It’s the little things that make a difference to a holiday rental stay – whether there’s soap and toilet paper provided, some breakfast ingredients to get you started, or even a welcome gift of a bottle of local wine.
Some properties we’ve stayed in this year have really impressed us, but none as much as Rusty Irons’ Austin property: the warm Texas welcome, the airport pick-up, concierge-like services, and a fridge full of food. It’s the first property we’ve experienced that offers the best of both worlds – the things that people love about holiday rentals and the things that they miss about a hotel when they’re staying in a rental.
As Rusty’s warm personality and hospitality have contributed as much to making our stay special as that awesome pantry, we thought it might be interesting to chat to her about holiday rentals, what makes them special, Austin and other things.
Why holiday rentals?
Actually holiday rentals came to me. I was at a point in my life, having a major paradigm shift, and it was time to create a business. I decided to work for the best boss I know: me. We have fun and can turn on a dime. Wisdom kicks in in your fifties so I new that if I do what I love, success will follow. I love meeting lots of new people, entertaining, interior design, travel, different cultures, real estate, children, dogs and chef-ing. I love to have fun. Running a holiday rental brings this all to me.
You were one of HomeAway’s first customers.
We grew up together. My vacation home rental flew off the shelf, right out of the gate and the HomeAway team noticed and liked what they saw, a successful customer. We’ve worked together since the beginning, making videos to share the holiday rental experience, that sort of thing.
How did you start out?
I started by researching the market and choosing which properties to buy. Austin visitors want to stay in the heart of the city. Location is key. They want to see for themselves what’s so special about Austin. And they figure the best way to do that is to live in neighbourhoods where real people live. Close to shops, clubs, restaurants and tons of food trailers specializing in everything from pork belly to cake balls on sticks. What more could one want? A pool and spa, please. Check. Bring my pets. Check.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Something I didn’t anticipate, meeting the most wonderful people from around the world. When they arrive they are pleasantly surprised about the setting, design and accommodation. Everyone is so gracious and happy.
Do you have a philosophy that drives how you run things?
Every decision I make regarding my business and life is based on achieving a win/win outcome. When everyone wins customers return, I get more business, and the home gets imprinted with good vibrations. You can feel it when you enter. Babies have come home from the hospital, wedding proposals have been made here, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners have been prepared here, and bridesmaids have dressed here. Bliss!
Your services are extraordinary for a holiday rental.
I designed this business model based upon a customer I know very well. Me. My family and I lived as expatriates for many years. I have two daughters; my first born in the Philippines, my second in England. We also lived in Brussels and the NYC area. I created my ideal: a vacation home in pristine condition, with luxurious linens and beds, a filled pantry, food in the fridge so I’m not driving around a strange neighbourhood at night looking for milk; and something for dinner and breakfast just makes my day. Some clients want five star hotel services. We provide them. Babysitting, private yoga lessons, catered dinners and parties, housekeeping, dinner delivered. You want it, we’ll provide it.
What sets your property apart from others?
We are user-friendly. That’s also key. Then there are our luxury services, an endless exercise pool and spa (big one), our location in the heart of SoCo where everyone wants to be, our bed linens from Wildflower Organics, our pantry stocked with original Austin foods, XM Satellite, our Austin iPod, our generous 1/2 acre with forest views, the fact that we are pet friendly, and we’re dedicated to being in pristine hypoallergenic mode for our customers who may be allergic.
Any tips for property owners?
Think basics like toilet paper, soaps at every sink, shower, and bath – if you want them to take care of the home give them the tools! Spend on good beds, linens, mattresses, and pillows – the Marriott learned that years ago and it kept them from going under, not to mention an increase in customer loyalty! Skip the silk flowers and make arrangements with fresh fruits and veggies instead – it’s less expensive than real flowers, you can eat them, and they don’t gather dust and stale energy. Also, know what drives your SEO with your listing agent, what brings your property up to the top of all other listed properties is different for each company – it might be keeping your calendar updated on one or the number of photos you’ve uploaded on another.
Is guest feedback important?
Guests have desires that need to be met and I listen. Like Terence and his playlist. (Rusty’s response was to install an ‘Austin iPod’!) Monica, our current resident wants a full-length mirror, so off to the shops I will go.
Can guests be too demanding?
Yes, but I understand them. They’ve asked for nothing I wouldn’t allow for myself. What I love is when a man wants to set up a romantic weekend. I can hear the relief in his voice when I make suggestions we can prepare for the occasion: rose petals, chocolates, champagne, breakfast and dinner, fresh flowers.
Tips for travellers booking a holiday rental?
Read the fine print. Check reviews. And speak with the owner by telephone. If possible see the property before booking or have a family member, friend or associate check it out personally. I often do look-sees.
What makes Austin great for travellers wanting to get beneath the skin of a place?
Austin is cool. Wherever I go and someone asks where I’m from, they always say they hear it’s a special place. Mostly I think they love living like a local. You can’t get more local and real than South Austin.