Finding the right investment property is a huge undertaking, but you don’t have to do it alone! Whether you’re interested in beach villas, mountainside cabins, or urban condos, a skilled vacation rental agent can take much of the stress and frustration out of the investment process. Working with a qualified real estate professional can give you the market information, knowledge, and guidance you need to make the most of your investment.
In this article, we’ll:
- Discuss the key differences between real estate agents and vacation rental agents
- Explain why you need a vacation rental real estate agent
- Provide seven methods for finding skilled vacation rental agents
- Offer nine questions to ask potential agents so you can determine which is the best fit
- Cover several dos and don’ts for choosing and working with vacation rental agents
Once you and your agent have closed on a property, don’t forget to come back to RentalTrader to list it! We can help you secure guest bookings, fill your calendar, and find success as a vacation rental investor and host.
- 1 Real Estate Agents Vs. Vacation Rental Agents: What’s The Difference?
- 2 Why Do You Need a Vacation Rental Agent?
- 3 7 Ways to Find a Skilled Vacation Rental Agent
- 4 9 Questions to Ask Potential Agents
- 4.1 1. How many properties do you sell in a typical year?
- 4.2 2. Can you show me some of the properties you’ve recently closed on?
- 4.3 3. How much of your client base is made up of investors, rather than primary home buyers?
- 4.4 4. How many vacation rental properties have you closed on?
- 4.5 5. Are you a vacation rental investor, and do you self-manage your properties?
- 4.6 6. Are you licensed? What certifications do you have?
- 4.7 7. What do you know about (insert your investment strategy of choice here)?
- 4.8 8. What is your strategy for evaluating potential investment properties?
- 4.9 9. Can you provide a few references?
- 5 Choosing and Working With an Agent: Dos and Don’ts
- 6 Top Takeaways
Real Estate Agents Vs. Vacation Rental Agents: What’s The Difference?
Let’s begin by discussing the factors that set vacation rental agents apart from traditional real estate agents.
Real Estate Agents
The basic definition of a real estate agent is a licensed professional whose main responsibility is to arrange real estate transactions. Real estate agents join sellers and buyers and act as their representatives throughout the negotiation process. Typically, real estate agents earn money through commissions, which are a percentage of a property’s purchase price. Their income is entirely dependent on their ability to close real estate deals.
Some of the daily tasks of real estate agents are helping clients purchase, rent, and sell their properties. Agents frequently conduct walk-throughs and advise clients regarding market conditions.
Most real estate agents specialize in residential or commercial real estate, meaning that they primarily work with the sale of homes or buildings related to businesses. Very few specialize in vacation rental properties, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
The term “real estate agent” is often used interchangeably with the terms “real estate broker” and “realtor,” but there are distinctions between these three job titles.
A real estate agent has passed the state licensing exam and gone through basic real estate training. They typically have to keep up with training hours to renew their license. Real estate agents usually work under real estate brokers or agencies and do not work independently.
Real estate brokers go through much more training than real estate agents and have more specialized knowledge. They not only have to keep up with training hours, but are also expected to undergo additional courses to sustain their license. Brokers can work independently and also have the option to start their own real estate agency.
Meanwhile, realtors are real estate brokers who are part of the National Association for Realtors. With membership in this association comes the responsibility of complying with a strict code of ethics. Realtors tend to have the most credibility because of their agreement with this ethical code.
Vacation Rental Agents
A vacation rental agent can be a real estate agent, broker, or realtor. The main difference between a vacation rental agent and a traditional real estate agent is their specialized knowledge in the short-term rental industry. Unfortunately, a good vacation rental agent can be hard to find, and part of the reason for this is that only about 1% of real estate agents specialize in vacation rental properties.
Buying and selling vacation rental properties is completely different from purchasing or selling a primary residence or commercial building. It requires a separate skill set and strategy. Vacation rental agent jobs do not have the same responsibilities as travel agents, either.
To be a vacation rental agent, a real estate professional must be aware of the area’s zoning restrictions and short-term rental regulations. Depending on the market type (learn more about vacation rental markets here), they may need to stay on top of constantly-changing legislation, making it even more challenging to navigate the purchase and sale of vacation rentals.
One major difference between primary home buyers and vacation rental property investors is that it’s very rare for primary home buyers to purchase a property without physically seeing it. On the other hand, about a quarter of vacation rental property investors are willing to buy a property sight unseen. However, this can lead to major problems if they’re not working with a highly competent and skilled vacation rental agent.
Because of this, vacation rental property investors are more likely to seek out an agent who is well-versed and knowledgeable in the short-term rental space. Investors want agents that can provide custom projections, expert insights, and statistics like the property’s cap rate. They prioritize the potential for revenue far more than the potential for long-term equity. Meanwhile, primary home buyers tend to look for real estate agents that offer excellent customer service and have honed their negotiation skills.
Other parts of the vacation rental agent job description include:
- Being legally registered and compliant with relevant authorities
- Obtaining the necessary accreditation and training
- Communicating effectively with investors, regardless of whether they’re local, out of state, or abroad
- Comparing various properties and determining which will be the smartest investment
- Having extensive knowledge of the market’s trends, seasonality, and tourism patterns
- Keeping up with the latest listings, especially in a hot market
- Knowing all relevant laws, tax requirements, and zoning restrictions
- Putting properties on the market and preparing them for clients to view them
- Having access to and providing data such as projected ROI, occupancy, cap rate, revenue, scalability, and more
- Helping vacation rental property investors negotiate beneficial terms
- Having an understanding of what goes into managing a vacation rental, both in-person and remotely, and being knowledgeable about vacation rental automation
There are several certifications specific to vacation rental agents. For instance, the NAR or National Association of Realtors offers a Resort and Second-Home Property Specialist certification. It’s intended for realtors who wish to specialize in the purchasing, selling, and management of properties for investment or development in vacation, resort, and recreational destinations.
Vacation Rental University also runs a realtor certification program. This program focuses on expanding realtors’ knowledge of the vacation rental industry and teaching them how to work with investors, close sales, and manage vacation rental properties.
A certified vacation rental agent sets themselves apart by showing they’ve invested time and effort into learning all they can about the industry and how to better serve their investor clients.
Why Do You Need a Vacation Rental Agent?
The primary reasons why you need a vacation rental agent, rather than a traditional real estate agent, are the differences explained in the section above. Vacation rental agents have highly specialized knowledge and experience in selling vacation rentals.
Traditional real estate agents simply don’t have the knowledge, skill set, and experience necessary to help you make the most effective and rewarding investment possible. Investing in a vacation rental is a huge decision, and you deserve to have an expert by your side throughout the process.
To answer the question of whether you can act as your own agent rather than working with one, it’s absolutely possible, but not likely to get you the same results. If you’re brand-new to real estate investment (and even if you’re not), it’s better to have an experienced vacation rental agent in your corner. They’ll be much more familiar with local laws and regulations, know how your chosen market works, and be able to make projections as to how well various types of properties will perform as vacation rentals.
Working with a vacation rental agent means less of a chance for mistakes and oversights, and you don’t want to make mistakes when you’re making a large investment.
Not only do you need a vacation rental agent, but you need a good vacation rental agent. This starts with looking for agents that are from your chosen market or that specialize in the area. It’s vital to work with someone who is extremely familiar with the market and its trends.
A vacation rental agent specializing in a particular area will know if it is a buyer’s or seller’s market and can strategize effectively. They’ll know whether it’s worth investing in that market or if you’d be better off investing elsewhere. They can easily do a comparative market analysis to help you decide what would make your investment most worthwhile.
Another tip is to look for a vacation rental agent that’s more than comfortable with negotiating–and not just negotiating, but also handling feedback and remaining persistent even in the face of multiple rejections.
Although you don’t necessarily want an agent that can stay on the phone with you all day long (because the best agents are busy agents), you do want one that responds to you promptly and communicates effectively.
Your vacation rental agent should be accustomed to the necessity of finding properties that will yield a profit. This is the main difference between short-term rental properties and primary home properties. During this process, someone who fully understands micro-neighborhoods and can perform various analyses using data points will become your best friend. Of course, your agent should know how to understand and calculate ROI, cap rate, cash flow, after-repair value, occupancy rate, and other related figures.
7 Ways to Find a Skilled Vacation Rental Agent
You want a real estate agent that’s highly experienced in buying and selling vacation rental properties and is also familiar with short-term rental analysis and working with investors. The most effective way to find an agent like this is to ask other investors for their recommendations. You don’t have to personally know other investors to do this; plenty of websites and forums can connect you with successful investors in your chosen market.
Aside from getting recommendations from other investors, there are a few additional ways to find skilled vacation rental agents. We’ll briefly discuss each one of them below.
Once you’ve gotten a few agents’ names, we recommend reaching out to them to see which one will be the best match for you. It’s best to give yourself several options, rather than going with the first vacation rental agent you find. Read the next section on questions to ask potential agents to get more insight on how to choose between multiple vacation rental agents.
1. Vacation Rental Owner Facebook Groups
Facebook groups for vacation rental owners and investors are a great place to get agent recommendations and other advice. A few that you might want to check out include Vacation Rentals from Owners, AirBNB / VRBO / HomeAway / Short Term Rental Discussion, and Real Estate Rookie.
If you’re interested in connecting with other vacation rental owners on LinkedIn, we recommend these groups. For additional Facebook group options, click here. You can also read this article if you’re interested in learning how to market your vacation rental on Facebook.
It’s worth noting that you’ll usually find two types of people in these Facebook groups. One type is the legitimate investors who are running their vacation rentals as a business. The other is people who consider their vacation rental their baby; they typically self-manage their rental in person, greet every guest that stays with them, and do not list their property on sites like RentalTrader and Airbnb. If you want to list your vacation rental and make money from it, try to listen to the other serious investors and tune out the rest.
2. Webinars for Vacation Rental Owners
Attending webinars relevant to your market is another fantastic way to get some qualified vacation rental agents’ names, and this is often very inexpensive or even free. You’ll not only get the chance to learn from experienced investors, but you can request specific recommendations and ask any other questions you have regarding vacation rentals. Ideally, you should ask investors who have found success with the same type of investment property you’re interested in running.
3. Online Forums
There are numerous online forums for vacation rental owners to get together and discuss all sorts of topics pertaining to real estate investment and running short-term rentals.
The BiggerPockets Forums are an excellent option with a wealth of information on every vacation rental property topic imaginable. You can search for the market you’re interested in and find at least a few successful investors that will be happy to talk about their experiences and give you pointers and agent recommendations.
However, it’s always important to take information with a grain of salt and consider the source’s motives. Suppose you speak with someone who works as a professional vacation rental property manager. In that case, they’ll likely try to dissuade you from managing your rental on your own and will encourage you to spend on hiring a professional property manager.
One way to gauge the credibility and validity of users is to look at their post count and upvote count. Ideally, they should have hundreds or thousands of posts and even more upvotes, showing that other people in the forums have found the information they’ve shared to be valuable.
BiggerPockets isn’t the only forum for vacation rental investors, though. TripAdvisor has an active Timeshares/Vacation Rentals forum as well. The Airbnb subreddit is also a good place to ask about agents and get other pertinent information, and it doesn’t require you to have an Airbnb account like the official Airbnb Community Center does.
Between all of these different forum options, you’re sure to find someone in your market who is willing to talk and share some vacation rental agent recommendations!
4. Booking Platforms
Although getting agent recommendations through booking platforms will take a bit more effort (and potentially rejection) than some of the other options we’ve talked about, it’s still worth a try. All you need to do is search for vacation rentals in your market and reach out to as many hosts as possible to ask them if they have any recommendations for vacation rental real estate agents.
Unfortunately, you’ll likely run into many hosts who either respond rudely or ignore you altogether. Fortunately, you only need one or two hosts to respond with helpful information for this endeavor to be worthwhile.
You may also wish to look into Vacasa vacation rental real estate agents. Vacasa is mainly known as a vacation rental management company, but it also offers real estate services. Vacasa works with high-quality real estate agents and offers its services to vacation rental investors and sellers. Its agents can produce custom vacation rental income projections for various properties, and they have significant local and national expertise in the vacation rental industry.
Vacasa can pair you with an agent who will identify the right location for investment based on your budget, personal interests, and financing options. They’ll help you make an informed decision and crunch all of the numbers as well.
6. Mashvisor Real Estate Agent Directory
Another excellent place to look for vacation rental real estate agents is the Mashvisor Real Estate Agent Directory. Within this directory, you can look up agents by state and city. Then, you can view individual profiles to check for a specialization in short-term or vacation rentals.
7. Local Business Agencies
A final option for finding vacation rental agents is to contact the local business agency in your market. You should be able to ask them about real estate agent offices in the area and determine whether the agents specialize in vacation rentals. You may even be able to get information about their ratings.
9 Questions to Ask Potential Agents
Now that you’ve gotten a few vacation rental real estate agent recommendations, it’s time to contact them and see which is the best fit for you! The questions below will help you do just that.
1. How many properties do you sell in a typical year?
Asking how many properties an agent sells in a year gives you a lot of insight into how good they are at their job. Good agents have many clients and close tons of deals. Plus, the more properties an agent sells, the more relationships they’re likely to have with other agents, which means they may be able to access off-market deals. In many cases, agents that no one knows have the most difficulty winning contracts, while well-established agents find it easier to close on deals.
2. Can you show me some of the properties you’ve recently closed on?
Good agents will be happy to talk about their recent work and the deals they got for their clients. It’s not a good sign if an agent isn’t willing to discuss information regarding their past deals. Ideally, the agent you decide to work with will have closed on properties that are somewhat similar to the type of property you want to invest in. That way, you’ll know they have the experience and are savvy enough to win the contract for that particular kind of property.
3. How much of your client base is made up of investors, rather than primary home buyers?
This question is extremely important. You want to find a real estate agent who mainly works with investors (or, better yet, an agent that only works with investors). Someone who works with primary home buyers most of the time likely isn’t as clued into the vacation rental market as they should be. They aren’t as likely to know how to determine which properties will be the most worthwhile investments.
While many real estate agents who primarily work with home buyers will be willing to work with you, this doesn’t mean they’re qualified for the job, as it requires quite a bit of specialized knowledge and experience. Primary home buyers and investors are two very different types of clients, so you want to make sure to work with an agent that knows exactly what they’re doing.
4. How many vacation rental properties have you closed on?
It’s also good to ask how many vacation rental properties the agent has closed on. You could run into a situation where an agent who has previously only worked with primary home buyers has shifted their focus and wants to expand their services into the vacation rental industry, but hasn’t yet built up the experience and portfolio that you’d want to see in order to work with them. It’s crucial to ensure the agent you choose has a successful track record in getting good deals on vacation rental properties for their investor clients.
5. Are you a vacation rental investor, and do you self-manage your properties?
By no means is it required for your agent to be a vacation rental investor themselves. Nor is it necessary for them to self-manage their investment properties. But if they are an investor with self-management experience, that’s a huge advantage for you.
Some things can only be fully understood about the vacation rental investment and management process if a person has gone through it themselves, so if your agent has done this, you’ll have a huge leg up in the process. They’ll have a nuanced understanding of what you need and what you’re looking for as far as a profitable property.
Plus, they’ll be able to offer you guidance even after closing the deal regarding how to manage your new vacation rental.
However, if you work with an agent who is a property manager, or an agent who works for a broker who is a property manager, they will likely try to have you use their management services once you’ve acquired a property. Don’t feel pressured to agree; what you do after closing the deal on your new vacation rental does not need to benefit your agent or their broker. Pushing to earn a vacation rental property management fee isn’t professional or appropriate behavior for agents.
6. Are you licensed? What certifications do you have?
Of course, you’ll want to ensure that your agent is licensed, whether that means they’re a real estate agent, a broker, or a realtor. You’ll also want to ask about certifications. There are various vacation rental real estate agent certifications that show your agent has the knowledge they need to help you succeed with your investment.
7. What do you know about (insert your investment strategy of choice here)?
It’s also wise to ask questions that will reveal your agent’s knowledge in different areas. This way, you can see whether or not they’ll truly be able to help you meet your investment goals. Do they know which numbers are important to project income potential? What kinds of financing or investment strategies have they helped their clients with in the past? (Learn more about vacation rental financing here.) There’s nothing wrong with “testing” your agent to make sure they have the knowledge they need to get you a great deal on a property with plenty of income potential.
8. What is your strategy for evaluating potential investment properties?
This is another good question to ask to get an idea of the depth of your agent’s knowledge. If they can tell you all about the market and various numbers that go into their evaluation, that’s a good sign. If they’re vague or don’t seem to have a concrete strategy, they may not be the right choice for you.
9. Can you provide a few references?
A good vacation rental real estate agent will have plenty of former clients that are happy to speak with you and let you know what it was like to work with them. It’s a red flag if an agent doesn’t want you to speak with former investor clients; either things didn’t work out well, or they don’t have any former investor clients. Speaking with another vacation rental investor about their experience with an agent can help to cement your decision and make sure you partner with the right professional.
Choosing and Working With an Agent: Dos and Don’ts
When choosing and working with vacation rental real estate agents, many new investors make the common mistakes below. We’ll tell you what not to do and what you should do instead.
Don’t: Act as your own agent without doing sufficient research.
Do: Seriously consider working with an agent, and if you choose not to, spend plenty of time researching the market, figuring out strategies for determining whether a property is a worthwhile investment, and learning about how to manage your new vacation rental. (The RentalTrader blog is a terrific resource.)
Don’t: Work with a traditional real estate agent that doesn’t have experience with investor clients and vacation rental properties.
Do: Take the time to seek out an agent that has vacation rental certifications, knowledge of the industry, and experience helping investors close on deals.
Don’t: Demand off-market deals.
Do: Present yourself as an ideal client by not asking for special treatment and remaining courteous and kind at all times. If you plan to invest in more than one property, consider working with the same agent again, as agents are often more likely to offer their off-market deals to repeat clients that they enjoy working with. You should also note that just because a property is off-market doesn’t mean it’s a better deal than one that’s on the market. It just means that there will be less competition for that property.
Don’t: Immediately ask for a discount from your agent.
Do: Respect the time and effort they put into helping you find and acquire the perfect vacation rental property. Being a vacation rental real estate agent is not just showing houses and writing up contracts. It also involves tons of client communication, property and market analysis, and training clients on self-managing strategies, among other responsibilities.
Don’t: Work with more than one agent at once.
Do: Stick with one agent once you’ve found them; working with more than one person will inevitably waste the time and effort of one of the agents. Remember that market and property analysis takes work. If you shirk one agent’s carefully-curated recommendations to invest in a property another agent suggested, that’s essentially a slap in the face for them and is sure to end your professional relationship.
Here are the most essential points to remember on this topic.
After working with your vacation rental agent to invest in an amazing property, we’d love for you to come back to RentalTrader and list it on our platform. That’s right; we don’t just offer hundreds of informational articles for hosts, investors, and guests. We’re also a vacation rental listing platform that connects travelers with high-quality places to stay.
It’s 100% free to list your property with us, and we only charge a host fee of 4.5% per booking (much less than some of the other listing platforms, which charge 14% or more!). Here at RentalTrader, our goal is to take back the vacation rental industry and make travel affordable and accessible for hosts and guests alike. Join the revolution today by listing your vacation rental property!