With thousands of tourists headed to the Florida Gulf Coast annually, cities such as Panama City Beach, Destin 30A, Fort Myers, and the Florida Keys are hot spots to invest in a vacation rental property. By getting educated about the region, property owners can learn how to run a successful vacation rental business.
Check out our guide to managing a vacation rental property on the Florida Gulf Coast.
Get to know your vacation rental options in Florida
There’s no shortage of beaches to choose from when visitors set their sights on the Florida Gulf Coast. There’s at least 12 beaches to choose from, according to VisitFlorida, including Destin, Panama City Beach, Fort Myers, Miramar Beach, Clearwater, and St. Pete Beach. There’s also the diverse Florida Keys to consider. Gulf Coast beaches are known for soft sand, the clear water, nature trail, and fishing, according to VisitFlorida.com. But each beach and island has its own personality.
Clearwater Beach boasts powdery sand, plenty of shops and restaurants, an aquarium, a pier, and a downtown area. Fort Myers Beach—made up of four barrier islands—is most known for its 1,600-acre Lovers Key State Park. Destin gets its reputation as the Emerald Coast city from its emerald colored water, and most visitors come for the golf and fishing. St. Pete Beach is home to award-winning beaches and the infamous Don CeSar resort, as well as museums and five-story dining and shopping complex, the Pier.
Panama City Beach boasts nearly 100 public accesses to 27 miles of beaches with white sand along the Gulf of Mexico. It is an established tourist destination with growth and development, most notably the addition of Pier Park. Visitors come less for the parties and more for the family-friendly events, such as classic car shows, bike weeks, sports tournaments, and the Pepsi Spring and Sand Jams.
In addition to the above Florida Gulf cities, the Florida Keys holds its own variety of destinations. Islamorada brings in more sport fishers than partiers, while Key West is home to 24/7 entertainment. Marathon is a family destination that boasts lots of activities for kids, and Key Largo is laid back and also good for families. The Lower Keys have a lot of backcountry, where visitors will find wildlife viewing and scenery. There is always something happening in the Florida Keys, whether it be a festival, fishing competition, boat race, drag show, local art show, or a race. The Keys are also home to the sport fishing capital of the world.
Prepare yourself and your guests for the traffic
Folks planning to visit the Florida Gulf Coast should prepare themselves for some serious traffic. Because of that, it’s even more crucial for rental owners to educate themselves and their guests about the local area, as many guests will want to stay near the areas of attraction that bring them to Florida.
Rental owners will also want to warn guests who plan to travel by car about U.S. Highway 1—the highway that stretches across 533 miles of Florida—particularly if they plan to drive on the overseas portion of the highway. If it’s their first time driving on the highway, guests should use serious caution because people very frequently pass on the one-lane road when they should not and cause head-on collisions. The highway is ranked America’s deadliest highway, according to the Miami New Times, with over 10,000 crashes occurring in the past 10 years.
Get to know the local lingo
It might make life easier for both rental owners and their guests if they brush up on some of the local lingo along the Florida coast.
First of all, “Gulf of Mexico” should not be used to describe the beach—you’ve got to get more specific. The Gulf of Mexico stretches along the coast of Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Mexico and there are at least 12 beaches in Florida alone.
Visitors should also know the difference between the “back beach,” “middle beach,” and “front beach,” which locals use to give directions around town. In Panama City Beach, for example, the front beach road is the road closest to the ocean, the middle beach is Hutchinson Road, and the back beach is Highway 98.
Floridians use the term “west coast” to describe the Florida Gulf Coast, and should not be confused with California. Also, be prepared that when you hear locals say, “yeah, no” they mean no and when they say, “no, yeah” they mean yeah.
Learn HOA and county-specific regulations
Before you even purchase a property on the Florida Gulf Coast, it’s important to ask what the Condominiums Owners Associations rules are related to short-term rentals and whether they allow you to hire a third-party property manager. You should also ask about rules for parking passes and pool bans; you don’t want to purchase a property that will end up with less amenities for your guests than you anticipated. Owners should invest in at least $300,000 worth of insurance, because in Florida homeowners are responsible for in-unit liabilities—even if it’s a condo.
Vacation rental owners should also check the regulations in their county and city. Fines can be significant, so make sure you follow local rules or find a property management company that can assist you in navigating the strict regulatory environment. In the City of Key Colony Beach, for example, you’ll be fined if you don’t pull in your recycling bin by 11 a.m. Hiring a property manager who can become the expert on the rules in your area can alleviate a lot of stress from you as an owner. Owners can be exempt from county regulations if you’re located in a gated community; but Homeowner Associations can be even stricter than the county. Never make assumptions–always ask.
Know what amenities your rental needs—and what to avoid
Rental owners should add amenities that make sense for what people typically visit the Florida Gulf Coast for.
Ocean access is by far one of the biggest draws to the Gulf Coast—with many visitors traveling by boat or bringing a boat with them—so adding a dock to your oceanside property is crucial if you want to attract more guests. If you have a dock, be sure to note how long of a boat can fit and let guests know if you have a lift available for use. Rental owners should also note the ease of navigation and number of miles for ocean and gulf access. Tell boaters and fishermen if your parking area has space for a truck, boat, and trailer parking, and note in your welcome guide the local launch or marina location.
In areas where fishing is very popular, such as the Florida Keys, a bait freezer and fish cleaning station on the dock are a must. Provide laminated fish guides for identification and local information for fishing seasons, great fishing hot spots, and the best places to stop in to find out where the fish are running today.
Folks also visit the Florida Gulf Coast to behold the world’s third largest and the United States’ only coral barrier reef. Consider leaving your guests snorkeling gear and a guide to exploring the reef safely. Adding bikes, kayaks, or stand up paddleboards will also make enjoyable, ease-filled recreation that could lead to a 5-star review,
Like other coastal regions, the Florida Gulf Coast is no stranger to bugs. Having a good pest program that tends to your home on at least a quarterly basis is important to provide your guests a good experience. For the bugs that persist, providing your guests a welcome basket with a spray mister, some repellant, and a few citronella candles in the outdoor eating area can go a long way. Adding a screen porch is a great amenity, as well.
Rental owners should be wary of providing a few beach amenities that might seem like no brainers to include, such as chairs and towels. While your guests will love it if you provide them, most property management companies won’t replace them if they’re not returned. If you do decide to provide beach amenities, buy beach towels instead of chairs because chairs are more likely to rust quickly and need to be replaced often.
Respect local flora and fauna
Prepare guests for the local flora and fauna, as well as the rules regarding wildlife along the coast. Most rules are for the wildlife, not the people, and are in place to protect local endangered species. Make sure guests are aware of local fishing laws—especially how many fish they can catch—and what species should be left alone. Making the wrong move could result with jail time and that’s certainly not a fun way to spend a vacation.
The Florida Gulf Coast is home to endangered iguanas that can sometimes be the size of a small dog. The Gulf Coast Iguana Sanctuary say the iguanas are more of a nuisance than a threat, and should be treated that way. If guests come across an iguana, they should not feed it or try to catch it because they do bite and throw their tails. If one is found in the yard, guests can merely hose it down and it will leave, or they can call Animal Rescue or the sanctuary. To control your backyard, do not leave food out, keep a lid on garbage cans, fill iguana holes, place wire netting around plants, and use an iguana repellent. If an iguana does make its way into your pool, the iguana and its inevitable feces should be removed immediately.
Parts of the Florida Gulf Coast are also home to endangered manatees. While you should leave tips to your guests on the best times and places to see the manatees, educate them about how to respect the animals. Boaters, for example, should be careful not to bump into manatees and both swimmers and kayakers should never harass them.
Owners should also warn their guests about the more painful flora and fauna, including jellyfish. Educate guests that if they are stung by a jellyfish, they should immediately get out of the water, stop the stinging with vinegar and hot water, and treat discomfort with mild hydrocortisone cream and an oral antihistamine.
The Florida Gulf Coast is also home to over 100,000 sea turtles who visit the coast annually to nest. Over 90% of sea turtle nesting in the U.S. occurs in Florida from March through October of each year. Share with guests Florida’s guide of where to see the sea turtles nest and make sure they know to never touch a sea turtle. There are red lights along the beaches at night to make visitors aware of where nests are and to signal to avoid those areas.
Get ready for hurricane season
It shouldn’t surprise any homeowner on the Gulf Coast that they need to have a game plan for hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 until November 30. The most important thing homeowners can do to stay prepared is monitor news from the National Hurricane Center, but folks should also prep their homes far in advance.
That includes trimming trees, shrubbery and dead limbs; repairing or replacing broken or damaged fences; inspecting roof for loose tiles, shingles or debris; checking and installing hurricane clips to secure roof trusses to side walls; clearing clogged rain gutters and downspouts; reinforcing garage doors and doors to the home; and installing tested/manufactured hurricane shutters onto windows. Folks can read more about hurricane preparedness and creating an evacuation plan on Weather.gov.
Additionally, guests should also be educated about the flag system in place at local beaches. Florida’s beach warning flag program uses flags in four colors to warn swimmers about tide and surf conditions. If beach goers see a red or yellow flag, they should be wary of swimming too far out into the water.
By both following local laws and getting to know the Florida Gulf Coast better, vacation rental property owners will find success in this wildly popular rental market.
Want to learn more about how TurnKey can help you earn more revenue from your Florida home? Schedule a consultation with us here.