The Wire Interview is a continuing series of conversations with players in the corporate housing industry.
Times are changing — New technology, increased diversity of travelers, shifting regulation of sister industries — but according to Erin Alls, Vice President of Maison International, there’s never been a better time to be in the business. In this edition of The Wire Interview, Ms. Alls comments on all of the above, significant changes occurring now and later, and offers some useful advice to industry newcomers.
Maison International offers furnished apartments for rent, investment properties, and individual property management for those who are out-of-state or overseas.
Can you give a brief description of what your company does and why it is unique in the marketplace?
Maison International is a boutique real estate firm that specializes in accommodating short stays. But we don’t only accommodate travelers — we also aid future and current property owners by locating the “ideal investment” and assisting in the furnishing of properties, respectively, both, again, for short-term accommodation. This affords property owners the flexibility of enjoying their property themselves while local and as a source of income while away.
Another unique characteristic of our company is that our staff is well-traveled and multi-lingual. One of our greatest joys is being able to answer “Yes.” to our international travelers when they question if we have been to their native country. With offices in New York and Los Angeles, cultural and lingual diversity makes us better able to assess and address our clients’ needs.
What do you think is happening to the furnished rental business? Challenges?
The furnished rental business is growing. When we started 20 years ago, in New York City, my understanding is that no one was doing what we were doing. In just the last five years new websites focusing on furnished rentals have more than doubled, and, further, many people now prefer to stay in a furnished apartment over a hotel room. It’s amazing to see a niche market such as furnished rentals grow to become commonplace. Traveler’s expectations are rising — and we love it!
How cost-conscious are your furnished rental clients?
Our clients appreciate a good deal, but they also appreciate that “Just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’s good.” That is to say that they are willing to pay the market value as long as it’s clean, comfortable and in a good location.
For a client on an extended trip, for instance, location is everything. While our units are not priced below current hotel rates, we are yet able to accommodate this client because they are located in highly desirable locations.
In this article you say that 25 percent of your rental business in Los Angeles comes from “young workers” in the entertainment and film industries. What qualities do these young workers look for in temporary housing?
The young worker who is just starting off in the film and entertainment industry really seems to be focused on the “it” location. In New York City they want Greenwich Village/East Village. In Los Angeles they want to be in Venice or somewhere close to the ocean.
What is the optimal experience you want your clients to have?
First allow me to say that I do not offer spaces where I myself wouldn’t stay. We want our clients to feel as though this is their home away from home, and will go to extraordinary lengths to help accommodate any of their requests.
But to answer your question, in an optimal experience our clients would be simply comfortable and content.
How much of your furnished rental business is generated through your website?
A great deal of our business comes from our website. We have great cross-traffic between our New York City and Los Angeles sites — they really do feed off of each other.
What is the average stay of your furnished rental tenants?
Our clients’ average length of stay is three to four months. We do not, however, rent for less than 30 days.
We often refer to them by name. We’ve built a business out of forming relationships, and oftentimes friendships, with clients — clients who often become repeat customers. Nevertheless, we are a service business and, as such, we are always discreet.
How do you refer to your units? Do you, for instance, refer to them as corporate rentals or furnished residences?
“Short-term furnished rentals” is how we refer to our units.
How do you use the Internet to promote your furnished rental business?
We are very active in social media prospecting. We have numerous Google landing pages abroad focusing on short-term housing in New York City and Los Angeles.
What differentiates the Los Angeles and New York furnished rental markets?
The major difference between these two markets is price: New York City seems to be a bit pricier. Another difference is that we have a “cooling period” in New York City around the holidays, whereas in Los Angeles the furnished rentals seem to stay booked year round, probably due to the fantastic weather.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the increased popularity of furnished rentals. Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, furthermore, has derided the inefficiencies of apartment leases, contending that they will become relics in the future wherein the majority of people will live nomadic lifestyles, living in one place for a few weeks or months, and then moving elsewhere for another period. Do you agree with this prediction? Have you observed an increased demand for furnished rentals?
I believe Mr.Chesky is a little extreme with his assessment of leases becoming relics of the past. Telecommuting certainly allows people to work from anywhere, but no matter who or where, they still want and need a place to call home.
As for demand for furnished rentals, I believe it’s always been there — it’s just more popular now.
Renthackr says that the biggest problem in Los Angeles’ temporary housing market is “HOW TO FIND [sic] the best one without getting ripped off.” Is such a problem really that pervasive?
This is not something that I have encountered in the Los Angeles short-term market. I have yet to have a client say that they felt as though our units were a “rip off.” I believe that everything varies depending on whom you work with. Companies that have been able to streamline the short-term market process, that know and understand short-term stays, will know the value of what they offer and will price their units accordingly.
There has recently been a push to regulate vacation rentals (i.e. rentals of 30 days or less). Have you been affected by this development?
Not at all. We only offer a minimum stay of 30 days or more, both in New York City and Los Angeles.
I love Airbnb… I love the platform and the simplicity of it. Airbnb is a valuable tool and we frequently use it and other sites with our Los Angeles listings.
As far as the illegal listings in New York City, this is one of the many reasons we suggest that people who plan to stay in New York City do their own research and make sure all accommodations are legal. We frequently get the late-night phone-call from people who booked through another company and were later displaced because of an illegal sublet. At Maison International all of our listings are approved and listed after the proper research and legal qualifications are met.
Is having multilingual staff becoming a necessity?
Absolutely. Good costumer service demands this. The world is smaller now, people traveling more often. No matter how proficient one feels in English it’s always nice to be offered the option of communicating in a native language. That way we feel comfortable, too, knowing that their needs are met without any misunderstandings.
Where is the value in print advertising?
To some, print advertising may be dead, but we still like to put out a few adverts in the local Westside Beach paper — a little paper from which we, surprisingly, get many leads. In New York City, on the other hand, we no longer use print advertising.
What advice would you give someone starting out in the furnished rental business today?
To people just starting out in the furnished rental business, I would say (1) know your client and understand what they need when they are traveling. And (2) know the area you are offering. Learn and note the local coffee shops and bars, and give people tidbits about a neighborhood that will help them envision themselves there.
Any future plans or developments for the business?
Right now our focus is on building our Los Angeles office for future growth.