Five years ago, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) pilot ventured into real estate investing and have since built an impressive rental property portfolio over the years. Zaini’s savvy investing – he only purchased promising properties located close to educational institutions, hospitals or training centres, all which will guarantee continuous and sustainable tenant demand ensured that he never had to worry about his investments.
Taking things further, 30-year old Zaini has now turned his love for real estate and interior design (ID) into a profitable homestay business called HomestayKite.
Taking the road less travelled
Zaini had a wake-up call in April this year – “A fellow investor enlightened me that I was actually sitting on a cash cow and not realising my properties’ full potential. I had this unit in Vista Alam in Section 13, Shah Alam for which I was obtaining a monthly rent of RM1,600. I thought I was doing really well, considering the current market slowdown many landlords are unable to secure tenants. Imagine my surprise when my friend told me that I could make triple that amount should I rent out my property as a homestay instead!,” shared Zaini. Zaini promptly took a leaf out of his friend’s book and listed his unit on a few accommodation rental websites including Airbnb, Traveloka, and Booking.com. By leasing it out on a daily basis, Zaini is able to charge RM250 per night for his apartment.
At 80% occupancy, an achievable figure considering the unit’s prime location, he would make about RM6,000 in a month. Even at a very prudent estimation of 50% occupancy rate; Zaini will obtain a monthly income of RM3,750, an amount which clearly surpasses the conventional rental model. On how he got started, Zaini said, “I gave my unit a nice sprucing up beforehand – I have always loved ID. In fact, I have been dabbling in it parttime since a year ago. So, I applied what I have picked up from my mentor and past projects to whip my place into an Instagram-worthy abode.”
Home away from home
His efforts and attention to detail paid off – the Vista Alam apartment ‘sold’ like hot cakes. Bookings poured in, from students attending a convocation (UITM is located nearby) to business travellers and wedding guests (Shah Alam Convention Centre is just 600 metres away) as well as families who were in town for a weekend getaway. “First of all, guests love the value for money – for RM250 a night, you get a spacious 2-bedroom apartment; cosy enough for 6 people, a comfortable living area and a fully-equipped kitchen. They are free to utilize the condominium’s facilities as well – the pool, gym and sauna are all at their disposal.
The convenience of having a kitchen and space for the whole family is especially appealing to locals and those with children. Comparatively, should a family spend the night at a hotel, they will have to fork out at least RM500 for 2 bedrooms, each measuring a measly 250-300 sq ft,” explained Zaini.
What takes the cake, however, is that these homestay units are more than just a place to rest for the night – it provides that cosiness that is somehow lacking in a hotel room. “Most of my tenants’ feedback is that they love how comfortable and homely it is – they don’t feel like they are away from home at all,” quips Zaini. Growing the homestay pie Bolstered by the great response he received for his Vista Alam unit, Zaini then proceeded to replicate the homestay business for his other residential unit in i-City, Section 7. “Short-term rental accommodations or homestay units are in demand in Shah Alam – there is always a friend’s or relative’s wedding, a convocation to attend or a seminar conducted at the convention centre nearby.
Bookings kept pouring in, regardless whether it was the school holidays or a weekday – we were booked solid even during the supposed ‘off-peak season’ in June,” shared Zaini. Clearly, business was good, so Zaini decided to take his vacation rental venture to the next level.
“I roped in a few other investor friends, who had empty apartment units themselves within the i-City development. I shared on how I can help them make good money using the homestay model and they were sold. That was how HomestayKite was born – I built a proper website overnight, created an FB page and got a team together to handle business operations, marketing, tenant management as well as cleaning and maintenance.
Today, HomestayKite has 10 properties under its name – and all units are seeing brisk business. A few months back, I had this Pakistani customer, a business owner who booked a unit for the night while he was in town. He was so impressed with our services that he booked a couple of units for two months straight for his staff to stay in while they were attending a short course here in Malaysia,” added Zaini.
Recipes for success
With 10 rental properties under his belt, Zaini has had loads of experience in dealing with tenants and in playing landlord. However, Zaini owes his homestay success to his team – from his marketing manager who manages the company’s FB page and who is a whiz with Google Ads and SEO to his operation staff who sees through guest check-ins and unit maintenance as well as his HR manager who looks after customer service and tenant management; everyone juggles their weight beautifully.
An outsider would assume that Zaini runs a tight ship; a scroll through HomestayKite’s FB page and business site revealed that guests have so far provided glowing reviews and commendations for the incredible service. The secret to maintaining customer satisfaction, however, is that Zaini looks after his staff well – he provides free accommodation for his operation and cleaning crew. “Dealing with tenants and looking after the units’ cleanliness is a very taxing and time-consuming job. So, the least I could do is to ensure that my staff do not have to worry about commute or rent,” reasons Zaini.
This strategy has paid off in spades – guests are over the moon with the level of customer engagement and service they receive. “We have numerous repeat customers and most of our guests will recommend us to their family and friends. These guests even share their experiences and pictures from their stay on their social media, and this has helped us secure bookings for one-day events like birthday parties and even a local movie shoot,” Zaini added.
Business might be good, but one can never rest on his laurels though, Zaini cautions. He and his team always have their ear on the ground and continuously keep tabs on what is going on in the local market. “We have different pricing strategies for different seasons – for instance, we offer more discounts during convocation period or weekend bundle deals during school holidays. If there is a convocation that weekend, we will spend more marketing money to push for online advertisements on Google and Facebook,” he explains.
What is the next stop for Zaini? His parting shot, “We are looking to expand the number of rentals under HomestayKite to 20 units by next year. Also, we might be moving into the KLCC market as homestay demand is picking up there too. If you are in town for the weekend, forget the hotels and check out HomestayKite instead.”