Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Turning to Your Friends for Vacation Rental Advice (and Perhaps As Temporary Landlords)

Each one is different.

That is, in a nutshell, the greatest asset and the greatest liability of vacation rentals. And not only will each rental boast a unique decor, but most are owned by individuals, not corporations. Which means that buyers and renters need to take extra precautions before any money changes hands. Each needs to make damn sure that the other will make good on the promises in the rental contract (not always a given in these situations).

Enter SecondPorch.com, a newish website that has grand plans for restoring trust to the process of renting homes.

In its first iteration, Second Porch existed only on Facebook, and could only be used by folks who knew one another. This was key, as it mission was to facilitate rentals just of second homes by folks who might not rent at all if they had to vet potential tenants. The theory (since proved, I think) was that there are dozens of second homes (often called "country homes") all around the country sitting empty, that owners didn't have the courage or the time to rent out. Second Porch helped those owners make a bit of extra money, without too much worry; and also assisted renters looking for nice properties that would be affordable (most of the owners, because they were renting to friends or friends of friends, charged reasonable fees). Many of the properties on Second Porch simply don't appear on the regular rental sites for these reasons.

In June, Second Porch established a presence beyond Facebook at SecondPorch.com.

And just this week, the site morphed again expanding beyond just second home rentals to any and all rentals. But it still has some features that keeps it from being just another VRBO or Homeaway:
  1. Networking: The program still works with Facebook in order to show users homes their friends have rented. This is helpful in two ways. A would-be vacationer with no idea of where to go can simply look at the places friends have recently rented and then ask their advice, choosing a home as a basis for picking a destination. Those who have a specific place in mind can register it, and then (hopefully) a list will pop up of the 10 different condos your buddies have already rented in that area. Of course, if your friends all go to the lake, and you're a mountain person, your list might come up short. A lot depends on what types of social circles you run in. If your social circle is lacking, you turn to step two (see below). 
  2. The Social Guestbook: Instead of asking guests to sign a book in the house, renters are given a link to an online guestbook which they can either simply sign; or use to write a review of the property. Anyone who signs the guestbook can then be contacted by potential renters, whether or not the initial renter knows the prospective renters. I suppose the theory here is that anyone who does not wish to be contacted for advice will simply not sign the guestbook. Anyone else will be fair game.
According to founder Brent Heigelkke, Second Porch has the advantage of transparency over other sites which include travel reviews. "Even if a traveler is not socially connected to any homes in their preferred destination, the "Social Guestbook" means that travelers can easily interact with the community of owners, managers and past guests around each home.  We like to say we show the traveler the "faces behind the places" after all, they are renting someone's home, so it's only logical that they should know a little bit about the person who is handing them the keys to their home."

Currently, SecondPorch.com has 14,000 listings in 100 countries though the vast majority of the listings are in the United States. Will it continue to grow? I, for one, am rooting for it to succeed.


  1. Great article!

    As a vacation rental owner and user of vacation rentals myself, I find the transparency of social media and, in particular, of Second Porch very helpful.

    Personal referrals (on just about anything from doctors to homes at the beach) are heads and shoulders above anonymous reviews in terms of credibility.

    And, I am happy vacation rental guests can find me in this manner and feel a level of confidence that I am who I say, and my properties on Sanibel Island are what I claim.

    Sylvia Guarino


  2. Love this post!

    Each time we think about going somewhere - the first thing I do is search for a vacation rental in the area. Hotels are a last resort for me. Being able to check out where friends have stayed is such a bonus!

    As a VR owner, I love offering past and future guests the opportunity to keep in touch with us via Second Porch/Facebook. It's less formal than a newsletter and more accessible. I do think this is the future for vacation planning - from where we stay to what tours we take, what restaurants we visit, etc.