App for Cottage Owners

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CottageMANAGING THE USE AND upkeep of a favorite shared cabin sometimes gets complicated and creates tension in the family. Chris Thrall knows of those challenges firsthand. That’s why he and his brother, Eric, created “Shared Key,” an online cottage management application. Thrall and his siblings share a place in the Canadian Rockies that his grandfather built in the 1950s, a cabin highly treasured by the family. And though it is managed by his mother, time spent at the mountain getaway is divvied up among 18 people including three siblings, their spouses and their children.

Woman on laptop - Thinkstock“One of the issues we’ve experienced has to do with house rules and expectations about that property, and how to leave it for the next family member,” said Thrall, “We’ve had circumstances where cleanup standards weren’t met; or, where the parents with kids in their late teens and 20s feel comfortable to let them use the property. How do they leave it? These are the kids of siblings, and the aunts and uncles get involved and that can result in hard feelings.”

Chris and Eric visited Michigan earlier this year to demonstrate the online application that his customers subscribe to for $49 a year. Shared Key provides a calendar for scheduling, maps and directions for those coming in from out of town, a photo gallery for favorite pics, a guide to favorite local destinations like restaurants, key contacts like neighbors or the plumber, a notice board for those with “member” access, a guest book for comments and, of course, the house rules.

“The younger, online generation doesn’t pay attention to the paper on the refrigerator,” Chris said. “The most obvious area of conflict is scheduling. We know of people who went up to their place for the weekend and found their cousins were already there. That creates one of the greatest conflicts and it is one of the easiest to solve.

“One of the issues we’ve experienced has to do with house rules and expectations about that property, and how to leave it for the next family member.”
— Chris Thrall

“… Another issue is keeping track of the history of what has been done to the place: Who is the plumber? What do we pay him and when was the last repair on the roof? We’ve found it hugely beneficial to go back to the notes when stuff breaks.”

Chris said the app (sharedkey.com) has evolved over time. Invited guests, as well as younger family members, can be given limited access and using it means no one person must be the cottage gatekeeper. He and Eric began developing the program 10 years ago. They launched it in beta form in 2010 for family and friends. Now, it is available online with a 30-day free trial offer.

“I know of families who sold off their place because they anticipated conflict with the third generation,” Chris said. “Developing this was something we had a passion about and saw a need for, especially as our kids were getting older.”

Photography courtesy Thinkstock

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