When Kristi Poel and her husband purchased an A-frame cabin near Bellaire, they knew they wanted to share it with strangers. After living in the town — a popular spot for those seeking a pleasant peninsula — the couple wanted to help showcase the beauty of northern Michigan.
“We acquired it three years ago and changed it from a home into a rental, and we’ve provided a lot of weeks of vacation for people since,” Poel said. The couple began listing the property on the online rental sites vrbo.com and airbnb.com. Almost immediately, they began getting bookings.
“We’ve had no problems,” she said. “People have been very happy and very satisfied.”
Their one bedroom cabin is in a secluded, wooded area with direct access to Grass River, which flows into Torch Lake. Poel said capitalizing on the peaceful privacy of the site has been key to her success.
“You have to find a niche and determine what’s going to be best for your property,” Poel said. “Are you going to market it as family fun? Is it going to be a retreat? Adults only? This will all determine what kind of clientele you bring in.”
Poel has helped other cottage owners use the sites. Gordy Schafer purchased a five-bedroom cottage on Grass River in June 2015. He enlisted Poel, who helped him and ensured he was filing the correct legal and insurance paperwork.
“It immediately began to rent,” Schafer said. “Seven weeks of next year are already booked for me.”
Having clear-cut rules in place and ensuring guests respect any neighbors is crucial, according to Schafer. He suggests being clear about the number of people who can stay, what is expected in terms of music, fireworks and children.
“There doesn’t have to be a lot of rules, just common sense,” Schafer said.
Both online sites provide property owners with tools to describe the property and set expectations. That’s something Josh Moore, a Norton Shores cottage owner, likes most about Airbnb.
“The platform is really great,” he said. Moore purchased his cottage in 2015. He initially wasn’t planning to rent it out. “We normally get there two to three times a month, and I figured we could try and rent it during the times we wouldn’t be there,” Moore said. “We’ve had close to 100 percent occupancy. It’s all been overwhelmingly positive.”
Anticipating renter needs was key to ensuring a hassle-free experience for Moore and his guests. He created a custom email that is sent to each renter after booking. It answers the most frequently asked questions like: “What’s the Wi-Fi code?” and “Where’s the closest spot to grab a good meal?” He keeps a printed copy on the property, as well.