My wife and I typically rent a house when we take vacations, usually for a week, sometimes less, sometimes a little more. When we travel with our dogs, a house is almost a necessity, and with dogs or without, houses typically provide a more relaxing experience than do hotels or B & B’s.

It’s not all roses, though. You never know what you’re going to get the first time you rent a particular house. Often there are nuisances, minor or major, and often they are nuisances that the owner could easily and cheaply fix.

Some Basics

When someone rents your house for a week there are some things that they will need, and need to know.

Trash

Rental houses are mostly self-service, so the renter needs to know where the outdoor trash cans are located, and on what day they will be picked up. And be sure to leave clean trash bags in an easy to find place (like under the kitchen sink). Also, be sure to have a small trash can in the bathrooms - you don’t want people putting their floss and kleenex in the toilet, do you?

Cleaning up

If you want your kitchen to be clean you need to provide some basic supplies. A fresh sponge, a couple wash cloths, a few dish towels, dish soap, an appropriate cleanser for counters and stovetop, paper towels, dishwasher detergent - you know, the stuff that you would use if you were staying there. A responsible tenant will buy these things if they are missing, but it really shouldn’t be necessary.

Laundry

If you provide a washer and dryer, first, good for you! It makes a weeklong stay that much easier. And if so, it would be thoughtful to provide dryer sheets and an allergen-free laundry detergent, and (space permitting) a small area for folding clothes and a way to hang up shirts and so on near the laundry area. If you don’t provide a washer and dryer, then please provide directions to the nearest good laundromat. Sure, the tenant can use Google Maps to find one, but they will have no way of knowing whether it is a good laundromat without experimentation.

Cooking and Eating

Too often, we’ve found that rental landlords scrimp unnecessarily on the quality of cutlery and pots and pans. The typical case is that the knives are cheap, flimsy, serrated blades that can barely make their way through a loaf of bread. Dangerous and ineffective: not a good combination. And the pots and pans are usually lightweight aluminum, warped, often with a nonstick surface that has seen its better days. And the reason the nonstick surfaces are no longer nonstick is often because the only spoons and spatulas available are metal. Think this through! What the items lack in quality cannot be compensated for in quantity: six useless knives are not just as good as one or two good knives! Occasionally (and I mean, exactly once) the owner has done the right thing and provided good quality knives, utensils, and cookware. This enhances the experience, costs little on an ongoing basis, and is just the right thing to do.

Kitchen organization

Rental owners quite rightly ask that their tenants put things back in their proper place in the kitchen. This is completely understandable and reasonable, but difficult for tenants to accomplish. If the tenants make even a medium size meal it is likely they will use several kitchen items (pots, pans, knives, cutting board, spatulas and serving spoons, serving bowls, etc.) and be completely at sea after washing up, and not remember exactly where everything goes. The owner can help by putting labels on shelf-fronts, or by providing a list or diagram to be made available to the tenant. And it also helps if the kitchen has the needful and nothing more - I provide a comprehensive list below.

Other basics

You want people to be comfortable, and you also want your house to be well taken care of. These frequently are complementary desires. So be sure there are throw rugs in high traffic areas. Provide a place for shoes near the entrance - and trays for the shoes in areas where there is snow or mud. Have paper towels in each of the bathrooms, along with the trashcan already mentioned, so that conscientious tenants can clean the sink and other parts of the bathroom easily. A little Febreze wouldn’t hurt, either. Some kleenex boxes here and there is a nice touch, especially for those of us with chronic allergies.

Beyond the Basics

Decoration

You want the house to have character. But you don’t want it to have too much “character”. The knick-knacks that you like, the ones you found on vacation in Florida or at the local antique shop, are all well and good up to a point. Up to a point that is far closer than you think. Such items are frequently a hiding place, and not a very good one, for dust, and can give an overall impression of clutter. So go easy. And none of the decoration should be allowed to compromise the functional aspects of the house in any way. No gew-gaws on the bathroom counter, for example. Nothing hanging from the ceiling that normally sized people are going to bump their heads on. Don’t plaster the refrigerator with magnets proclaiming home-spun advice and humor - such things are funny once (if at all) and in the way always.

Lighting

There’s little you can be expected to do about the built-in lighting in the house: no reasonable renter will expect you to replace the ceiling lights with something more to their liking. If the house was built in the 60s or 70s (and a lot of rental houses were), you pretty much get what you get. But there is a lot you can do to improve the situation by providing floor lamps and bedside lighting. Many of us enjoy reading while on vacation, and it is always disappointing to find that there are no adequate lights available in the obvious places (or at all). The basic pattern should be that reading lights are placed on both sides of all beds, and behind or next to couches and cushioned chairs. And, of course, periodically check that the lights haven’t burned out. Naturally you will want to avoid the use of incandescent bulbs, so if you use compact flourescents, be sure they are have enough lumens to be used as reading lights. And consider using LED bulbs: they are becoming more affordable, and provide good, focused, task lighting.

Entertainment systems

If you sometimes live in your rental house the temptation will be great to leave your entire audio/video system set up. Resist this temptation; you’re not doing your tenant any favors by making them figure out some complicated system of switch boxes, TV input selectors, multiple remotes, etc. My recommendation would be to have nothing other than a cable or satellite box and a DVD or Blu-Ray player, and a reasonable-sized TV. Though too many remote controls is a problem, it’s also a problem to provide a ‘universal’ remote: your tenant won’t be familiar with its operation, and will more than likely manage to reset it in some way that makes it useless. So, 2 remotes: the one for the cable/satellite box which also controls volume and on/off for the television (most people will be pretty familiar with this), and a separate one for the DVD player.

Internet

Internet access is a determining factor for many renters. Provide it, and make sure you let people know that it is provided in your advertising and other communication about the rental house. Scrimping on the speed or monthly bandwidth is not advised: tenants will not be happy about painfully slow connections, and you will not be happy about charges for bandwidth ‘overages’. It’s reasonable to ask your tenants not to stream Netflix, less reasonable to ask them not to update their apps on their smartphones. You just need to know that you’re likely to see a few gigabytes per month of internet activity, and select your internet provider plan accordingly.

Outdoor grill

So, you provided an outdoor grill. Excellent! This is a major amenity for spring through autumn renters. Be sure that there is ample gas or charcoal available and that the grill is in proper, safe, working order, and that any special instructions are readily available. And it would be in everyone’s interest if the basic grill tools are available (listed below).

Outdoor living

Spring, summer, and autumn are prime time for house rentals (though winter can be pretty good, too), so being able to spend time outdoors is a big consideration for most renters. Suitable outdoor seating is a must, as well as a picnic table (if there’s room), and shade. With any luck you can place the gas grill nearby to make the most of all the outdoor amenities.

Communication

People packing for a weeklong vacation need to prioritize. They can’t do that if they don’t know what’s available at the rental house. Be thorough and specific in your list of provided amenities. If you provide shampoo and soap, say so, and say which brands they are (it matters to some people). Of course you provide pillows and blankets: but how many pillows? Some people need lots of pillows and might want to bring a couple along, unless they know that there really are plenty. That’s the level of detail I’m talking about.

More Communication

Nearly everyone who can afford to rent your house has internet in one form or another, even if you don’t provide an internet connection. So be sure to leave an email address where the tenant can contact you with questions. Sure, your phone number is great for urgent issues (no electricity, no gas, the roof is leaking great torrents), but for other issues it would be nice to be able to ask you things like where is the outdoor trashcan (see above), without feeling like a nuisance for asking.

In Summary

  • More is not better in the kitchen. Provide a working set of good quality cutlery, dishware, utensils, and pots and pans, rather than a jumbled collection of castoffs. Yes, there will occasionally be breakage and loss, but most tenants will be considerate and responsible, especially if they see that you’ve gone the extra mile to provide usable items.
  • More is better for soft goods. Provide extra sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, etc.
  • Simplicity is key: no tenant will be happy if basic operation of the house requires elaborate instructions. Avoid the weird bathroom plumbing with the mysterious sequence of operations needed to take a shower, or the NASA-like control panel needed to turn on lights in the kitchen, or the Chinese puzzle-box masquerading as a coffee maker.
  • Above all, be conscious of the rhythms of daily life. Think carefully about how you (as a normal person) spend your time when you are at home, and think about how your house makes your life easier and simpler; and make sure that your rental house provides that same ease and simplicity for your tenants.

Checklists

Kitchen items

The following is for a single-family 2 bedroom rental house designed to accomodate 4 people, up to 6 if there are fold-out beds.

Cookware and Dishware

  1. Plates: 12 dinner plates, 8 snack plates. The extra plates are a great convenience for holding fruit, makeshift serving dishes, and for avoiding having to run the dishwasher after every meal. More convenient for your tenant, lower energy bills for you.
  2. Bowls: 6 medium sized bowls for soup or cereal. 3 nesting mixing bowls, large, medium, and small. The mixing bowls should be metal (they are lighter and easier to handle than ceramic) and have rubber coated bottoms so they don’t slip around on the counter while mixing.
  3. Cups and glasses: 8 tall tumblers, 8 short tumblers, 6 medium sized coffee / tea mugs.
  4. Silverware: 8 each table knives, large forks, small forks, soup spoons, tea spoons.
  5. A good-sized serving plate - 16-18“.
  6. Cutlery: 8" and 6" heavy knives, 2 4" paring knives, 6-8 steak knives. Ideally, these are all in a wooden knife holder to help keep them sharp, and to make it obvious that all knives are in their proper place (or not!).
  7. Scissors. Vegetable peeler. Cheese grater. Pizza cutter.
  8. Cutting boards, exactly two, medium sized (16“). That one that slides out from under the counter should be counted if and only if it is small enough to fit on the counter. Otherwise it serves only as a barrier to accessing one of the drawers.
  9. Baking sheet. Preferably this is a 14" pizza pan with a rim. This is the most versatile type of pan since it can make everything from pizza to cookies to biscuits. And it can sit under the 12" casserole dish (see below).
  10. Pots: pasta pot with lid, 8" double boiler (nice as a medium sauce pot as well as for steaming corn and other vegetables), 12" and 6" pans, each with tight-fitting lids. All pots and pans should be heavy gauge, flat bottomed, and not non-stick. The trouble with nonstick pans and pots is that the first person who decides to cook tomato sauce in them will strip the nonstick surface off the pot.
  11. 12" covered casserole dish, ceramic.
  12. Colander (remember that pasta pot?)
  13. Water kettle - preferably electric, and preferably with auto shutoff when the water gets hot. This might seem redundant, but a purpose-made water kettle heats water very efficiently, and has a variety of uses.
  14. Utensils: good metal spatula, 1 solid and 1 slotted stirring spoon. Pasta scoop (you know, the slotted spoon-like thing with big rounded teeth for taking pasta out of the pasta pot that you have so thoughtfully provided). Hand-crank can opener (Oxo or similar).
  15. Coffee maker. Something simple, like a Mr. Coffee. 8-10 cup capacity.
  16. 2-cup measuring cup; set of nested measuring spoons, attached together, plastic is OK.

Miscellaneous

  1. Hot-pot holders, cloth - don’t get fancy with the silicone and other fads. Cloth has nice thermal properties, in that it warms up gradually rather than suddenly. Four holders is the right number: this allows two to be used for actually lifting hot pots, and two to be used on the counter to avoid scorching. Four - neither more nor less.
  2. A few dish towels and hand towels.
  3. Paper towels - one roll on the counter or on a sturdy dispenser (not one of those flimsy plastic attached to the wall by glue things), and another roll under the sink.
  4. Dish soap, dishwasher detergent, a sponge or two, two dishrags, countertop cleanser (suitable for your counter surface, and well-labeled).
  5. Plenty of extra bags for the kitchen trashcan. Also, bags for the main indoor trashcan (if different from the one in the kitchen), and bags for the exterior trashcan.
  6. Meat thermometer.
  7. Covered storage containers, plastic. People on vacation have leftovers just like anyone else. Two or three medium bowl-like containers, plus one container that is wider and shallower should be sifficient. Be prepared for some loss of these items - and be prepared to deduct the amount of that loss from the rental deposit.

Food

Obviously, no perishables.

  1. Coffee - at least a sampler for the type of coffee maker provided. That first morning after arrival is a key predictor of how happy your tenant will be, and a nice cup of coffee will get the day off to a good start.
  2. Tea - a couple each of several types of tea.
  3. Salt and pepper, in clearly marked dispensers.
  4. Spray-on pan coating (Pam or similar) - remember, you’ve correctly provided non-nonstick pans.

That’s pretty much it. Items not listed here should not be provided, as they only take up room and are unlikely to be used. Or, if another item is to be added, first think very carefully about whether it actually replaces one of the items already listed, or if there is a good quality multi-tasker that can replace a single-task utensil.

OK - so this probably seems like quite a lot, but I assure you I’ve seen much more in some rental kitchens. The goal is to provide just enough and not a single item more, and to be sure that everything provided is up to its assigned task.

Maintenance of these items should be fairly simple: replace the plastic items quarterly or when they start to show signs of obvious wear; check cleanliness of all items after each rental, and make it clear in the rental agreement that all items are to be thoroughly cleaned. Nobody likes using a pizza sheet that wasn’t cleaned properly and was then put back in the oven.

Breakage is a fact of life. I’ve emphasized the importance of good quality items, but that doesn’t mean high-end hard-to-replace. It means good quality, mass market, easily replaceable with identical items. Keep track of where you bought everything (make a spreadsheet - you want to deduct these expenses anyway) so you can get replacements, and keep a few spares handy. A mish-mash of glasses or cups does not make a good impression, and neither do chipped plates or cracked bowls.

Tools for the outdoor grill

  1. Plenty of propane for the gas grill.
  2. Plenty of dry, good quality, non-petroleum based charcoal for the charcoal grill.
  3. A large chimney for starting charcoal, along with some paraffin-infused starter sticks, and some dry newspaper. A little vegetable oil in a spritz bottle is also helpful (you spritz it on the paper to get a longer lasting burn). Even rancid oil will burn nicely, so don’t be too concerned (but change it out every so often).
  4. Good quality grill spatula, tongs, and fork. These should be quite long and with a wood and rubber handle.
  5. Spray bottle to be filled with water, to fight the occasional flare-up that can put an unwelcome char on meat. This is even more important for charcoal grills, but can come in handy even on gas.
  6. A top-quality grill cleaning tool. This should consist of a metal brush on one side and a blade with indents to facilitate removing large chunks of food.
  7. Two grilling plates, one with 1/2" mesh, and the other with just small holes. These will allow grilling of small vegetables or loose patties (such as crab or salmon).
  8. A large (16“) cast-iron skillet, for cooking onions, peppers, and other fajita-themed food.
  9. Pam for the grill. It is advisable to tape a note to the can letting the user know that it should be sprayed on while the grill is still cold, and that the spraying should be done away from the grill unit itself. Never count too much on peoples’ common sense.
  10. Large, good quality grill gloves. Normally I would advise just one glove, but there are left-handed people in the world, so two are necessary.
  11. Last, but absolutely not least: a fire extinguisher. Do not attach this or place it on or under the grill. Instead, attach it to a post nearby where it is obvious and easily accessible in the event of an incident. Check it periodically - most small fire control canisters have a band on the trigger that will make it obvious if it has been used.

Update July 17, 2013

We recently stayed at a rental house in eastern Oregon that hit most of the items on this list, and didn’t get far wrong on the rest. Having used the Keurig coffee maker there I am now willing to concede that a small amount of initial complexity is worth while for a truly superior product.