The Plum Guide – How would we rank? – Part 2
If you’re not familiar with Plum Guide*, before you devour this information, please go back to the beginning and read the article that is the first part of this series.
Before we get into things in detail, know that the Plum Guide is very AirBnB centric; some of their expectations for vacation rentals are just plain wrong, because they’re copied right out of AirBnB’s playbook. We’re not big fans of AirBnB because they: don’t understand or support true, properly run vacation rentals; take guest’s money and use it to help their own balance sheet (which can only involve some ‘fuzzy’ accounting); and charge guests a good chunk of money simply for introducing hosts and guests to each other. They could charge a lot less and still make a very nice living, but generally speaking, they hide the reality of their big cut from the guests paying the bills. Finally, they couch what they do in the feel-good term “home sharing” when nobody is sharing their home with anyone – they’re all charging and making a buck, and in our view that isn’t sharing!
Okay, so what things do we know get ranked by the Plum Guide in deciding whether or not to include a property on the site, and how would we do on them? In no particular order, here they are (as best as I can ascertain them).
- Homes with the highest customer reviews from other listing sites, minimum 4.8 – Our review average on VRBO/HomeAway is around 4.95, but they only call it 4.9 if it’s not a perfect 5.0. Ours was 5.0 for many years, but then we had an inevitable guest who wanted to complain about something, in this case the weather (!) and we lost our perfect average score. C’est la vie. Our great review average would qualify us to be invited to test to be included on the Plum Guide site.
- Stench – (Starting off with a doozy!) This is an interesting point. I say that because there are a couple of sewage lift stations in our subdivision, and… well… frankly, they don’t smell too pretty! In fact, they’re downright awful. And right beside one of them is a vacation rental. For years I have always walked by it and thought to myself “I wonder how many guests who book this home realize that it smells like this around it?” And inside too? I don’t know, but when the inside air is getting exchanged with the outside air, how can it not smell? I really doubt that the owners publicized that fact much. The home has since been sold for residential use, so it isn’t an issue for any guests now. But on this point, we’re good.
- Good Water Pressure – Check.
- Good WiFi – We have great wifi. In fact, in both of our homes we have those fancy super-duper high speed wifi systems that gamers use (They’re R7900 — Nighthawk X6 AC3000 Tri Band WiFi Gigabit Routers if you’re interested) as a back-up to the good quality router supplied by our internet provider, and the internet comes in on fast fibre optic cable. It’s solid.
- A neighbourhood close to the city Center – And here we have a criteria that makes no sense. This is an example of what I mean when I say this list is AirBnB centric. Vacation Rentals are not legal anywhere close to the center of Orlando. And although downtown Orlando is the middle of Orlando, it is nowhere near the center of the action as far as Orlando tourism goes. That would be Walt Disney World, which is almost as big as Orlando itself, and located a number of miles away. The area is huge; you absolutely need a rental car to get around, and there is no useful public transportation to speak of. Every Orlando area vacation rental would fail on this criteria! There is no point, or value in being “close to the center of town” and little there that most visitors want to check out anyway (with apologies to the Orlando Visitor & Convention Bureau).
- Decibel levels – Our vacation rentals are in a very quiet, relaxing area. But you don’t have to take our word for this. It is a recurring theme in our guest exit surveys, reviews and testimonials, which you can read here. I understand that reviews go against the fundamentals of the Plum Guide (reviews can’t be trusted, so you have to have a trustworthy independent evaluation done) but when you see a repeating pattern occurring over a decade, it’s a pretty safe bet that it reflects reality.
- Types of Linens – I’m not really sure what they’re looking for here, so we could fail the test on this one. If high-count Egyptian cotton sheets aren’t good enough then we just may not pass. Just keeping’ it real.
- Having both feather and fiber pillows – We have a mix of pillow types, and they can be swapped amongst the beds if a different one suits a guest’s needs, but I would think we likely fail on this one depending upon how specific they want to be. We used to have lots of extra pillows for the beds, but they kept getting stolen. What we realized was that driving guests didn’t think we would provide extra pillows, so assumed that extras were their own, brought from home, and would take them with them for the car ride home! We would replace them, and they would quickly disappear! So we learned that it just isn’t reasonable to keep providing free bed pillows with every stay, and stopped putting out extras. We’ve never received a complaint, question or suggestion about it, and the pillows don’t disappear anymore! So I suspect that on this point, we would fail the test.
- Check the fill of duvets – What are we looking for? Both feathers or fibre like for the pillows? How crazy do we want to get?
- Good neighbourhood – This was discussed already, but we have a great neighborhood as far as feeling safe, and being made to feel welcome by the locals. It is close to Walt Disney World, relatively speaking, and only a few minutes from the Interstate from which you can get anywhere you want to go. There are lots of local services within five minutes, but they are only accessible by car. The neighborhood is a great place to go for a jog or a nice walk, and has some of its own unique attractions, but I don’t really believe it is what these folks are looking for.
- Good design – This is really subjective. Do our homes feature good design? We hope so! We like them. They’re not meant to be art pieces or make the cover of Architectural Digest, but then we don’t charge for them like that either. The thing is, we DO want our guests to be able to relax in them, and if they’re too good looking or dressed up, even if its shabby chique, you just can’t feel comfortable in that. There are many aspects of our home design which we believe truly makes them conducive to a great vacation rental stay. And we purposefully chose them and/or designed and built them that way. So I think they feature very good design for a moderate to nice vacation rental home that is conducive to a better than average experience. As I said… subjective! Who knows how we would place? Which brings us to the next item…
- Curated art collections – Really? Really?!? FAIL. If you’re looking for ‘curated art’ on your vacation rental walls, you’ve crossed over to snobby and/or luxury. These folks say they aren’t after luxury, but there has got to be some snob appeal going into these evaluations to have this on the list. Yes, we proudly fail this one. If that is what you are looking for, we are not your ideal provider, and you are not our ideal guest. I hope you’re okay with that, because we sure are! NEXT!
- Phone Interview with the host – I hope I would pass this one. Again, I have to go back to our reviews. I often speak with our guests when they arrive to thank them for choosing us, welcome them, and remind them to call me if there is anything amiss or that they need. Those calls are tough for me to make because I’m not always comfortable speaking with people I’ve never met before in person, but I power through them, and the reviews of those calls are always positive. So hopefully I would pass this test, but you never know! I just might be too honest or convinced that I’m funny to pass this one!
- Level of service – Another tough one. Why? Because the standard level of service for vacation rentals varies by region, and its really hard to buck the local trends if local suppliers and services aren’t interested in meeting different standards. What would these folks say about vacation rentals on the upper Eastern Seaboard, where they typically don’t provide any linens at all? Our level of service far surpasses the Orlando standard, but it just may not be good enough for these folks, depending upon just how critical they want to be. For example, I can get our guests a bounce house for their rental. How well would that go down in central London, England? I doubt it would get me any points, but the kids would love it!
- Mock Check-in conducted – Ah… we would win on this, as long as they’re not expecting someone to personally show up, kiss the guest’s hands and show them around. We don’t do that. As long as you’re arriving any time after your check-in, you can arrive any time after your check-in, even the middle of the night! You just show up and let yourself in! In the age of pandemics, that’s now become preferred, but it was always how we did it. Some times high-touch brings with it high-hassle. Our check-ins start with tons of helpful information, great instructions and directions and serve-yourself access. Our guests love it, but I’m not sure what these folks are looking for. A possible fail. But I bet it is actually more helpful and contains more useful information than any check-in at any property they already have on their site!
- Providing the same number of keys as bedrooms – Uhm… yeah. Here they would fail my test! We don’t use keys. Never have. Guests have a convenient access code that is unique to them that can never be lost, doesn’t need to be picked up before arrival and doesn’t need to be returned after check out. Plus, guests can program into the door lock their own additional code (like a phone number or other familiar number they won’t forget) to make it really easy to use and remember. And every adult in the party can be given that code. So… your test fails for asking the wrong question!
- Quality of the cookware – Ah… something for the foodies. Our kitchens are ridiculously well stocked! My wife is an incredibly great chef, and she loves to cook the greatest meals when we are in residence, so our kitchens have everything you need! Seriously! And the cookware is high quality stainless steel, with additional teflon non-stick coated pieces as well. Plus there are baking pans, pizza sheets and other items. We’ve had guests bake birthday cakes in our rentals! I bet their test doesn’t cover THAT well equipped!
- Bedside reading lights – Yup.
- Furniture Quality – Honestly, it varies. From good to great. We may fail this one, we may not. None of our furniture is ridiculously cheap or low quality like you see in lots of AirBnB’s. We don’t furnish our rentals by making a trip to Sally Ann. Much of our furniture is so good that it gets mentioned in reviews. It’s that comfortable, and that high quality. Especially where it counts, like adult beds and mattresses, and living room sofas and other seating. We buy it at high-end, expensive furniture stores! Why? Quality provides luxury and comfort, and it stands up far better than cheap stuff.
- Streaming services available – Netflix, Hulu, and Sling are available in our homes, plus guest access accounts are provided so guests can use their own streaming services, and no that they’ll be deactivated and their passwords lost when they check-out.
- Look of the home… is it Instagram worthy? – Another judge for yourself item. Take a look at our photos and decide for yourself! But we think so!
- Number of plates & dishes, completeness of cutlery sets – Which part of ridiculously well equipped don’t you understand? We show pictures of our open kitchen cabinets! That well equipped!
- Hot water temperature – from personal experience over a decade… pass.
- Quantity, sizes and quality of TVs – Oh heck. On this one, we rock!
- Quantity, sizes and quality of Beds – We’ve had guests check our mattresses so they could buy one at home. (They told everyone so in their review!) We put photos of our bare mattresses in our listings because we want people to see our Quality Sealy Posturepedic beds. Nothing is hidden. But to be fair, mattresses and bedding are subjective. All we can do is provide great quality and hope for the best.
- Cleaning – It has to be top notch. What else can be said? We work excrutiatingly hard at this.
- Local area guide curated by your hosts – Are you kidding me? We excel at this and beat just about everyone, hands down, guaranteed! A PDF of our Online Guidebook/Home Manual and Smart Phone App weighs in at over 200 pages! And the entire thing installs on our guest’s smart phones so they have it with them at all times, even when offline. And when they do have access, they have automatic Google Maps directions to every venue mentioned in the guide! Check it out here!
- Foodie-rated breakfast eateries within a 10-minute walk – Sorry! Can’t do this! But no one in a vacation rental in the Orlando area can! It just isn’t the way the area works! So do you want a quality Orlando Vacation Rental? Or something that only exists in other parts of the world on AirBnB?
- Fully stocked kitchen – Already covered. It is.
- Fully-loaded PlayStation – How can you tell that this company was founded by a young 30-something? Honestly? We fail. But why does this matter? Just about anyone, of any age, staying in our vacation rentals is going to be out of the villa doing anything, as opposed to playing on a PlayStation! Why play a shoot-em-up PlayStation game, when you can instead go and fire off a real machine gun and blow targets away?!? For real! The Orlando area has the greatest collection of thrilling fun games and adventure experiences on the planet! You don’t go there to sit inside and play PlayStation! Even on the rainiest, most boring day! (Those you use for sleeping to save up energy for your next adventure!) But we do have a Nintendo Wii and X-Box if you’re desperate for electronic games. But instead of an apartment-suitable PlayStation, we have a freaking games room, and your own private swimming pool! Why would you want a PlayStation? Really!?!
- Sonos – ??? Do you mean a home theatre sound system? If so, yes we have it. Do you mean a smart speaker? Thinking about it. The great challenge with these things is that many have privacy concerns about using them, particularly in a vacation rental. So we may go the smart speaker route, but the jury is still out on that.
- Neflix– Yupped.
- Recommendations for the best food in town – Off course! Part of our amazing local guide!
- Fresh produce in the fridge every day – Uhmm… this is a tough one. Our vacation rentals aren’t on a farm. And they are vacation rentals, meaning we aren’t local to them. Does a guest really want a stranger invading their temporary home every day? We offer amazing privacy, and this contradicts it a little bit. But if a guest wants fresh food delivered every day, they can easily order it through our local suppliers.
- Plenty of games and entertainment to prevent boredom-induced bust-ups – Again, a great idea if you are in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do, but in Orlando, FL? Sorry, you don’t understand where you are, or are intent on wasting your opportunity. But with a pool, games room, electronics and great TVs and streaming access, no one should ever be bored, either at the villa or away from it.
- Close to a subway station – The nearest subway system is in Atlanta, Georgia at a distance of 442 miles, or six hours by car. So?
- Offers groceries delivered and stocked – Yes we do! In fact, all of our guests are offered a welcome pack of groceries before they arrive and delivery of groceries are available by service throughout their stay.
- Offers housekeeping – Yes, guests can have housekeeping services during their stay. Most never want it.
- Offers airport transfers – Even better. We help setup Car-on-the-Drive which will see a driver greeting you at the airport, taking you to the villa (with a stop for food along the way if you want) and your rental vehicle will be waiting for you in the driveway when you arrive!
- Hosts available and friendly, but not intrusive – Of course. Again, check our reviews!
- Fast service in fixing problems – Absolutely. In fact, we’re stars at fixing rare problems when they occur. We love to show off this unique skill!
- Neighborhood must have soul – Is it supposed to be haunted? Ours has character… but soul? We just may fail on this, it’s highly subjective, but character can sometimes be better than soul. It depends upon what you’re after and where you are, and why you’re there.
- Local Transportation – We fail! There is no local transportation! But no one else has local transportation either. So what do you do? Just fail every Vacation Rental in the area? It is not a city area, so it’s an unreasonable expectation! Stop thinking urban apartments, and start thinking rural subdivisions with pool homes.
- Quality and type of locks – Our resort locks are perfect for Vacation Rentals! It’s what they were designed for! No keys needed!
- Number of steps to access the home – About 15 – 20 feet from parking in the driveway to the front door! Close enough for you?
- Detailed home manual – Already covered. We rock this!
- Are common areas a sociable space? – This reflects quality of design! Of course they are!
- All appliances are reviewed – No problem. They’re great. Full laundry included, and even a Keurig for that morning coffee!
- Minimum food supplies of salt, pepper, olive oil, tea, coffee – Really? Here we go with the AirBnB focus again. While we understand having tea and coffee for guests, especially when they first arrive, what do they need olive oil for? Anything they can cook in olive oil has to be obtained from a local grocery store, so they can get whatever kind of cooking oil they want whenever and wherever they buy their food! Expecting cooking oil for guests in rentals, makes little sense. Why not sun-dried tomatoes? The standard for many vacation rentals in the Orlando area is for cleaners to throw out all foodstuffs when cleaning the property prior to the next guests arrival! We don’t live in our vacation rental, so we can’t leave our cooking oil out. How can we possibly vouch for the safety of food items other guests may leave behind? A Plum Guide staffer said “How could you be expected to go and buy some salt? It’s just crazy.” Why is expecting a guest to buy salt if they want it crazy? Is salt hard to come by in London?
- Adequate toiletries in the bathroom (only two rolls of toiletpaper in the bathroom is a big gripe) – Well, we win on this one, because the standard in Orlando is only one roll in the bathroom, but we provide 4-5, in each bathroom, enough to last most guests a full week! Plus, we provide lots of other supplies. But no, we don’t provide lots of toiletries specifically, so even though we win on toiletpaper, we may lose on other items.
- Outdoor areas – Just check our photos. We rock in this department.
- Positive feel – We certainly hope so!
- The floorplan – We love ours, and feature 3-D versions on our website!
- Amenities – We have a great list for each of our properties.
- Sleeping arrangements – I don’t know what they are looking for here, but we have equipped our homes in a way that works well for two families.
- Host’s bio – You mean there’s a problem with my background as an axe-wielding mass murderer voyeuristic tendencies?
- Extra services – Yes, they are available. Put us to the test! We’ll find you anything. Either onsite or elsewhere!
Well, that is the list of the things that the Plum Guide checks for, or at least as near as we can determine based on their promotional material and articles written about them in general media. Anything not on this list is probably just common sense, and the type of thing that we would simply consider so obvious to provide or take care of that it would never occur to us to put it on a check list.
Who knows? Without getting a copy of the testing criteria, which is in its fifth version as a piece of proprietary software, it is really hard to tell.
Would we pass the Plum Guide test? Unless they modified it to fit the Orlando area market, I’m sure that we would fail. And even if the test was modified to suit the Orlando Vacation Rental market, I doubt we would pass their specific requirements anyway. But I don’t care! Where I agree with what I suspect they are after, we either meet or beat their requirements, and where we don’t I simply don’t agree with their priorities, and think that the choices they make actually aren’t to our guest’s benefit!
For us, it is always about the guests; what do they need, what do they want, and what will provide them with the best guest experience that we possibly can provide?
That, and providing great value, are our top prorities. Hopefully this review gives everyone a great idea of what we provide and how we likely meet or exceed all of the important criteria that Plum Guide uses to assess vacation rentals. Alas, we doubt we would qualify for their Plum Guide Award.
Now here is an interesting question… Would Plum Guide pass their own test? The answer to that question is rather interesting! Check it out here!
* Please note that we have no affiliation or connection with Plum Guide, or the Plum Guide Award and do not claim one. The Plum Guide is a website run by a London, UK company whose name we could not determine, but presume to be Plum Guide. We could not find any trademark claims on the Plum Guide website; PlumGuide.com.