This week we continue our series in which we meet and introduce you to one of our holiday-home owners. For today’s post we meet Jan Stewart and her partner Mike, owners of two holiday apartments listed with HomeAway UK. The first is on the sun-kissed island of Vis, a beautiful retreat situated in Croatia’s spectacular Dalmatian Coast; Jan and Mike’s second property with us is in the heart of Central London’s gorgeous Bloomsbury area, close to Covent Garden and the British Museum.
So let’s ‘meet the owner’ Jan Stewart, and find out why Jan and Mike chose their homes away from home.
How did you decide to buy or own a holiday rental home?
Jan Stewart: It was a total accident! We never really decided to have a rental property. We went on a three-week holiday to Croatia and while travelling the islands we stumbled across a complete wreck of a house and fell in love – with a pile of stone. Once the Croatia house had been renovated and had become such a rental success we decided to rent a flat in London too.
How and why did you chose the location?
JS: When choosing the Croatian house it was the location that took our breath away. The ruin we’d fallen for was right on the waterfront, set back in a picturesque square, and as we scrambled dangerously up staircases which had fallen through and across precipitous beams to the top floor we realised that this house would have a million-euro view, we had to have it. We were lucky that prices in Croatia were fairly low at the time, so we paid a deposit there and then to secure it (such a mad thing to do with hindsight) and then we started planning how to renovate it. Nine months later we had the most gorgeous two-bedroomed luxury house and it dawned on us that it might be great to rent it out, as it was such a treat to stay there. But when choosing the location of our London flat we took our time. We wanted to be right in the centre within walking distance of the main sights, but in a quiet attractive street, and on the Tube line direct from Heathrow. It was an almost impossible “ask” but we found the perfect apartment in Bloomsbury.
What advice would you give people if they are thinking about owning a holiday home?
JS: You have to be organised and you have to be really serious about providing a service to the people who book. You will find people will want to ask a myriad of questions, so you have to be on call on your email 18 hours a day and prepared to respond promptly to their queries as well as responding to new enquiries. If you’re too slow to respond you will not get bookings.
What’s the best/most enjoyable part about renting out your holiday home?
JS: I’m so in love with our Croatian house and with our apartment in Bloomsbury that I get a huge kick out of hearing guests say nice things about them, appreciating exactly the same things that I appreciate. So the best part is reading the emails from guests who have returned home. I love it that they always want to let me know about the holiday and what they have enjoyed.
What’s the most challenging part of renting out your holiday home?
JS: Keeping up with the laundry! In London I do it all myself because I insist on having the best sheets and towels and I don’t trust the laundry firms. I like to see that everything is spotlessly clean, freshly scented, and beautifully ironed. In Croatia I’m fantastically lucky because I’ve found a cleaner who’s a perfectionist like me.
How long have you advertised on HomeAway and why did you chose the website?
JS: I started advertising the Croatian house in 2005 on HomeAway, but I also hedged my bets by trying other websites too. I found more guests through HomeAway, and the system was clear to use and fair. If you were a serious advertiser who updated your calendar frequently and responded to enquiries quickly they favoured you by moving you up the listings. I felt that was a good idea for everyone, so I ended up only using HomeAway as it functioned better than all the others, and still does.
How have you managed to maximise the performance of your listing?
JS: I believe it’s worth paying more for a gold or platinum listing, as you will get more enquiries. But I’m also passionate about updating my calendar regularly, and adjusting my rates and my minimum rental duration according to the gaps I need to fill. It’s no good having four days left to fill in a month, but forgetting that in the text and saying you require a five-day minimum booking at that time.
Have you any wonderful stories of renting out your holiday home?
JS: When we started renting out our Croatian house we hosted a young Australian couple who booked it with some friends. They clearly loved it, and the young man told me he had so fallen for the island it had prompted him to propose…and he’d been accepted. I wasn’t surprised when they booked to go again the next year, for their honeymoon. Nine months after their second visit their first baby was born, a little boy. The next year they visited again but there was nothing to report apart from the fact that they told me they’d had a wonderful time. But nine months after their fourth visit they had a little girl. They still visit every year and will be there in June this year. I’m not sure if there’s something in the air or the water on our island…!
Planning your next UK-based holiday? Check out our great travel guide to London, packed full of itineraries for everyone – from families to gastronomes. Heading abroad instead? We have you covered with our guide to holidays in Croatia. Either way, you can find Jan’s Bloomsbury holiday rental or venture further afield to her Hoste House in Croatia.