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Tips for Operating a Succesful Short Term Rental in San Antonio

Short Term Rental Tips for Success in San Antonio

Part 1 of 2

Hello! I am Alex, a born and raised in San Antonio that is excited about the short term rental market here in SA. The market is in an exciting state of change and development and I feel like San Antonians who understand how this business works stand to gain much from this relatively new "sharing economy." I've spent a lot of time thinking through, researching and executing strategies for operating succesful short term rentals, and I hope that some of what I share based on my experiences prove to be helpful to others out there.

If you are already hosting, we hope that the detail and San Antonio specific information will be helpful and give you some ideas on how to improve your profitability. If you are new to hosting or are thinking about hosting, we hope that these tips will help you to understand a few of the various considerations you should be thinking about if you want to host a rental that maximizes profitability.

So we hope you find the tips we've put together helpful in expanding your perspective and maximizing your ROI with Short Term Rentals in San Antonio!

Tip #1: Develop a Game Plan

My #1 tip is to channel your inner Pop (GSG!) and have a game plan for success. Short term renting in San Antonio is a business that can be deceptive in terms of maximizing profitability. The market is great, and most who operate are making money; but there are many components to operating that can positively or negatively affect your profitability. Developing a plan to meet your goals is key to running a succesful rental. With that in mind, a few areas to think about as you develop your strategy are:

Platform Mix

What platform mix I should use? Do I want to be listed on only Airbnb or on multiple platforms? These are good questions to ask. Many people fall into the trap of “more is better” when it comes to listing on rental platforms. For many reasons I don’t have space to cover in this post, more is definitely not always better, and without an understanding of how each platform works in terms of cost, listing rankings and tax implications, more can very often lead to losses in profitability.

So take the time to really understand each platform’s pros/cons and financial model. They can all be very different from one another in terms of how much it costs for abooking as well as customer demographics and average spend. One of the most important things to undestand is that the largest platform, Airbnb, has SEO algorithms for listings. Your ranking very much impacts your occupancy and nightly rate potential, so understanding that skewing your occupancy towards Airbnb has benifits, and skewing away has downsides. That doesn't mean its you shouldn't be on multiple platforms, it just means you should research and understand how your mix will affect your listings on those platforms and be sure you do a cost/benifit analysis on your strategy. I will try to put together an example for a later blog post of just that!

Pricing‍

Pricing is notoriously difficult in this space. It doesn't help that the market in San Antonio is relatively underdeveloped and inefficient, so pricing is all over the map. Even so, supply is relatively low to demand. It’s a good climate for short term rentals in that average prices are going to make most people good money, but that doesn’t mean you are making as much as you should. That’s where pricing strategy comes in.


Balancing pricing with occupancy is a key component of a good strategy. If your house is at all marketable, you could have a listing that is $30 a night for a 2 bedroom house and you are going to get close to get 100% occupancy every month. On the flipside of that, you could price your place in the upper tiers of comparable homes and end up with low occupancy but high average nightly rates on nights booked and still make similar revenue. The strategy you want to target if you are renting full time is one in which BOTH occupancy and average nightly rate are as high as they could possibly be. That means you will
likely never be the highest priced rental in the market and you will also rarely hit 100% occupancy. Doing this well can be difficult and time consuming, but its also a very important lever you have to increase your profitability with nothing more than a good strategy and time to spend on research and adjusting your prices.  

Using software out there that automatically changes nightly rates based on algorithms that factor in market area supply and demand is a huge help (we have a partnership ourselves for this type of automation), but keep in mind its not a strategy, it’s a tool you can use to execute your strategy.

Knowing the market, looking at your historical performance, understanding tax implications of certain pricing strategies, pricing to accomplish determined goals for your business, understanding changes in the marketplace, and many many other pricing considerations should be looked at if you want to truly optimize your pricing/occupancy.

To give a simple example, lets say you have a place that is on the parade route for fiesta. That should command a huge price increase. However, if you don’t have any idea on what that type of increase should look like based on historical and similar units also on the parade route, then you may price too low early based on supply and demand in that area, and boom, you lost an additional $100 a night vs. what you could have gotten closer to the event or just at a higher price in general. The software out there doesn’t know you are on a parade route, and it doesn’t have the great historical data for the market or
event/seasonality since our market is so inefficient and most short term rentals are relatively new to SA.

At the same time, unless you have the time to update prices every day to reflect market changes of competitors, those pricing tools are critical in making the little adjustments that matter to occupancy and nightly rate optimization, especially when looked at over the course of multiple months. In addition, the more often you change prices, the more active Airbnb’s SEO thinks your listing is, and that can improve your rankings, which is a HUGE factor in nightly rate and occupancy optimization on Airbnb.  

The point is that algorithms by themselves wont optimize your profitability in terms of pricing/occupancy, but they are also an extremely helpful, if not necessary, tool in that constantly shifting target of optimal price/occupancy mix. The best way to maximize profit is to use your market knowledge understanding of the goals you are targeting,  then leverage the tools and time at your disposal to develop and execute the right pricing strategy to acheive those goals.

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Expenses

In my opinion, this is the most overtly deadly enemy to profitability that can really sneak up on hosts. Everyone knows the general rule that more expenses = less profit, but man oh man, something about this type of business drives people to forget the importance of cost management vs quality management.

I’ve seen owners who have fantastic amenities and supplies in their homes, but when asked how much they are actually spending on that overhead per month or per stay, they have no idea. Then once we go through the process of itemizing and tracking that overhead, it turns out they are not even close to as profitable as they thought they were.

On the flip side of that, some people took that business class in managerial accounting very seriously and look to eliminate every expense they can to make a static P&L more positive. Two rolls of toilet paper, 1 roll of paper towels, guests need to bring their own everything…the kind of cost cutting that, if you are an Airbnb traveler, is really annoying.

In truth, neither of those two types of owners are completely wrong, or even wrong at all. It really depends on how expenses fit into your strategy. If you are renting a low price point rental and profit expectations are relatively high for the size and or location of that type of rental, reducing the variable expenses starts to become the only effective lever you have to reach your profit goal in the short term.

On the other hand, if you are going for the high price point nightly stays, and your strategy is to grow your nightly rate average year over year $x amount, well you need not only good reviews, but GLOWING reviews. The only way to do that is to make sure you are spending on those variable cost items.

The key is to have a strategy, and no matter what you do, TRACK THOSE EXPENSES. Track those costs accurately, and track inventory usage. Know what your most expensive inventory items are and try to figure out ways to reduce spend without reducing
guest experience. Know which items you shouldn’t ration to guests (I call those non-expandable consumption items) and ones that you need to ration to guests (expandable consumption items).

Supplies needed vary dramatically from house to house, so the only way to maximize your profit by minimizing your cost is to understand what you are spending and where you are spending it. Then go through the business reasoning needed to determine the best way to optimize those spends to fit your strategy for profitability.

The last thing I will note on this is that for many STR investors out there, they have to determine if renting as an STR is better than renting long term. Its relatively easy to determine cash flow on a long term rental, but determining cash flow on a short term rental is only as good as your ability to factor in your monthly costs which can vary dramatically depending on the decisions you make on amenities, inventory and their associated costs. So if that’s you, make sure you get a good grasp of those costs before you analyze potential cash flow!

Tip #2 Connect with the Community

There is a great community of hosts in San Antonio on Facebook and Airbnb Community Forums. If you are interested in asking questions or getting advice on operating a short term rental in San Antonio, I’d highly recommend you connect into some of those communities. The people are great and you can learn a lot. As I mentioned in the intro, are firm believers in being helpful to all hosts in San Antonio. This isn't a zero sum game, as much as it may look like it (either you win the booking or someone else does). The way listings are managed matters in terms of improving the market for everyone. There is a lot of demand out there, and the supply is relatively low, so we don't think we need to be games of throning our listings to the top. 

Based on my experience with the local hosting community so far, many feel the same way. Hosts are more than willing to give advice on how to improve listings and become more profitable. We think that if you aren't leveraging that resource and engaging in the discussions, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to learn and improve your business.

With that in mind, if you are a hands on host, engage in the community! Ask questions and share best practices! 

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Tip #3: Cater to Military and Military Families

San Antonio is a city that really supports our military. I may be biased since I am a veteran myself, but catering to military and military families is a big thing for my homes and one of the focuses for our company. Giving active military and families in town to visit a discount is a great way to show your support for the military as well as capture more military travelers if you advertise the discount on your listing.


The short term rental community can sometimes take some heat for not being a community minded. While most of that are just folks voicing their concerns over a new, disruptive innovation in their neighborhoods, I think its also something we can actively counter by doing the right things to show support for our communities. A big part of that can be showing your support to military vetrans and their
families.

There have been many families we have hosted that are in town to see their sons and daughters graduate from BMT or other military programs that want nothing more than to be there and show support for their kids and/or family members who have decided to serve our country. Ofen those families are also operating on a tough budget to be able to be here. Helping those families out, even if just in the minor way of giving a discount, really reflects well on our city and the listing.

So, do what San Antonians have always done and support military families, it’s the right thing to do and it can be a differentiator for your listing!

That wraps up part 1 of our tips for success in San Antonio! Be sure to check out part 2, where I cover Laws, Taxes and Seasonality….and as I type that out, I realize I may have lost many of you already by bringing up laws AND taxes, but if you want to maximize revenue in San Antonio, you’re going to need to think about
the considerations  we bring up!

Alex & the Welcome Home Club Team