We started investing in rental houses - annual rentals - four years ago, when we moved within Bellevue, WA to a bigger house and kept the old one. On the advice of an agent and after reading a few books on the subject, we bought a further six houses in Snohomish, King, and Thurston counties and self-managed them. We sold the old Bellevue house after two years and concentrated on newer houses that require less maintenance and attract tenants more easily.
That experience prepared us for the vacation rental idea. First, I read an excellent book on the subject: "How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner" by Christine Hrib-Karpinski. This lady manages vacation condos all over the country with the help of local cleaning staff. She gives excellent advice, such as: don't buy a $3,600 sofa - buy a $1,200 sofa and plan to replace it twice - what will the $3,600 sofa look like in 10 years?
Then I started scouting out vacation rentals online, thinking mostly of Ocean Shores. Ocean Shores is a popular beach destination from Seattle, but it is rather ugly. Then in January 2007 I spotted a couple nice houses in Pacific Beach, WA. I was familiar with the area from family vacations to the Sandpiper Resort. It's a much prettier area than Ocean Shores. In May, my wife, little boy, and I spent a weekend at the Quinault Beach Resort, and I casually suggested to my wife that we take a drive up to Pacific Beach. In short order, we hooked up with the local, full time real estate agent, Jim Earp. He showed us the three houses I wanted to see, saving our house for last as the gem of the bunch. We loved it immediately. Within a week we made an offer. The house had been on the market for nine months, but not attracted an offer, so we got a good deal.
We were fortunate to find a very experienced house cleaner, Becky Gonsalves, who lives just three blocks away. She used to run a motel in town, so she has lots of cleaning tips. She serves as our eyes and ears out at the beach.
It's been a lot of fun owning and managing the house. We love the time we spend out there in between guests.