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Short-term rental market spurs new business, jobs

Killington Mountain Homes offers full service for high end rentals in Killington

By Polly Mikula

From tech entrepreneur to rental management and concierge services, Holly George is familiar with innovation.

After selling the tech company she built from scratch, George bought the former Boutique gift shop at 2025 Route 4 in Killington. The building had been vacant for over 10 years when she bought it in February 2022, according to town records. Now, George has breathed new life into the dilapidated structure and has big plans for the 5,324 square foot space and her business: Killington Mountain Homes.

“I think I’m a typical Killington story,” George said. “I came with all my college friends in the late ‘90s and loved it. I was able, fortunately, to buy a house in 2003 and have been coming up ever since with my family, which now includes my four kids. We love it. We love the town. We love the community.”

“We always rented our house part of the time to help offset the cost, like many other who have a second home — you go when you can and then you rent it a couple other weekends. You can enjoy it and it helps pay for the taxes and things like that,” she explained.

That worked well for George and her family, until Covid offered a new opportunity.

“I had always been in the tech business, but then there was a lot of turmoil because of Covid. I’d been building up my [tech] business since 2006 and was able to sell it,” she said. “After that I was able to make some investments.”

According to the 2022 Grand List, George now owns nine properties (listed under her name and her two LLCs: BearForce One, LLC and Herobruin, LLC). Those make up just over a third of the homes she’ll manage this winter.

“We manage luxury vacation rentals for our clients,” George explained. Her business takes care of the photography, marketing, pricing, cleaning, and quality control for it’s client homeowners.

“Right now we are up to 20, I think, and we have about four more coming online this winter,” George said.

Helping to run the business locally is her nephew, Aaron Weidenaar, who was previously an engineer at Toyota. He had moved to Killington from Michigan when his work became remote during the pandemic. But he was eventually called back to the office.

“At that point, he had fallen in love with Killington,” George said. “It just was good timing for both of us to join together and start the business,” she added. “He has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and is super smart, super friendly. So he’s really the base of our guest interactions, he can fix anything and he’s made friends with all the local tradespeople: plumbers, electricians and builders and painters… they all work together… So if something is broken at any of the houses, he can be there literally in 5 minutes and people are blown away. It’s terrific service.”

The Killington Mountain Homes brand is built around high quality guest experiences, George explained.

“In my mind, the problem with short term rentals is just the wild variability,” she said. Some places are “just not clean or the beds are really old, or the linens are scratchy… so we are very focused on the guest experience to build our brand. Almost like a Weston or Four Seasons, you know what you’re gonna get when you book; you’re gonna get a great experience,” she said.

In order to achieve that consistent standard, George requires owners to invest in specific upgrades.

With us “you’re gonna get a brand new mattress, brand new pillows, 600 thread count sheets, and it’s gonna be really clean,” she said. “Every home is stocked to a specific standard — the linens are all standard, everything’s very well maintained.”

Additionally, she advises clients on updating furniture to ensure it’s “stylish” and requires noise-level monitoring.

“We try very hard to be very conscious of our neighbors,” she explained. “Every property has a decibel monitor — it doesn’t listen to your conversation, but it does listens to the noise level. And if that gets high during a quiet hour, for example … Airbnb will directly message the guests and be like, ‘Hey, you’re being too noisy. You’re not being good neighbors, quiet down’,” she explained, adding that that technology is integrated into Airbnb. But it’s not a common problem.

“Of the thousands of days we’ve hosted, that’s only happened like three times, which is pretty amazing,” she said. “Rentals get a bad rap. But it really is just a few bad apples. And there’s a lot of technology you can use to manage around those bad apples.”

“We’re also very focused on fire safety, it’s a huge thing,” she continued. “Obviously, guest safety is the No. 1 concern and we take it very seriously. So we have commercial-grade fire systems. That’s another big investment we require to be one of our clients but it’s peace of mind for the owners, too,” she aded. “These places are not inexpensive properties and owners are opening them up, which makes many owners nervous. So the more we can do to mitigate risk on every side, the more comfortable everyone feels and the better time they have.”
George said, thus far, her clients have “all been great to work with” adding, “they share the vision and are very supportive.”

“Onboarding is a two way street,” she continued. “We want to make sure we trust our clients and vice versa … So far, we’ve been really lucky… They appreciate that we go the extra mile.”

“A lot of our clients are just like I was right back in 2003, they have small children and they have a second home and they want it to be really nice, but it’s all very expensive now and they need to have it rented out part of the time so they can afford it,” she said.

Some homes, however, need a bit more than new sheets to get them up to par.

George said she’s also helped clients with extensive renovations, which have been “very rewarding” and she hopes to grow that part of the business in the future.

“Out-of-state clients will buy a new place, as an investment, and basically we will go in and quickly redecorate it …. we’ll come up with a full plan: we’re gonna paint, we’re gonna update electrical, we’re gonna change the lighting, we’re gonna change out the furniture, and we’re able to basically update properties very quickly and get them back on the market again, but in our curated branded experience: the furniture is stylish, the beds are brand new and comfortable, etc.,” she explained. “We’re basically going to have an interior designer rework your condo or house.”

“A lot of the owners are remote just like we are,” she added. “They can’t possibly go back and forth all the time managing, furniture, moving it in and assembling it all — it’s a lot of work! And that’ll help keep our team busy during the off-season.”

George said she’s proud to “take homes that were neglected and make them really beautiful again, and be able to share that with people who make experiences there and have a great time. It’s super fun. We’re in the business of making memories!”

For one recent renovation on West Hill Road, “We redid the floors and the walls and everything,” George said. “It was a really nice example of taking an older place and just making it a lot nicer.”

The property now features a giant table made of solid oak and a brand new, beautiful kitchen with quartz countertops and soft-close drawers, she said.

Upon its completion “We were like, ‘This place is awesome! People are going to have so much fun here!’ You know, having a meal around the table with 16 friends and going in a giant hot tub with a big bar, it’s just set up for fun! That’s a really awesome feeling. It’s so rewarding.”

George and her clients are just as thrilled as she is when they receive positive reviews from guests.

“We’re super, super proud of our reviews,” she said. “I just love reading the reviews because it just makes all the hard work worth it. People really see where we’re going. We have 338 five-star reviews and nine four-star reviews. And the four star reviews still say things like ‘best experience ever.’ When we ask them, ‘Why not five stars?’ they say ‘Oh, I just never give five stars’,” she explained.

Renovations at the headquarters

The headquarters of Killington Mountain Homes on Route 4 has undergone significant renovations this past summer, too. From the road, onlookers watched a complete facelift of the old building; but even more was happening inside.

When completed, that will serve three purposes, George explained. “The front is our offices. It’s a place where management and our cleaners can meet in the morning, grab whatever supplies they need for whatever house they’re going to and off they go.

“Down below, we built our own commercial laundry facility. So again, part of like the branded experiences I’m talking about is very nice linen. So we take care of our laundry in-house… We have crisp white duvet covers and down comforters, etc. … we spent a lot of money on all these things and we think it makes an big difference in the guest experience. Like if you don’t sleep well, you’re not going to have a great stay,” she said.

Lastly, “in the back of the building and we had an architect design a six bedroom short-term rental, which is spectacular, it’s turning out really beautiful,” she said.

George also eventually plans to add solar panels at the headquarters on Route 4.

“We really care about the environment… We are trying to be completely free from fossil fuel. We’re getting rid of propane and natural gas wherever we can, and we’re putting in very efficient heat pumps everywhere…. our long term goal is to run everything off of solar and basically be feeding the grid instead of taking off the grid … eventually we won’t be burning anything except for maybe a fire pit out back,” she said.

Investing in solar can be capital intensive, however, she acknowledged, “I mean, if we can keep it capital neutral, it’s a no-brainer. If we have to come up with the capital that makes it a little harder. The interest rates are pretty high right now,” she added.

Women-owned, women-employed

“Something else I’m really, really proud of that motivates me every day is to be a business owner, particularly as a woman,” George said. “We employ mostly women (most of our staff is cleaning) and so that really motivates me, too… these women are terrific. Some have challenging stories and its a real opportunity to give them, a path forward. A lot of them have small children and so we’re constantly juggling around childcare but I have four kids as well — I really understand it!”

“I feel like I was very lucky. I worked really hard, I built my own tech business, I sold it. I built that from scratch, it was successful. But it wasn’t easy as a woman in tech in the tech field. Now I feel really motivated to help other women,” she said. “We pay really well, we have flexible childcare and I get a lot of positive feedback from the cleaners. It just makes me so happy when they say: ‘This is the best job I’ve ever had’ or ‘This has really given me hope in my life’ or ‘This has been great for my kids’.”

“If you told me two years ago, that I would be in a position to help women like this, I would’ve been like: ‘I don’t know, I’m just working really hard here in the tech field.’ I feel like things happen for a reason and like I feel like my life has driven me to this point to be in a position to help others and that makes me super happy.

“But, also, we need to normalize women owned businesses,” she added. “I can’t tell you how many times I go to do something and they’re like: ‘where’s your husband?’ ‘Can he signed for those?’ and I’m like, ‘No, it’s my business!’”

George says she has eight or nine cleaners on staff with four more coming in for the winter months, in addition to working with many contractors.

Her staff cleaners are “hourly workers, but we try to get them as close to 40 hours a week as we can,” she said. “You know, it depends. It is cyclical. So some weeks are tougher than other… There are a few days that are really hot, where all of us are working — my husband, myself, my four kids, my parents! Those are rare days. But, you know, if you’re part of Killington Mountain Homes, you’re gonna get good at cleaning a toilet!” she said with a laugh, adding, “It’s great for me to get out there with cleaners and work in the houses and see really what’s going on and make tweaks.”

George also uses technology to ensure quality. “We take photos of everything after it’s done. So we can always check quality remotely of every single room… it’s like a cleaning inspection,” she said. “Again, the quality of experience is very important to us, it’s important to be very consistent.”

George, however, like most employers in the area, has struggled to find and keep employees. “Another top issue that we really care about is affordable housing,” she said. “We lost one of our amazing maintenance guys, because he couldn’t find housing. It was really rough. It’s definitely a big issue….I’m not quite sure what the answer is, but we definitely want to get involved and see what we can do to help,” she said.

What’s next?

George hopes to open the headquarters on Route 4 this season — the front office, laundry facility and six bedroom short-term rental — but none of that can happen without a power supply.

“We need like an electrical part that is literally non-existent,” George explained. “We’ve had an order out since April and it doesn’t exist anywhere,” she said.

“My electrician said that everyone in the state — literally, every [new] commercial building in the state — for the entire year, has been at a full stop. Nobody, can have power,” George said.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh, is this for real? Does this part really not exist?’ But the fact is multiple giant commercial distributors of electrical parts have said, ‘literally nowhere.’ ”

“The inspectors can’t make exceptions because they only have the power to follow the rules, which is why I reached out to the governor … I’m pretty sure he’s probably not even aware of it, right?” she said during an interview Nov. 16. She had sent an message to Gov. Phil Scott that morning.

George hopes Vermont will do what other nearby states have done and make an exception to the rules, at least temporarily, to allow her (and many other businesses) to connect to the power supply.

“Other states, like New York, are allowing [alternatives] which are somewhat available, but they’re still going for four or five times the list price because they’re so hard to get,” she said.

“I don’t know when we’re gonna open because we don’t have power,” she said.

But the business will go on, regardless, as bookings for the upcoming winter season have been strong. George anticipates a great season and significant growth in the years to come.

“It’s been great so far, a real win-win-win for us and our clients and our guests,” she concluded.

One comment on “Short-term rental market spurs new business, jobs

  1. Have you looked into 3D printing the part? Vermont Tech high school or local University might be willing to help.

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