Living Shelter Architects joins Board & Vellum! Learn about the details here, and cheers to our expanded team!
A bedroom with plywood and reclaimed wood walls. There is a bed to the left with pink sheets.

Ask an Architect

How To Update a Short-Term Rental Property

As schedules remain flexible and more folks are able to work from anywhere, there has been a huge surge in the short-term rental market. The pandemic has fueled a strong desire for individuals and families to get away from their everyday life and into something new, so let's talk through what it takes to get a property ready for renters.

May 12, 2022

If you’re considering renting out your own home during the times you travel, have a vacation home you want to rent out during the off season, or recently purchased a property specifically for short-term rental income, you may wonder what, if any, changes you need to make to create a desirable place for fellow travelers to rest during their stay.

While new construction is always the best way to go to get exactly what you want, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how time is a critical factor in making decisions around construction and materials. Folks come to us with properties that suite many of their needs, but could benefit from some freshening up.

How can you update an existing property to suit renters?

While a short-term vacation rental property is in most ways just another house, planning for and remodeling a short-term vacation rental property has special considerations you should think about. You want to ensure that your guests feel at home in the space, even if they’re just there for a week or two.

Construction Time is Key

If you’re updating a property specifically for short-term rentals, every day you install cabinets, paint walls, or move plumbing is another day you can’t rent it. A contractor that can move fast, but costs more, is probably going to cost less overall than a less expensive, slower contractor that lengthens the time you aren’t able to rent.

Quick construction is dependent upon every decision being made upfront prior to starting construction. That means far more upfront time that you might experience with a traditional remodel.

Go into this with your eyes wide open and plan accordingly. If you’re considering a series of remodels for 2 months every year for 5 years instead of one 6-month remodel, you’re likely better off doing the bigger remodel all at once if you can afford it. Think big-picture and be prepared to embrace compromise.

Come Up with Your Story

Create your brand. You may think it’s overkill, especially if this is the house you live in day-to-day, but potential visitors are going to be drawn to your property for the story you share with them and the brand you’re selling – whatever that brand is!

Everything from the name of the house to the aesthetic of the design is key to ensuring the overall experience of each guest is consistent and feels worth paying for.

Come up with a design vision that can help guide all your choices. Ideally, this is a full mood board to help you make decisions. You don’t have to start with specifics – think colors, textures, landscapes, natural imagery, or anything else that embodies your desired look and feel. We love using Pinterest for this. It’s a great and easy way to search, collect, and sort images from all over the internet.

Consider Bringing on a Designer

For most short-term vacation rental properties, an interior designer is going to be a great resource to help you bring your vision to life by helping you select materials, finishes, fixtures, furniture, and more.

Do you need an architect, too? Well, this type of project benefits most from an interior designer, but it can help to have an architect waiting in the wings to help with bigger picture concepts such as the exterior façade, floor plan modifications that impact the home’s overall structure, and answering questions about or reviewing zoning and building code. We find the desire to get properties on the rental market as quickly as possible means that big-picture architectural moves are limited or eliminated due to the time they can take to pursue.

Don’t Forget the Outside

A landscape architect can help you come up with a game plan for your property that can have a huge impact on how you and your renters experience your home. Outdoor spaces are so desirable in all sorts of weather and seasons and creating a plan for them can help distinguish your property among all the other rental properties out there.

Think Big

You’re going to want to create a design that works for you and your family but is also desirable to renters. You may think this means creating a generic, pleasant design that most people won’t think much of, but I would recommend doing the opposite: go for a design that is everything to some people (like you!) but not for everyone.

There are a lot of rental properties out there and making yours stand out with an eye-catching design gives people something to be drawn to. For people who love it, it’ll be the thing that makes them pick your property over the thousands of others.

One way to do this is to create big moments that people want to photograph. Renters are often drawn to the bigger-impact features and will overlook small imperfections. “The bedrooms were small, but that amazing outdoor deck meant I wasn’t spending any time in them anyway” is the kind of reaction you want to aim for.

Create moments in your design that people love and, as silly as it sounds, they want to photograph. You want your guests to come in, quickly find the wow moments, and set about photographing them right away to add to their memories.

Get the Right Furniture

As you outfit your home with all of the features that will make the guests happy, be sure the furniture and accessories you select delight them. This is an opportunity to spend on furniture that creates a lasting impression. The best mattress you can afford with unbelievably comfortable bedding, dishes that work for big dinners (and breakfasts the next day without having to wash the dishes from last night), and comfortable outdoor furniture that makes you want to sink in and read a book all day.

You’ll likely hear somewhere that you should make your finishes and furniture very durable so guests can beat them up without them losing their look. While I’m not saying to ignore this completely, there’s also a school of thought that I subscribe to that says if you provide nice things, people will treat them nicely.

Furniture made to withstand hard use isn’t the kind of furniture that sets the right mood. If you have to replace some more delicate pieces every few years, then consider that part of your operating costs as that furniture likely enabled you to rent the property for more.

Take Your Time

Inevitably, larger scale remodel options could be appealing and tempting to you. And often these larger changes won’t be able to be easily phased-in over time as they can be connected to other decisions you're making now for the short-term.

It's ok to rent your space out as-is for a few years while you get your ducks in a row and plan out the dream remodel. That’s a great approach that can work well if you’re work hard to make all the major decisions beforehand you start construction so when you say “go” everything is ready.


A short-term vacation rental remodel is one that has many more considerations than a traditional remodel because of the unique factors around who’s using it, duration of construction, and budget considerations beyond construction costs. Planning with a design team suited to helping you create a wonderful vacation rental design and brand that suits your family and the families who visit it is key to long term happiness in a short-term home.

Would you like to read more from the team?

If you enjoy reading our blog as much as we enjoy writing it, that just makes our day! You might also enjoy a few of the related posts below. And, if there is a topic that you wish we would cover, let us know!

How To Update a Short-Term Rental Property

As schedules remain flexible and more folks are able to work from anywhere, there has been a huge surge in the short-term rental market. The pandemic has fueled a strong desire for individuals and families to get away from their everyday life and into something new, so let's talk through what it takes to get a property ready for renters.

How An Architect Can Help Before You Buy A House

Ever heard of someone buying a house only to learn their big remodel dreams aren’t possible? The competitive real estate market can add pressure to buying a home before you have the full picture. That’s where we come in! An architect can help you understand the potential of a house before you even make an offer.

What Really Adds Cost To Your Home Remodel?

Have you ever heard that moving a toilet is a budget-busting home improvement? Would it surprise you to learn that we think this is debatable? There’s no doubt that home remodels cost money, but the big-ticket changes might not be what you expect. So what’s really going to impact your project budget?

Considering a project? Or, just curious about something?

Send us your questions about design, architecture, interiors, landscape, LEGO rooms… Anything, really. We’re always eager to meet new people, and we’d love to get to know you, your project, and your goals.

Get in touch.