Truth in Advertising: Is Vacasa telling you the truth about all of their fees?

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Does Vacasa tell you the truth?


At TurnKey, we have five core values that our company and employees live by.  They are everywhere in our company, and every month we recognize a number of employees who exemplify these values.   
The core values are:
1. Respect People: Your Team, Vendors, Guests, and Homeowners
2. Communicate and Be Transparent
3. Deliver Convenience and Peace of Mind
4. Act Proactively, Not Reactively
5. Innovate and Improve

The second core value is one of the most important when it comes to working with homeowners.  TurnKey tries to be transparent in everything we do.  Put another way, we “tell it like it is.”  Every cost of doing business with us is spelled out in our contracts, and we even discuss exactly how we do business publicly on our owner FAQ page, which anyone can see.

However, not all property managers have these kinds of values.  Recently, a homeowner shared a piece of marketing material that our higher-priced competitor, Vacasa, sent out (you can see the actual page below).  Normally, we don’t like to speak poorly about our competition; however, Vacasa’s marketing material is so dishonest and full of errors we felt we had to address it.  

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In its marketing materials (see above), Vacasa has greatly exaggerated TurnKey’s fees in hopes of justifying their incredibly high commissions.  They have also not included many hidden fees that owners may not even understand.  We wanted to set the record straight so that homeowners will not be misled by Vacasa’s deceptive advertising.  You’ll see that Vacasa’s actual charges are almost 2X more expensive than TurnKey’s, and a home that generates $50,000 of bookings with TurnKey will make over  $10,000 more than it would with Vacasa.  In the spirit of transparency, we’ve attached the Vacasa material (screen shots from the Vacasa website, actual pricing examples, even job descriptions from their website) for all owners to see, and we will walk you through all of the misrepresentations.

1) Commissions and Vacasa Consumer Fees – Vacasa correctly lists the TurnKey commission as an industry-low 18% and their own at 35%, nearly double our rate.  What Vacasa does not tell you is that Vacasa charges a booking fee to guests on top of every reservation, and they keep that fee for themselves.  This is not included on their owner statements.  You can see actual screenshots from Vacasa’s own website from a variety of properties.  Those examples show that Vacasa is applying a booking fee between 11%-15%!   truth-in-advertising-turnkey-v-vacasa

That’s right, Vacasa is charging this on top of their stated commission of 35% and, as far as we know, none of this gets shared with you, the homeowner.  

Here is how it works: If a guest pays $1,000 total to Vacasa, part of that $1,000 includes roughly a 12% booking fee on the reservation. Here’s the math:

$1,000 Total Price Guest Paid
$892.86 Rent an Owner Will See
$107.14 Booking Fee of 12% Goes to Vacasa
$312.50 Vacasa Commission of 35%
So how much does the owner make on this booking?  Only $580.36!  That means Vacasa’s is actually keeping 42% of the total amount paid, not 35%! And that is before any other potential fees, and there are many.  
At TurnKey, if we ever collect any type of booking or service fee, we pass it directly to the homeowner just like we pass along rent.  If a consumer booked that same reservation on the TurnKey website, here is how the math would look:

$1,000 Total Price Guest Paid
$25 Credit Card (CC) Fee
$975 Rent after CC Fee
$175.50 TurnKey Commission of 18%

So how much goes to the homeowner on this same exact booking with TurnKey?  $799.50.  That is right, over $219 more than a homeowner would make through Vacasa on one booking alone!  TurnKey’s effective commission is half of Vacasa’s.

2) Travel agent commissions.  Vacasa states that TurnKey charges a travel agent commission of 10% on every single booking and does not remove those charges before our commission both claims are completely false.

For starters, a travel agency commission only occurs when a booking is made on a website that charges a fee.  TurnKey does not charge any travel agent commission at all for bookings made on our own website, from our extensive advertising on sites like Google, or any booking that comes directly from a homeowner or from one of the many traveler emails we send out.  TurnKey lists all of our homeowners’ properties on the most extensive set of websites in the industry, so our properties gain maximum exposure.  We do this to generate the most bookings possible for owners – and every time a commission is paid and costs an owner money – TurnKey shares in the cost of that commission.  What costs our owners costs TurnKey as well.

Vacasa, on the other hand, has an incentive to direct guests to make bookings only on the Vacasa website, since if they do make bookings on other sites, Vacasa incurs a direct cost.  At TurnKey, we do not want a built-in incentive to limit the exposure of our homeowner’s properties. We believe they should be marketed in as many places as possible, giving our owners maximum upside in visibility.

If a booking is made directly on a travel agent website, then those websites charge a commission.  That commission comes out before TurnKey earns our commission another misleading point Vacasa makes in their material.  Vacasa claims TurnKey makes our commission on the total dollar amount, and that is not the case.  As we’ve stated before, we share in all costs of making a reservation.  

So how much, on average, does travel agent commission cost owners and TurnKey? The number is not 10% as Vacasa claims. It actually averages right around 4%.

Let’s run the math again on that same sample booking to see how it works out with travel agent fees included:

$1,000 Total Price Guest Paid
$25 Credit Card Fee
$40 Travel Agent Commission
$935 Rent after CC Fee
$168.30 TurnKey Commission of 18%

In this case with travel agent commissions added into the costs, the owner still makes $766.70. The owner makes $186 more than they would through Vacasa on that one booking alone!  The misrepresentations do not stop here, however.

3) Credit card fees – Does TurnKey charge a credit card fee?  Yes, we do. However, it is not 3%.  In fact, we have a 2.5% credit card fee, but we share in that fee equally with homeowners.  That fee is taken out before our commission calculation, not after as Vacasa would have you believe.  If a guest pays by eCheck or regular check, then there is no credit card fee.  At TurnKey we have a simple concept: if we make money for an owner, we share in that; if there is a cost of making a transaction, we share in that cost as well.

4) Photos – Vacasa claims that TurnKey charges owners $250 for professional photos and claims their “professional” photos are done for free.  Either Vacasa hasn’t done their homework, or it is just in their nature to be wrong.  Since the day TurnKey was started, we have always paid for true professional photos on every single home with no cost to the owner.

5) House Visit and General Maintenance Fees – Vacasa continues to claim TurnKey charges $50 for a house visit, 12 visits/year for a total of $600/year.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth. TurnKey does not charge homeowners for any visits to their home, and we do not markup maintenance items either.  Vacasa may only visit their homeowners’ homes 12 times a year, but at TurnKey the average home was visited over 50 times in the past yearall at no extra charge to the homeowner.  Vacasa also claims we charged homeowners $150 for general maintenance, which is false.  We do not charge homeowners any labor to do small maintenance such as changing light bulbs, replace batteries, etc.  We only pass the actual cost of the supplies to homeowners.

There are a few other things Vacasa leaves out.  When TurnKey does visit a home and after every single housekeeping job done at a home, a homeowner can see over 20 photos of their home in the TurnKey Owner Dashboard, so a homeowner knows we were there and can see that their home is being carefully inspected and documented.  Every single visit to a home is logged into our Owner Dashboard, and every time a guest leaves a rating of either the cleanliness of the home or a review on a site like VRBO, a homeowner can see them right on their dashboard as well.

6) Digital Lock – Not surprisingly, Vacasa left out one of the key features of the TurnKey program.  TurnKey pays for the cost and installation of a secure digital lock on every home.  The lock alone currently costs over $350 plus the labor to install it.  Why do we do this?  Simple safety, security and convenience for the guest and homeowner.  The locks we use have a unique, one-time use code for every guest, housekeeper, vendor, and homeowner.  While Vacasa may be happy having poorly made lock boxes that have the same code for every guest or having keys exchanging hands between hundreds of guests, employees, housekeepers, and vendors each year, we believe these practices are incredibly unsafe and insecure.  No TurnKey homeowner has to worry that a past guest or housekeeper might have made a copy of a key.  No TurnKey guest has to worry that they are not secure while sleeping at one of our homes.  

If you want this basic level of security as a Vacasa homeowner, you need to buy and install your homeowner digital lock, and not just any digital lock will do. In order to truly be secure, you need a lock with one-time usage codes, and you need Vacasa to be able to issue them to every vendor and guest. Ask Vacasa if they can handle that.

7) Digital Noise Monitors – Again, Vacasa left out another key feature of the TurnKey program our digital noise monitor.  TurnKey wants to make sure our homeowner’s homes are good neighbors and to do that, we monitor whether guests are being too loud.  If they are, TurnKey reaches out to those guests before a neighbor complains.  In areas like South Lake Tahoe where noise complaints can result in the loss of a rental permit, this feature is critical.  Comparable noise monitors and the monitoring subscription are $100/year.  

In addition to the monitors, we also employ security patrols in all sensitive areas like South Lake Tahoe.  Our patrols visit every single home multiple times per night to make sure parking restrictions, trash policies, and noise ordinances are being followed.  For large homes, TurnKey installs multiple monitors, and we even have an outdoor monitor for large decks and backyards!

8) Guest Supplies – TurnKey stocks every home before each visit with a minimum of three rolls of toilet paper per bathroom, two rolls of paper towels, and high-quality eco brand biodegradable soap, shampoo and conditioner.  We also stock dishwashing detergent, laundry detergent, and basic cleaning supplies.  We charge a homeowner $7 per booking to have this re-supplied.  The average home was charged under $250 last year.  We have this charge in place to make sure we can continue to provide high-quality products.  Vacasa includes this in their 42% effective commission. However, ask them exactly what products they use and how much of them.  According to some of the Vacasa reviews we’ve read, often the supplies include the cheapest shampoo and conditioner from the travel-size bin at the nearest Walgreens or CVS.

9) Hot Tub Fees – Read no further if you do not have a hot tub—you’ll get charged the same high commission either way.  The majority of vacation rentals either do not have a hot tub or have shared amenities in their resort location.  Once again though, Vacasa is misleading owners about how their fees work.  Vacasa doesn’t pay for hot tub maintenance—your guests do—and that is revenue that you should be making.  What Vacasa doesn’t show on this chart is that Vacasa charges guests a “Hot Tub Fee” and all of that money goes directly to Vacasa.  From what we can see on the Vacasa website, that fee is $10/night.  Over the course of a year, if a home has 60% annual occupancy or 219 nights per year booked, Vacasa is making $2,190 per home on these fees that could have gone directly to an owner. 

So does Vacasa pay for a professional service to maintain a hot tub?  No, they don’t. They have their housekeepers do it!  It is actually part of their housekeeper job description that we have attached below.  At TurnKey, we have a great deal of respect for housekeepers, and we know a clean home makes a happy guest.  But housekeepers are not hot tub contractors and are typically not trained in how to test for water chemistry, which is very important in a high-temperature hot tub.  In order to safely balance chemical levels of Chlorine, PH, Total Alkalinity, Hardness, and Cyanuric Acid, extensive training and experience are required.  Removing and cleaning filtration is also a complex job that can be overlooked by a non-professional.

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While you may be saving a few dollars each month by avoiding a professional hot tub contractor, you may run a severe risk of guest problems. With the wrong water chemistry or poor maintenance, your equipment will likely not last as long.

At TurnKey, each homeowner who has a hot tub uses a local professional hot tub contractor for cleaning and maintenance.  The balancing of chemicals in a hot tub is something a homeowner should take seriously as it can represent a health risk to guests and homeowners alike.  Generally, we have seen monthly fees reported as low as $85 per month for regular spa-only visits.
10) Propane Fees – Similar to hot tub fees, read no further if you are a homeowner that either does not have a grill or has one connected to natural gas.  So what did Vacasa misrepresent this time?  First of all, Vacasa claims that propane refills are $60 each!  If that is the case, maybe TurnKey should go into the propane supply business to Vacasa!  TurnKey does, in fact, pass on the actual cost of propane to a homeowner; however, that cost can be as low as $10/refill at a Costco or $16/refill at U-Haul, and it is usually around $20/refill at Home Depot.  If a home goes through six refills/year, the total cost to the homeowner is $120.

Since Vacasa does have a cost every time they do a refill, they may have a built-in incentive not to actually fill the tanks or to not have spare tanks available.  In fact, you’ll see several guest reviews of Vacasa properties talking about how the propane tanks were empty. Some guest comments include, “all the propane tanks were empty. We made two calls on Sunday and one on Monday to no avail. So we had to buy a tank and then switch it between the BBQ grill and the outdoor fire pit,” “NEW grill was still in its box and no one on vacation wants to sit there putting together a new grill also the propane tank was empty.”

11) Technology – Vacasa says they use advanced technology as part of their management, and we encourage homeowners to ask them exactly what that includes.  In addition to everything we have discussed so far, TurnKey installs a fully-customized Samsung Galaxy tablet into every single one of our homes which is free to the homeowner.  This tablet enables guests to easily find all of the home information they need right at the home.  It also has a number of handy apps on it that show things like the nearest gas station and local restaurants, and, of course, it includes things like an internet browser and Google Maps.  TurnKey also provides a home wifi router and a subscription to the Wifi-Soft secure, private network to keep our homeowner’s internet connection safealso at no cost to owners.

Conclusion
So, what should this one-pager from Vacasa look like with truthful numbers in it?  Let’s take a look. We’ll even assume for a minute that this is a home with a hot tub just as they did, that it has six propane refills/year, that the guests are paying the same $50,000 in total for everything, and that TurnKey is even paying the average travel agent commission.  What are the results?  Vacasa’s effective commission is a whopping 47%!   A TurnKey owner would make $10,000/year more than the same Vacasa owner!  See the attached chart for the full, honest breakdown.

And what do you get for that extra $10,000 you are paying to Vacasa?  Exorbitant fees being charged to your guests, no digital locks and poor security, no professional hot tub cleaners, no Samsung guest tablet, no noise monitoring, and no secure wifi hotspot to name a few.  You also get a company that has a low rating on Yelp (see attached), 186 BBB complaints in the last three years, and 91% of all reviews filed with the BBB over the past three years are “negative.”  You also get a company that sends false marketing claims about their competitors thereby misleading homeowners into thinking that Vacasa isn’t one of the most expensive property managers in the industry.

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Below is what the real cost comparison page should look like, including all the guest fees collected by Vacasa as well as the items they don’t pay for.  Hopefully, this sets the record straight.

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1 Comment

  1. Don lifton says:

    We own two wonderful cabins in Big Bear and we got TOTALLY hornswaggled by VaCasa Home Rentals ALSO! They are a Totally Corrupt Company and we dumped them faster than a hot potato on fire when we really researched and found out (by a mathematician genius friend) how much they were ripping us off AND IT WAS IN ALL OF THE HIDDEN FEES like this article says. Please don’t ever put your cabin with them or rent from them as they this company is a low integrity money mongering self entitled mess. Plus they have very bad reviews from the general public and please believe me, they will so take advantage of any opportunity to make money off of anybody. Run, click off, turn away, don’t even acknowledge this company. It is the worst ever !!!

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