Can You Still Make Money with Short-term Rentals in the Poconos?

Lately I’ve been hearing that the STR business in the Poconos is down and that the market is oversaturated. Some of my clients are doing quite well, some not as well as they hoped. It’s a good time for a deeper discussion about the potential to operate a profitable STR in the Poconos.

According to the Poconos Visitor Bureau, tourism continues to grow in the region with visits up (two percent by the latest count.) The visitor bureau publishes statistics including hotel stays and vacation rental nights, and as a whole, tourism is a growing industry in the area with a modest and steady increase predicted. There are fluctuations due to weather, but a big plus for the Poconos is location, a drivable destination that has 47 million people that are less than a 3-hour drive away. There are nearly 2 million STR night stays in the Poconos each year. In 2023, a cool damp spring may have kept some weekenders away, but wonderful weather contributed to a record crowd at Pocono’s NASCAR race and many STR operators are reporting strong July and August bookings across the region.

The vacation rental business in the Poconos has brought new and ambitious STR investors to our area in recent years. These new operators are certainly raising the bar on many of the vacation home communities in the area with their vision to build profitable vacation rental businesses. That has contributed to the creation of a new trade association advocating for the STR industry, the Poconos Association of Vacation Rental Owners. The group estimates there are somewhere in the range of 6,000 – 7,500 licensed Short-Term Rental Properties in the four county Pocono Region.

For those that have not updated their properties in years, have the same old generations old fixtures and furnishings, business has gotten a little harder. While renting a vacation home can still be a very profitable enterprise, the higher level of competition is something all operators should be thinking about as the new entrants look for ways to standout and get their share of the vacation rental market.

For generations people have chosen to vacation in the Poconos whether for a weekend, a week, or an entire season. Licensing costs and increased fees (community guest fees, cleaners) have pushed the economics of operating profitably toward bigger homes for longer stays which is one factor a future investor should consider. Since the Poconos are filled with modest sized summer homes and many of them are listed on the booking sites, bigger seems better. Beyond size, then how can your rental standout?

BE EXCEPTIONAL, OFFER SOMETHING UNIQUE

The Pocono Mountains region is a competitive market for STR. The region spans four counties and a wide variety of attractions. In another article, What Brings People to the Poconos, I discuss how vacation homes themselves might be the areas biggest attraction. If you are looking to invest, or reinvest in a vacation rental in the Poconos, themes (design, décor, furnishings) are one way to make a property standout. Another is to add a property amenity that can go toward creating a memorable experience.

Here are a couple of observations on things I’ve seen that help a property standout.

  • Specialty Food “Bars” – Waffle bar/Pancake machine muffin station. Using a high-performance specialty baking or cooking machine to give the property a memorable experience, especially with kids. Whatever it is, the key to making this a positive experience is to stock the bar with all that is needed. A few dollars spent on baking supplies can result in boost in your nightly rate.
  • Outdoor Kitchen – The same sentiment to an indoor cooking feature can be an outdoor grilling station. Not just a quality grill, but an accompanying refrigerator, prep table and sink. Add a nice sturdy outdoor table and chairs and you may find your guests spending their time away from the indoor kitchen and hanging around the outdoor one.
  • Outdoor Pizza Oven – The host of HGTV’s Vacation House Rules is a big advocate of picking one exceptional thing for each home they renovate. In one episode, Scott (the host) decides that an outdoor pizza oven will be the unique feature that brings guests outside and engaging with the nice lakefront. It also gets them to not focus on a small kitchen! The pizza oven works because they stock the house with pizza dough, sauce and toppings which makes this trouble free for the guests.
  • Golf cart – Nothing will entertain teenagers and adults more than a golf cart. Several of the Pocono area communities allow for golf carts and some even allow guests to operate them. If you are too worried about liability, and your community allows carts (like Arrowhead Lake), you can suggest one of the local firms that would deliver a cart for their stay.
  • Mountain Bikes, Bike Surrey – If you can’t get a golf cart, think creatively, and have an array of mountain bikes, wagons or even a Bike Surrey to give your guests a way to recreate in your vacation home community. While the surrey is synonymous with the beach, who says you can’t surrey in the mountains!
  • Exceptional Games – A successful STR operator and YouTuber named Edward Lui operates some very successful properties in the Poconos. His signature upgrade is a serious game room. These are not just low budget copies of arcade games; Edward put in serious gaming investments. One of his discoveries is that the long shuffleboard games seen in bars are very popular with guests. A popular thing in the Poconos is to turn a garage into a game room, Edward says to do this right, spend on quality games and it will go right to your bottom line.
  • Swimming Pools – June, July, and August are generally the peak months. Warm weather and long days make for memorable times getting away and there is nothing like a jump in the lake or pool to cool off, relax and play. Most communities have lakefront beaches, some communities have pools, but some of the best performing STRs have their own pools. For May, September and October you’d want a pool heater and some charge an extra fee for the pool heater, but many of the people who put in pools find they pay for themselves in just a few years. Carving out a hillside and putting an “above ground” pool with a large deck around it is a great way to get more from a hilly back yard. And just imagine what the boost an indoor pool would make for the off season. If your property is far from a winter sports resort, then maybe an indoor pool is your answer to year-round bookings.
  • Views – Podcaster and STR Celebrity Bill Faeth talks about the view being more important that the size of the home, even the number of bedrooms. In his opinion, striking views are something that makes for memories more than just about everything. Going one step further, if the property doesn’t have natural views, then create one. Landscaping, hardscaping, and water features are great ways to overcome a less than inspiring view. Give your guests a reason to hangout outside and as a bonus perhaps you’ll see less wear and tear on the inside!

Note that I have not mentioned a Hot Tub or Barrel Sauna or other spa-like amenities. It seems like a hot tub is a such a common feature and almost as required as a good outdoor deck. Yes, I think you should have one, but only if your operations team can support one. A gross hot tub can ruin your chance at a 5-star review, so only have a 5-start hot tub experience.

To answer the question: Can you still make money with Short-term Rentals in the Poconos?
The answer is YES, you a can still do very well in the Poconos with a STR investment, but you’ve got to rise above the average to do so.

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July 03, 2023

Some communities are more friendly to VRBO and Airbnb, others oppose the practice.  Here is an summary drawn from various HOAs (Home Owner Associations) and township regulations. Last Updated: February, 2024 ARROWHEAD LAKE (Coolbaugh Township and Tobyhanna Township, PA) As one of the area’s most recognized vacation home communities, Arrowhead Lake has a rich traditionContinue reading "Short-term Rental Friendly Pocono Communities"

The post Short-term Rental Friendly Pocono Communities appeared first on Pocono Vacation Home Sales & Short-term Rental.

March 01, 2022

Zoning, Rules and Regulations regarding Short-term Rentals, VRBO and AirBnB are changing in the Poconos, here is a scorecard of municipalities and what they say about running a short-term rental from your vacation home or income property.

The post STR Municipal Scorecard: Rules on Short-term Rentals in Boroughs and Townships in Poconos appeared first on Pocono Vacation Home Sales & Short-term Rental.