10 Tips for Setting Up Your Vacation Rental Property

Getting a property set up as a vacation rental is more involved than you might realize at first. Many rentals begin as personal vacation homes. If you have a second or third home and aren’t using the property all the time, renting it out as a vacation rental makes economic sense. But it isn’t as easy as throwing it up on a website or handing the keys over to a rental company. In order to make guests feel welcome and want to come back year after year (and of course tell all their friends what a wonderful time they had) you’ll want to stage the property professionally.

Staging the property is a term used in real estate to describe the process of getting it ready for mass appeal. Whether renting or selling a property, staging is a critical component to making the sale. Your goal: make anyone walking up to your house and through your door want to live there. For the most part, that means avoiding personal items that only have meaning to you or your family, making sure that the property is completely furnished with nice items and a complete look, and making sure that the decor is comfortable and neutral.

Here are ten tips from the pros to help you stage your cabin rental.

1. Decorate to Please the Crowd

Decorating our own palace is easy: you only need to please yourself and make yourself feel comfortable. Decorating a vacation property requires a mix of tact and thoughtfulness. Neutral colors and mellow decor are foundations to build upon. Your goal is to make anyone feel welcome and relaxed in your rental property. Try not to make personal choices based on your tastes or your interests. Instead, focus on what looks good and sticking to your theme. Remember, this is about receiving fantastic reviews and making tons of money!

Having a theme that is appropriate to your region is also a good idea to help you decorate your property. For rentals here in Gatlinburg, choosing a mountain cabin motif is a no-brainer. Just be sure not to go overboard.

This isn’t to say that a splash of color is a bad thing. If the task of getting your property ready to please the masses seems daunting, consider hiring the services of a local interior decorator who can help guide you and make your property truly outstanding.

2. Make Sure It’s Completely Furnished

When you set up your cabin rental, you may be tempted just to get the basics and call it done. Again, you want the home to be comfortable and welcoming. Not having enough furniture or not completing “the look” will make the rooms feel incomplete. You don’t want to go all out with expensive brand name items, but you want to make sure that it is all there. You also do not need to make the rooms appear cluttered with stuff, just make them look complete.

Some items that are typically forgotten include rugs in rooms with hard surface floors, art on the walls in each room, and books on bookshelves. If you can decorate with things that will be of interest to visitors to your area, all the better. Consider framing some excellent photographs of the local attractions or getting artwork created by local artists and craftsmen. For books, look into regional favorites, local authors, or local guidebooks. Search for coffee table books with photographs and history of your area. Since you are putting things on the shelf for your guests, try to make it work double-duty and make it something they might pick up and read. Your guests are visiting your area for a reason, so you know they’re already interested.

3. Do Not Include Personal Effects

Your goal is to make guests feel welcome and at home. The quickest way to make guests feel like they are not in their home is to put photographs of people they don’t know around the house. A vacation rental is a neutral territory where everyone should feel relaxed, so it is no place for personal effects that have meaning to only the owner.

We realize that you may be using your rental for personal stays from time to time. Regardless, it’s very important to remove all of your personal items from the home when you aren’t there. If you want to have family photographs, just take them down and store them out of sight when you are not around. Remember to remove all toiletries, all clothing and shoes, and anything you would not want a renter to use.

4. Make Sure You Have Great Lighting

Lighting is another often overlooked element of decorating a property. Make sure that you have lighting throughout the house, including reading lights and desk lamps over nooks and work areas. Make sure that the cabin is as welcoming at night as it is in the day. Remember, some guests may be arriving late, and their first impressions will be made in the dark.

When preparing your property for visitors, be sure to visit the property at night and analyze the lighting situation from the moment you pull into the driveway. Subtle landscape and exterior lighting will help create a welcoming appearance. Once inside, accent lights and indirect lights can be used to add warmth and comfort.

5. Think of What Your Renters Will Need for Their Stay

Many of your guests will be traveling light and are getting a cabin rental to feel at home while they are away from their home. Try to step into the renter’s shoes and think about their needs. Make sure you have included everything they will need for their daily activities that they aren’t likely to bring with them.

Here’s a list of just a few items that are often overlooked that would be a good idea to have in your property:

  • Alarm clocks next to all beds
  • Stereo or entertainment system with CD player and auxiliary jack inputs for visitor’s phones and music players
  • TV with HDMI input for their computers
  • Wi-Fi access
  • Kitchen essentials like pots, pans, dishes, flatware, and glasses
  • Easy to follow instructions on how to operate things like the hot tub or pool and the entertainment system

6. Hot Tubs

Hot tubs are a popular addition to rental properties in Gatlinburg. You will see many of your competitor cabins have hot tubs, and we think yours should have one too. Hot tubs are great for guests as it is an item they might not have at home and something that folks are much more likely to use during a vacation. The other advantage of hot tubs is that they are great year-round. They are enjoyable on chilly fall and winter evenings as well as relaxing on spring and summer nights under the stars. Sipping drinks while lounging in the tub, looking out at the mountains, and enjoying the fresh air is the experience your guests are looking for.

A hot tub on your property does require a little bit of thought and planning, however. Please be sure there are sturdy steps to get in and out of the hot tub easily. Make sure there are handrails, grips, and that the flooring nearby is not slippery. You will also need a good quality cover to help keep unwanted “critters” out. The cover also helps keep the hot tub clean and maintenance free while keeping out debris. Covers are also great since they hold in the heat allowing the tub to heat up faster.

7. Choose Sturdy Furniture

The furnishings in a vacation rental see much more use than those in a private home. Since the property is cleaned at every turnover, upholstery is vacuumed more often, and the carpets and rugs deep cleaned more often. Spills and stains are more likely to happen in a rental property. Unfortunately, while uncommon, some renters are less likely to treat the furnishings and property like their own. Or maybe they treat their stuff just as bad, we don’t know, but let’s just say your stuff is going to get a lot of use!

Rental owners need to walk a fine line between the cost of items and the quality of items. In many cases, the cheapest items from big box stores are probably not going to cut it. On the other hand, excellent quality furniture could really cut into the bottom line of your budget. Second-hand furniture stores can be a great source of good quality, lightly used items. Make sure to set your budget and do your homework to find the best deals when furnishing your rental.

Pay particular attention to sofas, dining tables and chairs, and outdoor furniture. These are items we have found to sometimes be much too flimsy for rental property use.

8. Window Coverings

One of the first things most guests will do upon arrival is open the curtains or blinds. They want to enjoy the scenery the view. They want to see the mountains. That’s one of the reasons why they are here.

Many cabin owners use basic window coverings (blinds, curtains, drapes) in their cabins, which may be perfectly fine. We would suggest an alternative to using basic window coverings and ask that you consider buying slightly better quality. While we can certainly appreciate saving money and thinking that “it’s just blinds,” many guests would be unhappy with bent, broken, or patched up window treatments.

9. Should I Leave Valuables, Antiques, or Collectables in the Cabin?

In a word, no. We strongly discourage cabin owners from putting these items in their rental cabins due to possible damage or even theft. Although such an event may never happen, the possibility of such an occurrence is genuine and may one day happen. Although your cabin in the Smoky Mountains may be a second home for your family, we would recommend keeping these personal and family items at your primary residence and not using them to decorate your cabin in the mountains.

10. Don’t Forget the Yard

We all know the importance of first impressions. The first impressions of your property are made when the guests arrive in the driveway and walk up to the cabin. Landscaping and gardens should be neat and tidy. Consider using native plants and a simple layout to keep maintenance to a minimum. If you have a lawn, make sure it is healthy and well cared for. Contact the management company for recommendations of local landscapers that can help you get the yard in tip-top shape.


Setting up a cabin rental does not need to be a monumental task, but it does require careful consideration and planning. Your vacation property is a business, and you want to market it well. Part of this marketing comes down to the property and how well it is presented. Staging the property to be welcoming and comfortable will put your guests at ease right away and will make them want to come back year after year. Contact us at Pioneer Vacation Rentals if you have any questions about furnishing and setting up your property.

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