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Amenities for my Costa Rica vacation rental? There’s a little black and white TV on top of the fridge that actually works — what more do they want?
As it turns out, experts in the vacation-rental industry say that travelers today expect their new find on Airbnb to be a lot more like a luxury hotel and a lot less like somebody’s crash pad.
As a property owner offering your place for rent, there are many factors beyond your control, including your location, the size of your home and the ever-fluctuating market. But there’s one thing you can control — the amenities you offer — and that can make all the difference in sales.
Here are some things to consider in outfitting your home for the ideal vacation experience.
A comfortable sofa and chairs, coffee table and end tables are the basics here. If your couch and chairs are old, saggy and shabby, it’s going to show in the photos and be reflected in the guest experience. Sometimes it’s really worthwhile to replace your living room furniture — and while you’re at it, consider a sleeper sofa that will allow your home to sleep two extra people.
An entertainment center can also be a great touch, as a place to put a television, books or decorative elements.
Speaking of a television, this is considered absolutely essential in most rental markets. There are certain places in Costa Rica, for example Nosara, where TVs are frowned on and are not widely offered, even in fine hotels. Hosts say they want people to get out and enjoy nature, not spend all day watching TV.
But don’t they have nighttime in Nosara? Are people supposed to go outside and wander around the wilderness after dark because there’s nothing to do at home? Generally speaking, a large, modern flatscreen “smart” TV should be considered a must.
A game console like a PlayStation or Nintendo is another amenity you could consider adding to the list. Your guests’ kids certainly won’t complain. And a speaker system for guests to play their music is another good idea.
Don’t skimp on artwork for your walls — tropical paintings, colorful fabrics or artsy photographs — along with decorative touches like vases placed on tables or floors. Try to coordinate the style of your artwork so that there’s a matching theme rather than a random hodgepodge. Nice lamps and rugs can also add to the visual appeal of your home.
You may be facing the perennial two letter question “A/C?” There’s no question that air conditioning is one of the most popular amenities you can offer. It’s also one of the easiest ways to drive your electric bills through the roof. Some hosts say air conditioning is unnecessary where they live, and some say it’s bad for the environment because ironically all this cooling contributes to global warming.
If for any reason you decide not to offer A/C, that’s your right, but you must understand that many guests consider air conditioning essential in a hot place. If you don’t have air conditioning, please provide good fans. Ceiling fans are ideal, especially in bedrooms or places where people will want to sit and relax. If that’s not feasible, provide portable fans that people can move wherever they want.
A kitchen is one thing that even the finest hotel rooms rarely have, and in fact this is among the main reasons people choose vacation rentals over hotels. Kitchens are kind of important because that’s where the food is! By making your kitchen homey and extraordinarily well-equipped, you may find that one way to the heart is right through the stomach.
It bears mentioning that if you’re from North America or Europe, you may have a totally different mind picture of what a “kitchen” is than many people in Costa Rica. You probably picture a kitchen with a stove, but many homes in Costa Rica have only electric countertop hot plates. Your idea of a towering stainless-steel refrigerator with vertical doors and an icemaker may also differ substantially from the humble little fridges you often find here.
Finer homes offered as vacation rentals usually have so-called “American-style” kitchens, possibly even including a (gasp) dishwasher. But if your kitchen was built to humbler standards, make every effort to outfit it with the best appliances you can fit into the space you have.
Your vacation rental kitchen is not the place to show off the collection of mismatched pots, pans and plates you’ve been amassing since you were in college. Invest in matching sets of pots, pans and utensils that look new and are built to last. The same goes for plates, bowls, cups and glasses — if these are chipped and mismatched, it shows that you’ve put very little effort into the comforts of home that guests will use every day.
A good coffeemaker is a must, and other basics include a toaster, blender and ideally a microwave. A knife block with sharp kitchen knives is another good idea, as well as a clean cutting board.
Got a corkscrew? You’d better. A bottle opener too, and little items like potato peelers will also be appreciated.
It’s also important to include cleaning supplies like a broom, dustpan, mop, dishwashing detergent, sponges, cloths, spray cleaners and extra trash bags.
In a list of funny travel complaints published by TripAdvisor (like “The beach was too sandy”), one item says “There was no egg slicer in the apartment.” Oh, the humanity! There will always be someone who complains that something is missing. But the fewer things that are missing, the better.
Before we talk about the thread count of the sheets, think about your bedrooms’ “Instagrammability” — in other words, do they look great in photos? This is primarily a function of the art on the walls, the quality of the furniture, the lighting and the attractiveness of the bedspread.
Got a saggy old mattress with just one bedspring loose that pokes people in the back? It’s got to go. Buy firm, clean mattresses that are a pleasure to sleep on. And don’t skimp on pillows and sheets — you want your guests to say, “Wow, they have nicer stuff than we do.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking blankets are unnecessary in a hot place like Guanacaste. Heavy, hot, wool blankets are certainly not necessary, but most people are accustomed to sleeping with some kind of bedspread. Choose wisely, and this bed covering can be one of the room’s most eye-pleasing elements.
Some bedrooms in Costa Rica are oddly devoid of bedside tables — but these are great places for you to put lamps, and for guests to put a book, a drink, their glasses, their phone, their wallet, their keys, their whatever.
Many Costa Rica bedrooms also, strangely, have no closets. Where you come from, builders may consider a closet an essential element of the design of every bedroom, but that’s not necessarily the case here. Many people think a “closet” is a cheap piece of steel furniture you buy at a store with shelves and maybe a rack for hanging clothes. Some even omit the rack, and there isn’t a place to hang one shirt in the entire house.
If your home has no closets, resist the urge to find a cheap fix for this problem. Buy a wardrobe with drawers and a hanging rack, ideally one that’s attractive enough to add to the visual appeal of the bedroom.
Another item commonly missing in bedrooms is a small waste basket. Obviously, you’ll have these in your kitchen and bathrooms, but don’t make your guests wander through the house looking for a place to throw away a little piece of trash.
If you’ve forgotten toilet paper, please report to vacation rental re-education camp immediately. Be sure there is enough to spare given the number of guests and the length of the stay.
Quality towels are a must — and are one way that even the humblest vacation rental can compete with the finest hotel. Buy new, rich, plush, matching bath and hand towels, and your guests will think they’re stepping in high cotton. Just say no to mismatched and threadbare towels that you’ve had for years.
In outfitting the throne room, think like a hotel — little soaps, shampoo, conditioner, maybe even body lotions, toothpaste, a spare toothbrush, a blow dryer.
One unfortunate feature of some Costa Rica bathrooms is the lack of an adequate “place to put things.” Many bathroom sinks in Costa Rica look something like this, with no counters alongside them:
True, there’s enough space here to put a couple of toothbrushes. But what about razors, shaving cream, shampoo, perfume or any other toiletries that guests might bring?
If your sink doesn’t have a counter around it, it’s essential to add shelving or some other kind of furniture just for people to set things on. If they brought their own blow-dryer or hair curler, they shouldn’t have to put them on the floor. (And just FYI, the top of the toilet tank does not count as storage space.)
Speaking of the toilet, there’s one thing guests will never miss unless they need it, and then it becomes a dire emergency: a plunger. A houseful of guests + one clogged toilet = a pretty crappy situation.
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Outdoor terraces, balconies and decks
Every vacation rental should have a place where you can sit outdoors under a roof and take in the environment, whether you call it a terrace, deck, balcony or patio. This is the place where you drink your morning coffee, have an evening cocktail, lounge in the hammock, watch the sun rise or set, commune with the tropical birds or just watch the world go by.
Make this space as inviting as possible. If there’s room, add a table and chairs where people can eat outdoors, and if possible a barbecue. Add outdoor furniture like a couch and lounging chairs, and maybe a hammock too. Beautify the space with artwork, plants and other decorative touches.
Even better, add a ceiling fan right above the most inviting spot for people to sit.
If you have a swimming pool, lucky you — now milk it for all it’s worth. Add poolside furniture where people can work on their suntans, their tropical drinks and their summer novels. If you can add an outdoor dining table and chairs for poolside snacks or even elegant dinners, all the better.
Add shade in the poolside area — trees are perfect for this, but umbrellas can help. Also, find an attractive way to add night lighting to make the pool area a pleasant place to visit by night or day.
Many homes in Costa Rica lack washers and dryers, and many of those that do have washers offer clotheslines instead of dryers.
One solution to this is an over-and-under washer-dryer, which has both appliances but takes up half the floor space. Whatever you can afford and have room for, if you can add a way for guests to wash their clothes while they’re on vacation, they’ll appreciate it.
Do everything in your power to ensure that guests will be safe in your home at all times. Provide electric locks, safe boxes, and if possible security cameras and home alarms.
Oops, we buried the lede — you’d better have good Wi-Fi, or else you can look forward to a thousand complaints. Forget the idea that people come to Costa Rica to “unplug” and commune with nature — that’s part of the idea, but if they just took a picture of a monkey, trust us, they’ll want to upload it to Facebook.
Digital nomads are a major component of Costa Rican travel and immigration today — people who can work on their computers from anywhere, but they need a good internet connection. Win these people’s hearts just once, and they’ll come back again.
Choose your priorities
Lists like this tend to have two problems — they’re both too long and too short! You may not need everything on this list, and you may need things that aren’t on it.
Know your home, ideally by living in it yourself before you offer it as a rental. If you were a guest here, what would you wish it had?
If the home passes your personal tests, that’s a great start. But also try to think about people who are “not like you” — different genders, different ages, different cultures — and do your best to anticipate their needs.
You don’t have to do everything at once, but if you prioritize your wish list of amenities and start checking them off, you’re on your way!
Just don’t forget about that egg slicer. . . .