When it comes to taking a critical eye to your vacation rental, whether you’re considering your rates or assessing the best way to market your property, being objective can sometimes be a challenge.

“By far, my favorite feature is the private outside shower,” Pat Luftman enthused about her lakefront vacation home. “When I brought my friends down, however, one of them said ‘You couldn’t pay me to take a shower in this shower!’ She preferred to use the indoor shower instead.”

Luftman owns Herons View, a townhome at Mallard Lakes in Fenwick Island, Delaware. She says the feedback received from friends was valuable as she started her vacation rental, helping her realize that others may feel the same way.

Why asking questions matters — for you and your guests

There are 7.9 million vacation homes in the U.S., according to the National Association of Realtors; one-third of people who purchased last year intend to move in at some point in the future, and nearly a quarter of those new owners intend to rent their property to others.

Taking time to visit different communities and asking questions about each one will give you a better foundation to decide on your investment. It will also help you get a clearer vision of what draws travelers to the area and what your vacation rental should look like. “Have your friends look at the property,” Luftman advised. “Show them pictures and ask them what they think, as a potential guest.”

Luftman and her husband spent 14 years vacationing in the community before deciding to purchase their townhome. “We fell in love with Mallard Lakes the first time we visited,” she said. “We lived there for a week every summer, meeting and talking to people. We knew that this is where we wanted to be; purchasing a vacation home was a dream, and we knew Mallard Lakes was the right place for us.”

While you may not take that much lead time before you buy, that willingness to talk to people — and listen — gave Luftman a lot of insight. “I always asked, ‘tell me something you don’t like about the community’. Nobody ever had anything bad to say.”

A chance to learn from others

There are a lot of different resources for vacation rental owners: blogs (like this one!), online networks like the HomeAway Community and a popular Yahoo! group, as well as other discussion forums like LinkedIn and Facebook.

Luftman has found a lot of value connecting with other owners. “They might see you as competition and not talk to you, but ask them their experiences, how booked they get.”

She says she’s built a connection with another owner in her area: they send referrals back-and-forth, and he provided answers to a lot of her start-up questions.

Recently, he advised her to pay attention to her search engine optimization (SEO). “He offered me some unsolicited advice about how I could boost my rank in Google search results by adding a few simple words and terms to my vacation rental description.”

Luftman followed his tips and says her property now shows up in the top spot — above the person who gave her the advice. “I feel badly about this…but it’s definitely the best advice I’ve ever received!”

Have you received advice from other vacation rental owners as you’ve found your footing, or learned valuable lessons just by listening? Tell us about it in the comments section below.