Category: Vacation Rental

Spirit of VR Roadshow: Last Stop, The Florida Panhandle

As a record-breaking named storm named Eta hoovered in the Gulf of Mexico near South Florida, the Spirit of VR Roadshow, a first-of-its-kind industry event, gathered in Panama City Beach. This would be the final area for the event, which had started in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Not only had the hurricane season been unusually active, but COVID-19 cases were increasing and a major election had not gone the way most residents in the panhandle had hoped. Despite all these tensions, property managers were still willing to come out and meet, to talk about what challenges their guests were facing (and causing).

The Spirit of VR Roadshow

Spirit of VR Roadshow Sponsors (TruPlace, Xplorie, Silicon Travel, Beyond Pricing, RealTech, and Brivo)

On Nov. 9, 2020, the Xplorie-driven van pulled into the waterfront venue of Papa Joe’s Bayside, which is now an outdoor event space that held nearly 500 people over the summer. With beach chairs, fire pits, food trucks and even a football goal post, the space felt tropical and relaxing. And relaxation was one thing vacation rental managers in this area were ready for. As of the event, most of them were still at 50% occupancy, and it wasn’t due the recent influx of IronMan participants. “That’s just how things have been going,” said one manager who has about 148 rentals. “We have not slowed down since Labor Day like usual.”

Like Usual?

Nothing about 2020 will be referenced as “like usual.” The Sheraton in PCB was at 70% occupancy the first week of November, which has never happened in its 34-year history. One waitress at Sharky’s beachfront bar and grill, which boasts a large outdoor seating area where you can step on the sand from your table, ended the summer with more than $20,000 in tips.

Another rental manager said she had to go knock on doors of the FEMA trailers, which are still occupied with victims of Hurricane Michael, looking for cleaning crew help because she couldn’t turn over the units fast enough for new guests. Several crews working in the industry to clean vacation rentals had tripled their prices over the summer as well. Some property managers still recovering from Hurricane Sally received visits from event sponsor, Silicon, which helped them repair or replace damaged routers.

No Longer a Secret

What was once known as Florida’s best kept secret, the turquoise waters and white sand beaches off 30A became (and stayed) a respite for those who had been pent up for too long. Boasting a healthy mix of single family homes, townhomes and condos, the rentals near Miramar saw record-breaking numbers right up until Halloween. With no mask mandates and 100% capacity at restaurants, this location was just what drive-to guests were looking for.

The Grand Sandestin, a sprawling 2,400-acre resort town, where the last stop on the roadshow gathered to meet, welcomed several managers to enjoy Hammerheads Creole cooking, cold brews and a demonstration of Xplorie’s new Alexa-powered guest experience. The voice-powered program allows guests to ask Alexa for everything from the WiFi password to recommendations for local restaurants and entertainment. Event sponsor Brivo, formerly known as Parakeet, was also on hand to share ways their locking system can help in contactless ways.

New Normal

TruPlace's Rebecca Lombardo and Greg Manson at the Spirit of VR Roadshow

TruPlace’s Rebecca Lombardo and Greg Manson at the Spirit of VR Roadshow

Standing outside that evening of the last stop in Destin, FL, one would hardly know there was a global pandemic occurring. People were calm walking around the outdoor shops and restaurants, enjoying the sunset from their balconies, and pushing strollers through the wide Baytown Wharf walkways.

Hearing from the vacation rental property managers in this area, it’s easy to understand how 2020 impacted each area very differently. These folks were thankful for how they had come through it, so far. And for those of us meeting with them face to face, we were grateful they were able to come out and chat for a few hours.

After all, hearing from Seashore Vacations that the manager, who also runs the front desk, has a layaway program and tells prospective guests he’s got properties for every budget: Chevy, GMC, and Cadillac, is just something that doesn’t translate well over Zoom.

Spirit of VR Roadshow: Myrtle Beach, SC

There’s good news and bad news coming out of Myrtle Beach, SC heading into the fourth quarter of 2020. The bad news is that bookings since April never reached pre-pandemic levels. Even now, with many markets seeing an extended shoulder season, the streets are mostly empty along the Grand Strand. A few travelers taking a long weekend can be seen coming in and out of high rises along the coastline – a couple of which came all the way from Europe. For the most part, this market lost revenue when closures hit in March and never recovered it in the months following.

Why Low Bookings?

Myrtle Beach, SC is primarily a drive-to vacation rental market, which should have worked in its favor, as people stayed off airplanes for the majority of 2020. A couple of factors worked against this though.

  1. Myrtle Beach was a “hot spot” for spikes in COVID-19 cases in June and July. The vacationers trying to stay safe while still getting away, preferred destinations with plenty of accommodations for families, even extended families. The preference being single family homes, hopefully not too close each other. Myrtle Beach has even spread of condos, townhomes and single family homes, so not as many options for the 2020 preferences.
  2. Golf courses limited access deterred groups. It was like a one-two punch for this popular four-season market. Even though the golf courses where allowed to open, a major draw for this area, they could only do socially distant parties per government regulations.
  3. Most of the counties folks drive from to reach Myrtle Beach remained open for business – meaning restaurants and venues were hosting guests locally. This was not the case in drive-to locations for Outer Banks, NC. Those drive-from markets were in a take-out only or very limited capacity mode for many weeks.
  4. “Zoom-school,” as it is fondly referred to by parents, allowed drive-from visitors to stay in the Outer Banks while still working and doing online classes. Schools in drive-from markets for Myrtle Beach went back to school at the end of summer either totally in-person or split between in-person and online – an option Outer Banks visitors did not have.

While Myrtle Beach is considered a four-season market, it is not seeing the visitor traffic to its vacation rental websites, nor the advanced bookings it had last year. What property managers say they have their eyes on next is the upcoming election, as they expect the economy to move one way or the other based on its outcome.

Vacation rental companies here are toying with some lower than average rates for spring to entice visitors to return if conditions are conducive to do so. Brainstorming ideas in a vacuum is hard though and most of the contacts we spoke with had not been in contact with many of their peers.

Next top on the VR Roadshow is Panama City Beach, FL. Follow our journey on Facebook, or reach out to any participating sponsor for more information.

Special thanks to our sponsors Xplorie, Beyond Pricing, Brivo, RealTech, and Silicon Travel.

Spirit of VR Roadshow: Stop 1. Outer Banks, NC

“It’s unbelievably busy.”

The most common comment we heard at the first stop on our Spirit of VR Roadshow, which is a four-city tour sponsored by six companies: Xplorie, TruPlace, Brivo, BeyondPricing, Silicon, and RealTech. Since all industry events for 2020 have been cancelled, the Spirit of VR Roadshow emerged as a late-year, progressive move to get industry professionals together in a safe, socially distant environment. These roadshow stops are like amped up tailgating with food trucks and locally crafted beverages.

It was therapeutic for our clients to be able to come out to Sanctuary Vineyards on Oct. 27 and share their experiences with the rest of us in the industry. As vendors supporting these clients, we’ve heard a range of anecdotes depending on where in the U.S. our clients are located.

For Outer Banks, NC, their 2020 has been a roller coaster, but one that is ending on an up note. One company told us they had about 100 properties booked last year for Thanksgiving and this year they have over 250 booked.

Several managers shared that they have more than made up for the “shut down” in March and April, as well as most of May, when the entire island was closed to outside traffic – meaning if you were not a full time resident, even if you owned a house there, you were not allowed to enter.

What Shoulder Season?

Normally after Labor Day, traffic and visitors to this small, friendly area leave for the year. Instead, this year, they bought homes and stayed. Or, homeowners who normally rented their property out for nine months a year, decided to stop renting altogether. This conflux of activity has drained local cleaning resources and stretched restaurants thin.

Homeowners who would normally refurbish or reshoot their properties during this time of the year are doing neither. The number of available properties to rent is going down and the demand is going up. If you own a rentable house in Outer Banks and want to sell it, now would be the right time.


Spirit of VR Roadshow Set-UpVacation rental managers who were able to make it out to the event were thrilled to be able to share stories and bottles of wine. Many of us have not seen each other in almost a year. The mood was relaxed as the sun peaked out from gray October skies and we all enjoyed a hearty “Southern Parfait” from the Coinjock food truck – comfort food perfect for the end of a long, stressful season. In addition to the fun and food, the Spirit of VR Roadshow raised $475 for the Children & Youth Partnership of Dare County at this stop.

The next stop is Myrtle Beach, SC. We’ll report on what the mood is like there next.

New Single Property Website Designed to Showcase Homes Multiple Ways

There’s a saying that good design is good business. Since our clients are the business of selling or renting homes, we wanted to offer them a good design within which to do so. We’re introducing the new single property website that showcases real estate in multiple ways on an intentionally simple and clean page. The focus is on the property, not the design or graphics. The intention is to impress the person renting or buying, to inspire them to take the next step toward converting. This is more successfully accomplished by adding less, not more to the real estate webpage.

One Home Many Views

Going beyond the still photograph has allowed us help sell or rent properties sight unseen. Today’s immersive visuals, such as 3D tours and video walk throughs of homes, provide more information and a better look at every nook and cranny. With so many options for viewing a property, a single property website that hosts them all in an easily accessible layout can be incredibly helpful.

It’s Pretty, But It Also Works

One of the most successful marketing software companies added landing pages to its offerings because it knew how powerful a singular focus and call to action could be. In fact, most Fortune 500 companies use landing pages to convert. That’s essentially what this is – one singular, vertically scrolling page offering multiple opportunities to reveal unique aspects of the house that might catch someone’s eye. With as many properties as people shop these days, it’s advantageous to give a property every opportunity to be matched with the right buyer. We’ve also refreshed our interactive floor plan tour colors to coincide with the fresh, streamlined look.

It Starts With Amazing Photography

Showcasing a piece of real estate using a single property website will further highlight the quality of photography used on the house. To make this website page look its best, start with TruFusion HDR photography. The webpage itself should actually be an afterthought once the stunning visuals have made an incredible first impression.

Devil’s in the Details

A few features of this property website that were not an afterthought include the lead capture form at the bottom of the page. Every good marketer knows a timely call to action is priceless. The branded version will have a lead capture form allowing the viewer to send a message to the realtor with contact information for immediate follow up. To optimize the viewer’s experience, regardless of what device it’s being viewed on, each section is designed to softly align with the screen without requiring a manual adjustment. And, of course, sharing is key. There are social media and messaging icons for sending out the webpage to others.

View a demo of our new single property website for real estate, which is complementary with every order.

How to Use Your Property Analytics

On every property link, TruPlace collects valuable information and organizes it into graphs and charts. In order to take advantage of this beneficial feature, you have to know where to find it and how to use it.

Where Is My Data?

Any current client of TruPlace can log into the Client Portal from home page of our website and access property analytics.
Select a property from your property list. Click on the sunset icon under the Images column. Once that property page loads, go to Property in the top navigation bar and click Analytics.
With each property, we provide data about the behaviors of the online audience interacting with this property page. This access is available for a full year.

What Data Is Available?

You not only get the data showing the sources of the online traffic, or where the traffic came from to view this property, but you can see trends showing which days of the week or times of day that property gets the most views.

How Can I Use It?

Social Media Marketing

You would be shocked at the differences in viewer behavior, based on a property location, price point and marketing efforts. Use the data to determine when to host a virtual open house or when to do a Facebook live event. For example, if the property gets most of its views on Fridays, see what time is most popular, then launch a Facebook live event about that property during that time.

Location Specific Marketing

The map feature is a client favorite. It shows you where the viewers are located when they look at the property online. Because the map is interactive, you can click on each number and drill down to see hyper-local data, even down to the to the street.

The map indicates high concentration clusters, not just locally, but nationally and globally. Property owners and managers can gain a better understanding of your marketing efforts and reach with this visual, as well. Use the zoom in/out to drill down closer or move out further to see the viewer locations.
You can show your sellers the on-line behavior of the buyers and this can help you to adjust or pivot the marketing plan for better results. For residential sales, it is also a smart way to target potential home sellers because if these viewers are looking at homes virtually, they may just be thinking about a move soon. For rentals, it helps lower the cost of pay per click ads when you can target a specific location, especially when you know they are already interested.

5 Reasons Professional Property Photography Is Better Than Amateur Property Photography

1. Professional photographs outperform amateur photographs (Updated 2020).
Studies have shown that 98% of homebuyers judge whether or not to walk through a property by first seeing the listing photos online (Asset Based Lending). Homes that use a professional photographer for their listing on average sell $11,000 over market value and sell 50% faster than homes with standard photos (Asset Based Lending).

Photos are not the only product that can help sell. According to a 2019 NAR report, 29% of REALTORS® hire a professional to operate a drone for their business, while an additional 14% of REALTORS® plan to incorporate the use of drones in the future. 73 percent of homeowners say they are more likely to list their home with an agent who offers to create a video of their property.

In a study by FlipKey, they found “Travelers are 83% more likely to inquire about property listings that contain over 20 photos.” Professionally photographed homes receive a 47% higher asking price per square foot (Redfin). With so much riding on photos, why go the amateur route?

2. Professionals use better camera equipment.
Yes, your iPhone takes good photos of your kids and pets, but it just can’t compare to today’s advanced DSLR cameras. DSLRs have larger sensors with more pixels, better controls and interchangeable lenses. With a DSLR, you’re going to get better white balance that is more visually appealing. And the 3:2 aspect ratio of a DSLR makes for better compositions. But then, you can’t order a pizza using your DSLR.

3. Professionals know how to capture the best angles.
Amateurs typically just walk into a room and shoot. Professionals take into account the entire frame – from left to right, front to back, top to bottom. Does the angle of the bed look appealing? Is the entry to the bathroom in the frame? Is the camera height sufficient to capture the entire counter top? Does the selected lens capture the entire room without distorting the image? Professionals see all of this and more, plus know when to shoot multiple angles when necessary to capture everything a room has to offer.

4. Professionals understand lighting.
An amateur will usually close the drapes so that the sunlight coming in doesn’t “blow out” the detail in the room. This typically results in a shot that is too dark or too light.

A professional with the right equipment can capture the image in a room the way your eye sees it – with details inside the room, and window views of the outside. With today’s modern equipment in the hands of a professional, more detail is captured, colors are more vibrant, and lighting is perfectly balanced.

5. Professionals can enhance the image after the shot.
Images on TVs, fires in fireplaces and anything else that is moving do not photograph very well. This is why most professionals will turn those things off when shooting. But using post-production technology, images can be added to TVs, fires can be added to fireplaces, pool water can be made more inviting, grass greener, and the sky can be transformed to blue, even though it was cloudy the day of the shoot. While not appropriate for cosmetic enhancements that “fool” the viewer, this technology is very useful (and ethical) for enhancing things that come and go.