This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.
Got a new vacation rental or Airbnb you’re about to furnish and put on the market? Or, do you already have a short-term rental and want to buy some new furnishings in order to stand out from your competition?
If the answer is yes, have you thought about how you’re going to go about this?
Because there is a smart and a not-so-smart method to buying furnishings for vacation rentals and Airbnb’s. Unfortunately, this is an area where some of the biggest mistakes are made.
And it ends up killing your bottom line.
Let’s back up for a second and talk about the reason mistakes are made. It all starts with a seemingly logical assumption. This assumption, repeated over and over in vacation rental marketing blogs and books goes something like this,
“Keep your furnishings consistent with your rental rates. If you market your property as “luxury” and charge rental rates on the higher end of the spectrum for your area, your renters will want a certain level of luxury in your furnishings, linens, appliances, and entertainment options. However, if you market your rental property as a low to medium priced home, there’s no need to go high-end. Know your audience and keep them in mind when furnishing your property.”
Ok, so, wrong, wrong, and more wrong.
Do not follow this advice if you want strong bookings and higher rates.
From a pure spreadsheet perspective, this reasoning appears to make sense. After all, if you spend too much money on expensive furnishings in your short-term rental, your bottom line will go pear-shaped.
However, ask those same number crunchers to imagine – just for a second – that they are not number crunchers, but rather, potential guests about to go on vacation.
Let’s say they had a $300 nightly budget allotted to a vacation rental and were narrowing down their choices in the approximate price range, assuming the views, amenities, and location are the same. What do yo think they’d book: the vacation rentals with the high-end furnishings or vacation rentals with low-end furnishings?
Duh! High-end all the way, baby!
Rhetorical as the question is, it illustrates an absolute truism in the vacation rental business:
Guests prefer a luxurious look over a low to medium-end look every time. Doesn’t matter what price range the rental falls in. Guests always want high-end. Why? Because they’re on vacation and feel they deserve high end.
It’s an emotional thing.
Think about it, do you believe (for one second) that people are going to reason this way:
“Gosh, my budget is not extravagant, so I’m going to look for a mediocre place with furnishings that look like they came from a discount furniture warehouse. That’s where I belong.”
Didn’t think so.
Guests reject average. Average is lame. Average is a losing propostion.
So my point is, yes, know your audience. Know that they never, ever, ever want low-end but rather want to be surrounded by luxury and feel pampered in your vacation rental, whether it commands a $800 per night price tag or a $200 one. Make it your mantra when you shop for furnishings.
“But it doesn’t make sense to spend an armload on high-end furnishings for a low to mid-priced short-term rental,” the number crunchers counter. “Profits will not pencil out.”
I agree. Investment returns will indeed dwindle if you buy a $1,200 Perrin and Rowe bathroom faucet or $45 per square foot Ann Sacks tile for a short-term rental.
In fact, I am absolutely against spending thousands of dollars on expensive stuff.
So the question becomes, how do you furnish a low to mid-priced rental with high-end furnishings and still not damage your bottom line?
The Absolute Best Way to Furnish Your Vacation Rental or Airbnb
First of all, your principal objective is to get high-end furnishings at low-end prices. Buying something fantastic for a fraction of its original price is a short-term rental owner’s prime mission.
I’m speaking of Craig’s List, outlets, estate sales, consignment shops, and auctions.
I’ll start with my personal favorite – Craig’s List – because the deals are wicked good.
Maybe the mere fact that buying something on Craig’s List is difficult is the same reason such good deals can be had. I mean, you have to reply to a long URL instead of a person, maybe someone will get back to you. Once they do, you have to hope they won’t sell it to someone else before you drive to their house or warehouse (or parked pickup truck) and hand over the cash. Then there’s the issue of having a truck with which to haul the stuff and finding (begging) someone to help you load and unload.
When I score items on Craig’s List, I feel like an absolute superstar because being successful entails the perfect storm of determination, luck, and labor. And I’ll add in bravery because some of the sellers are a tad iffy, which is why I always take a companion along.
It’s an adventure.
Here’s a sampling of some super high-end furnishings currently on Craig’s List:
Many Craig’s List items are only slightly used or brand new. Commonly, homeowners are moving and don’t have room for existing furniture in their new place. Pricey, high-end furniture has almost no resale value, so people list it on Craig’s List and accept what they can get.
Other typical sellers include stores going out of business, people “changing their look” and contractors selling items they didn’t use in a project and can’t return.
Do you think it took me long to find the above items? Not at all. I found them all in less than 15 minutes. There is a ton of high-end stuff on Craig’s List; you just have to know what to look for.
Here are some tips:
1. Identify manufacturers you like. If you don’t know many, buy some design magazines and write down names that you love. Make a list and put the names in the search box. Here are some of my favorites that work in the USA:
Furniture: Ligne Roset, Minotti, Barbara Barry, Design Within Reach, Williams-Sonoma Home, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Baker Furniture, Burnhardt, Roche Bobois, Kelly Wearstler, Jonathan Adler, Calligaris, Moroso, B&B Italia, Donghia, Poliform
Plumbing: Kallista, Perrin and Rowe, Waterworks, Lefroy Brooks
Lighting: Flos, Circa Lighting, Schoolhouse Electric, Rejuvenation, Arteriors
Fabric: Osborne and Little, Brunschwig & Fils, Schumacher, Bergamo, Zak + Fox,
Rugs: ABC Carpet and Home, Stark, The Rug Company
2. Look in areas of the world where your chances of encountering upscale items are good. A little farming town with not a lot of cities around is not likely to yield a modern Italian sectional.
3. Lastly, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! Most sellers will take a lower price. They want to get rid of this stuff and are willing to drop down the asking price if they’re not getting a lot of calls. Suggestion, though: negotiate once you get there, not beforehand. Getting there is half the work. ;)
As in the real deal and not the stores you find in dedicated Outlet Malls that are popping up all over the world. Before the word “outlet” became a marketing term, it meant a deep discount store managed by a manufacturer in which seconds or overstock items could be found for a fraction of their retail price. Yes, there are still outlets, but you have to do a little research to see where they are.
My advice is to call or google search a manufacturer you like and ask them if they have either a physical or on-line source for samples, seconds or overstock. Oftentimes they do! And if it’s online, all the more fantastic for people who can’t get there easily.
Baker Furniture, for example, has a site called Baker Odds and Ends, which lists floor samples in US stores. Once you find an item, call the store’s contact number and arrange a purchase.
Some outlets do not sell online, requiring you to go to their physical location. However, that’s not a bad thing; it eliminates most of your competition, which is why some of the greatest deals can be scored.
Heath Ceramics, for instance, the famous ceramic tile and objects manufacturer in Sausalito, California, dedicates a portion of their factory to second and overstock tile. But they don’t sell over the internet. You have to lug yourself there, step through a rather dark room and try to find the tile you like (which is pretty easy because Heath tile is gorgeous). Outlet prices range from $5 to $12 per square foot approximately. Quite a deal when you consider that retail prices start at $28.75 per square foot and up!
Heath has a web page dedicated to listing all their seconds and overstock tile so once you find what you want, call them up and ask them to set it aside until you can get there. They will hold items up to 24 hours. I recommend that my clients make a vacation out of it if they live far away. Sausalito is right next to the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County and has lots of chic vacation rentals in which to stay. ;)
If you can handle the adrenaline of a really good estate sale, this party is for you. Most estate sales are held by third parties these days, who get a percentage of goods sold. The middleman presence, unfortunately, makes the markup heftier than buying directly from an owner. For this reason, I prefer individual sellers on Craig’s List; however, I still recommend going to estate sales if you have the time and inclination.
Finding estate sales is not easy. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and see a hand-made sign along the roadside, but you can also search Craig’s List mid-week and see advertisements for the coming weekend. Make sure to go early and buy as soon as you are 90% sure you want something. I guarantee someone will scoop it out from under you (shamelessly) if you’re not assertive.
Great deals can be had in consignment shops, especially ones that are a bit out-of-the-way and NOT in trendy or upscale neighborhoods. In fact, don’t even bother going into those. I am always flabbergasted at the prices in tony consignment shops. You might as well buy retail. However, finding one in a run down strip mall can yield some pretty impressive results.
Chairish is a new online consignment shop where you’ll find all sorts of vintage and trendy items for your vacation rental or Airbnb. Don’t be turned away by the list prices, though. I have made pretty low offers that have been accepted. Just press the button that says ‘Make an Offer’ and hope for the best. Don’t be afraid to low-ball it; it never hurts to try.
One recent fabulous addition to Chairish is its Samples tab. You’ll find chic brands normally only available to designers, like this little Henredon gem that sold for only $299! Yeah, that’s $299 for a solid, mahogany bed.
So eBay. Ebay has a huge inventory of almost everything you can think of. Want German studio pottery? There are lots on eBay. How about a stainless steel apron sink (which retails for $1,200) with a Buy It Now price of $250? Almost everything can be bought on eBay. I favor plumbing fixtures, lighting, art, kitchen sinks, dishwashers, cabinet pulls, fabric…. okay, I’ll stop. There’s too much to list.
The trick to using eBay is similar to Craig’s List. Make a list of searchable terms, put them in your query box, find what you want, bid your largest bid, win (or lose), pay with handy-dandy PayPal and voilà, your stuff gets shipped to your front door. A lot easier than Craig’s List, right? Yes, but then again, the prices are not nearly as good as Craig’s List, but they’ll do.
They beat retail.
Let’s look at some goodies….
iGavel Auctions is not streamlined like eBay; in fact, it’s a technically awkward, very user-unfriendly online auction site where I continue to shop because I can get both affordable and unusual things. Pay attention to that last adjective, ‘unusual’ because successfully designed vacation rentals feature unique, sometimes quirky, decorative items to differentiate themselves from hotels. iGavel is just the ticket.
Check out the antique Chinese screen I won a few years ago. I used as a headboard in my vacation rental.
Let’s put some of these major scores in a room and hang out
Now is the fun part! Decorating your space with your upscale, luxurious finds will make you happy, your guests happy and allow your vacation rental to stand out from the crowd. Woo hoo!
I hope you see the benefit of approaching Airbnb and vacation rental decorating in this way. It provides a long-term design strategy that will save you thousands of dollars (or whatever currency you are using) and attract a lot more guests to your short-term rental.
People will respond to the luxury and appreciate the fact that you put time, taste and effort into their holiday lodgings. They will never guess that you bought stuff on Craig’s List or eBay or at an estate sale; they will only sigh and brag about how they stayed in a “boutique vacation rental.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. Have you found a good source of luxury furnishings for affordable prices? What is your approach? What have you tried and did it work for you?
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