The Challenges of Shared Vacation Property.

I’m connected to a group that has access to a special piece of real estate. It’s not grand or luxurious, but it’s in an epic location and holds years of memories of celebrations, vacations and good times with family and friends. It’s a privilege to be able to go there, and the co-owners work hard to maintain it, to enable fair use, and to share expenses evenly.

The upsides of sharing a vacation property are obvious, but there are challenges. Some of these can be made easier by judicious use of technology. Software can’t repair damaged relationships or solve every problem, but it can go some way to reducing friction and making a shared property easier to manage. 

Scheduling Use

transitioning from a paper calendar to an online reservation system for shared propertyThe first issue that typically arises in group sharing is how to plan use. In our case situation, there was just one person who managed a paper calendar, and you had ask her about availability by phone 9-5 Monday-Friday. 

This was difficult for a number of reasons:

  1. On a particularly good weather weekend, people would be unsure if the place was in use or not and sometimes they would just show up in case no one was there. This didn’t always go over well with people who had called in advance and were already in residence.

  2. Some people found it awkward and uncomfortable to call and potentially disturb the calendar manager. 

  3. It often took more than one call to make a reservation. Playing telephone tennis to establish whether the place was available on a particular date felt like work.

  4. People don’t always make plans 9-5 M-F. Waiting till the next business day to check availability dragged the process out.

Making It Fair

lady justice's scales showing that sharing should be fairThe second issue that we commonly see, and that was the case in our group too, is making use feel fair.

Some members of the group live out of state and might only visit once per season. Others live a short drive away and visit often, when conditions are good.

If everyone is sharing expenses, this lopsided usage is clearly unfair and can prompt bad feelings. We planned to tally up everyone’s use and charge an additional use fee, so infrequent visitors would feel fairly treated.

Building A Website

I’ve been building websites since 2005 (including SeniorsSkiing.com) so it seemed obvious to me that these problems could be solved by a shared online calendar with multiple users.

Rather than build one from scratch, I researched off-the-shelf options. My criteria were:

  1. Group members should be able to see the live calendar.

  2. Group members should be able to make reservations.

  3. The calendar should be private because no-one wants to broadcast when a property is empty.

  4. The available time slots should be customizable so that it’s simple to book a day or overnight, or multi-night stay.

  5. There should be a way to specify use types for example: member, guest or rental. This so different use rates can be calculated.

It seemed simple but I struggled to find something I could adjust to meet our needs. Google Calendar was an obvious option but there was no way to share a calendar without making the link public even if it was unlikely anyone would find it.

There was also too much flexibility—group members could book 10 mins, overlapping stays, and edit the past. We had no way to standardize use and simplify the options.

I must have demoed at least 30 promising apps over the years, systems designed for inns, campsites, rentals management, hair salons, gyms, yoga studios, and even shared workspaces, but all of them had some blocking feature. 

In the end, I became resigned to building a website from scratch. Each owner had a login, you could check the live month-view calendar, see who was going and what days or weeks were available. Reservations were made by clicking on a date and picking from a few simple options and you didn’t need to re-enter your details each time.

The effect was liberating. Everyone had access to the calendar 24/7. There was no need to call a third party. Options and time slots were standardized, it was easy to understand. Members paid extra according to use. We had more money to cover capital expenditures. A big chunk of stressful communication was removed. Sharing felt easier.

Turning It Into A Web App

A few years later the group had a wish list of additions for the site, and there was interest from others wanting a website for their ski house, boat or beach house. It seemed that this was a tool that could potentially do good and maybe generate some income.

I realized that if I created an app that could help groups share with less stress that would feel good, and if special places were kept intact rather than split up and developed there would be a land conservation benefit, too.

Fast forward to 2020 and I contracted with a developer to turn the website I had built into a web application. A web app is essentially one codebase that can be used by multiple separate accounts instead of many separately coded websites. For web apps think Gmail, AirBnB, Shopify etc. I called the app Resercal because it was the most simple and descriptive short .com name I could find.

private group scheduling app for sharing a ski house or other co-owned or jointly-owned property

The new features added by popular demand were:

  1. Annual report of use. Our group’s manager had been tasked with manually tallying visits each year by referring to the original website. It was a time consuming task that had to be correct. Now that’s automated by the app.
  2. Editable Rules page. We had a rules page on the original site but any changes had to made by me as the code had to be edited. Now a manager can easily add to or edit text on the account’s rules page without worrying about code.
  3. Cancellation window. Managers (an admin role) can edit the cancellation window and members (regular users) cannot change their reservation once it’s within X hours of the start date. They also can’t edit dates in the past. We had no bad behavior in our group but it was trust-building to know that no one could edit their past use to reduce their contribution; or block off a date and then cancel on the day to avoid being charged the use fee.
  4. Temporary member suspension. There haven’t been any transgressions in our group but one common issue is that there is no consequence for egregious behavior like not paying your share or constantly breaking agreed upon rules. Now managers can temporarily suspend a member so they can’t see the calendar or book use until they are re-instated. This feature can be used or not according to a group’s bylaws, rules or customs.
  5. Waitlisting. We found that out-of-towners sometimes got blocked out by local members who reserved a date and didn’t know it was the only weekend the member from Florida was able to visit. Now, with waitlisting, you can signal your eagerness to jump in if the original reserver is less invested in that date, or if they are going to cancel anyway. In our group the locals would quickly stand aside for a less frequent visitor if they saw them appear on the waitlist.

shared calendar for groups with waitlisting feature

Launched In 2020

Now Resercal, the scheduling web application for sharing groups, is available for an annual subscription

For the original group that I am connected to, the annual subscription cost is a line item in the budget along with accounting fees and utilities. When we calculate the hours of “busy work” saved at an hourly rate it easily makes sense.

2020 has been a strange year so far. We hope that Resercal can make it easier to manage shared use. We’ve already used it for a summer pool club that needed to separate visitors by “pod”. In that case, use was reserved hourly.

As winter approaches we are gearing up for the ski season, helping clients manage scheduling when dealing with multiple pods, high risk users, work-from-home skiers, and kids who are remote-learning.

Features In Development

We also have some new features in the pipeline:

  1. To-do list where members can easily write notes or post photos communicating repairs needed or low supplies and mark issues as resolved.

  2. “Multiple reservables” so you can have several cabins or main house/guest house etc. in one account and show/hide them in the calendar.

  3. Manager moderation turns member-initiated reservations into requests that are received by the group’s designated scheduling manager. The manager can then edit/confirm or deny the request based on the rules and customs of the group.

  4. Invoicing so managers can bill members for use and/or for their share of expenses.

  5. Payments so members can pay invoices online via ACH or credit card.

How To Get Resercal

If you would like to learn more about how Resercal could work for your ski house, cabin or club please contact us. We’d be glad to schedule a call and learn about your needs, we can also send you a demo link.

If you have features you would like to see developed please let us know. We are keen to hear what ski cabin sharers or ski club members need.

The Resercal shared property scheduling and management app is available on an annual subscription basis from Resercal.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Subscribe now to continue. SUBSCRIPTION IS FREE!

Already a Subscriber? Enter your email above to confirm your subscription and continue reading. Thank you!

 

Cookies must be enabled on your device for new and existing subscribers to gain access.

Subscribers also get access to restricted content like our

BEST SKIS FOR SENIORS list; DISCOUNT DEALS; and our weekly digest email.