Pro Tips for Remote Co-Hosting (CC5)

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[00:00:00] Amy: All right, welcome back. My name’s Amy Corbett. I am here with another co-host named Lori Lusk, and we’re excited to talk today about this idea of remote co-hosting. How do you manage a short-term rental in a market that you do not live in and you are not there on the ground? So welcome, Lori.

[00:00:23] Lori: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

[00:00:26] Amy: So Lori, will you just tell us a little bit about yourself, and how did you get into the co-hosting world?

[00:00:33] Lori: Yeah. So I live just outside of Seattle, Washington. So I’m on the West Coast, and I have properties in Blue Ridge, Georgia, Hot Springs, Arkansas, and then one in the mountain town outside of Seattle called Cle Elum. All of my properties are remote, with the furthest being over 2,000 miles away.

[00:00:56] So I got into co-hosting on accident through word of mouth. So I own a couple of properties in Blue Ridge, Georgia, like I mentioned, and there was someone that was just struggling with managing her house, and someone just let her know that I own properties in the area and that she could reach out to me and see if that would be something that I would be interested in doing.

[00:01:25] And honestly, when she reached out, I had never even considered co-hosting for someone else. I managed my own properties, but I hadn’t really taken co-hosting into consideration. So that was my first exposure to it.

[00:01:38] Amy: Yeah. Were you panicked, like, how would I do this for other people? Or was it more of a situation like, I’ve already got the team? I’ve already got the procedures. Let’s just plug it in.

[00:01:51] Lori: Yeah. I think for me, the systems that I have in place and my team are really awesome, so I didn’t have a concern with that. My one concern was just having another person that I had to answer to because, since I manage all my own properties, I don’t have to answer to any kind of boss, or client, or anything like that, aside from my guests. So that was my biggest concern. I wasn’t concerned about plugging someone into my cleaning team, and my management software, and that side of it.

[00:02:25] Amy: You had all that set up. So how did that work with the owners? Were they involved at all, or did you set this expectation that this is my business? 

[00:02:37] Lori: Yeah, so I would say I went into it absolutely knowing nothing. I would say I was probably trying to sell myself more than I was trying to interview them as a potential client, which I think was definitely a mistake that I made. So instead of asking questions and making sure that their expectations of me matched what I wanted in being a co-host and also some questions I probably could have asked about the property, I would say, in the beginning, that was probably a mistake I made that I didn’t know any better.

[00:03:13] Amy: What were some of those questions that you maybe should have asked and didn’t about the property itself?

[00:03:19] Lori: Yeah, so this property in particular had some issues with it going in. So there were some issues with the HVAC system that a couple of different HVAC repair people had tried to resolve, and what it resulted in is the system would completely go out–

[00:03:38] Amy: Oh no.

[00:03:38] Lori: When a guest staying there. Yeah. And they didn’t know really how to fix it. They would bandaid it. So it took a lot of my time in calling people. It took a lot of money because it was usually on the weekends, so it was extra cost and what would’ve been if it was just scheduled maintenance. 

[00:03:57] So it just turned into this bigger issue that I didn’t think about. So I think a question would be, is there anything with your house that you would need my help with in getting addressed to make it the best property?

[00:04:14] Amy: Right.

[00:04:15] Lori: Phrasing it like that. We’re not saying, oh, what’s wrong with your property? Is there something that needs to be fixed? But just saying, like, are there any areas in the house that you think potentially need improvement or– I did have a checklist where I asked how old a lot of those systems were.

[00:04:36] So I asked the age of the HVAC, the hot water heater, when they’ve last been serviced, those kinds of questions. But I think I just got the answers and didn’t really do anything with it, if that makes sense.

[00:04:51] Amy: Did the client disclose about the HVAC system when you asked that or got that information?

[00:04:59] Lori: Not initially. So I didn’t know it from the get go, but then after we had already signed contracts and everything, she let me know what was going on with it. And it was a very confusing thing. It was something with the condensate. They had a plumber come out, and it was a very odd situation. So it was hard enough to even understand what was going on, let alone know all the problems that it was going to create in the future.

[00:05:32] Amy: Let’s fast forward. So that would cause problems when guests were there, and then you’re across the country. How do you handle that?

[00:05:44] Lori: There’s a couple of great HVAC companies in the area, so it was just calling both of them and finding out who could get out there the soonest, and I’ll tell you, I started with this client back in September, and even up until about a month ago, it was still an issue. Still things going on with the HVAC system. Something like that can really eat up your time. And when you’re spending more and more time on that stuff, that means that your hourly rate is going down, so yeah.

[00:06:15] Amy: Right. It’s so important that we are able to walk into a situation with a homeowner who has done their due diligence to mitigate any of those almost preventative measures that our guests are not going to walk in and face those things that– it is a partnership. It needs to work in that aspect, even before you start hosting your first guests.

[00:06:44] Let’s go back to, are there any other questions that you can think of like, oh, I should have asked the client?

[00:06:53] Lori: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think asking about what level of involvement they’re expecting to have. I have two clients, and one is very hands off. I’ll reach out to her if there’s an odd situation, and I’m not sure exactly what she wants to do. She allows pets, and sometimes there’ll be a number of pets or a certain age of pets where I’ll tell her, I wouldn’t necessarily allow this, but I just want to get your input. 

[00:07:22] And then I had another client that was very, almost micromanagy, so wanted to be involved in a lot of stuff. So I would say just asking upfront what their expectation is of how much communication there will be and what types of items that they expect to be communicated with.

[00:07:47] So if there’s a major issue with a major system or if a hot water tank needs to be replaced, but if it’s just, hey, the toilet’s clogged, and I need to call a plumber, I need to have the authority to do that without asking questions.

[00:08:01] Amy: Ah. Yeah. What level of communication were you hoping for or expecting on your end?

[00:08:10] Lori: Yeah, I was expecting more control unless it’s–I would say, if it’s something major that’s going to be, and maybe you can even set a dollar amount to it, something that’s going to be over a $1,000, then it needs to be authorized. I do this on my long-term properties. But if it’s anything underneath that, take care of it.

[00:08:30] Also, if it’s an emergency, obviously, it’s going to get taken care of. So I think just setting those and having it in your contract, really having it in writing. I did have a great contract, so that was one thing that I definitely did right, is just having all that language in there that you can reference later if something does go wrong or there’s even a miscommunication.

[00:08:57] Amy: So important.

[00:08:58] Lori: Being able to go back and reference that language is really helpful. Yeah.

[00:09:02] Amy: Absolutely. So take us down the road of you begin hosting. How did that work? You said she was micromanaging. There was more communication than you would prefer. It’s costing you time, energy. Did you communicate that to the owner? How did that go?

[00:09:22] Lori: I would say no, I didn’t communicate it, and I think part of the reason is because I didn’t bring it up initially. I guess I didn’t feel comfortable having that conversation. I feel like the relationship was going pretty good. The co-hosting was fine. It was taking up more of my time.

[00:09:43] But I also do realize that these are a couple of my first clients, so it’s not going to be perfect the first time. I realize that. So it’s a learning experience. We were also in this partnership together with the understanding that there were going to be more properties coming online in the future.

[00:10:05] So I had that part of the relationship where I didn’t want to have any animosity towards each other in case we did expand on the portfolio. I just went with the flow, and I just did my job. There were some things that were frustrating, but it wasn’t like a day-to-day thing that was bothering me too much. You know what I mean?

[00:10:32] Amy: Yeah.

[00:10:33] Lori: It was working out fine. It was just whenever those issues happen, they always happen on the weekend. They happen when you’re out at dinner on a Friday night. So I think that part was just getting to frustrating because it was just the same problem over and over again, and I should have known better about that problem in the beginning, I think.

[00:10:53] Amy: It’s so important. That time in the beginning of setting expectations and contracts is huge, and I don’t think a lot of co-hosts realize that, and then the trouble it can create later.

[00:11:06] Lori: Mm-hmm. Definitely

[00:11:09] Amy: So are you still co-hosting for this client?

[00:11:14] Lori: Yeah, so I actually just ended the relationship, and it was a pretty easy break. I’ve been reading this book called 10x Is Easier Than 2x by Dan Sullivan, and he talks about the 80/20 rule. So I realized that a lot of my time was being taken up by things, tasks that weren’t really moving the needle for me.

[00:11:41] And one of those low-hanging fruit that I knew was taking a lot of my time, and I honestly wasn’t making that much money, was co-hosting. And especially, not necessarily co-hosting in general, but just these two that I had taken on, I realized, weren’t really the best fit for what I was looking to do, which is fine to realize after the fact. It’s a learning lesson. It was my first client.

[00:12:07] Amy: Absolutely.

[00:12:09] Lori: I did decide to terminate both relationships for now. I’ve got a lot going on. My kiddos are doing a bunch of sports, and life has just gotten much busier over the last year, so decided to take a step back from it, and I can reset my systems around it and potentially do it in the future, but it just doesn’t fit in with what I’m doing right now.

[00:12:34] Amy: Take us back to that breakup. Was that an email? Was that a phone call? How’d you do it?

[00:12:41] Lori: It was an initial email because I come from the commercial real estate world, so it’s always, have any of those types of things in writing. So it was an initial email I did in my contract. There’s a 60-day termination without cause. So either one of us can end the relationship as long as there’s a written notice 60 days in advance.

[00:13:08] And so I just took the language exactly from my contract, had that in an email, said, this is just an official notice. I would love to set up a call to discuss. And so then it was a call after the initial email.

[00:13:25] Amy: How awkward was that?

[00:13:27] Lori: Honestly, it wasn’t too bad. They completely understood. They both knew that I am a mom first, and they knew that I had a lot going on, that I have properties myself. So I think it was an easy conversation to have, and it just felt very sudden, obviously, because there wasn’t any leading up to it. 

[00:13:52] It was just a light bulb in my head where I was like, this is taking too much of my time, and I need to stop feeling guilty about wanting to quit or feeling like a failure and think about what’s going to be best for me for the future. So it was hard. It was hard to sleep the night before I was sending the email. And before having the call, I was a bag of nerves. I don’t do confrontation very well, so all of that stuff just gives the heebie-jeebies.

[00:14:28] Amy: Yes. And no matter how good you are at confrontation, it’s always hard. It’s always hard, and I face the same feelings of, I have failed at something, and really, it’s just a situation that is not in alignment with your goals in your business, and it’s doing the right thing for your kiddos and for when you need to move forward.

[00:14:56] Back into when you were doing it, because we have so many questions about what remote co-hosting looks like, did you have any help? Did you have a team? Was this all you coordinating everything?

[00:15:11] Lori: Yeah, so I definitely have my team, my boots on the ground. So I have cleaners that are fantastic. I also have landscapers. I have handymen, plumbers, electricians, all these people on call. I also had a virtual assistant that was working with me, helping with guest communication. So I did have that. Since moved on from virtual assistants looking for a new one. But I do have lots of help.

[00:15:43] Amy: And how can I ask how you found those people? I guess you already had a home in that area, so you probably did on one of your trips. Are these just the vendors that you were using anyways for your property?

[00:15:59] Lori: Yeah, so a mix. So the same client that was a little more involved, she had a team that she wanted to use. So that was another thing that I would say I made a mistake with in the beginning, is not having her plugged into my system. So for her, I had a separate cleaner. I had a separate handyman. She also had certain vendors that she liked to use. So it wasn’t really plugging into my system that well.

[00:16:29] Amy: Right. 

[00:16:29] Lori: I would say that was another thing in the beginning that I should have said is, hey, if I’m going to be your co-host, you’re going to be plugged into my system. We’re going to use my vendors. So then it’s not all these one-offs.

[00:16:43] Amy: It would’ve been more streamlined for you, for sure.

[00:16:46] Lori: Yes. Mm-hmm.

[00:16:48] Amy: So what do you think a remote co-host needs? You mentioned boots on the ground. What would be that checklist of who they need?

[00:16:58] Lori: Yeah. So first and foremost, it’s going to be your cleaner. That’s number one, hands down. They’re in and out of your property all the time. They’re the first one that’s going to see any damage or if something’s wrong. So really making sure that you have a great cleaning team. And I personally like to use professional cleaning companies as opposed to one person or two people just because they have their systems in place.

[00:17:28] My cleaner actually has her own inspector, so they’ll clean, and then they have a person come in and just make sure everything looks great. If anything goes wrong, then my cabin will get inspected for, I think it’s five times in a row after that incident. So they just have their systems really well set up, and I rarely have an issue with them.

[00:17:53] Amy: I love that. Yeah. What cleaning team already has inspectors built in? That’s amazing.

[00:18:02] Lori: Yeah. Yeah, so not that I want a national cleaning company, but someone that manages lots of short-term rentals, has a bunch of housekeepers that work for them. There’s always backups upon backups. They’re very easy to reach out to. I also like to make sure that our communication lines up because I’m not going to call people, for the most part.

[00:18:27] I like to text. If I text, I want to get a response quickly. I also don’t really like to email. It’s really just text for me. So I want to make sure that that aligns too, that our communication preferences align.

[00:18:39] The cleaning team is, first and foremost, incredibly important.

[00:18:45] After my cleaning team, I would probably say having a great handyperson is next. And that person really needs to be, for me, tech-savvy because we use a lot of technology. We have smart thermostats. We have smart locks. We have security cameras. So I need someone that has a smartphone that can download an app and can help me troubleshoot, and they know what I’m talking about.

[00:19:10] A lot of times, if you get handymen that just know how to fix a broken doorknob or something like that, they might not be very tech savvy. So that’s very important for me. And also just great communication with them. I’m going to text. I want to response quickly, whether you can come or not just so that I can let them set the expectations with the guest on how soon things can be addressed.

[00:19:35] And then keeping the curb appeal great. So having a great landscaper, making sure that we have beautiful views, so people spend a lot of time on decks in Blue Ridge. So making sure that those decks are pristine. That’s also very important. So those are probably my top three. And then just having those emergency type people that you can call and you know they’re going to be readily available, like your plumber, HVAC, electrician, those types of people.

[00:20:07] Amy: Tell me about the communication with your team. Were you using any software apps, or is this just you manually getting on the phone and texting the contractors?

[00:20:16] Lori: Yeah, so I would say for the cleaners, they do use– my cleaner uses Breezeway. So she gets all of the communication about when guests are checking in, checking out, how many guests, the name of the guest. That all comes automatically. I use Guesty For Hosts as my property management software. So all of that happens automatically.

[00:20:38] So for the most part, I don’t really need to reach out to my cleaner. The only time is if there’s an issue, and that would be a text. They’re very responsive. They’ll get back to me pretty much anytime day or night. And then, let’s see. Anyone else? Yeah, it’s really just text. I have my landscapers on a schedule, so I just let my guest know, hey, our landscaper comes on Thursday mornings, or whatever it might be, so then they’re aware. 

[00:21:10] Amy: And when you say landscaper, it may be in different areas. It could be mowers, right?

[00:21:17] Lori: Yes. Yeah. So this person, if we have grass, they’re mowing the lawn. We’re rural, so it’s a lot of just random weeds growing through gravel and stuff like that. We get a lot of leaves, so it’s blowing off the leaves and taking them off the property. So yeah, it’s not always mowing, but definitely a lot of weed whacking or weeded eating, depending on where you’re from, and getting rid of leaves. Leaves are huge in the area.

[00:21:50] Amy: So how did it work out with time zone differences? When you’re on West Coast, East Coast, was that ever a challenge for you?

[00:21:58] Lori: Yeah, so it actually works amazing for me because I am a morning person, so even though I work for myself, my alarm goes off at 5:00 in the morning. So for me, since that’s 5:00, it’s 8:00 East Coast, so most of my messaging, and turnovers, and all of that happens around 10:00 AM, so it usually gives me a couple of hours.

[00:22:24] Most people are pretty, I would say, understanding if they’re getting a message around 8:00. Sometimes I’m even up a little bit earlier than that, but I also like to go to bed early. 

[00:22:34] So when I’m going to bed at nine, it’s midnight over there, so knock on wood, for the most part, unless it’s an emergency, which we have in all of our welcome books what to do in case a real emergency– not, I found a cockroach– but if there’s an issue with the electricity or the water goes out or something like that, we give them all the numbers that they would need to call in that case. So it actually works out great for me because I’m that earlier shift anyway.

[00:23:08] Amy: Your body’s already in sync with the East Coast, so that is perfect.

[00:23:14] Lori: Mm-hmm. Yeah, yeah.

[00:23:17] Amy: You’ve already mentioned some of the difficulties as far as the HVAC in the property and even working with owners. What would you say is difficult about co-hosting remotely for people who are getting into it?

[00:23:33] Lori: I think once you have that system, you can do it from anywhere. I’m East Coast. I’m Central. I’m West Coast. And for the most part, I don’t really spend a lot of day-to-day time on those properties. It’s only if there’s an issue, which is also pretty few and far between, or if they just have a random question, which will take me less than five minutes to answer.

[00:24:04] But one of the things that I was just thinking about from remote co-hosting or even buying a property remotely, I do suggest investing in going and seeing the property in person. And that was one of the things that I was really struggling with to start with, was, do I require a home visit, and how much do I charge for that?

[00:24:31] I didn’t do it with these, and if I were to do it again, I would definitely charge for that because I think it’s also helpful to give insight to your client on what improvements they might need to make or what issues there might be with a guest because with one of these properties, there’s also a pretty serious access issue.

[00:24:56] So the road leading up to the home is gravel, and at one point, it gets pretty steep. But there’s also a lot of potholes, and it’s not on her property, so it’s also really hard to address. So we’ve gotten a lot of mentions in reviews about this driveway coming up and how it feels a little scary because if you don’t have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, your tires can spin out a little bit, that kind of thing. 

[00:25:29] Especially once it starts raining hard, or if it gets cold or snowy, that was one thing too, where I was like, that’s one thing that I didn’t know about because I didn’t go to the property and experience it myself.

[00:25:43] Amy: And an owner may not think to tell you that.

[00:25:47] Lori: Our cabin up here is gravel. It’s up and down fairly steep hills, so I’m pretty used to it. But even when I was driving on it, when I was in the area and I just wanted to go see it for myself, and even when I was driving on it, I was like, yeah, I could see how someone coming from Atlanta that’s used to driving in the city, if they come out here and drive on this road, it could seem a little scary, and especially at night. 

[00:26:12] A lot of these guests are arriving after dark. So I think that’s one thing I would definitely recommend. And if I were to go back and do it again, I would make that a requirement.

[00:26:24] Amy: That is such great advice. I’ve actually done that myself with our hosts. Anyone who wants us to take on their property remotely, the requirement is, hey, you have to fly me and one of our team members out to stay one to two nights in your property for us to get acquainted with it and all of its quirks, and we need to be guests in that property to learn it, to write everything down, to take notes.

[00:26:52] We take pictures of everything in the cabinets because we know we’re going to get questions about it, and we’re not there, having our eyes on it all the time. So that’s such good advice and an important part of, remote co-hosting. 

[00:27:08] So I think I know the answer to this, but would you feel comfortable taking on a new property outside of a market where you don’t already have the team in place?

[00:27:22] Lori: That’s a great question. And that was one of the draws of one of my clients, was that she was going to be buying more properties, and they would potentially be in markets that I wasn’t already in. So I was a little bit hesitant to it. I like the idea of it because I love the idea of diversifying in short-term rentals.

[00:27:48] I don’t want to have all of my properties in one market. So I’ve been doing this thing where I’ll buy two in each market because that’s great. You get a little bit of the, at least for my ownership side, not necessarily as a co-host, but getting that diversification, but also a little bit of economies of scale too.

[00:28:09] So you already have your team and you can plug people in. I would be open to it. I think it would take more research on the front end, and obviously, you’re putting more time in on the front end because you’re going to have to develop those teams that you don’t already have in place. So it’d probably be something where I would charge a higher setup fee than I do with the ones that I already have, the systems in place, just to compensate for my time. 

[00:28:38] Amy: Right.

[00:28:38] Lori: Yeah, I think I would.

[00:28:40] Amy: Yeah. That doesn’t seem daunting for you. Whereas so many other co-hosts, that lack of, maybe, control or being on the ground just feels like it needs to be there.

[00:28:54] And that’s what’s beautiful about co-hosting and hosting. The sky’s the limit. You can shape it and figure out what works for you. And I even love how you shared your story of how co-hosting with these clients who were not aligned didn’t work for you.

[00:29:15] I think there’s so much to learn there, and when you’re new to co-hosting, you just don’t know what you don’t know, and the lessons you’re giving us and future co-hosts here are so invaluable. So can you tell us what’s next for you? Do you have aspirations for co-hosting again? What direction are you headed now?

[00:29:39] Lori: I could definitely see co-hosting in the future. I would say right now, focusing on other endeavors. I’d probably take a break from it for a little bit. Maybe starting like the beginning of next year, I would be open to co-hosting again. I think with everything that I’ve learned from these experiences, I wouldn’t take it back for anything because I just learned a lot about myself.

[00:30:06] With my own properties, I had all of these systems that were non-negotiables, but then once I brought another person in, I was willing to let go of all of those. So I think just really understanding what it is you need as a business person and what you need out of the relationship is really the most important for you to be successful.

[00:30:28] So really just sticking to that and saying, if we’re going to work together, you have to be on my team. I need to visit the property, like you’re saying. I take over 400 pictures of my own properties. But I didn’t do that as a co-host. And it’s like, well, why wouldn’t I? I should.

[00:30:45] It was bad business practice. So finding what really worked for you, maybe as an owner, and applying that when you’re a co-host. If you are an owner first, just making sure that you’re going through all those systems too. So I’d be open to it in the future.

[00:31:04] Amy: Okay, okay. Yeah, I think that’s such a great point because you can be an awesome host, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fit for co-hosting or that you’re going to instantly just jump in and be the greatest because, yeah. Same thing. The first few remote co-hosting gigs I took were terrible.

[00:31:31] I was not aligned with the owners, but that’s how you learn. Of course there weren’t resources like this where I could listen to and learn from other people’s mistakes. There is a learning curve to co-hosting. And even if the answer is, hey, I want to go in a different direction that’s not co-hosting within the industry, that can sometimes give you that direction.

[00:31:58] Lori: I agree. We talked about this a little bit before, but co-hosting isn’t a very defined role either. So you can make it whatever you want it to be. I was pretty full-service. I was basically taking on everything that they would do as a host, but you can also change that however you want.

[00:32:24] So if there’s certain aspects of being a host you don’t necessarily enjoy, you can change your structure, and you can change your feed depending on how you want it to be. So that’s really a great benefit of co-hosting.

[00:32:37] Amy: Love that. Yes. Great point. So what are you focusing on right now?

[00:32:42] Lori: So right now, me and my business partner, Trish, are working on a company called Remote Host Hub, where we teach people exactly how to host remotely. So getting to keep that fee of, if you’re going to hire a big property manager or something like that, teaching the systems that you can put in place to be able to manage on your own, like we have.

[00:33:09] So really diving into that a lot. My kids, tomorrow’s their last day of school, so hoping to just take time, hang out with the family. We got a big trip going to Yellowstone this summer.

[00:33:22] Amy: How fun. That’s wonderful. I love how you’re even taking this. Maybe you’re not remote co-hosting, but you’re now training others with remote hosting, which is, there’s so much crossover in those subjects. So if people want to book your properties, Lori, or learn more about remote hosting, can they connect with you?

[00:33:46] Lori: Yeah, so for my properties, our business is called Golden Deer Escapes. So it’s just And then for the remote hosting, it’s Remote Host Hub, so I’m on Instagram with both at @remotehosthub or at @goldendeerescapes. And you can always just reach out to me on the website or in my DMs. I am around and love talking about short-term rentals, so open to any conversations.

[00:34:20] Amy: That’s awesome. Well, we are so lucky and fortunate to have you come and impart all of this wisdom and experience with us today. So thank you so much for your time, Lori.

[00:34:33] Lori: Yeah. Thank you, Amy, for having me. It was so much fun.