In an increasingly crowded holiday-letting market, how do you make your home stand out? Filtered and cleverly angled photos may get eyeballs on your property but to get them to actually financially commit takes a lot more hard work, says interior designer Bella Huddart. Huddart divides her time between London, Barcelona and Ballon, Co Carlow, where she lives with her partner Christopher Bielenberg at Sandbrook House. When they're not in residence, they rent the Georgian property that can sleep up to 24 people on a self-catering basis, with the option of a housekeeper.
Get the lighting right
A good first impression is key, says Huddart. “Warm lighting, and the layering of light sources, in the form of table, floor and wall lamps lit throughout, helps create a welcoming ambiance that helps to make you feel that the place is yours from the minute you cross the threshold.” Sandbrook’s laidback elegant rooms also have an abundance of candles in hurricane lamps that create a sense of warmth and welcome when night falls.
It starts with the photography you use to advertise your property, says Tara Kerry, business development manager at Fáilte Ireland, who has reviewed more than 500 short-lets for the firm's quality assurance framework. "It should be realistic. In real life, the property should look like it does in photos."
"The standards of people's own homes is now extremely high so you need to offer something different to their norm, different to what they experience at home. Holidaymakers will pay for that point of difference," says John Brennan, managing director of the Park Hotel, Kenmare, and owner of Dromquinna Manor, where a stay in one of its upscale glamping tents costs more than €450.
So, country cottage flagstone floors and wainscoting, pig sties and cow barns, if packaged properly, might appeal, he says, but such charming lets should not include less charming original feature such as cobwebs, damp walls or a cold that chills bones.
Use flower power
Fresh flowers throughout a house will let your guests know they’re welcome. Conversely, dusty, rustling dried or fake flower s can make a room look exhausted. Flowers don’t have to cost a fortune. Huddart regularly plants bulbs – narcissi, grape hyacinths etc – in big china bowls which last throughout a week-long visit, while simple arrangements of wild flowers in jugs or jars liven up bedrooms and hallways.
Invest in beds
As well as being warm, a good-quality bed and mattress is also crucial. Holidaymakers now want the same level of comfort as they have at home, Kerry says. “So if you say your property can sleep five then they want the property to have beds for five people, not sofa-beds.”
"Pillows like bullets are one of the worst things," says Huddart. She has all her fine linen professionally laundered in Carlow town, and dresses her beds with fluffy feather pillows that she buys in Ikea and dresses in Oxford pillowslips. Brennan is an advocate of the Irish-made King Koil club class mattress, to which he adds a two-inch feather topper, to ensure guests get a really sound night's sleep. "If you want good customer feedback, banish non-iron sheets. Yes it is much dearer to buy good-quality, cotton bed linen and to launder it properly but it is much better value to your product in the long term."
Curtains and/or blackout blinds are another bedroom essential, Kerry says. “Many holiday lets are in extraordinarily scenic settings but few visitors want to be woken by the rising sun while on holiday.”
Make space for cooks and books
The majority of visitors will want to be able to cook while on holidays so decent cooking facilities with adequate crockery, saucepans and cutlery for the numbers staying are other musts, according to Kerry.
You also need plenty of comfortable seating, Huddart says. “The sitting room at Sandbrook is home to several deep-seat Conran sofas that embrace you. A window seat, piled high with an endless number of well-stuffed cushions, is just one of several nooks where you can curl up and read a book.”
Supply coffee tables books on the area and other reading material that relates to where the let is located, Kerry counsels. So if a famous writer or painter lived or worked here, then include his or her tomes or reading matter that puts the subject in context.
Huddart has books everywhere. “We have loads scattered about – Annie Leibovitz, a book on Barcelona, James Fennell’s photography, books about Ireland, a stash of novels, history books and endless gardening books” The latter is a subject close to her heart. She has just planted an orchard.
There are titles by Christopher’s mother, author Christabel Bielenberg, The Past is Myself and The Road Ahead, about her experiences of living in Germany during the second World War, that are also very well-thumbed.
Spend on art and crafts
People are coming to experience the area so hang artwork by local artists, that vacationers may wish to purchase at the end of the stay, Kerry suggests. A client Brennan recently worked with in Co Mayo put Foxford rugs across the beds in his hotel to give them a more textural feel, along with small cards detailing Foxford's story and heritage and offering to show visitors how to go there and see the mill and shop, if they fancied the excursion.
And if guests wish to explore the locale for real, why not have some bicycles on hand as well as plenty of rain jackets and even Wellington boots to equip visitors to explore.
Brush up on paintwork
Every season, freshen up the place with new coat of a neutral-coloured paint, says interior designer Evelyn Slye, a former homewares buyer for Dunnes Stores, who now offers a full decorating service to landlords. "Seating should be nicely configured, with room for all guests, comfortable with fresh cushions and throws in on-trend colours and textures also available." All the multiples – Dunnes, Penneys, Harvey Norman and Home Store & More – sell affordable ranges.
Pile up the welcome goodies
A welcome basket is part of any good hospitality offer. It should include tea, coffee, milk, homemade cake or biscuits, eggs and bread for the morning, and a bottle of wine. The welcome pack should also include details of local public transport, bus, Dart and/or Luas and train timetables. If someone is coming for a week, Kerry suggests it should include activities and sights to see, restaurants to eat in and shops where you can buy local delicacies to try. Discounted admissions to local attractions or free tickets to the same attractions will also appeal.
Keep a home fire burning
If the property has an open fire, then include a basket of logs, fire lighters and matches, Kerry says, but counsels against turf because while it may seem like a local and evocative option, environmentally friendly tourists tend to shy away from it.
You should always err on the side of being gracious, says Brennan. The last thing visitors want to have to transport is heavy bottles of shampoo, moisturiser and conditioner so supply good toiletries as part of the overall offer. He is a fan of Irish-made Voya toiletries, which he says cost about €4.50 or €5 per house to set up and make a huge difference.
Guests at Sandbrook are given freshly laundered white towelling dressing gowns that hang on the back of the bedroom doors, should they wish to slip into something more comfortable, says Huddart, who also believes in supplying loads of loo roll. “You don’t want to be skimpy.”
While a TV with every channel available is not expected, says Kerry, a TV to entertain the kids or that you can plug other devices into to watch films is important – especially on rainy days. Bluetooth speakers are another optional extra that you should consider as standard, says Huddart. It means that everyone can access his or her playlists.
Above all else, a holiday let should smell fresh and look clean, says Margaret T Lyons, who runs Dublin-based Profitable Lettings and a sister company Proper Clean, both targeting the long-term lettings market. But the same principles apply, she says. She swears by a couple of old, housewife recipes that have again become fashionable; lemon and vinegar on glass and shower stalls and baking soda fixed with vinegar mix to clean ovens. She imports a variety of cleaning agents from the brand Method Home. Its almond and lemon floor cleaner is the lingering smell the new tenant inhales when they first put the key in the door.
[ bellahuddart.com ]