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Why “Sign Language” Matters

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    [ID] => 521
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    [post_date] => 2022-02-22 10:28:33
    [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-22 15:28:33
    [post_content] => 

One of the toughest challenges in managing rentals is posting rules and warnings without making the space feel too restrictive or too commercial.

You want people to feel unrestricted while on vacation, not like they’re in school or under the thumb of their corporate job and following rules.

From a management perspective, we’re trying to limit stupidity to keep guests safe and owners happy. It’s difficult (actually impossible) to prevent some people from doing absurd things. Usually they’re not damaging, just strange, like rearranging furniture and kitchen supplies.

We set up a guest book specific to each unit, providing specific policies and information about that property. Our guest books on a large unit average 3 pages long, and already I fear the length of it is why many people seemingly don’t read it.

So how do you post rules, information, and warnings where people will actually read it?

The first rule of thumb is to post the rules as close as possible to the violation. If you’re going to label the remotes, do so on the front of the remote. If you’re going to post what not to flush down the toilet, do so right next to the toilet, not in the guest book. This keeps the guest book shorter and more likely to be read and ensures that all the guests see the warning. Often only one or two of the adults will read the guest book, and will not communicate its contents to the other guests of the house, so you must post rules where applicable.

The next rule of thumb is to make it as short as possible. If you have 36 hot tub rules, they might read three, possibly none. Put the most important highest in the list, if there is a list. If it isn’t critical, or if you haven’t had multiple violations, don’t even bother saying it because you’ll just water down the content that needs to get across.

Also, use humor as often as possible, so as not to feel controlling. As an example, this is our list of rules that we have posted in the living room of one of our rentals, trying to make light of some minor issues we’ve had with guests.

Things we shouldn’t need to say, but need to say (because people have done all these things):

  • If you yell at each other and play loud music at night, the neighbors will complain (People like to sleep at night).
  • Do not burn trash in the propane fireplace (It’s not real wood, and there is no chimney).
  • Do not go across the creek to the neighbor’s property and pet their horse. (She is pretty, but bites strangers).
  • Do not throw beer bottles and Solo cups in the woods (The deer are underage and don’t drink responsibly).
  • Do not golf in the field, and especially don’t hit golf balls across onto the neighbor’s property (There is a golf course in Dahlonega).
  • If you move furniture, put it back (You may have a better arrangement in mind, but my interior designer will be offended).
  • The AC will not work when it is below freezing out (If you are really hot when it is freezing out, turn down the heat or crack a window and get that fresh mountain air).
  • If you break something or find it broken, please report it (It will not fix itself after you check out).
    Thanks and enjoy your stay!

Tongue-in-cheek sounds friendly and is the only effective way we’ve come up with to get information across without feeling rude or bossy.

Most people understand that you have to have these rules, and that you’re trying to keep people happy and safe (pretty much the job description).

It also goes a long way having your signs professionally made—it takes you up a notch in professionalism in the eyes of your guests.

Professional signs don’t cost an arm and a leg! We have a local print shop with surprisingly low costs and minimum quantities. If you really can’t afford professional signs, print something that looks nice on cardstock paper and add your logo or a background photo of your property. Whatever you do, don’t handwrite anything, like you're the disgruntled employee of a sketchy gas station who doesn’t get paid enough to care.

The last, but not least thing to keep in mind is that people will still miss signs and rules.

Most people will read them if done properly, but some people just refuse to read anything. They will text and ask what the Wi-Fi password is before ever looking at the guest book on the counter or the information sheet on the fridge. These situations are where your patience and customer service will shine through when you patiently tell a guest information that is readily available to them, and then they later realize how needy they were and give you a five-star rating on customer service.

Great customer service is what gets you rave reviews and will cover most small errors or guest inconveniences that inevitably occur.

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One of the toughest challenges in managing rentals is posting rules and warnings without making the space feel too restrictive or too commercial. You want people to feel unrestricted while on vacation, not like they’re…

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How Do I Determine the Cancellation Policy?

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    [ID] => 519
    [post_author] => 1
    [post_date] => 2022-02-22 10:28:18
    [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-22 15:28:18
    [post_content] => 

Cancellation policies are important in protecting your cash flow.

There is no better example than what happened with COVID-19, a catastrophe that put many short-term rental owners out of business. You have to protect yourself and your business first, or you won't be in business.

Cancellation policies should be specific to the unit.

For high-demand locations that book fairly last minute, you can get replacement bookings if you have a cancellation—but then again, if you can get bookings that easily, your cancellation policy doesn't need to be that flexible unless you're charging an extra fee for it (as Airbnb has an option for now).

Be Firm and Strict

In general, we believe you should be firm and strict in your cancellations. It's like going into marriage with a prenuptial agreement: if you're thinking about canceling the contract, you shouldn't sign the contract.

We understand that times are especially tricky with COVID, but people who want the option to cancel are far more likely to cancel than people who have made firm plans and will be traveling come hell or high water. We also encourage people to buy travel insurance if they think they might cancel, which protects both the owner and the traveler. (We've partnered with Generali Global Assistance to offer reasonably-priced travel insurance.)

You should always treat people fairly, however, and don't try to get out of a refund that the traveler is legitimately entitled to. Look for a compromise for guests who have a true emergency and are willing to move their dates, as long as you are confident you can fill their dates at a good price.

If you do guests a favor, sometimes they'll leave you a glowing review, and it will be worth the extra mile.

Also, beware of guests who just want to move their dates far enough out where they're back within the free cancellation period (oldest trick in the book). If you agree to a date change, all monies paid to date for the new dates should be non-refundable.

To summarize, if you've created the demand necessary for filling your calendar even with a strict cancellation policy, you should take advantage of the success that you have built and not feel pressured into giving last-minute refunds.

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Cancellation policies are important in protecting your cash flow. There is no better example than what happened with COVID-19, a catastrophe that put many short-term rental owners out of business. You have to protect yourself…

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How Do I Determine the Price?

WP_Post Object
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    [ID] => 517
    [post_author] => 1
    [post_date] => 2022-02-22 10:27:49
    [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-22 15:27:49
    [post_content] => 

Price setting is one of the most difficult aspects of this industry.

Shoot too high, and you'll hear crickets and miss the volume you need to make a good return; shoot too low, and you'll end up with lower-quality guests and miss out on the higher prices you need to make a good return.

Your best bet is to set your pricing at the mid-to-upper level of your realistic peer group (i.e. at the 70th percentile of 3 bedroom cabins with similar amenities).

Occupancy is dependent on price, but isn't at war with price. You don't need to rent your unit for next to nothing to get a high occupancy rate for your market. (You should be looking at a similar size and type of unit within your market to get a target for occupancy rate.)

The most critical piece of information you need to know is when to adjust your rates, which is very dependent on the time of year and type of unit you have. Guests usually book our cabins between 17 to 31 days out from their stay, depending on cabin size, so we adjust our prices and minimum stays specifically to our units.

Minimum stays are also complicated, but they are underestimated in this industry. Our goal is always to secure the travelers who are looking for longer stays first, and then drop our minimum stay for orphan days (sets of days that are lower than your standard minimum stay) and last-minute bookings.

Fortunately, most people who take longer vacations plan further in advance, so we recommend sticking to your guns, whether that be a minimum of two nights or seven nights (in North Georgia, usually a 3 or 4 night minimum), until you're within the 60-90 day window.

At that point, you need to reassess and start looking at minimum stay reductions and/or price reductions. A good property manager will adjust their rates at least once a week unless they have their rates set up with a dynamic pricing software that adjusts daily (which we recommend).

These are the CliffsNotes of minimum stays and pricing, though it's far more complicated than we could do justice to here. Please give us a call (706-973-2900) or shoot us an email if you have any other questions about pricing recommendations.

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Price setting is one of the most difficult aspects of this industry. Shoot too high, and you'll hear crickets and miss the volume you need to make a good return; shoot too low, and you'll…

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What Platforms Should I Advertise On?

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    [ID] => 514
    [post_author] => 1
    [post_date] => 2022-02-22 10:27:21
    [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-22 15:27:21
    [post_content] => 

At North Georgia Vacation Rentals, we currently list on Airbnb, VRBO and its network, Booking.com, Georgia Rentals By Owner, and of course, our own website: northgavationrentals.net. If you let us manage your property, however, you won't even have to ask this question.

Airbnb

Airbnb is the market leader, especially in small units. The gross volume of most vacation rentals comes from Airbnb, and some owners only list on Airbnb, though we definitely wouldn't recommend that. Airbnb is free to list on (no listing fee for the owner), and there are no fees for the owner at all except the 3% credit card transaction fee. (This is painful, but there's not much you can do about it.)

Besides doing great volume, Airbnb does take care of its host regarding damage protection. If a guest breaks something in the house or the house itself, Airbnb will cover pretty much anything, no questions asked, if the guests refuse to pay. They won't pay for any damage to the property outside the house and its contents (e.g. driveway repair, ruts in the lawn, etc.), however. They also provide some protection to owners in liability, and will step in if a guest makes a claim.

There are some downsides to Airbnb. Their customer service is pretty poor. It's very difficult to get somebody who knows what they're doing, communicates well, and has the authority to do something about your issue. Usually you just get a low-level employee who makes a case and sends it to the appropriate team, and it can take days or even weeks sometimes to get an answer or help with anything.

They also lack some simple functions like collecting pet fees, requiring people to sign a vacation rental agreement, labeling financial transactions based on the listing, and some other things that should be commonplace in such a major company.

VRBO

VRBO and its affiliated sites are a subscription service, with a current price of $499 per year (or 8% of the booking amount, but that is quite hefty if you are doing any volume at all). They have a great market share as well, especially in nicer and larger vacation homes.

On average, the guests that book through VRBO are a bit better quality as well, as regards taking care of the property and not partying. Their customer service is also considerably better than Airbnb, and they offer some really good owner support concerning data analytics and market reports.

The only downside to VRBO in our opinion is a few functional things such as not allowing guests to select a specific quantity of pets and not having enough options for certain aspects of listings, like a cancellation policy of the proper strictness.

Booking.com

Booking.com is another major player but doesn't seem to do as much volume in North Georgia, and we haven't had quite enough success with our listings.

There is no listing fee, which is nice, but they charge the owner a 15% commission yet no booking fee to their guests. To offset the 15% decrease, we just mark our rates up 15% on Booking.com so we can charge all our guests about the same price on all platforms.

Their website is not user-friendly at all on the owner side, as Booking.com is really set up for hotels, not whole-house vacation rentals. Also, their listings are very limited as far as what information you can input for your listing description and for advertising your amenities and rules, but they're still worth listing on as they're another free platform.

Other Sites

There are some other small players in the Georgia market, like Georgia Rentals By Owner, which simply puts guests in touch with owners/managers. They're usually pretty cheap to list on (a flat fee of about $99 per year) and there are no commissions or other charges as the traveler can book directly through your own website.

Owners should also see what's available on local platforms, such as their chamber of commerce website. Fortunately, here in Dahlonega we have an awesome website (Dahlonega.org) with high traffic and great visibility that sends people directly to our website.

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At North Georgia Vacation Rentals, we currently list on Airbnb, VRBO and its network, Booking.com, Georgia Rentals By Owner, and of course, our own website: northgavationrentals.net. If you let us manage your…

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Damage Protection – Why It Matters

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    [ID] => 512
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    [post_date] => 2022-02-22 10:27:05
    [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-22 15:27:05
    [post_content] => 

Securing damage protection for your owners can sometimes be a hassle for managers, but it's worth it to avoid the difficulties that arise if you don't have damage protection. Unfortunately, not all companies offer damage protection. Airbnb protects owners for physical damage to their properties, but other platforms don't offer any coverage. It's up to the manager to see that their owners' properties are protected.

What's wrong with damage deposits?

Most property managers require a refundable damage deposit in the form of a hold on the guest's credit card. This is a good system, but not perfect.

  • First, it increases the amount of money that guests are required to have on their credit card. Not all guests will have enough, especially if the refundable damage deposit is a large amount
  • Second, it makes guests uncomfortable. They don't know if the owner or property manager is going to take advantage of them and make a claim for something they didn't do. Guests feel that their money is at risk, so they may decide to book someone else's rental if a hold is required.

Another issue may arise if a manager has to make a claim on the money that the guest puts up: the risk of guests becoming frustrated and giving the property a bad review. This is a stressful and difficult call for the manager, trying to make a small claim for damage versus getting a bad review.

These issues are why we've partnered with Generali Global Assistance to offer Vacation Rental Damage Protection plans as an alternative to large refundable damage deposits. Through Generali Global Assistance we can get guests an insurance policy for $35, which provides them up to $1,500 of coverage. It is a zero-deductible policy, so if damage occurs, it doesn't cost guests anything and doesn't put the owner at risk of an upset guest ready to leave a bad review.

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Securing damage protection for your owners can sometimes be a hassle for managers, but it's worth it to avoid the difficulties that arise if you don't have damage protection. Unfortunately, not all companies offer damage…

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Furnishing and Decorating for the Eye and…

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    [ID] => 510
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    [post_date] => 2022-02-22 10:26:44
    [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-22 15:26:44
    [post_content] => 

It's often been said "what catches the eye catches the dollar." This simple truth is why it's important to make your listing stand out in the sea of other short term rentals. Six out of ten viewers on Airbnb scan through photos first—that's before reading your reviews or your listing description. If you can't catch their attention, they'll move on to something that does.

And yet, we know that a lot of decor looks nice but is just not practical in a rental space. I often see antiques and decor I would love to put in a cabin, but I know that a child will break it within a week. Replacement costs are the unseen and often unpredictable downside of a vacation rental business, but with some research and planning, your household goods, furniture, and
decor can last a long time. This is hardly the place to go into detail about every category, much less every item in a house, but here are some principles and examples to keep in mind.

Also, 65%-70% of bookings (in our market) are by females. Keep this in mind when choosing decor and when thinking about how to market your property.

Decor

Appeal to Broad Audiences

Lots of people like the decor of deer heads and trout trophies on the wall. A lot of people don't. You can have personality, but tone down anything that would bother some guests or downgrade your property in their mind. If you have a hunting cabin, decorate it as a hunting cabin, but if you don't, look for universal appeal. Not everyone is a Star Wars fan, not everyone likes your Russian doll collection. It's okay to have a little more bold decor choices in bedrooms or game rooms, but it usually has more downside than upside in common areas.

Don't Overspend

Wall decor especially doesn't have to be expensive. As it's not heavily handled, it doesn't have to be durable, but it does need to be cleanable. It's easy to decorate a house on the cheap in the
secondhand market, and as wall prints and decor don't wear out easily, guests can't tell if it's new or used anyway. Save your money for those big ticket items that you need to sell your property.

Keep It Appropriate

Remember, you're decorating for all ages. There are lots of signs that are funny, but have inappropriate humor. What you may find funny may offend your guest.

No Clutter or Breakable Knickknacks

It's great for your house to have some personality, but it's easy to overdo it. There is beauty in simplicity, and your cleaners will also appreciate not having shelves full of decor to dust around.

Use Decor That's Interactive

If you can come up with decor that's a conversation piece, good to fiddle with, or interactive, it's a win-win. Some examples of these are Jenga, hourglasses, balancing toys, abacuses, magnetic stones, or balancing blocks.

Furniture

Easily Cleanable

Glass, tile, plastics, and leather are great materials that clean easily. Leather or faux leather couches will generally hold their look for some time to come. Be cautious with fabrics like microfiber, as well as real wood and wicker. Stay away from any particle board that is exposed and could swell or break apart when exposed to water. Even condensation from a glass of ice water can wreak havoc.

Check the connections

Many IKEA-style beds that have threaded bolts with Allen keys don't last long term. They wiggle back and forth and can only be tightened so many times before they strip out. Slotted bed rails are a better bet, and squeak less. Guests will complain about squeaky beds. If you do go with a metal bed frame from a major retailer, make sure you reinforce it with wood supports in the center, especially if it's a queen or king size. We've had multiple beds break due to poor design or insufficient braces put on larger beds. We now build our own platform beds and order commercial, military-grade bunk beds for kid's rooms.

Weatherproof

Those real wood rocking chairs look great, but put them in the sun and rain, and you have a product that looks good for one year and lasts maybe three. On a covered porch you can get away with real wood, but out in the elements, look to man-made materials (besides wicker).

However you choose to decorate and furnish, make sure you're doing your research and playing the long game.

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It's often been said "what catches the eye catches the dollar." This simple truth is why it's important to make your listing stand out in the sea of other short term rentals. Six out of…

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An Argument for Large Cabins: The Win-Win-Win

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    [ID] => 508
    [post_author] => 1
    [post_date] => 2022-02-22 10:26:22
    [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-22 15:26:22
    [post_content] => 

When thinking about what size cabin to invest in, there are many factors to consider. Some investors are limited on price and have to stay in the smaller range, but others don't care about the size or the number of cabins, they're just looking for the highest return.

On average, we believe that large units are the way to go for the owner, guest, and manager. Don't get us wrong, small units can be profitable too, but here we want to show you the benefits of a larger unit.

Large cabins are great for big families who want to stay together on their trip. Let's say you have a party of 14, and let's assume that they are adults and renting seven small cabins is an option (though very hard to find). Would you rather pay $150 a night for one-bedroom cabins that can sleep two, or $800 a night for a seven-bedroom that can sleep 14? But that’s not the only consideration. What is the cost per person? And don’t forget cleaning fees! There is a minimum cleaning fee per unit because cleaning cabins in the mountains is different from hotel cleaning.

Now let's plug in some average numbers and look at the breakdown for a single night’s stay. Most major websites add booking fees ranging from 8-15% that the guest has to pay, so we are going to add those as well to get a realistic look at the guests' cost. The percentage is actually a sliding scale that is higher for lower-dollar bookings, so it’s another factor that is worse for renting small units, but we’ll just choose 12% for each option for our example.

Let's look at 7 cabins for a single night:

7 Cabins @ $150 per night
$1,050
7 Cleaning Fees @ $100 $700
_
Pre-Tax Total$1,750
Local and State Taxes @ 13%$227.50
Website Booking Fee @ 12%$210
_
Total Price for 7 Small Cabins$2,187.50

Now let's look at a seven-bedroom cabin for a single night:

7-Bedroom Cabin @ $800 per night$800
Cleaning Fee $225
_
Pre-Tax Total$1,025
Local and State Taxes @ 13%$133.25
Website Booking Fee @ 12%$123
_
Total Price for 1 Large Cabin$1,281.25

The percentage-based booking fee and percentage-based taxes inflate every dollar of increase for cleaning fees and rent, and of course, the owner and manager don't get to retain those increases either. It's great for Airbnb and Uncle Sam, but not for travelers, owners, or managers.

Most travelers want to be together. That's the point of vacation—to get further from work and the world and get closer as a family. Even if you can find a bunch of small cabins close together, most people (especially mothers) want to be under the same roof.

One large cabin is better for an owner in many ways. Building one large cabin is still much more affordable than several small cabins. Although they don't have to worry about management, the owner still has a certain amount of effort, thought, and risk for every cabin. For example, their insurance will be more on multiple cabins than on a single cabin. There is a greater economy in consolidation than in number in this case.

And finally, larger units are better for managers too. We really want to excel at customer service, but that is only possible with an appropriate manager-to-property ratio. Just like a good student-to-teacher ratio, even a great teacher can't teach 100 students on a personal level. A good manager without a solid team behind them can't effectively manage even 25 cabins; there is just too much maintenance, supplies, cleaning, and customer service to do the job well.

So if you’re considering purchasing a property strictly for investment or for personal use and investment use, we hope you'll consider if large is right for you.

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When thinking about what size cabin to invest in, there are many factors to consider. Some investors are limited on price and have to stay in the smaller range, but others don't care about the…

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7 Things to Consider for Your Vacation Rentals

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    [ID] => 506
    [post_author] => 1
    [post_date] => 2022-02-22 10:26:02
    [post_date_gmt] => 2022-02-22 15:26:02
    [post_content] => 

#1 Be unique

Cookie-cutter homes are great for subdivisions near the city, not so with vacation rentals. If you have an average cabin in an average location with limited amenities, you can expect average results. Have something different—there are plenty of different people out there. :)

Having a unique property is the only foolproof way to stand out from the competition. Be unique—don't be afraid to purchase and decorate with a little bit of flare (though if everyone else says it's just ugly, then…).

#2 Have easy access

Guests want a simple, contactless entry. Use a simple lockbox or a smart lock/keyless entry with a spare key or lockbox on-site in case of failure.

#3 Be pet-friendly

Being pet-friendly can increase your rental volume. Learn 8 other reasons it pays to be pet-friendly.

#4 Get a hot tub

Other than being pet-friendly, hot tubs are one of the most-searched-for amenities. Hot tubs increase both the occupancy volume and rent capacity of a rental.

The cost of cleaning and maintenance can be built easily into the cleaning fee.

#5 Lose the carpet

Carpets are difficult to clean and repair, and guests don't appreciate a dirty, worn carpet.

#6 Consider a covered porch

Covered porches make a great addition to a vacation rental because they create a space outside the guests can use while it's raining.

A covered porch with a hot tub is ideal because it allows guests to be outside in almost any weather. It also helps keep the hot tubs clean from those pesky leaves!

Covered porches also require far less maintenance as the sun and rain stay off of them.

#7 Fire pits

Fire pits are one of our most-used amenities, and they are cheap considering the value they add to your rental.

In some situations, we recommend both a gas fire pit and a wood-burning fire pit, though one or the other is usually fine. It's up to you to decide whether to provide firewood for your guests if you go with the wood-burning option.

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#1 Be unique Cookie-cutter homes are great for subdivisions near the city, not so with vacation rentals. If you have an average cabin in an average location with limited amenities, you can expect average results.…

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6 Surefire Ways to Select the Right Property

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Whether you're building or buying, here are some tips to help you pick the right property.

We have a licensed real estate agent on staff and would be happy to assist you in any home buying.

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Whether you're building or buying, here are some tips to help you pick the right property. We have a licensed real estate agent on staff and would be happy to assist you…

Read More