199. Creating Exclusive Short-Term Rentals for Military and Government Travelers

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Sarah Karakaian: [00:00:05] You’re listening to the Thanks For Visiting podcast. We believe hosting with heart is at the core of every short-term rental. With Annette’s background in business operation–

Annette Grant : [00:00:15] And Sarah’s extensive hospitality management and interior design experience, we have welcomed thousands of guests from over 30 countries, earning us over $1,000,000 and garnering us thousands of five-star reviews.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:00:28] We love sharing creative ways for your listing to stand out, serve your guests and be profitable. Each episode, we will have knowledgeable guests who bring value to the short-term rental industry, or we will share our stories of our own experiences so you can implement actual improvements to your rentals. Whether you’re experienced new or nervous to start your own short-term rental, we promise you’ll feel right at home. Before we dive into the content, let’s hear a word from our sponsor.

Annette Grant : [00:00:58] What would you say if we told you there is a messaging software out there that could integrate with your reservations, automate important messages, and automatically offer up stay extensions, meaning less vacant nights and more money in your bank account?

Sarah Karakaian: [00:01:13] Breezeway’s smart messaging tool make it easy to deliver more services to your guest. You can even send automated text to your guest as soon as the property is ready for check-in. And that’s on top of their easy-to-use property care checklist for cleaning, inspections, and maintenance. These are the reasons why this is one of our can’t-live-without apps we use to run our hosting biz.

Best yet, TFV listeners who have 14 or fewer properties get messaging included in their Breezeways subscription. You will also receive free implementation when you decide to make Breezeway a part of your hosting business operational strategy. Visit breezeway.io/tfv to learn more. That’s breezeway.io/tfv. Hello. Welcome back from our fantastic week. My name is Sarah Karakaian.

Annette Grant : [00:01:36] I am Annette Grant, and together we are–

Both Sarah and Annette: [00:02:06] Thanks For Visiting.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:02:07] We’re going to kick off the show like we do every week, and that’s sharing with you our amazing viewers or listeners, depending on how you hang out with us using our hashtag on Instagram. It’s #STRShareSunday. 
If you use it, we will find you. We will share you to our email list, our podcast, YouTube channel, Instagram, all the free marketing for you, and it’s a way to say thank you for listening to our podcast each and every week. Annette, who are we sharing this week?

Annette Grant : [00:02:31] Today we are sharing d.bdens, so it’s dbdens, but it’s d.B-D-E-N-S. And I want to highlight a couple of things specifically on Brooke on her Instagram. What I love, she has two properties. We get asked this question all the time. If I have multiple properties, should I have multiple Instagram? Should I have multiple websites? I love what Brooke is doing here. She just pluralized the dens and she has them both under the same handle and she has a link tree. 

And what I love about this, please go follow her and check this out. It says book direct and save and she’s got the money emoji. So it is like, hey, I can just book direct with her save or she gives you that option to book through Airbnb.

So we love for you to have a direct booking site and alternative ways to book your property. But I also love that Brooke is giving the consumer that option. If maybe they’re more comfortable or they’re more familiar with Airbnb, she’s not giving them opportunity. So well done there. And she’s got a little subscribe button to her email list. So I think she’s just crushing it on that marketing.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:03:42] Oh, if I can real quick, so if you want to subscribe to her email list, it’s not just like, “Hey, give us your email” and you get nothing in return maybe like a discount congratulations. But she gives you perfect day itinerary for your stay in the Rocky Mountains. So if you give her email, you will immediately get this– 

Annette Grant : [00:03:58] A gift.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:03:59] A gift which is plan your vacation, so smart. Well done. Love it. Love it, Brooke. Huge shout out to you, please. After this episode, check her out. Take a look at her Instagram, give her some love, take some tips and tricks from what she’s doing.

Annette Grant : [00:04:12] And we love seeing people out there just really marketing their vacation rental. So speaking of vacation rentals, we met this gentleman last year at VRMA, Vacation Rental Management Association. I think this is going to air when we’ll hopefully be standing at his booth again there. But Sarah, it’s been almost a year since we met him, but he’s on the show now and he’ll tell us where he’s tuning in from because we’re super thankful. But, Sarah, do you want to introduce who we have on today?

Sarah Karakaian: [00:04:40] I do. So today we have a retired marine. Thank you so much for your service. We have Anthony Gantt on the show. He has created a wonderful product, but I’m not going to give it away because what we want to dive into first is how he got involved in our industry, why it’s important to him, why it’s special to everything that he stands for and has dedicated his life to. And then we’ll get into how he solved his own problem. So, Anthony, welcome to the show.

Anthony Gantt: [00:05:07] Thank you, ladies, for having me. I’m super excited to be here.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:05:10] All right, Anthony, you got to tell our listeners how dedicated you are to be a guest. What time is it and where are you in the world?

Anthony Gantt: [00:05:16] It is a little bit after midnight and I’m in Seoul, South Korea, right now.

Annette Grant : [00:05:21] And so we are super thankful that you took the time out to be on the show.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:05:26] Yeah.

Annette Grant : [00:05:26] So let’s talk about you, your family, you being a retired marine. Talk about how you got introduced to the vacation rental, short-term rental space. And let’s just talk about your story. Let’s dig in.

Anthony Gantt: [00:05:40] So my story with the short-term rental space begins around 2008 and 2009. At that time, I had a lot of kids. Today I have six. Back then I think it was three or four, and I first stumbled upon two sites. It was HomeAway and VRBO not knowing that they were the same company and I was a user. 

Fast forward to 2018, the Marine Corps was moving me for the 17th time. Now I have a family of eight and we’re looking for somewhere to stay during our transition from Virginia to Texas. And the light struck in our heads, which is like instead of using a hotel, let’s go to HomeAway, Airbnb, VRBO and see what the options are.

Well, we chose to use Airbnb. We stayed in the place about 10 days while we waited to close on a home. And at the end of that trip we found out we were not going to be reimbursed by the government because we stayed in a place off of Airbnb.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:06:35] Oh, talk to us about that. So what is it about you staying and booking an Airbnb that didn’t qualify you for a reimbursement?

Anthony Gantt: [00:06:43] Well, there are certain things that the government needs. One is safety. Somebody has to verify that the property is safe. And it can be as simple as, does this home have a smoke detector if it has gas appliances or carbon monoxide detectors in the property? 

Other things, if you’ve seen properties where the basement is transition to a short-term rental while that basement at times it doesn’t have windows and they lock the door up to the main house, so if an emergency was to happen, can someone get out this basement from two points? And a lot of times the answer is no or we don’t know. And because that is unknown on the platform, the government is like, “Well, you’re risking my people.”

And the other one is security. You have a lot of up and coming neighborhoods. Well, the pictures look fabulous, but when you get to that upcoming area, it’s like, “I don’t feel so safe.” So it’s a lot of things that go into it around safety, security. 

And then the last thing is the managers and the host, like you guys gave a shout out to a manager that you know is real. You can validate that they’re a real person. Well, there are cases where on other platforms you don’t know if this is a criminal organization or if it’s a terrorist or things of that nature. So the government is very hesitant to try and weed out who and who isn’t a bad actor on a platform. And they’re asking for the assistance of the platforms. And if you look in the news, that hasn’t always been the case.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:08:09] So the 17– I think I heard that correctly, the 17 moves prior, if there was some in between housing, you are reimbursed to stay in hotels or motels. What had you done in the past where it was an easy check mark, here’s your reimbursement, no questions asked.

Anthony Gantt: [00:08:29] So it was never easy. But it was reimbursed because it was a hotel either near where we were going or on an actual base. And there’s a limited list of hotels that you can actually use. So there’s the hotel motel list that you’re supposed to use, and we just always funneled into those places.

Annette Grant : [00:08:50] Okay. But yeah, when you’re a family of eight, that’s not working.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:08:55] That’s not working. Interesting.

Anthony Gantt: [00:08:56] It doesn’t work for a family of four.

Annette Grant : [00:08:59] True.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:09:00] I’m sure some would argue it doesn’t work with me and my spouse. It’s just too small.

Anthony Gantt: [00:09:04] It’s just too small.

Annette Grant : [00:09:06] Right.

Anthony Gantt: [00:09:06] You have to see each other for more than two days.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:09:08] Okay. So you sent in your reimbursement. And it was for this lovely home that you had– was was the home lovely? Was your 10-day stay, everything you could ask for more?

Anthony Gantt: [00:09:19] It was more. One, it was Austin, Texas before. It’s Austin, Texas, which means it was very inexpensive. I think it was $100 a day, five bedrooms, 3,300 square foot, massive backyard with a pool, firepit, hammock, grills. It was amazing.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:09:37] Okay. And so a place where your family during a transition was enjoying themselves much better than a hotel, but you turn that in for reimbursement and was it just a hard no. You said it was never easy, but did you try multiple different things like, hey, we will stay there and they were just like, “No, no, no.”

Anthony Gantt: [00:09:56] I tried everything under the sun itself to create a fraudulent receipt.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:10:02] Right.

Anthony Gantt: [00:10:03] I was like, “I’m about to slap a marriott logo on this PDF document that I created.”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:10:08] He is retired now, everybody, so he can not get in trouble. That’s very, very frustrating. And so did you ask other friends? Did you go in thinking you were going to be reimbursed for this or did you have other military friends that had been reimbursed? What made you think you could possibly be reimbursed for it?

Anthony Gantt: [00:10:26] So what made me think I can get reimbursed, that’s a great question. I was in Virginia, Quantico, Virginia, to be exact, which is about 25 minutes with no traffic. An hour with traffic from DC. And I remember one of the trips I took up there, I flew into Ronald Reagan Airport, got an Uber to go to the GSA office for a meeting, and I got reimbursed. And I was like, clearly, if a peer to peer platform is approved for a travel and all of them are approved, nope, that makes too much sense.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:10:56] Right. Okay. So Uber was reimbursable at that time?

Anthony Gantt: [00:11:01] Yes. It still is. And it just blows my mind. So these properties that don’t move and are sitting in the same location every time are not approved but this vehicle with this random person who’s driving everywhere, you don’t know if he has insurance, you don’t even know he’s supposed to be driving can get reimbursed. So I was like, “Cool, I get it. It makes sense. The government made the rule.”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:11:24] Okay. We won’t go there. And then explain to us is there a community of marines or military where you guys can go on and chat about this and you’re like, oh my God, I just found out we couldn’t get reimbursed for this beautiful property. Was there a pain point that was simmering amongst many of you who were transitioning?

Anthony Gantt: [00:11:48] Yes, there are several Facebook closed groups. It’s always on the Facebook. And I went to one that was centered around relocations assignments and ask the question, who else has stayed in the home that they found on this site and wasn’t reimbursed? And then I instantly became an influencer. Not really, but that’s how many feeds came from that one question. It’s like, oh, it happened to me. This is what I did. 

That’s how I found about the fake receipt. I would just make a fake receipt and do this. And I was like, that is not the right answer. And then if you go to different forums, you’ll see forums from the Air Force, Marines, Navy, and just different forms. That’s telling folks, hey, beware, don’t use it and things of that nature.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:12:32] Okay. So then you’re frustrated. You can’t get reimbursed. What happens next? You’ve got all the kids. You had a very demanding job. What happens next?

Annette Grant : [00:12:42] I start writing to the Department of Defence Travel Management Office and asking them, “Hey, how do we fix this? Can we change it?” And the answer was no. Several times I was like, okay, you said no to this, but what about that? And then it was no, and then there was no here. 

And then I ended up getting sent to the General Service Administration, which is the GSA, who makes all of the rules for the federal government. And I was like, “Hey, how do we fix this?’ And he was like, “Look, just come to a meeting we’re having and we’ll figure out something.”

So I go to this meeting, not as a marine, as a civilian, because I didn’t want to get in trouble because everyone that was there outranked me like 10 times over, both from a civilian and a DOD standpoint, Department of Defense. And I just went in as Joe Schmo, brand new guy in the industry. How do I do this? What do I need to do? And I asked several other different departments, Department of State, Treasury, Energy, Defense, all of these different representatives who kind of made the travel regulations as well as the GSA, what would it look like to aggregate properties like this that meet this requirement? And they said, we don’t know, but if someone built it, I could see it being very beneficial. And then I did this, “Wait, I’ll be back.”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:13:53] So you went in as a potential short-term rental owner asking how your home could be approved, what you would need to do to get approved. And they said– so they were very open. So that was the first meeting that you went to?

Anthony Gantt: [00:14:06] They were very open to us, like we just want people to follow our rules. And I was like in my head, I’ve been doing that for the last 19 years. Something I could do that.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:14:16] I love this. So how long after this unreimbursed stay did you attend that GSA meeting?

Anthony Gantt: [00:14:26] Six months. No, it was a year because it took me a year to try to figure it out. It was 2018 this happened. 2019 was the actual meeting. So all of the times up into that, it was emails back and forth of rejection. So it took a whole year of rejection.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:14:41] Okay. What happened next?

Annette Grant : [00:14:44] Once I got the word that something like this is doable, I said, all right, I’m going to go back. I’m going to create an idea or a platform that does this, and I’ll keep sending you updates to what I’m doing. And as I did that, I was like, I wonder if I can do it. If I do it the right way without government approval, will it get reimbursed?

So I worked with someone to get about 10 to 14 properties that we can get registered. And then we started talking to our military friends who we knew, so Marines and Marines spouses. It was like, “Hey, if you travel here, use this home that I got approved via my platform and get reimbursed. Let me know if you don’t get reimbursed, I’ll reimburse you myself.”

Annette Grant : [00:15:25] Put your money where your mouth is. I like that.

Anthony Gantt: [00:15:27] I did. And I was so scared. This is like $3,000 a day. It was a family of– they outdid me. They had to go a family and they had a kid, extra kid. I was like one on first. So they moved from Virginia to California, found them a place to stay for 30 days, got their full reimbursement and helped them save money out of pocket because it would have been a lot more if they had gone to a hotel. 

They were our first testimonial, full reimbursement, kudos, shoutout across the Facebook groups. And then the next family came from that and the next family, and the next family. And then we started helping government contractors. And then, as you all know, March– this was all in 2020, by the way.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:16:16] Oh, jeeze.

Anthony Gantt: [00:16:16] From April 2020 until about December. So everything that we did was during the pandemic that we were able to help people. We had so many requests come in at that time that it was more difficult to find vacation rental managers than it was to find users. So we had to turn some people away and started actually working with hotels to figure out which ones were now approved for travel during the pandemic to connect people.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:16:45] Let’s go back to the one upper family with the nine. In May, your first test when they sent in their receipt, were they approved immediately or did you have to go back?

Anthony Gantt: [00:17:01] Immediately.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:17:01] And so what do you think?

Annette Grant : [00:17:02] What was that?

Sarah Karakaian: [00:17:02] Yeah. What was the difference there? Was it just all the boxes were checked? Was this home normally on Airbnb and VRBO? What was the difference?

Anthony Gantt: [00:17:13] Yes. One of the things that was different, we registered it with the appropriate agency and we checked all of the boxes that needed to be filled out. I also cheated. I used to be in charge of travel for a long time in the military. So I was like, I know I have to do this, this and that. Let me call my buddy who reimburses folks who is in charge of our finance department. I was like, “Hey, I got this. I need this. What do I need? What is going to get approved by your house?”

He was like, “Do this, do this, do this, do this.” And I was like, “All right, I’ll make sure I have it.” Hung up and make sure everything was there.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:17:45] That’s not cheating. That’s using your resources.

Annette Grant : [00:17:47] Yeah, your network.

Anthony Gantt: [00:17:48] I used my resource. There we go.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:17:49] That’s right. So this house in California that the family was staying in, how did you connect? Did you connect with the host ahead of time or how did you start to orchestrate this?

Anthony Gantt: [00:18:00] I connected with the host in 2019 October, so as soon as I came from that meeting. I knew San Diego will be a prime area, lots of vacation rentals, lots of military bases. So I was like, if I’m going to do something, it has to be in a high density area. And the host at the time that I was working with was a marine who had gotten out of service and was managing properties of other military families.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:18:23] Okay. That’s a whole niche.

Anthony Gantt: [00:18:26] It’s a whole niche. Yeah.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:18:27] All right. So then what happens to you? This family gets approved, you get referrals, they get approved. Were there any bumps in the road for approval?

Anthony Gantt: [00:18:36] For approval? Yes, there were a few bumps in the road. We got a call from the US Fire Administration out of DC saying, “Hey, you guys are listing Airbnbs.” And I was like, “Nah, nah, we are not listening to Airbnbs. That is a company. We are listing short-term rentals and a short-term rentals are in compliance.”

So we had to work with local fire marshals and each fire marshal is different in each city and state. And talking through the different situations with different fire marshals, we were able to create this comprehensive checklist that I think could fulfill the requirements for all of the states. But we still have those one offs where we have to make sure this and this is that. But that helped us a lot, getting the pushback from the government.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:19:18] No. Yeah, because it helps you figure out early on what you need to do to button up all the details. Okay. So you’re chugging along. Do you have a question?

Annette Grant : [00:19:28] No, I’m like, I want to see how we get our place approved.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:19:34] Yes. I’m going to ask. And did you already always have this entrepreneurial spirit within you to take this on as your duty, to figure this out for these future military families or– I mean, this is a huge and I’m sure it continues to be a huge undertaking. And I’m sure you weren’t making and I don’t even know how it’s financially compensated, but it was a lot of work going into this. Was like, yeah, how are you keeping going here?

Annette Grant : [00:20:00] So while I was on active duty, most people have hobbies– playing video games, fixing cars, fishing, and golfing. My hobby was starting a business. So during the evenings and weekends, that’s what I focused on. And then what helped me continue to push was the thought process of if I was a younger Marine or service member, because I’ve been in for at this time, 19 years, if I would have been in my first four year enlistment, losing $1,200 would have set me back substantially. 
So that was my why. How can I help the future me at a younger age not suffer from being in the same situation that I was in? Because that’s a lot of money. $1200, I don’t care what anyone says, in California that gets you five gallons of gas, but other places you can pay rent.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:20:46] Right. Oh, gas.

Anthony Gantt: [00:20:48] So that was my why– to keep going. How can I make sure that our service members and their families who are transitioning never have to face this issue again? Because even though I say I lost $1200, I spoke to families who lost $4,000 and $7,000, which is crazy. And then the undertaking to get this done, I looked at people who were like me, i.e. military service members, veterans and spouses to help us move faster. 

So as I continue to build out the company, I started hiring people who were of that background. They speak the language, they are culturally competent and they have a network within this niche that they can start connecting to and pulling out how tos and good ideas. So that’s been very beneficial to us. Still a huge undertaking, but to answer I think, a question you guys have, how do you get your properties at it all? We go through a demo–

Sarah Karakaian: [00:21:41] Let’s actually because I don’t think we’ve even said the name of your company yet because at the beginning, Anthony. So were you just connecting everybody via Facebook groups? Is that how this was all happening in the beginning?

Anthony Gantt: [00:21:51] No, it was through emails and phone calls.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:21:53] Just emails and phone calls? So there wasn’t a website or anything like that, just connecting?

Anthony Gantt: [00:21:58] Just connecting. And then I made a WordPress that was still emails and phone calls with a WordPress site.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:22:03] So we’ll drum roll into your product and the name of it because hopefully everyone is going to check it out. When did you decide, okay, this is going to be the name we’re going to launch as a business? And really how long in did that happen?

Anthony Gantt: [00:22:21] Let’s back up. The entrepreneurial spirit, yes, I always had it. Did I know it was going to be this? Absolutely not. I thought it’s going to be something easier. How we got to the name. I knew I wanted to start a business and there were programs in Austin that I was like, “If I have a business, it’s going to require me to be in business for a while.” So immediately in December of 2018, I filed for a corporation LLC and then got it approved January 1st, 2019, and I called it PCS Homes.

Started telling people I was starting this new thing called PCS Homes. I went to school with this young lady who was in the Navy and she studied marketing. She sent me a personal message on Facebook and said, “That’s a dumb name.”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:23:03] Well, what did PCS Homes–

Annette Grant : [00:23:04] What’s that? I don’t know what that stands for. Is that a military acronym?

Anthony Gantt: [00:23:09] It’s a government acronym for Permanent Change of Station, which means you’re relocating. So I’ll say Permanent Change Station Homes. And then I was describing, if you need a temporary place to stay, go to PCS Homes. It’s just like, you need to change that name. That is no. And she is, “You should do At Ease or something like this.” And she gave me different logos for it. 

And I was like, “At Ease. At Ease.” And I was just sitting there and was like, wow, we’ll use At Ease. And then somebody was like, “Don’t you guys do that information?”

Annette Grant : [00:23:36] Yeah.

Anthony Gantt: [00:23:37] And I was like, “What do you mean, like At Ease?” Attention, all that. At Ease. And I was like, oh. And then it was like, “We’re going to put people At Ease.” And I was like, “I like this name.”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:23:47] I love it. So there you are, folks. It is. And then At Ease. Do you remember the name of the the woman that helped you out with the name? We got to give her a shout out.

Anthony Gantt: [00:23:57] Oh, yeah, absolutely. This is Katie.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:23:59] Katie?

Anthony Gantt: [00:24:00] I don’t know her last name now, but it was Katie Velasquez. We went to ROTC together.

Both Sarah and Annette: [00:24:05] We love that. Good job, Katie, doing that tough love.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:24:08] She changed the name. Not change the game. She changed the name.

Anthony Gantt: [00:24:11] She changed the day.

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Sarah Karakaian: [00:25:15] Absolutely.

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Okay. So now we’re at At Ease. And this is still your website. How are you starting? Are you like, okay, I need to get all individual properties or is At Ease turning in the reimbursements now. Talk us through your program and what the business is now.

Anthony Gantt: [00:26:49] So the business today is we looked at our approach where how can we get more properties quickly? We went to the channel managers, so Rentals United, Booking Powered, Next Packs to help get us access to a vacation rentals managers. And by doing so, we can import the inventory. It was a thousand property management software systems out there, but only a half view of channel managers. So if we talk with the channel managers first, then we can start getting the direct integrations to the PMS systems later.

Import the properties, we schedule a demo call, we do an inspection. And the reason we do the inspection is twofold. One is to make sure it’s a nice property and a nice place. And if it doesn’t meet the government requirements, we put it on for vacation and extended stays platform because some folks will not be using government allowances but still need a place to stay. 

And then the ones who have those extra requirements, what the government requires, we will put them under that approved status and register them on their behalf. And our system filters out whenever a person goes to the site, which one is for government reimbursement and which one is just, hey, this is a good property. All properties are good for vacation, period, once we’ve inspected them, but there are only a handful that are good for government stays. 

After that happens, the users come to the platform, they make the reservation, and then we handle all of the paperwork, so merchant of record and everything that’s required in order for them to get reimbursed because they’re going to ask questions that 98% of the host and property managers will not understand. So because we’re culturally competent, we know who to talk to and what numbers to dial, we say we’ll take it off everyone’s hands. 

We do get some kickback from like, “I want to be merchant of record.” I was like, “I would love for you to be the merchant of record because you can answer all of these questions,” but the moment somebody asks you, “Hey, where is my DLE and TLEMO?” You are going to be like, what are you talking about? A molten milkshake?

Sarah Karakaian: [00:28:39] I’m lost. Yeah. Got you. Okay. And you just said something that I think I actually have not seen this anywhere yet on any platform. You use the word like a walkthrough inspection and that is a differentiator, correct?

Anthony Gantt: [00:28:55] It is.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:28:56] Okay. How does one go about even applying and then what does that inspection entail and who’s the inspector?

Anthony Gantt: [00:29:04] Who is the inspector? We created a team, well, internally At Ease team members. But I also had the great idea of employing one of the most highly educated unemployed niches in the country– military spouses. A lot of them have legal degrees, accounting degrees, business degrees, and all these different attributes and experiences that they have to pick up and move, pick up and move. So a lot of times it’s hard for them to find employment. 

So I was like, what if we can be a beacon for them to find work and income doing something that they’re really good at and understand? We created the property approval certification team. We call it PACT P-A-C-T. So a PACT member comes into training. It’s taken our early PACT members about three days to complete the training and it goes to what to look for, how to answer the questions, how to take the photos and the videos that we’re looking for. Once we do that and they have the official PACT member for an area, we’ll go out and start reaching out to short-term rental managers and property managers and say, “Hey, guys. We want you to bring your properties on. If you agree with the inspection, let us know what dates is available for inspections.”

And here’s the kicker, ladies. We do not ask you to block it out. We do not ask you to stop your reservations. We say between your cleaning time frames, just like the cleaners come in, we can do the inspections. We’re not there looking for cleanliness. We’re looking for safety and security of the property. Or when you do your maintenance days throughout the month– I used to manage for about a year to get some experience before I started moving into the platform. So I understand how important it is to have that property active and live for viewings. So we want to disrupt that process as little as possible.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:30:44] I love that. Okay. I’m going to ask you another question, which is, all right, Anthony, but I can make so much money on Airbnb. Can I make as much money on At Ease?

Anthony Gantt: [00:30:56] You have to look at it during periods of shorter seasons and when you have your off peak seasons. A lot of people have said, “Well, I’m doing great right now.” And I was like, “That’s cool, but how are you going to deal with this upcoming recession? How did you do during the pandemic? How did you do during these periods where there’s nothing coming into your city or area?”

Oh, by the way, the areas we’re looking at, government is always coming to your area. The government travel didn’t slow down as much as the news said. It kept this pace. What did slow down were relocation assignments, but people were still traveling, thinking about all the doctors, the nurses and the first responders that had to get around. We’re not just for military. We’re for any public servant. So government is who we cater to. 

So, yes, you may charge twice as much now after 2019 because everybody’s taking advantage of the situation, which I hate. But I have a slogan “make short-term rentals affordable again.”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:31:55] Okay. It’s like I’m sure some people listening are like, what? But it’s like once you know your cost per reservation, once you know what your bottom line is, when you get that at At Ease– and we can talk about this, when you get that At Ease number of what we could make on that platform, if you’re still profiting, especially in your lower season, I mean, it’s a no brainer.

Anthony Gantt: [00:32:15] It’s a no brainer. And there are circumstances where we’re working on the ability or creating a function where we have independent travelers who are coming from work, that are coming as a group that can get into one property which maximize the opportunity of revenue. So if you have a two bedroom, three bedroom, and each person raise $100 each and you’re only listed for 150, we’re like, well, instead of getting one person who can pay two 150, let’s get two and three. And then we’re figuring out what the cost deviation is between the two.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:32:47] Nice. I like that. Talk to us about how this is fairing with the government? Are you getting noticed? Are they seeing what you’re doing? And they like it? And what is the immediate future for At Ease? Is it an exciting time? You’re in South Korea right now. So talk to us about where this is going.

Anthony Gantt: [00:33:09] So where it’s going is to great heights and new opportunities. What you guys said at the beginning of the show is we met in October of 2021 in San Antonio at the international conference, right?

Sarah Karakaian: [00:33:24] Right.

Anthony Gantt: [00:33:24] I was active duty when we met. Today, just about a year later, I am no longer active duty because of the growth and success we’ve had. I decided to retire after 22 years of service and take this on fulltime. It’s allowed me to hire people and get out there and add more inventory to our platform. What I see happening next is getting more inventory between vacation rental managers and hosts and more locations. Hence the reason I’m in South Korea, because our goal was to be in other countries by 2023. And this is the first step towards that. 

I’m meeting with some people this week who have vacation rental or real estate backgrounds and properties under management to where we can start talking about what that looks like in Korea. And then if I had more time, this is where the Vacation Rental Management Association for this year, kind of what’s going on next week, I would have gone to Tokyo next week in order to have the conversations. So a lot of things are rolling right now to help us push into those different heights. And we’re looking at Europe, Asia and different places across the world.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:34:33] So if any listener has any hook ups, any network, they could help Anthony, reach out to him. I have two questions still about the platform. Number one, can an independent host list on your site? Do you have to have a management company?

Anthony Gantt: [00:34:50] We’re working on that now. Initially, it was focused on management companies because it gave give us more inventory quicker, but we’re in the process of building that feature out and hopefully it’ll be available sometime in 2023. That’s our goal.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:35:03] And then may I ask, how does At Ease make money then from the host? Is there a listing fee if we’re on your site?

Anthony Gantt: [00:35:13] We have three ways for At Ease to make money. The first one is–

Annette Grant : [00:35:15] And we want to make money.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:35:16] Yeah, we do.

Anthony Gantt: [00:35:16] The first one is if you do the inspection and you pay the full price of the inspection, we give you no commission for a year. It’s almost just like Furnished Finder, a little bit more expensive because we do the inspection. No commission for the year. If you say, “Well, I don’t want to pay upfront. I want to get the inspection and I’ll wait until I get a reservation and then I’ll pay the inspection,” you’ll do that at a reduced cost, but you’ll pay 8% of commission for any reservation because we don’t charge the traveler anything. 

And then the last one is, if you already have the identificatin code from the government in hand, we’ll do a virtual inspection of the property where you or your team and only charge 10% commission. No inspection fee.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:36:00] Okay. All right.

Annette Grant : [00:36:01] Got it.

Anthony Gantt: [00:36:01] Those are our three paths.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:36:02] Love it. Do you see At Ease being a competitor to Furnished Finder down the road or no?

Anthony Gantt: [00:36:09] No. So for us, this is helping us bridge the gap for government employees who are looking to get reimbursements for their government travel. This is only an introduction to what we’re doing. Our motto is change how you move, which is encompassing our vision for the long term. We’re making a platform that starts with short-term rentals and then able to move into helping you with longer traditional real estate transactions, move into resources that help you move. So it’d be a concierge service to make it easier for you to move. So it’ll go from government to help you all one day.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:36:48] I love that. So I think the biggest message, too, is not only hosts that are listening, but if you’re a host and you have a family member in the military who is relocating because anybody relocating right now can go to your site and find places. There’s no fee for them to sign up. Is that correct?

Anthony Gantt: [00:37:05] Correct. No fee for them. And it’s not just military, it’s government.

Annette Grant : [00:37:08] Okay. Sorry. We got to get that right. So I’m sure everybody listening has some sort of friend or family acquaintance that works for the government. So please give Anthony’s site a shoutout, at least on the traveler side, too, so they can obviously fuel back into the short-term rental economy this way. 

Anthony, there’s a real big buzz word on Instagram and YouTube amongst gurus and people who want to niche down to who their guest is coming to their short-term rentals. And one of those buzz words– plural– is government contracts. And it sounds like hard to get or you have to know somebody, but are you essentially bridging that gap for property managers and soon to be independent hosts of getting these government contracts and the people who can stay in places? Tell us about that.

Anthony Gantt: [00:37:56] No. I’ve seen that online too talking about you’re missing out on government contracts. People don’t understand it’s not as easy as they think. And that’s another reason I retired because as a federal employee you can’t get government contracts. I think there’s some kind of conflict of interest. But it’s not an easy process when there are strict requirements. 

Most hosts who are looking at them won’t. They will hate the requirements that the government is asking for. What we’re bridging the gap with is we will apply for a lot of those contracts, which we’ll be able to have the host and the managers who want that traveler base. We’ll be able to route them to those properties through our contract vehicles that we win and get. 

I implore anybody, if you want to go out and do it, go for it. It’s not an easy feat. I fill in with at least 10 or 15 government contracts. Again, I was still active duty. All were denied for the weirdest thing, you want it $96 a day, they said they’ll give me 95.50. That’s it. They gave you a hotel. I’ll give you an apartment.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:39:02] Okay.

Anthony Gantt: [00:39:02] So it’s not as easy as people think it is, but I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing it. If you can get it, go and do it.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:39:10] But I just wanted to also point out what you are doing versus that whole niche. And is it the same? Was it different? But it’s different.

Anthony Gantt: [00:39:17] It crosses over into each other. It’s different because they’re going for a exclusive contract, whether it’s a specific government, whether it’s local, state or federal. What I’m doing is saying, we don’t need the contract. We have the traveler base. Let’s just get travelers into it. And then if we do get a contract vehicle, we still have the travel base. I need properties now because I have this dedicated group of travelers coming to me.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:39:40] So if someone is interested in that niche of government contracts, and right now they manage multiple properties, their property management company or in 2023 there and have been hosts, they would maybe even benefit more by going through At Ease as the property owner, manager or whatever, because you would have more opportunity for them.

Anthony Gantt: [00:39:57] Right. I say we get it on both fronts because again, I agree that managers should have direct booking platforms, but they also should diversify their options. So if they can get that direct contract and still come to At Ease, why wouldn’t you do that? It just gives you more opportunity to make more money.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:40:15] I love it. So we don’t want to wait to publish this episode. Anthony, I want to get your word out there, your product out there. But admittedly, a big portion of our audience, they are owner operators, so they’re independent hosts. If they were to reach out to you after listening to this episode, can you put them on a waitlist? What can you do for our listeners so that they won’t be forgotten about once they’re eligible to join At Ease?

Anthony Gantt: [00:40:39] So one, I will ask for grace because we have a small team and we’ve been getting a lot of requests. So the owner operators who don’t use the PMS or are not integrated, if they use a system, contact us. My email address, I’ll share it with you, anthony@pcsatease.com, and then we’ll put you on a list like, hey, we know you have this inventory here. We can either do the inspection now or later. It’s usually predicated on what that short-term rental manager wants, like an operator. 

Once we get that, we’ll say, hey, give us everything that’s related to your listing, your links from Airbnb, VRBO, Furnished Finder, whatever you have, give us the photos, the description and give us as much information as we can receive from you so when we do create that feature function, we’ll import it manually ourselves, upload it and let you know when it goes live. 

The other thing we’ve done in the past is if we have the photos and the images available for a military or government traveler that’s coming to that area, we have shown that to them in an email like we create a PDF and say, hey, here’s some options. It’s available during this time. Would you like to book it? 

If they say yes, we go back to the manager operator, phone calls and emails, hey, would you like us to book to your platform or how would you like to do it? You can block it out on your platform. I would take the money as soon as I get the funds for these days, I’ll give it to you and connect you with that guest. We’ve been able to do that. So we’re very scrappy and doing it however we can. So if anyone wants to do it, absolutely don’t let the platform be a deterrence.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:42:14] I don’t want this to be an insensitive question, so forgive me if it’s coming off that way, but the homes get inspected for safety and which I wish Airbnb would do something where we’re required to have a fire marshal walkthrough. I mean, listeners, if you want your fire marshal to walk through, many chances they will do that for you and make sure that you’re in compliance. 

But what about the guest side? Everyone feels like if a guest booked through Airbnb, there’s some trust factor there, which the reviews system is helpful for sure. But what is it about the guest side that a property manager or owner can feel comfortable with knowing that they’re all so verified and they’re going to pay and and all that good stuff?

Anthony Gantt: [00:42:55] I love that question. I know it’s not insensitive at all. We have a third party integration with a platform that guarantees that the user has served in a government at any capacity. And then once we verify that, any user can’t come to our platform, you have to have been a government employee– military, government nurse, doctor, first responder. Once you get vetted through that platform, then when you get ready to make a reservation, we’re working with another third party to do background checks as well as rental history checks.

And it’s going through that person’s, I guess, rental background and saying, yes, this is a good person. We validate them and vouch for them. You should approve this renting or this booking. And if it sends a no, then we reach out to that person like, “Hey, we can’t.”

Sarah Karakaian: [00:43:44] We got your act together. So there’s basically two layers of verification– the the government first and then the current ID and rental history.

Annette Grant : [00:43:54] Just like a long-term rental landlord would. Yeah, it’s a great throwback

Anthony Gantt: [00:43:54] Correct. Very similar to that. Because I just want to make sure that we’re creating an ecosystem of good actors on all fronts where the managers, the listing, and the traveler can come together.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:44:08] I love it. Is there anything we haven’t asked you about that you want to make sure our listeners know about At Ease or you? Do you need help? What do you want to share with our listeners before we sign off today?

Anthony Gantt: [00:44:19] What I like to share with the listeners is, don’t hesitate to work with smaller niche platforms. And when you do, be very open to giving critique and criticism because that’s the only way we’re going to get better. A lot of times I have seen not from my platform only, but from other new platforms, from going to the conferences that customers are saying what they dislike about the products, but not sharing it with the people who make the product.

Annette Grant : [00:44:46] Yes.

Anthony Gantt: [00:44:47] So if you see something, you come to our site and there’s an issue, email me, call me, text me. I don’t care. Let us know so we can get it written up and put it into our timeline for adding this feature or saying, “Hey, this is why we don’t allow that feature.” Give us the ability to communicate with you. 

I think the biggest issue with companies today is the lack of customer service and how they do it. And that’s what we’re focusing on as a small team or as we become a large team, is to always have a real person talking to another real person about real issues in real time.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:45:22] I love that tip, actually, Anthony, because as Annette and I also as entrepreneurs and we’ve created things for visiting out of thin air and so we get a lot of things right because you wouldn’t experience the growth that you have without getting things right. 

But then there’s also trial and error. There’s like throwing spaghetti on the wall and saving it sticks. And the only way we know if it sticks is whether or not you leave us a review or you email us some sort of tip or trick or this didn’t resonate with me, that positive constructive feedback, not just the trolling. It’s not helpful. 

But you’re right. And it goes with property management software as we hear people moan and gripe about different property management software. So it’s like, hey, there’s a new era of property owners and managers. And so we all need to work together to build these products together so they serve certain categories and needs and all that kind of good stuff. So thanks for allowing us to feel comfortable reaching out and your feedback.

Annette Grant : [00:46:19] Yeah, just people.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:46:20] It’s people behind everything. All the technology, all the voices, all the videos. We’re all humans here. So be gentle when you give the constructive criticism, but also let Anthony know, hey, this is– not like I saw this as an issue, but this is how you could also maybe improve it or hey, I’m on another niche site and this is what they do and it’s been very successful. But Anthony, we want you to get to bed because you have been up late–

Annette Grant : [00:46:45] It’s now 1:00 AM.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:46:46] You’re doing very important work. We are here for you. We’ll see you soon. And listeners, we’ll have all the links to Anthony’s– we’ll put his email in there and the site, so please check it out and again, share it with your government employee friends so they can start using it and then connect with him to get your listing on the site. Anthony, thank you so much. With that I am Sarah Karakaian.

Annette Grant : [00:47:08] I’m Annette Grant, and together we are–

Both Sarah and Annette: [00:47:09] Thanks For Visiting.

Sarah Karakaian: [00:47:10] We’ll talk to you next time. Thanks for listening to the Thanks For Visiting Podcast. Head on over to the show notes for additional information about today’s episode. And please hit that Subscribe button and leave us a review. Awesome reviews help us bring you awesome content. Thanks for tuning in, and we look forward to hanging out with you next week.