Pizzo Vacation Rental Summer 2018

Coffe on the roof top terrace, Dependance delle Grazie (photo credit: lovely guest Steve B., April 2018)

Coffe on the roof top terrace, Dependance delle Grazie (photo credit: lovely guest Steve B., April 2018)

Did you enjoy your weekend? Summer feelings are all over Europe! Where do you plan to go this summer? 

Come to the sea! Come to the Costa degli Dei (the coast of gods) in Calabria, Southern Italy! Come to Pizzo! Pizzo is the best place to explore this beautiful coast and the hinterland of Calabria, and its spicy food and Ciro wines.

We at Palazzo Pizzo have the following apartments still available now until the end of summer 2018 (updated May 20, 2018): 

Palazzo Pizzo Residence (sleeps 2) for 110 Euro per night :

May 23 - May 31,  July 3 - July 10,  and September 12 - September 21

Dependence Delle Grazie (sleeps 2-4) for 140 Euro per night * :

June 10 - June 29,  August 4 - August 12,  August 20 - August 27,  and September 7 - September 30

*) rates are for 2 persons per apartment, additional guest pay 20 Euro per person. Our self-catered apartments come with free wifi and free secured parking. Minimum stay is 7 nights (or as indicated).

Please contact us directly if you are interested.

You can also find us on airbnb, homeaway (fewo, abritel) and tripadvisor (holidayletting). There you can check our availability also for autumn 2018 and read our 5 star guests' reviews. We are proud superhost on airbnb.

We are looking forward to welcome you in Pizzo!

Warm regards, saluti cordiali

Susan & Palazzo Pizzo Team

(photo source: great shot by lovely guest Steve B., April 2018)

Read also my posts about direct flights to Lamezia and what to do in Pizzo.


Creating Postcards

Creative morning! Woke up with the idea to must do a new postcard for our guests this sumeer. Since we are going to have the new vacation rentals in a different house in Pizzo's centro storico, we need neutral cards. 

Palazzo Pizzo's new guest postcard  

Palazzo Pizzo's new guest postcard  


I used different tools. On my smart phone I used the app 'Pic Collage' but then turned to my computer where I have better resolution photos and used 'Publisher'. Funnily, I then emailed the result in JPEG format to myself, opened it on my phone and edited (exposure, contrast, and crop to a postcard format). For my previous postcards I have used also the free software 'PicMonkey' at PicMonkey.com.  

Playing with style and layout ... 

Playing with style and layout ... 

maybe we need business cards as well

maybe we need business cards as well


I don't think our guests will use these postcards, write on the back and mail them. But maybe someone use one as a bookmark or just take one or two home as a souvenir. Maybe they stick them in their photo album, or share it with their friends. Then my mission would be accomplished :-)

BTW, my new postcard is based on my oil painting which is based on a photograph of a beach, most likely between Pizzo and Tropea. 

DIY Home Staging for Holiday Rentals - 10+ ideas

Home staging is the art of styling and presenting a property - mainly to improve its appearance for potential buyers. In the U.S., almost an entire professional branch has emerged from 'home staging to sell'. And it works. So why not stage your holiday rental to 'sell' it to vacationer? Take great photos and advertise them online. The first impression counts!

Of course you do not have to hire a professional stager when you have some sense for aesthetics and interior, and are able to handle a camera. It can be as simple as placing a vase with fresh flowers on the table or a bottle of wine and 2 glasses. Although professionals staging can even include a complete redecoration and repaint of the entire home before dressing it up with some magic touch. How much you want or need to invest in your vacation rental to make it look more appealing depends on your budget, the actual condition of your property and the price you will be able to achieve in your area.  

The residence we are letting is over 200 years old. It used to be a storage space for olive oil and hand made soap and only had only an earthy ground and stone walls and ceilings. It was more than a renovation. We made it livable. After insulating walls and laying a floor, we furnished the residence with modern and antique items, and decorated it. We bought some pieces of local art work to hang on the walls. Over time I had taken many photos. Some were nice. But some photos I took just looked lifeless, without a soul.

A good friend of mine told me "'Stage it!". And further elaborated for me (coming from an undeveloped country in that matter), "Put some lemons next to the sink". She had lived long enough in the States knowing 'unstaged' - or even worse - empty property does not sell as people can less envision themselves at home.

"put some lemons next to the sink!"
There is no difference with vacation rentals.

Imagine a yourself planning a romantic get away in the South of Italy, looking at some holiday lettings' websites. What do you see? What does trigger your decision? - Photos and reviews. - And it is all connected. If a place is well decorated, it will not only look good in your visitors' eyes, and possibly lead to positive reviews, you will also be able to take good photos. And even attract more visitors with even better photos after some additional staging. But keep your staging fair and real.

You can stage flowers or fruits and assume guests would not necessarily expect exactly those in a holiday home. But you cannot stage crystal glasses when in reality guests will find plastic glasses in your kitchen. Or a beautiful umbrella in the garden when you don't provide one.

Let's get started. Prepare a camera you are familiar with. It can be set on autofocus, with a standard lens, or even a smartphone. Make sure you get most of the space of a room into the picture, but also take some close up details. Always try different angles and heights. Ideally use some photo editing software or smart phone app afterwards to adjust the lighting of the indoor shots, crop or sharpen if necessary.

And here are some ideas and details for your DIY Holiday Rental Staging:

0. Clean Up
I know, this is so evident, so basic. But it goes beyond the daily routine. Weather you are renting your entire home with private photos and books, or a separate room or residence just for guests, it needs to be perfectly cleaned before a photo shoot. The faucets in the bathroom and kitchen should shine! But there is more. If you rent your private home, you will probably have it already de-cluttered to the max to allow guests to feel comfortable. Your collection of regional pottery will ad charm, your blurred snap shots of your childhood might not.

Cleaned up, all shiny, lemons staged, but don't forget to hide the cleaning utensils when shooting (can you see it?)

1. Decorate with flowers
As said above, staging can be simple. Get fresh flowers from your garden, or single branches from a tree with decorative leaves or blossoms from your street. Otherwise buy them from the local market or flower shop. Try to reflect the flair of the location and the spirit of your home. For a Mediterranean home purple Bougainvillea branches or white Callas are more typical than tulips or orchids.

I bought some beautiful Agapanthus flowers and placed the pots in the garden - they remained of course after the photo shoot.

A bottle of wine, wine glass, cork and flower from the garden - together with a retro lace table clothes from the local market - a beautiful staging! (Next time, I would maybe add part of a chair).
2. Bathroom
Did you invest in large and soft towels for your guests? Show them in your photos. Fold the toilet paper like the room maid does in hotels. Close the toilet lid. If you offer shampoo and shower gel or spa style hand soap, show them in your photo. Take pictures, with all lights on, from different angles, then shoot details: fluffy towels with the amenities in the background; your beautiful tiles or a fancy hook. Hang a straw hat on the hook or place it on the window sill.

Not the best image quality - but it shows the guest you put effort in details

3. Kitchen
"Put some lemons next to the sink" if your vacation rental is in Southern Italy. Or some tomatoes or oranges. Choose a contrast to your kitchen colour. Show details of the coffee machine or fridge, if they are vintage or of any interest.

Choose fruits or veggies to display in the kitchen that stand out with their color, switch lights on if necessary

4. Dining Table
Put all you have to offer on the table. Tablecloths, plates, glasses, cutlery, candles, napkins. Vacationer will envision themselves having lunch or dinner in your place. Take the lunch photo during lunch time and the dinner photo with candles lit on when its dark outside. (You might even notice during your photo shoot that something is missing in your property. Maybe not enough light to see the food on the plate? Or the light bulb is too bright for a romantic atmosphere?). Sometimes two glasses and a bottle of wine are also enough to present, especially when you expect the guest to eat at restaurants.

Add some life to your rental, place fresh fruits in a bowl, a bottle of wine with glasses on the table to help potential visitors to envision themselves in the picture

5. Living Area
Do you provide cushions on the sofa? If not, do provide two or three. If yes, is the cushion cover matching the ambiance? If not, change it. By something local from the weekend market. Then shoot the photo. Decorators suggest to place objects in pairs or in uneven numbers, like one or three. Place three books or magazines on the couch table. (I wouldn't show the TV, for three reasons: 1) it seldom looks attractive, 2) it is enough to mention it on the rental website, it shouldn't be a major activity during holidays, 3) burglars might be interested in electronics.)

6. Bed Room
The bed cover should match the flair of the location (get it from the local market). The bed can be made in two ways: 1) cover all with the bed cover (this is functional) or 2) fold the bed cover back and cover it with the linen and show the pillow with pillow cases (this looks inviting and homey). For the pillow cases you can choose a good quality. Iron it well as wrinkles would show in the photo. Adjust the bed cover and pillows as long until they look in perfect harmony, then shoot. Switch on the bed side table lamps and shoot again. Try different atmospheres, with lights on and out during day light and at night with all lamps on. Take a photo that shows the wardrobe, or part of it (as that is an information for the guest). Place the straw hat (if not yet used for the bathroom) on a chair.

Take photos right before your guests arrive, present the pillows in crisp white bed linens and give it an inviting look.

This detailed photo shows the Madonna del Carmine of the church next to our house. It adds some local spirit, some positive sign - and it shows, we have a night stand and a reading lamp.

7. Garden, Terrace or Balcony
If the flowers are in full bloom, shoot. If not, get interesting plants in the foreground or part of branches hanging into the photo. Get details from the olive tree or the garden bench. Buy a flower or plant pot from the local market to stage where there is a gab. Create depth in field (with low f-stop for a blurry background - or use a smart phone app like camera +). Get the view, get the view from inside out and from outside in. Find the best perspectives. And place garden table and chairs. Use table cloths. Stage the wine bottle and the glasses. Shoot the deck chair with a book - or a straw hat. If you provide an umbrella, open it and shoot the sun and shadow effects.

One of my usual garden shots: the place is so serene and the view so awesome... that I totally forget the staging!
If you have outdoor furniture use them for your photos where and how your guest will!

Another day, and finally some staging, but the sun was gone ... there is always a reason for another staging session

8. Entrance area and stairways
Even if that area is not the most interesting and some websites limit your advertising to 24 photos, you might want to provide the information to potential renters what they expect here. You might need to provide the stairs in a whole. Place a basket or straw beach bag on the stairs.

9. Neighbourhood in front of your door
For vacation home renters, the neighbourhood they will be calling home for some days is also of interest. Take a photo from some detail at your door. The old letter box or bell knob with part of the street. Her again you could add a flower pot, a welcome sign, bicycles (if guests can use or rent them), or your old Vespa for adding some flair.

10. Staging with people
I see very seldom a person in a vacation rental advertising. But why not? Most hotels have people in their ads. If you rent to couples, chose a couple among your friends that is around the age of your target group or your most frequent age group. If you target families, let some kids play on the floor with some toys you provide. If you allow pets, stage with a dog. The people should not look into the camera to keep it neutral and not look like a personal holiday snap shot.

First tryout: I think, a second person (a man) standing on the left side at the railing and watching the see while looking slightly to the right (into the picture) would have been perfect, since our target group are couples.

black and white makes the photo more arty, and suggesting the place has some history
if you have several good shots, you can combine them to a mosaic, and include the people just in one of them
After my last photo shoot and while editing and choosing the right pics I already saw what I could do better next time and what I forgot to shoot! Especially after writing this post....  BTW, all the 'deck chair photos' were shot with a smartphone by a recent guest. Thank you so much! I asked them to do me the favor, as I really had forgotten to shoot the new deck chairs! (They were neatly stored inside.)

I converted one of the photos into black and white

When I saw the photos with the empty deck chairs, I suggested to place a book. And see what I got:
staged with a book
My guest did some staging for me !

Special Spring Offer

Pizzo in Spring (photo S. Crosetto)

Palazzo Pizzo Residence is ready to welcome spring breakers!

If not for yourself, maybe you have friends who plan a spring break in Italy. Palazzo Pizzo Residence is the perfect place to relax in Southern Italy. Beautifully located on the "Costa degli Dei", the Coast of Gods, between Amalfi and Sicily, it's only a 25 min drive from international airport Lamezia Terme (SUF).

View Larger Map

There are many direct flights from European cities and several daily direct flights from various Italian airports to Lamezia Terme.

Other airports in the area are Reggio Calabria (1,5 h drive), Catania (Sicily, 2,5 h drive) and Naples (4 h drive).

Pizzo in April (by S. Crosetto)
Pizzo in Spring - the Beach is waiting for you!

Check out Palazzo Pizzo Residence's website for further information, visit the photo gallery, read about our trip to Pizzo in April, or contact us at PalazzoPizzo@gmail.com. We are happy to help planning your vacation.

We love to host you!

HOW to rent out your house or vacation property - Or should I open a B&B?

How to rent out a vacation property? I asked myself a while ago and researched the web, and posted some finds earlier here (04/2011). Now, since our residence - Palazzo Pizzo Residence as we still call it - is finally, finally ready to be rented out, I looked again into the vacation rental business.

Before getting organised, I got already one request for our residence from a very nice young lady from the States, earlier this year; she introduced herself via email and her partner. I would have loved to host this lovely couple, but they didn't want to stay one whole week. - Understandable, of course, when you plan a round trip through Europe. (I revised that 'policy' to a minimum stay of 3 days.). Further, it was for early June and none of us or our family could have prepared the residence for our first guests. We were just not prepared!

So in June, I started to promote our residence on this blog, with a very good deal for this summer, and stated: "no minimum stay required - including breakfast" - since I was on site and could have managed myself. But I did not reach any potential vacationers. In fact, it would have been a too nice coincidence if another long time reader would have just waited for me to open the door. Too short notice. No broad exposure.

Then this summer in Pizzo, I met some really nice locals. I do believe I made some new friends! It happened that one of them is an expert in Hotel Marketing. We talked, and I got totally fascinated by the idea of opening my own B&B!!!

Who is not dreaming of giving up hectic corporate life and settling down in a peaceful place somewhere in the South, and making a living with a small but own B&B?! Interesting travellers would come along the way and all together we would enjoying local food and wine...

My new friend helped me to download form the regional tourism board website the application form for B&Bs and print it. He explained me all and with the help of Angelo I got all documents ready.

But then I had second thoughts! - I would have to install a sign (a beautiful sign though, see above) at my door. I would have to clean the B&B, depending on category, every or every second day... I would have to declare who was visiting and when. I would have to declare in which month we will be open and when we would be closed, and I would have to be on site  to run my B&B - as the concept is to help locals to increase their family income. This is absolutely great if you live all year long in your property. So maybe one day I will have my B&B!

After all, vacation rental sounded much easier for our purpose!

A visiting friend had planned a trip through Wales (after Pizzo) and had booked some lovely, lovely B&B's. Wasn't the concept of B&B invented in England? I looked at some professional websites and got inspired. A few hours later, I had set up a new blog with just one welcome post and some pages - it's now my own property website.

And now? Still same question: How would a new customer find me??

The only way is :

You have to sign up with one (or two) big leading vacation rental websites!

But which one is the right one for a small vacation rental? Here is a round-up:

1) HomeAway - Group:
HomeAway, now based in Austin, Texas, was founded in 2004. The company initially acquired several sites and consolidated them into a single vacation marketplace, launching HomeAway.com in June 2006. The group offers a mix of both international and U.S. properties. It claims to be the world's leading online marketplace for the vacation rental industry, with sites representing over 775,000 paid listings of vacation rental homes in 171 countries. The HomeAway portfolio includes the vacation rental websites HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com in the United States; HomeAway.co.uk and OwnersDirect.co.uk in the United Kingdom; HomeAway.de in Germany; Abritel.fr and Homelidays.com in France; HomeAway.es and Toprural.es in Spain; AlugueTemporada.com.br in Brazil; and HomeAway.com.au in Australia. Asia Pacific short-term rental site, travelmob.com, is also owned by HomeAway. Also US based BedandBreakfast.com belongs to the group.

Travelers can find a vacation rental for free and homeowners pay an annual fee of US$ 349 (or about 254 Euro or 208 GBP) to advertise their property (with possible upgrades at extra charges for better ranking). If you choose to offer online payment a 2,5 % credit card processing fee applies. You can upload up to 24 photos of your property. Special services by HomeAway include among others possibility for owners to exchange tips with other owners; owners and travellers can buy insurances (damage protection, Europe assistance etc). Other rental websites belonging to the Group:

  • HomeAway holiday-rentals.co.uk - belongs to the big mother HomeAway since 2005 - mainly focuses on UK costumers (annual fee starts at 249 GBP for a "classic" listing).
  • Ownersdirect.co.uk - bought in 2007 by HomeAway - is based in the UK and aims more to UK and Canadian customers with half of the rentals in Canada (annual fee of 219 GBP; you can combine your HomeAway.co.uk listing with Ownersdirect by topping up your annual fee by 159 GBP). 
  • VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner) - belongs to HomeAway since 2006 - claims to be the oldest and most established US rental site (annual subsricption start at 349 USD)

Update 30th October 2013: HomeAway is now offering as well a free listing with a 10% commission to be paid by owners upon guest check-in. No further booking fees for guests will apply. The new "pay-per-booking" is only for certain countries. Others will stay with the annual fee. The "free listing" is only attractive for owners who rent below 5 weeks/year at a daily rate below 100 USD. If you plan a higher return, go for the annual fee!

2) Tripadvisor Vacation Rentals:
TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel website and an operating company of Expedia acquired United Kingdom’s largest independent holiday home website, holidaylettings.co.uk in June 2010. The acquisition showed TripAdvisor’s expansion into the holiday home market, following the launch of vacation rentals on TripAdvisor in 2009, and the purchase of a majority stake in U.S. based FlipKey.com in 2008. Holidaylettings.co.uk continues to be operated as an independent site.

You can list your property with Tripadvisor directly, if you have more than one room to rent. In order a customer can make a booking your listing should be connected to your own property website or any another booking website like Holidaylettings, Flipkey, venere.com, Booking.com etc. If you have only one room or apartment, and still want to be listed on TripAdisor, you can sign up with one of their above mentioned agents. The advantage of being listed on Tripadvisor is that this is one of the most powerful travel website worldwide. Even if travellers don't book here, they come here to read the reviews about possible accommodation and restaurants. And maybe, someone who would not have considered booking a holiday rental before, will find you on Tripadvisor and send you an enquiry.

3) Holidaylettings (HL) established in 1999 in the UK and bought by Tripadvisor in 2010 offers two different plans for owners: Plan 1) annual fee of 329 GBP (or about 402 Euro, or 550 USD). This allows you to get payed instantly by your customers, and your customer pays no booking fee. You will need to make over 11,000 GBP rental revenues per year to break even (or over 4,100 GBP if you use the 5.5 % booking fee paid by customers to increase your price). If you don't think to make that much money, opt for plan 2) a 'free' listing - especially when you like to fill your empty rooms for a certain period of time. Also great to start and check out how it all works! Well, it is not totally free, as mentioned before HL charges 3 % handling fee - deducted from the owner's earning - and a very fair 5.5 % booking fee, which is charged to the traveller on top of the rental price. So HL earns in total 8.5 % - still less than the other agents! - The money is safely hold back with HL until the guest checks in. Only 48h later the money is released (on the next working day) to the owner. Conversation between owner and guest is possible and helps to make up your mind. You can decline a request. Some emails via HL however, seem delayed (due to filter/control of content?). On the Internet you will find some complaints about slow customer service and slow response to all kind of problems. Apparently some owner/traveller are less happy since Tripadvisor has its hands on. - I cannot complain so far. The online tools to manage your property are clean and easy. Payment statistic, total earnings, communication history, page views, referring pages (visitor source) etc all very transparent and helpful. You can upload 24 photos. The guest's review is posted on both sites, Tripadvisor and HL. - However, if you want to change your payment method you need to call in the UK during office hours.

4) FlipKey established in the US since 2008 - Tripadvisor purchased a major stake in 2009. Webpage is driven by guest reviews and aiming to American market. It also offers two plans: 1) annual listing for US$299.99 and 2) 'free' listing where guest pay booking fee and owner pays processing and hosting fee. However, it was not clear to me how much these fees would be. Also the website looks less appealing than British HL or the American competitor airbnb.

5) airbnb
stands for 'airbed and breakfast', and was an idea by two room mates in San Francisco who rented out a room (with an airbed and breakfast) in 2007 during an international conference out of financial needs. A start up was established in August 2008 and since then this fresh looking company claims to offer unique properties in more than 19,000 cities and 192 countries. Hosts can check potential renter's profile and reviews (yes, you can review your guests!) and vise verse. Conversation between the two parties are well supported. Social network connection via linkedin and facebook are provided and used for 'verification'. Being social is kind of requested - most owners feature a profile picture, a profile write up, and your friends can write testimonials. That makes Airbnb almost another social network... The property listing is 'free', but owner pays a 3% handling or payment processing. And travellers pay a booking fee between 6 - 12% (!) depending on the amount... but here ends the transparency!! - When an owner "accepts" an enquiry, then a quote is automatically submitted to the customer without any chance for the owner to check the rate or add individual cost or allow special discount. Also due dates for payments are not visible. It is like the agent would tell you "this is none of your business". - However, the website is well designed, Californian style, fresh look, many eye candy interiors, young and innovative - visually -  but not technically - during my setup many times I had to redo things that were not saved well (maybe browser problems, as the website indicates, might be the source for problems). Where HL is clearly better value for money (for guests), airbnb releases the payment slightly faster (for owners), 24h after the guests have checked in. Also the amount of photos you can upload seems unlimited. Very special and useful seems the free photographer service by Airbnb, which not only gives you the chance to have really nice photos of your property but also a "verified" watermark by Airbnb shows potential visitors that your property is real. Another gadget is the "guidebook" that an owner can setup along his/her property listing. You can add restaurants and sights to a map around your property - however only as good as the amount of listings via airbnb and the right position in google map.

6) Booking.com
Booking.com established in 1996 and based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, is part of Priceline.com. The company claims to be the world leader in booking accommodation online, available in more than 40 languages, and offering over 354,181 properties in 187 countries. I find this agent very commercial, putting a lot of pressure to offer lowest price and to enhance speedy booking - a pressure felt by both owner and customer - guests pay to owners directly, no booking fee for guest - owners get invoiced a 15% commission fee on total booking amount (to be transferred by owner to booking.com). Although the most expensive choice for owners, probably resulting in most frequent bookings. Increasing your rental to cover your costs does not work when you offer lower rates elsewhere. Booking.com also reserves the right to automatically resell a room that one of its customers has cancelled, in order not to lose the commission. That means you lose control over who will appear at your door step. This is what a home owner wouldnt' want to happen. I feel, this agent is more suitable for a hotel business.

For Palazzo Pizzo Residence I decided that being on Tripadvisor is key. So I signed up with UK based Holidaylettings for their free listing - to try it out. And then I decided to give American based Airbnb and HomeAway a try as well.

If you are a traveler or holiday rental owner and have experience with one of the mentioned sites, please share your experience.

Before going live with your property you should compare what other owners in your area have published, and how they price their vacation rental. A good read about How to the Rental Rate for your Holiday Home is provided by HomeAway.

In my next post I will write about my first experiences with our listings on Holidaylettings and airbnb - and of course about our experience with the first visitors and their first reviews! All very exciting!

Read also WHY renting out your house or vacation property.

Update November 2014:

Fees have been increased by rental websites without any notice. The billing is not really transparent and you only find out if you observe regularly. Here are my latest observations regarding agents’ commissions:

AIRBNB: 12% (guest) + 4% (host) = 16% total
HOLIDAYLETTING:  10% (guest) + 3% (host) = 13% total
HOMEAWAY: 0% guest + 12% (host) = 12% 

The last two platforms offer annual plan's for hosts, but they are only interesting if you make over a certain amount of rental income per year. However they charge then still some handling fees to hosts. With Homeaway you mainly buy better ranking with their different annual plans. And their "customer service" is non-existing. While the airbnb community is developing fast and "groups" for hosts give excellent, prompt and priceless advises. Less community but a strong team, Holidayletting with Tripadvisor, is attractive for both, owners and guests.