NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When the temperatures in certain regions get colder than the temperatures on Mars, you know the nation is in a cold snap for the ages, and that's exactly what happened in the first week of January.
Sub-zero weather affects Americans in many ways, but for consumers who own vacation properties and rent them in the colder months, it's a warning shot across their bank account's bow.
Specifically, if you haven't taken the needed steps to winter-proof your home for its own protection and that of your guests, you're just asking for trouble.
"Renting out a vacation home in winter is not for the faint-hearted," says Heather Bayer, a contributor to VacationHomeRentals.com and author of the book Renting Your Recreational Property For Fund and Profit. "It must be winter-proofed to protect your investment -- and your guests' vacation plans. The outcome of not doing so could deliver far more in the way of stress and cost than the potential of rental income."
"Start by evaluating that potential; if it won't make money it may not be worth the effort," she says.
Bayer notes that winter-proofing your vacation house could avoid serious problems such as having guests snowbound on your property without heat or light, losing money on rental cancellations or having pipes freeze, leading to thousands of dollars in repair damages.
Here's what she advises to minimize problems:
- Clarify your vacation cancellation policy. Bayer advises homeowners to have a backup plan if their home is rented but guests can't get there because of bad weather. That's when a good travel insurance policy can save the day. "A travel insurance policy will protect your guests against most of these situations, but many who travel by road and just book a short break may not consider this a necessity and don't bother buying one," she says. "Having a clear cancellation policy together with the option of purchasing travel insurance can save you the stress of dealing with refund claims."
- Provide the right tools. Even in warm-weather states, Mother Nature can bring the deep-freeze. (Many parts of Florida experienced sub-freezing weather in early January.) That's why you should outfit your vacation home with a few cold-weather tools to alleviate any discomfort. "Provide at least one snow shovel, salt, sand, an outdoor extension cord and instructions where the nearest external power outlet is located," Bayer advises. "Guests are often unprepared for winter conditions, so consider a few extras, such as a selection of winter gloves, hats and scarves -- even a couple of pairs of show shoes."
- Have a power-outage back-up plan. Vacation homes in any locale, but particularly in rural areas, are always vulnerable to blackouts and brownouts. If the power goes out with guests inside your home, you have a problem.
Bayer advises taking control of the situation before bad news happens:
- Keep heating fuel topped up. Don't let levels go below 30% at any time.
- Provide some large bottles of water.
Keep this water separated from the general supply so guests know it is available for emergency use.
- Create a "Power Outage Kit." This should include a couple of flashlights (keep batteries separate); candles with safety holders; a wind-up radio; and a laminated sheet instructing your guests what to do when the power goes out. If there is poor cell service and your landline won't work if the power goes off, supply an analog alternative.
- Make a "welcoming" home. If you do rent out your home in winter, make sure to have a warm welcome ready for guests. "It's not sufficient to have the place on minimum heat and expect weather-weary travelers to stay bundled up in coats and hats while the place warms up," she adds. "Instead, offer a welcoming fire, ambient lighting, sachets of hot chocolate and perhaps a quick phone call to check they have arrived OK and have everything they need. This gives guests an opportunity to ask questions."