Sharing a property with family and/or friends can be a wonderful experience. Maybe you were left joint-ownership of a special property by a parent or grandparent, or perhaps you are joining forces with a group of friends to buy or rent a vacation place. Either way there are some important issues to consider to ensure that it's a low-stress, maximum-happiness situation.
1. Minimize Awkward Communication
Nobody wants to call up a family member or friend and ask them to pay up an overdue share of expenses. Even worse if there's a dispute over the amount. Similarly, who wants to impose a penalty on a peer who broke the rules or damaged something? Interactions like these turn a benefit (access to a recreational property) into a stress-inducing situation, and can quickly sour relationships and jeopardize the success of the arrangement.
Upfront planning and management of expectations can go a long way to avoiding situations like these. Work together to agree upon a plan for fair use, expense allocation, house rules and cleaning. Balance human judgement with software use so that busy work can be automated, while other interactions benefit from human touch and judgement.
Software can depersonalize some awkward communication. Late payment of ownership costs could be penalized by temporarily suspending access to the online availability and reservations calendar and re-instated when the payment arrives. Rules can be published and easily updated, available 24/7 with a confirmation of acceptance required when making a reservation.
2. Fair Use
There are many different strategies for fair use of a recreational property. Some examples include:
- Rotational, where each member or sub group gets assigned dates and that rotates on one step each year.
- Open but limited, where anyone can reserve use any time but where there are limits on the number of consecutive days or peak days, or days total.
- Staged, where everyone can reserve on a first-come basis up to a certain date, with a second round of availability released later.
- Managed where a human scheduling manager serves as an editor or moderator of requests by members, following in-house rules based on seniority or previous use.
Whatever strategy you use, a software tool can help by automating the reservation request process, and so that members of the group can check availability and rules 24/7. Resercal was built by members of a group that used to call one person to check a paper calendar. That person wasn't available 24/7 so if you wanted to check availability at 6am or 10 at night you had to wait until you could reach that person by phone. Resercal makes life easier for everyone by enabling members to log in any time and see the current availability calendar. Members can also make, edit or cancel a reservation any time.
In some cases it's important to keep a human hand in the process to act as an editor and moderator of reservation requests. To address this need we are adding a provisional/confirmed reservation status to the Resercal software and a 'Scheduling Manager' role. The scheduling manager can log into the software to check pending reservation requests from members, and confirm, edit or cancel each reservation depending on the situation. This enables us to optimize for human judgement while automating the busy work of taking the reservation information and providing members with 24/7 access to the availability calendar.
3. Expense Allocation
It's important for everyone to agree upfront how expenses will be shared. Generally there are two classes of expenses: the cost of ownership and the cost of use.
- Costs of ownership include property taxes, building insurance, and capital expenses such as replacing a leaky roof.
- Costs of use include heat, electricity, water, cleaning, and superintendent or property manager.
If some members of the group live nearby and visit regularly, while others live far away and can only visit occasionally, awkward conversations can ensue about the fairness of expense allocations. One strategy to address this is to divide the cost of ownership equally among all the owners, then assign the cost of use according to actual use so that heavy users contribute more than light users.
Resercal has a usage report so managers can see how many visits (peak/off peak etc.) each member has had in a calendar year so it's easier to calculate the allocation of use costs.
For example, if the property is in Maine and John lives in Oregon and visits for one long weekend (3 weekend nights) per year his share of use expenses will be very low compared with Jane who lives 20 minutes away in Maine and visits often (with a total of 24 weekend nights and 13 weekday nights in a year). They will both pay an equal share of ownership expenses.
Separating out ownership expenses from use expenses is one strategy for expense allocation. We'd be interested to hear from you if you have other successful approaches that you can share in the comments.
4. Agree on Rules
Make sure to do this upfront and make the rules easily visible by placing a copy in a high traffic location at the property and in your reservation software if you use one.
With rules there's going to be a spectrum in any group from those that enjoy the structure they provide, through to others who feel oppressed by too much detail. Safety is paramount and good rules promote harmony, but try to keep the rules as short and simple as possible. People won't read pages and pages of detail and so if your rules are long you risk the most important parts being missed.
If there are a lot of details about the property that need to be shared and accessible make the rules short and easy to read, then provide a separate resource that gives all the reference information in exhaustive detail. More detail can be very helpful if you are trying to figure out how to troubleshoot a complicated heating system.
You might also consider a departure checklist separate from the rules to compartmentalize those tasks and make them easy to follow.
5. Have a Cleaning Strategy
Agree upfront if you want to hire a cleaner or if you plan to DIY. Allow that you might revisit this decision and make adjustments to the plan.
If you hire a cleaner
Agree upon a checklist of tasks for both the cleaner and the departing member. Should the beds be stripped or left with used sheets on? Should trash cans be emptied? Dishes cleaned and put away? If members know what is expected of them you can keep the cleaning costs on budget, and avoid awkward communications.
Assign someone who lives locally to be the contact for the cleaner.
If you DIY
Agree on what's expected. A departure checklist can be very helpful so that nothing important is forgotten in the rush to leave with traffic and children and packing to worry about.
If you have very high cleaning standards it's good for your stress levels to remember that it's unlikely that your lofty expectations will always be met in a sharing situation. If you rate your departure cleaning as a 10, then it's a good exercise to set your group expectation levels at a 6.5. That way you are likely to be pleasantly surprised each time you arrive, as opposed to being disappointed if other's standards are different to your own.
On the flip side, if you don't get why people stress out about everything being perfect, remember that you aren't the only owner and boost your effort level up a notch from what would satisfy you in your own home, as a gesture of goodwill.
Even though we mention scores for reference, don't keep them! As a marriage counselor would say - it's always better not to keep score. Assume an attitude of generosity, you never know what another person is dealing with in the moment.
Work days can be a great opportunity for bonding and a way to get free cleaning, maintenance and improvements, especially if you have group members skilled in carpentry or plumbing. The important thing is to agree upfront on what the deal is. Do workers get a discount on use expenses or dibs on a holiday date? Or a free lunch on the expense budget? How many hours do you need to work for to qualify? What about friends joining in? All this should be agreed upon upfront to avoid awkward communications later on.
6. Things That Aren't Nailed Down
For some people things are just things, they come and go and it's not worth getting upset about them. For others even the most shabby or broken-looking items are precious and irreplaceable, filled with memories. If you are going to share a vacation property and manage your own stress levels, and those of the group, it's a good exercise to consider the following:
Existing items: Over-communicate before you change or take anything!
It almost goes without saying that you shouldn't remove key items without clearing it with the rest of the group. Just because you are certain your great aunt said you could take the painting in the bedroom doesn't mean that someone else wasn't made the same promise and won't be upset to find it gone. Likewise in a friend group, throwing out the old table and replacing it with a new one you just picked out might upset someone. Best to clear it with everyone first.
Your items: Take home or store securely
If there are items that you would be very upset to see damaged, lost or not put away properly, and that belong specifically to you - such as an expensive bike you bought and like to use at the property - then take those items home with you when you leave, or find a place to store them securely and out of sight. Lockers, closets, sheds are all solutions for allocating lockable storage space, but get group agreement on this first.
You may have to weigh the convenience of leaving the bike there vs. transporting it home but leaving it risks that you will be upset if it is damaged by someone else or their guests. If the convenience outweighs the potential upset then leave it. If the idea of loss or damage upsets you, take it home, or store it securely and out of sight.
Items you think are needed: Gift it to the group or get approval for an expense
If you think that a bike or some other amenity is needed consider either getting group approval to buy one, or gift your item to the group. In some cases even gifts are worth getting agreement on as the other owners might not appreciate the additional of electronics or your new interior design direction.
7. Limit Liability
Forming an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) is an option worth considering for multiple owners. The 'limited liability' in the name refers to the fact that an LLC owner's personal assets are protected in the event that the LLC is sued. Consult a lawyer who specializes in LLCs for jointly-owned property.
If an LLC is not appropriate for your sharing situation make sure you have adequate insurance to protect you and the property.
8. Figure out How to Make Decisions
Work with a lawyer to draft an operating agreement or agree among yourselves how decisions will get made and conflicts resolved. At the outset it may seem as though there's no chance of disagreement, but at some point you will have to have a process for working things out. Better to get it set up ahead of time, and for the benefit of future generations.
9. Where's the Exit?
What happens if a co-owner wants to leave? We recommend getting legal advice as every situation is different.
Exiting may not be something you want to discuss, but at some point in the future it will come up and the earlier you address it, the easier it is for the group to handle when the time comes.
10. Choose Software that makes it easier to share well
We built Resercal to make sharing easier. The software is available on an annual subscription basis and offers the following features:
- Private website featuring availability calendar, rules page, use report and more
- Every member of your group gets their own login
- Manager and member roles - managers can edit all reservations, members can only edit their own
- Cancellation setting
- Custom time slots (day oart or nights)
- Custom usage types (e.g. open/private/guest/rental)
- Member management page - managers can add new members, edit contact info, set members as managers and suspend members
- Check our pricing page for details