determine which booking platform to start with.

After choosing your platform start building your listing with high quality pictures, a great description, house rules and all the information your guest will need. See our blog post for more information taking high quality pictures (Coming Soon) and check out this post for more detail on building a successful listing.

Once you are comfortable with your systems working you may choose to list on other booking platforms to increase your occupancy. You may also want to explore building your own direct booking website. This can be synched with your iCalendar as discussed later and offers the ability to host guest without booking platforms taking a fee. We discuss more details on building a direct booking site and driving traffic to it in this post (Coming Soon!).

Property Management Software (PMS)

Property Management Software (PMS) will be your best friend if you are interested in automating as much of the management of you short term rentals as possible (and making your life easier). Yes, you could use a property management company to handle much of what is in this post but that will cost anywhere from 15-40% of your revenue, which can make it hard to be profitable for someone just starting out. It will still take some work from you to self-manage your rentals but you can cut out about 90% of the time and effort after you have all your systems set up.

We use for our short-term rental PMS. There are many PMS’s you can choose from so you can investigate others and see if they work better for you or jump right into one and you can always change later if you feel the need. Hospitable is great because it is a lower cost option, is built specifically for short term rentals, provides support for building direct booking sites, and integrates well with all the major booking platforms and other software we discuss here.

The first step with Hospitable or other PMS’s after creating an account is to link to your booking site. This will connect the booking sites native iCalendar to the PMS to feed booking and other information back and forth. This is also what allows the PMS to control your calendar across multiple booking platforms including direct booking sites to prevent double booking guests.

Now that your calendar is synced, you can focus on setting up your automatic messaging to guests. It is extremely helpful to set up automated messages for check-in details, check-out details, a review reminder and property specific messages. You may also want to set up automated message to respond to questions about parking, Wi-Fi, or other common questions about a property. These messages can typically be set up to be sent automatically or as a template for you to send easily. Check out our post about how we use automated message to learn more (Coming Soon)!

Your PMS is also where you can integrate your smart lock such as the Schlage Encode into your systems to automatically add and remove guests entry codes. You will also want to connect your pricing software to your PMS so it can adjust your prices on any booking platform you are using. This is discussed further down.

As a side note, we use for our long-term rentals. This is an excellent free site that will help you manage multiple long-term listings buy sending and signing leases, collecting rent payments, accepting maintenance requests and screening and messaging tenants.

Finding and Scheduling Cleaners

I noticed when we bought our first short-term rental out of our city everyone’s first question was “How are you going to clean it?” I thought this was an odd question because even though I hadn’t thought about it much I knew there were a lot of short term rentals in the area, so if others had figured it out obviously I could too! As a side note I find this to be a very helpful mind set for real estate investing; most likely your situation is not unique and others have figured it out before so there is always a solution to your problem.

There are several apps available to find and automatically schedule cleaners. We have used Properly and TurnoverBnB. Both allow you to search a marketplace for cleaners, create checklists, and automate scheduling and payment of cleaners. We have noticed that in some areas, especially more remote ones, one app may have more cleaners available.

We primarily use TurnoverBnB because we think the checklists and user experience is better. The first step in using this app is creating your cleaning checklist and finding your cleaner. We go in-depth on how to do this in our blog post about cleaning (Coming Soon!). TurnoverBnB or another cleaning app can be integrated into your PMS to automate scheduling and payments so you can be sure your property is always clean for the next guest.

Pricing Software

How do I set my nightly prices? What discounts should I use? How do I know when to adjust for increased demand? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have professional help in making sure I am getting the most revenue for my property that I can!

We are big fans of PriceLabs and often discover we can be charging more per night than we thought. PriceLabs helps you determine a base price for your rental based of comparable properties in the area and where you want to position yourself in the market. This base price is then increased and decreased using factors such as market demand, seasonality, occupancy of your unit and length of time until the booking.

We have a property that is within walking distance of several professional sports stadiums and in a neighborhood with constant events and festivals. I was skeptical that any pricing software could accurately increase prices to account for days or weekends with sports games and area events. After setting up PriceLabs, I was immediate impressed that not only did our prices account for the events, but our prices increased in proportion to how big the events were for the area!

Even while using smart pricing software there is a lot to think about when setting up your prices. Do you want to optimize for shorter stays, 1-3 nights, medium stays, 1 week plus, or longer stays 1 months or more. What kind of guests do you want to attract with your prices? Do you want to have no vacancy or maybe some vacancy but an increased caliber of guest? We go deep into all things pricing in our blog post here (Coming Soon!).

Bookkeeping Software

Book keeping... accounting... paying taxes, whatever you call it - most people dread it. Most people put off dealing with it for as long as possible and this gets them into trouble. They don’t know if they are really making money or not and then often in a panic show up at an accountant or tax preparer with a shoe box of receipts and hope they can pay a professional to bail them out.

While I won’t knock using a professional book keeper or accountant to do your taxes there are a few things you can and should do to make sure you have a good understanding of your financial position throughout the year and to decrease your costs for professional services and tax burden at the end of the year. Primarily you need software or a bookkeeper that can record all transactions involving your property that can report out financials weekly or monthly and a system to keep receipts for tax deductions so you don’t lose them.

We love the asset management software Stessa. It is designed specifically for real estate investors and works wonderfully to keep us up to date with our properties. It will take a little bit or learning to get it set up but once you do it is fairly automated and takes very little time. My favorite feature is that I can scan receipts and the picture is saved by the app and the transaction is recorded as needed. This means I don’t have to keep any receipts and worry about losing them!

This is the tech stack we currently use to automate the property management for our Airbnb’s and it makes owning and managing your short-term rentals a breeze. If you have found better systems to use or have questions about ours, please reach out to us as we love discussing this and improving everything we do! Click here for more information on who we are and what we do!

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