Maine Advice is a semi-regular column where we find Mainers to answer your Maine questions (and we weigh in ourselves). This week’s guests are experienced and respected vacation renters from MDI. 

Jennifer Booher is an artist and photographer in Bar Harbor. You can see her work at She has three rentals in the heart of Bar Harbor available through Bar Harbor Acadia Cottage Rentals and Airbnb:

The Knowles Company has been serving international clientele with their local knowledge since 1898. Their rental agents are Kate Chaplin, Nikki Hooper, and Lynn Cobb Zaman–Marla Jones is responsible for new listings. The team provides personalized assistance with an attention to detail that ensures your vacation rental meets your highest expectations.

Jennifer Mitchell and her husband Bobby own Maine Island Properties, a vacation rental agency in Mount Desert. They specialize in rentals on Mount Desert Island and Trenton. When not in the office, they enjoy spending time at their camp in northern Maine snowmobiling, boating, swimming, and relaxing!

Carroll Fernald, a broker with Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, started Summer House Cottage Rentals ten years ago with two other brokers. They focus on providing a stress-free, enjoyable rental experience for guests who come to Maine for vacation as well as our owners.

Jen Wales is the founder and owner of Mountain Sea Properties with multiple houses in and around Acadia National Park. She is passionate about helping to support families and friends spend time together outdoors. A portion of each rental cost is donated to local organizations on Mount Desert Island.

Now that we know who we’re talking to, onto the questions!

Dear Gift MDI,
I am renting a house on MDI this summer for a week with my family. I know there is a cleaning person but how much should I pick up when we leave? We are on vacation so I don’t want to deep clean a bathroom but if there are some things I can do to make things easier, I’d totally be happy to do them!
Considerate Weekly Renter

Jennifer The Artist: If the owners haven’t left instructions, emptying the trash cans is a kind gesture. Stripping the sheets and pillowcases is also appreciated — leave them in the laundry room if there is one, or piled on the bedroom floor (but not the blankets or decorative pillows, unless you spilled something). If you know that something got broken, damaged, or stained, it is super polite to let your hosts know as soon as possible so they can replace it in time for the next guests.

The Knowles Company: Talk about a dream tenant! And you’re right — your last day of vacation on beautiful MDI shouldn’t be wasted cleaning toilets. However, stripping beds and starting a load of towels is a massive help to the cleaner. Also clear out the fridge of any leftovers and make sure trash and recyclables are bagged and ready to be taken away.

Bobby & Jennifer: We don’t want you to spend your vacation cleaning! There will be a detailed list sent with your directions and another copy posted at the cottage outlining our expectations from you. Essentially we ask that you put the trash where it’s meant to be. Leave the house “broom clean”–that sand from Sand Beach is like no other…please just sweep that up. All dishes should be cleaned and put away. There should just be a minimal amount of laundry. You can leave a load going when you check out. Chances are the cleaners are lurking somewhere around the cottage waiting for you to drive away so someone will be there shortly to take over and prepare for the next guests. We do ask that if you’re leaving early, you text or call us so that we can adjust our cleaning schedule. As you may imagine, it’s something of a magical act to prepare all of the homes in the short changeover window each week. We want each guest to walk into a sparkly clean home like you did last week!

Carroll@SummerHouse: No need to deep clean the bathrooms, but most of the cleaners perform several turnovers of rentals each Saturday so the more you can do to make their lives easier, the better. We usually ask our guests to strip the beds, start a load of wash, put all the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and run it, take your uneaten food with you, and take out the trash. You will make our cleaners very happy!

Jen@MountainSeaProperties: At Mountain Sea Properties there is a welcome letter on the fridge as well as a departure letter and the best thing you are do is to READ THEM! We’ve included all the information you’ll need pertaining to house instructions during your stay and when you leave. But of course, if there is something we missed, or you’re at a property without that helpful information, I always suggest emailing the owner and asking!

Dear Gift MDI,
Am I supposed to tip at my weekly rental? At a hotel, I’d leave money for the cleaner but I’m not sure what to do in this case.
Needing Tips On Tipping

Jennifer The Artist: If you’ve made a real mess — sticky toddler handprints on the dining chairs, baked-on crusts in the pots, wine stains, or muddy footprints on the rugs — then yes, absolutely leave a good tip. Your hosts and cleaning people assume a certain level of mess when they plan the turnover between guests, and unusual chores like scrubbing pots can really make it hard to be ready in time. Say thank you with everyone’s favorite apology: cash. If you haven’t left a mess, then no, tipping is not necessary.

The Knowles Company: Who doesn’t love a good tip!? If you feel that your cleaner did an especially good job, by all means leave them a little something as a thank you. It’s not expected, but it’s certainly appreciated, and will speak well to the homeowner that you recognized the good work that went into making your stay more comfortable.

Bobby & Jennifer: It’s not required but it sure is welcome! Most of the cleaners have “real” jobs during the week and clean cottages for some extra income. They are ALL hardworking, dedicated, and wonderful! It’s not easy work and they are beyond excited if they arrive and there is a tip for them!

Carroll@SummerHouse: Such a nice thought! A tip is always appreciated but not expected as in most hotels. If you were happy with the condition of the house that welcomed you, a tip would be lovely.

Jen@MountainSeaProperties: My mother always taught me how important it is to take care of those who work jobs where there is little recognition and I have many memories of going out of our way to thank janitors, maintenance folks, and delivery guys. The cleaning staff at Mountain Sea Properties is made up of hard working local folks looking to make ends meet. We’ve got a 2nd grade teacher, a single mom with a disabled son, a housekeeper from a hospital, and a bookkeeper. Your tip goes a long way and is always very much appreciated! P.S. Did you know that typically the cleanest tenants always leave the biggest tips!!

Dear Gift MDI,
One of the people coming on vacation with us is having a birthday. Is it high maintenance to ask for help from the vacation rental service I’m using to get a cake, decorations, etc. for when we arrive? I want to make it memorable but I’m not sure what is in the vacation rental job description and what isn’t.
Party Animals (Not Really Though!)

Jennifer The Artist: It is not rude to ask for your host’s assistance, but don’t be surprised if they refer you to a local caterer or party planner. Your host’s obligation is to provide you with a clean, comfortable space with amenities that match the listing. Providing that level of service is definitely not in the job description.

The Knowles Company: If you INVITE your agent to the party and ply them with drinks, they might be persuaded to help out! In all honesty, however, this is usually above and beyond an agent’s purview, so perhaps it would make more sense to ask them if they can connect you to an able-bodied teenager or other local person willing to work some magic before your arrival (for a small fee, of course). Rental agents have all kinds of connections locally and can help you make it happen.

Bobby & Jennifer: It’s really not within the “job description” for a rental agency to acquire items like that, but we can provide guidance as to where in town you’d go to get those things, how far ahead you’d need to order, etc. Also, you may be able to hire one of our wonderful cleaners outlined above to do this for you–we can help with arrangements on that. There are some folks who offer concierge services too.

Carroll@SummerHouse: You can certainly ask the rental agent with whom you booked if he or she would give you the names of some places you might order a cake and/or flowers. Not sure about the decorations and you might have to pick up the cake after you arrive. It’s worth asking your rental agent who is a plethora of information about our island!

Jen@MountainSeaProperties: It never hurts to ask! We offer lots of vacation services geared towards making your trip as fun and memorable as possible, including Birthday and Anniversary gift packages.

Dear Gift MDI,
What is the most accidentally inconsiderate thing I can do in a weekly rental situation, besides completely trashing the place of course? I bet you have some horror stories and I don’t want to be one!
Weekly Rental Weary

Jennifer The Artist: The single most inconsiderate thing you could do is to break something and not tell your host. There will be new guests arriving within hours after you leave, and if you’ve ruined a frying pan for instance, your host needs time to find a new one. The second most inconsiderate thing is to stay long past your checkout time. Again, the host only has a few hours to clean and ready the house for the next guests, and if you’re still in the shower half an hour after you were supposed to leave, the cleaners can’t get their work done.

The Knowles Company: Probably the most inconsiderate thing to do is show up really early and leave really late. That really drives cleaners and homeowners nuts. Even if you think you can “stay out of the way,” you can’t, and it’s intimidating to cleaners to have people hovering or packing while they’re trying to do their job. Come on time, have fun, leave on time, then write a great review of the property before you go.

Bobby & Jennifer: I guess the “issues” that we run into most often involve people not reading the information that we send to you before you arrive. We get it, you’re on vacation and you don’t want to read stuff, but that certainly answers many of the questions that come up. I can tell you that on a typical Saturday, I field no less than 10 calls from 3 p.m. check in until 5ish asking what the wifi code is. Well, as we indicated in 5 different places on your info packet, it’s on the fridge!!! Nearly everything that you need to know is sent to you ahead of time and is then duplicated at the house! Please read the information ahead of time :).

Carroll@SummerHouse: We have lots of stories but we won’t bore/shock you with them! The best advice would be to treat your rental home like you would treat your own home — take care with sweaty glasses on wood tables, be considerate about tracking mud, sand, or water into the house, don’t eat a chocolate chip donut on the upholstered furniture or anywhere besides at the table, keep pets off the furniture, and use good sense about taking nice bathroom towels to the lake or beach (owners usually have beach towels for that). Just pretend it’s your house and treat it kindly!

Jen@MountainSeaProperties: What a great question Weary. The answer is simple–if you wouldn’t do it at your house, don’t do it at a rental house! Would you use a bath mat as a doormat ruining the towel? Spill juice all over the floor and leave it there all sticky and gross? Drive across the wet lawn when it’s raining spinning your tires? Allow your kids to pull off every-single-leaf from the shrub by the front door? Then don’t do it at your rental house.

Dear Gift MDI,
I’m thinking about renting a giant vacation home with my extended family. When should I start looking if I want to come in August? And how can I get the best deal?
Rallying The Troops Next Summer

Jennifer The Artist: If you want to rent a house for 10 people or more in Bar Harbor in August, you should book in January. To save money, stay farther away from town. There are no “deals” in a prime vacation area during high season — you will pay top dollar and be lucky if you find a place. If you want to save money, come in the shoulder seasons: May, June, October, or November. The hiking is still great, lots of restaurants are open, and you won’t have to worry about parking.

The Knowles Company: It’s never too soon to start the looking process, but depending on how long you want to stay, how much you want to spend, and how many people are in your crew, expect it to be a process. Owners of some of the larger fabulous houses are only interested in multi-week stays, so they wait before committing to a single week; whereas other homes are ready to sign leases as soon as you are. If you have a sense of what you are looking for, talk to an agent who knows the market, and knows how motivated certain owners are, and they can steer you in the right direction. It’s a moving target, but you’ll land on something eventually!

Bobby & Jennifer: We typically take our first reservations for the following year (i.e. for August 2020) in January 2019. If you need a large home or have specific requests (waterfront, etc.), the earlier the better! Most of the homes set a price and stick with it. As far as getting a “deal,” that is usually only last minute–if a week isn’t rented, the owner will drop the rate, but that almost never happens in August or on the larger homes.

Carroll@SummerHouse: Many of the larger properties that accommodate big family groups rent quickly–as much as a year or two in advance. However, we can very likely find something that will suit your group if you start looking now. Sometimes there are two houses close together that will work for large groups. As for getting the best deal, try another month besides August — that seems to be prime time!

Jen@MountainSeaProperties: We start booking a year ahead and by January are usually mostly full, particularly for those popular times such as August.

Dear Gift MDI,
Everyone always seems to go to the same places on MDI. What do you think is the most underrated attraction or activity that you wish more people knew about?
Searching For Secrets

Jennifer The Artist: The west side of the island is beautiful and far less crowded than the areas closer to Bar Harbor. Spend the day in Southwest Harbor! Beech Mountain in particular is a wonderful hike, and the garlic-butter lobster roll at Beal’s is amazing.

The Knowles Company: Hmmmm… if I told you, I’d have to… actually, that’s a great question. Here are some great lesser known gems: Seal Cove Auto Museum, Islesford Historical Museum, Blagden Nature Preserve, Pretty Marsh Picnic Area, Back Beach, and Cranberry Cove Ferry to the outer Islands. I’ll leave it at that and let you do the rest of the exploring!

Bobby & Jennifer: Oh gosh…not sure we want to share all of those secrets LOL. There are so many cool things to do many for free or not much money. Take your kids to the town dock in Southwest Harbor or the Suminsby Park on Somes Sound and fish for mackerel. It’s a quick catch and they will always remember it! Go for a late afternoon walk to the Preserve at Indian Point and watch the seals basking on the ledges–really cool! Take the mail boat and a picnic lunch out to Islesford or Great Cranberry Island and explore the island and beaches. Go to the bluffs at Echo Lake and jump into the clear (cold!) water, get a pizza (at Rosalie’s) and take the pizza and a kite up on Cadillac at sunset (there is a pull off just before the Blue Hill Overlook) and enjoy the sunset. And ALWAYS, no matter what ages your group consists of, walk the shore path, enjoy ice cream, and go on the Diver Ed trip. When you’re on MDI, you have the beauty, peacefulness, and time to enjoy your family…can’t go wrong!

Carroll@SummerHouse: Throngs of people visit Mount Desert Island in the summertime and the most popular activities seem to be hiking, biking, swimming in local ponds and lakes, eating, shopping, and strolling around the various towns and villages. Lots of tourists are not aware that we have several museums of some note that are worth visiting (even if it’s not a rainy day…), there are several live theater venues that have regular performances, nature boat cruises, trips from several towns on the island on smaller sailboats, trips on working lobster boats, a waterpark with a ropes course just off the island, golfing and tennis opportunities for those who love the sports, several farmer’s markets each week, and just packing a picnic lunch and find a spot where you can enjoy it.

Jen@MountainSeaProperties: Dear Searching, I was recently helping a guest put together a personalized itinerary and he summed it up perfectly. “When our family travels, we don’t want to go ‘see’ things, we want to ‘do’ things. Our emphasis is always on having an experience rather than seeing the Top 10, cause that’s where everyone else is.” I thought this summed it up fantastically. Don’t focus on “seeing” the most popular sights in Acadia. Instead, switch you focus to “experiencing” Acadia. Sit by the shore and watch the tide come in and out. Happen to wonder into a cafe and hang out for a bit chatting with the local barista. Go for a hike, any hike, and bring along your book to sit and read under a tree for a spell listening to the birds.

Need advice? Contact us with your Maine problem!

One comment on “Maine Advice: Vacation Rental Etiquette

  • I agree that it would be nice to have all the trash and dishes done when leaving the cabin. I would think that would at least make it easier on the cleaning person. I’ll make sure to do that if I decide to rent out a cabin for my family to stay at.

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