Together with co-founder of PriceLabs Richie Khandelwal, we enjoyed talking to our mutual user Oli Walsh from Revilo properties. Oli is the Managing Director at Revilo Properties, specializing in socially responsible property development and investment in the North of England. Stay with us for the full story on how they efficiently automated their business and achieved great results!
Oli, tell us about your company. How long have you been in business? What’s the backstory?
About three years ago, I moved full time into property investment. Before that, I was working for seven years in technology as a project manager at IBM. Liverpool is much cheaper to invest in property than London, so I bought some affordable 2-bed mid-terrace houses in Liverpool and started renting them out. I grew my portfolio quite quickly. I got up to around 12 houses in about 18 months or so and I’m now at 20 and growing fast!
I was going to various property networking events, and everyone was talking about serviced accommodation. It was a big buzzword a couple of years ago, and I had stayed in many Airbnb’s over the years. When some of my tenants moved out from one of my properties, I decided to turn that one into a full time serviced accommodation unit. It happened to be very close to Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield stadium. A quite popular destination. I started with just one two-bedroom house which can sleep up to 6 people.
From that point, it started going well. The returns on investment were much better than a long term lease. There is a lot more work required, but then, as soon as more tenants naturally moved out of my other properties that were also close to the stadium – I decided to turn those into serviced accommodation units too. It’s kind of grown from there. In my portfolio, I now have four full time serviced accommodation, and I’ve got two more that are being transferred over into a serviced accommodation model. My investment spot is around Anfield which is also only 10mins away from Liverpool city center.
How were you thinking about the technology side when you started renting your four apartments?
To begin with, it was all Excel-based. I’m still only listed on Airbnb and Booking.com, and I plan to list on Expedia soon.
Airbnb and Booking.com have an iCal set up to sync your calendars, and that worked for a while. However, it wasn’t particularly reliable. There were times when syncing wouldn’t happen, so I’d get double bookings, which are a real pain to sort out.
I started looking into what software is out there that could help me automate this kind of stuff and provide a more reliable channel management solution.
I did a lot of searching because all I wanted was a channel manager. And lots of other companies had the full works and lots of other features – and then you have to pay for all of those. Suddenly you find yourself paying 30-50$ a month per property when all I wanted was a channel manager.
What brought you to Rentlio and PriceLabs? What problem were you trying to solve?
I stumbled across Rentlio after I started my research for the channel manager solution only. What attracted me to Rentlio was that it had a great price just for the channel manager solution. It was incredibly easy to use and effortless to set up and integrate with Airbnb and Booking.com. Rentlio completely cut out any issues that I had with double bookings between Airbnb and Booking.com. That was my first sort of layer in the stack, I suppose you can say.
About 6 months later, I wanted to optimize my units, and I read a book called: Optimize YOUR Bnb by Daniel Rusteen. He had a lot of advice there. One of which was PriceLabs. It sounded like a great solution.
My rate setting process at the time was to review my prices every Monday and manually make changes. It took a long time to do so, so I thought of trying PriceLabs.
And again, it’s one of those things, where once you take a leap and play around with the software for a while and figure it out (it takes an hour or two of fiddling around with it), then you’re like – oh I get this now. It reduced my admin probably by 80 to 90% over the coming weeks. No longer, I had to update prices based on occupancy manually.
It was very automated, and since then, there have been even more things added, like the occupancy-based adjustments, which are very useful. Previously, I had a simple strategy, if I had 50% occupancy, I would lower my price by x amount, and now PriceLabs does that automatically for me, which is fantastic. That was the start of building my tech stack.
What other platforms do you use other than Rentlio and PriceLabs?
The other piece in the jigsaw is a software called Smartbnb – they do automated messaging on Airbnb and HomeAway. The main goal of all of this was to automate as much of the process as possible. PriceLabs automates pricing, Rentlio automates the channel manager, Smartbnb automates messaging, so all of it works very well together.
“Saving” money vs. investing in automation?
It can be very tempting to do things manually – particularly when you manage only one to two units.
There is a trade-off between: is it worth paying these monthly subscription fees to Rentlio, PriceLabs, Zapier, Xero (my accounting software), and all these other things. It all adds up quickly. Once you get to 2, 3, or 4 units and you’re doing repetitive admin tasks that you don’t want to be doing – you suddenly think – this is very much worth the money now. It just depends on how much you value your time.
The things I am particularly good at and want to be doing are finding new properties, closing new deals, and managing the refurbs into serviced accommodation units. I want the software to take care of as much as possible, which is very much worth the money to me.
How has your experience been while using Rentlio and PriceLabs together?
It’s been fantastic. The setup is so easy. And also, the Pricleabs and Rentlio support teams are great. If I ever had any issues, I had to ask a few questions now and then, but I would get answers back incredibly quickly. Mostly, I can set everything up myself. There have been issues here and there, but easily fixed when I have asked the questions. It’s been seamless, honestly. I’m on various property forums and Facebook groups. There is other software out there that tries to combine a lot of these features into their stack, but from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s not particularly reliable. And for me, reliability (knowing that these systems have got my back) is incredibly important. So reliability wise, it’s been seamless for me.
You came to Rentlio to solve your channel manager problems. Are there new things that you have discovered in Rentlio that wowed you?
It completely solved my channel manager flows and double bookings issues. My next step is to expand my platforms to Expedia. That’s going to be a straightforward setup process through Rentlio. Apart from that, fiddling around with the webhooks feature was very useful. So now when I get a booking, my cleaning team and I receive an SMS. One of the features that I know is on the way with Rentlio, and it’s going to have a big yes from me – It is a direct booking website solution.
Tell us more about your experience with PriceLabs. How did you set rates before using PriceLabs?
The best feature has the ability to set my base price and the lowest possible price that I can take, and then PriceLabs just takes over and does the rest – it’s fantastic. So, you go into the software; you can see the days with higher and lower demands based on the color coding and calendar. The fact that PriceLabs will automatically adjust my prices (even if it’s by 5 GBP) is, pardon the pun…priceless..
In my old method where I was manually changing prices every night of the week, the price would be the same. The cost on the weekend would be the same. PriceLabs can predict higher demand and adjust prices for me, which is massively beneficial.
Another handy feature is that whenever there is a football match at Anfield stadium; those are the big wins for me and nights I get fantastic prices. And those are the situations where previously I would have to go into each listing and update the price. With PriceLabs, I have set up a group customizations to automatically set a number of my properties to update the price with just one change. Its little improvements like that that make a massive difference in the long run.
Do you play with minimum stays in PriceLabs?
While hosting, I have had issues in the past where I decided not to accept one night only bookings because I was getting groups that were coming and partying and trashing the houses. Now I have a minimum of a two-night stay. I obviously want longer bookings – longer bookings are better – but lots of people want to come only for a weekend. So, Friday and Saturday night bookings are very popular.
But in PriceLabs, you can set it so that if a booking is a far-out booking in the future beyond 90 days, then my minimum stay will be three nights. So then hopefully, I can adapt the calendar a bit more in advance and then fill out the odd weekend here and there that hasn’t been taken on a longer stay.
If I had a 2-night booking here and two night booking there and one night left in the middle. Before using PriceLabs, that night would be unbookable because it would be the minimum stay of two nights. But now, using PriceLabs, I can set it so that that night is available, but it would be very high-priced to try to discourage party groups from coming. That’s been quite useful as well.
How has the combination of Rentlio and PriceLabs impacted you or your business? If there are any quantitative examples, that would be great!
Rentlio and PriceLabs helped me increase my occupancy from 60 – 70% to 75 – 85% (before Covid-19). That has been fantastic. With the automation of the pricing, my income from houses has increased anywhere from 15-25%.
If I wake up in the morning, and I’ve got a new SMS that has come through my Zapier integration with the webhooks through Rentlio, plus, I can see a nice healthy price that I’ve got for the stay and my Smartbnb messages being sent out to the guests. That is the moment where I think – this is excellent.
The software was working for me while I was sleeping. That happens often. Now that it’s set, it is just business as usual, but when it first started happening, I was sure it was the right choice to put these things together and see how they work.
How to adapt to the upcoming changes caused by COVID-19?
Covid-19 has been difficult. Pretty much overnight, all my guests canceled. I was fortunate because I quickly turned the properties back into normal rentals for a few months. After all, many people were isolated with vulnerable people, or they were key workers and would have to go out and work, so the demand for slightly longer-term stays was high. I was able to rent all four houses very quickly, and that tided me over during Covid-19. Three of the four houses are now back to a full-time operation.
Since then, the demand has been quite good. I see a trend towards longer bookings. Particularly, when the UK government announced that anyone coming into the country would have to quarantine for 14-days and that’s good. We want longer bookings. We don’t want our cleaning teams to have to go in for silly one-night bookings here and there.
We did lower prices dramatically and updated our Airbnb listings with the extra steps we were taking for cleaning. Additionally, we included messaging the various steps that we were taking in response to Covid-19 and sending out links to government guidance to help our guests.
Any advice for other property managers out there who might be on the fence about using a pricing solution?
Just take the leap and do it. I didn’t move over from spreadsheets for my accounting to Xero – my accounting software for far too long. Then when I did it, I had a couple of weeks of getting used to it. You know that feeling where you are a little bit out of control because you don’t understand how everything is working. But then you get it, and it clicks, and then you never go back again. And you wonder why you ever did it on spreadsheets for so long. At the end of the day, if you don’t like it, you are not tied into a long contract, it’s a month-by-month rolling thing. Just stop doing it if you don’t like it. You can only lose a one-month subscription fee, which will probably be a free trial anyway.
What can we do better?
For Rentlio, that’s a direct booking site. I know it’s in the works, and I can’t wait to see it. I hope it will directly integrate with your payment service provider of choice that I can tie into quickly. I hope that I’ll be able to produce an attractive and nicely designed website for each of my properties. Hopefully, it can all tie into one site – rather than having one site for each of my properties.
Regarding PriceLabs, I would consider myself a power user, but sometimes I would get confused with customization levels. Once I have used it, even more, I have no doubt I will understand it more. But that is a challenging concept to get your head around as a new user.
Story published: August 14th ,2020