The Boost Hospitality Podcast is back for another season! And we are now in Season 7. And this time, we are currently on the first episode of season seven! For this episode of Boostly Hospitality Podcast, I have invited a special guest to talk about how to maximise your profits for your accommodation with simple interior design tips. We have Marilynn Taylor to talk about documenting on this podcast episode.
Marilynn Taylor will talk about the importance of interior design in the accommodation industry
Marilynn Taylor lives in Orange County in Los Angeles, just north of the Sam Diego line. She has her website at MarilynnTaylor.com.
Marilyn has 14 years of experience as a rental host and eight years as an interior designer.
How did you get into the rental accommodation business and interior design?
Many years ago, I would say, beginning of 2000, I got into mortgages, which then got me into real estate investing. It then got me into purchasing homes on Cape Cod. My husband is from Cape Cod, that’s where he grew up, in Massachusetts. So I bought my first vacation rental there. I owned some other just standard apartments before that, but I wanted to get into this vacation rental thing. So some friends of ours were selling a house. I got a great deal, and I had my first house in East Ham. Then his parents are selling their home, and it was in Wellesley, which is an excellent spot in Cape Cod. But we bought that house again to turn into a vacation rental.
So in that process of doing interior design for that house, I lived in LA. I had to design them and plan everything and order everything. So basically the East Ham house was the first one. I put everything together in that house in four days. So I was into a lot of planning. It sparked the idea that maybe I actually could do this design thing because it was something I had been interested in back from high school. I just never got around to doing it in my past lives. I was a professional dancer, then I became a makeup artist, and I’ve always been something creative. Real estate investing was interesting to me because I liked making ugly things pretty. So when we bought my husband’s parents home, as built in the 70s, and it was kind of like grandma’s house.
That was when I did differently over the years. I would say for over about five years, I slowly DIYed, remodelled that house. I noticed that as I improve the interior design and aesthetics of the home, it made a huge difference and how much I could charge the quality of guests that I got and the overall guest satisfaction. So this made me realise, okay, this is powerful.
I was one of the first time in Cape Cod to ever actually put a photo of the interior of my home as my primary photo. That sort of started a trend there. And then I’ve watched it become a nationwide trend. I’m not going to take full credit for starting that trend. But I figured it out all those years ago, and I realised that was always the thing that set me apart in my market.
Do you have a favourite failure in interior design where you learned something valuable?
This is something that I did early on with my rental. As I improved in interior design, I realised how important photos were. I don’t think I did it intentionally, but the images that I took in the house look great.
What ended up happening is people’s expectations were set a little bit too high for what the home was. So while the interior design and decor were stunning, which is an actuality, all these years later, as a professional designer, I look back, and I cringe. I’m like, Oh, god, it’s embarrassing, but you know, for Cape Cod back then it was beautiful.
When people saw the beauty of the aesthetics, their expectations sort of rose on the amenities as well. I’m talking about things like appliances, beddings or the quality of mattresses and pillows and all of that. I was still using a lot of the original stuff that was there in the house.
I started to get some negative reviews as a result. That was a huge learning lesson for me that you can’t go over the top and making your house look like something it’s not. Again, it wasn’t intentional. But that’s a very easy mistake to make. You have to make sure that as you improve the interior design and aesthetics of your home, you also have to adjust the amenities and the things that they experience.
Was that the inspiration for the blog where you wrote about dealing with criticism? Or is that something else that that has happened during the time you’ve been doing this?
This incident was just in the past three months. It was a new experience. You just never stopped having new experiences in this business, that’s for sure. But I had a woman who, again, I think it was a similar situation, but where she didn’t read everything. She didn’t read anything that I had sent her to help her prepare. So she seemed great the whole time she was there at the house. She seemed happy. Our communication was great. I felt I was taking great care of her, and I got a horrible review from her, and I felt so sideswiped by this because she said nothing while she was there.
It was when I realised in this particular situation where she lambasted me in an email, and nitpick every tiny little thing about the interior of the house. Of course, I’m panicking because I’m a Virgo. Everything has to be perfect.
I’ve got another company that’s currently managing the home. I call them, and I lay into them and like, how dare you present my home in this way? She made it sound like everything’s falling apart. Nothing’s new and long story short once I dug into it, I took a breath and stepped back from it. I realised, okay, the two people right before her gave me five-star reviews. Now we’re a few weeks later, and I’m still getting five-star reviews.
I realised in this particular situation; this was about her. Who knows what kind of a person she is in life, but it came across to me that she loved the beauty of my home.
That was enough for her, and she didn’t read everything. She expected everything to be brand spanking new as if I had just remodelled the house six months ago. That wasn’t a fair expectation. I think what she did to me was unfair in her review, but it happens. We have to move forward as the rental owners and say, Okay, what can I learn from this? How did I fail for this person in my communication with her? Why was I not able to set her expectations? I think that she holds a lot of the responsibility in the fact that she didn’t read what she was supposed to pack and what she was required to bring. Those were some of the complaints too. We always have to look at what can we do better.
What I learned from this experience
What can we learn from this, brush it off, take a deep breath, approach that person with empathy? Realise that somebody who’s that miserable to turn around and treat somebody that way to damage their business, after they’ve been treated very kindly by the host, that they’re living a much more miserable life than they could ever than any misery they could ever impose on me. So I exhale, let it go, move forward and enjoy the five-star visa keep coming in.
What do you see is the biggest mistake that so many people make when it comes to the interior design of their property? And what sort of advice could you pass on?
I would say that the biggest mistake that I see people making about interior design is that they go to, I don’t want to use the word cheap, but cheap. They go to whatever, I think out there, you guys have TK max. We have TJ Maxx, which is excellent. I use them all the time. Don’t get me wrong, but, sometimes people go to bland. They’re afraid of colour; they’re scared to get too exciting with the interior design. I feel like it’s essential because people have figured out aesthetics matter. I would say the majority of us owners at this point are trying to make our place look nice, right? We care.
But I would say the presentation of beds. When I see people put their bed where they have a bedspread pulled over without any throw pillows, it kind of looks like a college dorm bedroom. It doesn’t speak luxury. It doesn’t talk about excitement or that this is a wow. I would love for my home to look like this right because that’s as an interior designer. That’s what I’ve always designed with my gut.
As rental owners, we either have to do one of two ways. I have one of my rentals, and I have a total of five current locations. One of them is my home. If you’re renting out your home, run with that. Make it entirely your own. Let it be a total reflection of who you are because that’s going to be interesting. Some people I’ve seen on Instagram, a rental of a famous writer, they themed the interior design of the entire apartment after and it’s very moody, very British looking, dark colours, Chesterfield sofas and things like that. And it’s so cool.
My house is very maximalist, very saturated colours, very Hollywood Regency. But my other rentals, I have three other little locations that I call my mod pods. I know the demographic that’s going to rent there is either going to be snowbirds coming from Canada because it’s in the California desert. So they’re going to go in the wintertime. Or the rest of the year, it’s millennials. It’s people coming from LA and San Diego and nearby for the most part that is, on the average month, 40 and below. So that is what I catered to.
The importance of knowing your demographics
So you want to know your demographic when you are designing your space. Cater to them, even how you write your copy in your advertisements. You want that to cater to those people. Speak their language, advertise where they are. If you’re in nearby London, you want to think okay, am I in a flat and high rise? Or am I in a cute little cottage somewhere on the outskirts, you want to make sure that that everything works with the experience that you want to give the demographic that you’ve already identified.
Another rapid point I want to make that I find worked very well for all of my rentals is I design with new and old. I brought up TK Maxx, and you don’t want to furnish your entire place with everything brand new. It feels stale. No matter how pretty, no matter how cute or trendy you make it look, it feels outdated.
But when you start to bring in vintage items, vintage furniture that has character and age and history, it just feels more enjoyable. You can have old books in your space or photographs, old black and white. There are just so many different ways that you can bring interest to your area.
At my home, I don’t accept children. It has a lot of beautiful decors, and there are a lot of vintage items. Everybody would feel that if a child went in there and broke it, it’s not baby proof and that sort of thing. I have a concept that I used in design as well because I’ve always catered to the budget-minded client, whether it’s a design client, or for vacation rentals.
Thinking like investors
As investors, we also have to think like investors. We have to know where to stop sometimes, I have my interior designer cap on wand I want to do all the things and go completely crazy and nuts, but my mod pods in the desert, our budget rentals, their little tiny homes, my profit can’t support me wallpaper in the whole thing and putting in fabulous lighting. I had to figure out what and where to stop. I reached the point in which I have happy clients or happy guests that are arriving and feeling great while they’re in there and commenting on that. Okay, good. Done. I need, even though I want to. I don’t need to add anything more.
Sometimes I’ll do to add interest on Instagram or to show a project that I’m doing and that kind of thing. That helps bring interest to what I’m doing. And then people want to stay there. You can use it in that way too. But, again, know your demographic, but also understand your price point. No one to stop, no one you need to be luxury. The high low concept is to know when to spend money on things that need to last and be good quality.
And then go to TK Maxx and get the adorable interior design and decor that you know and throw pillows. That’s a great place to discount because people are going to drill on them and sleep on them no matter how much we tell them not to. You want to be able to tell someone for something fresh.
How to optimise your space and interior design to maximise profits
So this is going to be probably more relevant to larger units. Like with my mod pods, it’s 400 square feet. You can only fit so many people in there. So I’m not going to try to stack eight people in there with bunk beds. I’m going to use my Cape Cod home as an example. So in that home, initially, I think, six to eight. As time went by, I realised that the size of the house could compete with the cottages that sleep more people.
You have to find the right balance for your home. Because if you’re thinking profit and not balancing that with the experience that people have. If you’re trying to cram too many people in, that’s it; they’re just not going to have a good experience. They’re going to be on top of each other and they’re going to be trying to share three bathrooms. So you have to know. Keep the rains in check.
Examples of what I did at my Cape Cod house was a massive attic over my garage. I realised that if I finish off this space, I now have a large bonus room that people can. We put all the gaming things in there, the tables for cards and ping pong table. I don’t have a ping pong table. But I want to put a ping pong table. But that’s where you would put all that stuff so that it’s this gaming room.
If you have a basement or a second structure on your property, or a garage that isn’t filled up with stuff, try to think of how you can expand into those spaces to make them additional living areas. Especially if you want to sleep more people, bunk beds are a great way. There are bunk bed companies that cater to adults. They’re not rickety. They’re solid. They have king over kings; they have Queen over queens.
For example, this is somewhere I stayed; it’s not one of my rentals. In the Outer Banks of North Carolina, there are these large homes out there. We wanted to have a family reunion but we were struggling to find homes that we could all fit into. We wanted to be in one house. There were a lot of homes that said they could sleep 28 people, but there were six bedrooms. And I was like, how would that work? And I was the one ringing the bell to the whole group saying, you guys, let’s think about this. There are six bathrooms and 28 of us in there. How is that ever going to run? It’ll be miserable.
But they had four sofa beds, and bunk bedrooms like it looked like summer camp when we were 12. And I was like, Okay, I could see that working for maybe girls weekend, you know, wherever you are for younger people where everybody’s okay being on top of each other. But again, who is your demographic? What is your price point? Who do you want in there? Think of the wear and tear as well.
So this is unique and individual to each rental owner. You have to think about all those different bullet points when you’re optimising. I can say that by adding an extra bedroom in the basement of the Cape Cod house, adding that extra space above the garage. There was even an additional part of the garage that I rent out in the offseason to people who need storage. I just partitioned off my garage.
I just found ways that I could monetise this home while keeping the experience relaxed and lovely. The whole idea was for people not to be on top of each other. It worked out great, and people love it. Usually, the garage area is the man cave; the downstairs den is where all the kids hang out. All the women are up where the kitchen and chatting.
What is the most common advice that you have given to the accommodation owners that you helped and what can they do to improve?
I’ll differentiate right up front, what makes you and I different and how we approach our clients and how what we do it is a little bit different. I approach everything from an aesthetic point of view. That is my forte. While you are a tech and marketing guru, and you know how to get like the structure and SEO and all that fun stuff, that’s not my brain. I’m going to look at my clients are coming to me because they want the presentation not only at their home but their marketing to match their home. It’s branding.
I would say the most common thing that I have to help people correct is their photos. It’s not just the quality of the photography. It’s also the order that they put them in, the captions. The way that that they presented it doesn’t tell a story. It doesn’t walk people through the home. When I order my photos on my listings, I always think about what room are they going to see first? Then where are they going to go from there?
And then my captions, I try to give some idea, okay, you’re upstairs, this is a hallway bathroom. They can look at the primary photo, oh, that’s where the hallway is, that door must be that bad. They can get an idea of the layout and how it’s going to feel in there. Because I used to get complaints about, oh, we didn’t realise that all the bathrooms were upstairs or the full baths, and there’s only one half bath downstairs. So I started incorporating floor plans into my listings, which helps. Photography is so important.
I’m intrigued about the order. What order do you recommend going, and how would you like to structure it?
So for me, in my properties, I always use a photo of the interior. I have toggled back and forth and done what they call split testing or AB testing on one listing. I’ll have a photograph of the master bedroom, which is probably the most spectacular, design-wise. For others, I have a picture of the living room as the first photo. I’ve been testing to see which one works the best.
But let’s say that you have a gorgeous little cottage in the Cotswolds or something. Your first photo may want to be of your actual property. If it has an enormous charm or the location is fantastic. And it’s right on the water or with mountains in the background or something along those lines. You have to think about that first photo is critical because it’s got to stop them from scrolling.
Again, if you have an exterior photo, I would then take it to the primary living space first. Then walk them through the house. Some people like to go living space, then all the bedrooms and maybe bathrooms at the end or something.
But you want them to understand what’s upstairs, what’s downstairs, maybe you have multiple levels. So where do they enter? I have a home where they can come downstairs or upstairs, but I put my keypad upstairs because then they go into the most beautiful space. That’s the primary photo.
And then I order it how they would walk through the house; once they go downstairs, what’s the first bedroom they’re going to see. Then I show them those bedrooms. In some places, Airbnb, I don’t do this, because I don’t think people pay attention. It’s a younger demographic. I try to, quick and fast, right there, very short attention spans, I tend to give a little bit more detail and say now to your right, is where you’re going to find the den, and then you walk through the room and into the back bathroom. Then through this bedroom, you’ll find the outdoor shower.
So again, always thinking about who am I speaking to? And how can I speak their language? What do they want to see?
Work on videos, too
On your website, this is equally as important, and the sky’s the limit there. In addition to the order of your photos and how you present them on a website, video, walkthrough videos. Some companies will have my Cape Cod house listed right now, where they will do, and I see this on more and more of the higher-end listings, where they will take a 3d video of the inside of your house. It’s not an actual video, but people can walk through your home on their computer. That is huge. So if you can do something like that, that’s even better, because then they feel like they can walk through your house
Find out more about Marilynn
The best place is Marilynntaylor.com. Hit the Start Here button right at the top of that website. And there is a free download that is called Top Five Decor Must-Haves for short term rentals. And that’s just going to give you some quick tips of ways that you can judge your existing listing or, or if you are creating a new one, it’s going to provide you with some useful guidance there.
If you want one on one consulting, I offer that. I can help you design your space from where I am. I can do listing reviews and website reviews. Again, my reviews are focusing on the aesthetics and the presentation. I can usually come up with a quick ten things with just about every single client right off the top that are quick and easy actionable things they can do just instantly to see improvement in engagement and bookings.
You can find me inside the hospitality community as well. I’ll be in there jumping in answering questions and helping out where I can.
Marilynn’s social media information
Instagram Account: @marilynntaylor
Linkedin URL: www.linkedin.com/in/marilynnataylor
Facebook URL: facebook.com/thetayloredhome