We Found a Way to Make Our Island Home Pay

My husband and I landed in the vacation rental world by accident. Fifteen years ago, we moved to our new island home with four suitcases, one black Labrador and a naive plan to stay for one year.

The Turks and Caicos Islands were our top choice of destination because of the consistently good weather, pristine beaches, close proximity to the U.S., reliable Internet service, and lack of quarantines for dogs. It is a British Overseas Territory where we drive on the left yet the U.S. dollar is the local currency and Miami, Florida is only 90 minutes away by plane.

After a few months of sun, sand and solitude we’d thought we’d be longing to go back to our old lives, but the opposite was true. Island living agreed with us. We loved the low-key pace, the quirkiness of small town living, and being treated as locals rather than tourists. Time passed quickly. We got entrenched into the community. We started a family. The one-year plan was history.

We built a three-bedroom home with a pool in a residential area very close to the main beach, a place that was to be our home for 13 years.

As our daughters neared high-school age, though, we wanted to give them broader exposure than just island life. To figure out where we should move next, we started traveling more. This is when we discovered home exchanges. Our home exchanges gave us more than just free accommodations—they enriched our travel experiences because we had local insight, they enabled us to make lifelong friends with our exchange partners and they taught us first-hand what it takes to enjoy a stranger’s home. All of this knowledge came in handy later when we moved from Turks and Caicos and turned our home into a vacation rental.

When we decided to relocate to a new country, we wanted to keep our house, which we’ve named “June Plum Villa.” That’s how we ended up in the vacation rental world.

Our home exchange experiences prepared us well for what we needed to do. We use websites like FlipKey, VRBO and WordPress to market our home and automate administrative tasks. We also rely on our network of friends on the island to give our renters an insider’s view and help us get things like repairs, maintenance and management done as efficiently as possible on an island.

We wanted our vacation rental guests to have the same memorable experiences we did on our home exchanges. So, we add a personal touch whenever possible. Sometimes it is a small welcome gift waiting for them when they arrive or a note with recommendations or even discounts at our favorite restaurants. We always try to leverage our local knowledge so our guests feel special and appreciated and have the best experience possible in our home.

Demand for vacation properties here is high. Turks and Caicos is a high-end destination and accommodations can be very expensive. During peak season, a one-bedroom condo can run $650 a night. It’s not uncommon for houses to rent for $5,000 a week or more.

We personally don’t make a massive profit on our property…but what we do make covers all the costs of owning it—like the mortgage, insurance, necessary maintenance, and the little marketing expenses we have. We spend what’s left over on trips to our favorite restaurants on the island.

There’s also another massive benefit to using our home as a vacation rental property: we have a track record of the property paying for itself, which will be useful if/when we decide to sell it.

But the biggest benefit of all? Having the flexibility to use the house when we need it…and enabling other families to experience some of what we find so wonderful about the island lifestyle.

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