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Cynthia Keiser and Cindy Messer

    Interview with Julia Batten Wax


1.  Please include a brief overview of your company


      Emerald Isle Realty has been a family tradition for beach vacations on the Carolina coast since 1962.  We began by managing classic cottages, open to the sea breezes with no telephones and no televisions.  We have loved being famous for our Southern hospitality at the beach and built our reputation on offering the highest quality of vacation experience for our rental guests.  Rating our properties has been part of our system since 1990 and is now second nature to us.  Through ratings we have been able to manage our guest expectations and inspire our homeowners to continually improve, refurbish and renovate their island homes. 


2.  Any other pertinent info about your company that you'd like others to know about.

            A little history...


      The summer of 2012 was a very special one for Emerald Isle Realty as we celebrated fifty years of providing beach vacations on the North Carolina coast.  While grateful for being part of such a milestone in our family business, to us, these fifty years all have the feel of one long, splendid, porch sitting afternoon, spent in the warm and gracious company of dear friends.  The Batten and Wax families are happy to be the second and third generation of owners and managers.  Providing warm, gracious and sincere hospitality just comes naturally to us after all these years.  Rental Guests became Owners who became our friends.


         Geographical area(s) your inventory covers and a brief description of the area


     We're located along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks, and our chain of barrier islands is also known as the Crystal Coast. The majority of our inventory is in the Emerald Isle area with a few homes scattered along the island in neighboring towns such as Indian Beach, Salter Path and Pine Knoll Shores. Our beautiful area offers fishing, boating, biking, kayaking, golfing and much more!  Our island is blessed by lovely maritime forests and our emerald green trees inspired the name Emerald Isle. We will remain "green" as our code requires that when building, lots must be left 45% natural.  Bird watching and dolphin watching is a daily treat.

Various types of properties you rent. Our inventory ranges from Oceanfront to Sound front elegant and super-luxurious 5-10 bedroom Sand Castle homes, classic Carolina beach cottages, and low rise, low density condominiums.


3.  How many vacation rentals do you manage?


      Currently we manage over 600 vacation rentals & over 100 long term rentals.   


 4.  How long have you been rating properties? 


       Since 2002 with Resort Rating Specialists but we implemented an in-house rating scale back in 1990 that used letter grades A,B,C. D was a flunking grade and the property went off availability until the owner made the necessary upgrades.  Our rating scores were not open to the public until the advent of the Internet and our website where we could post the ratings.  We didn't think it was fair to the homeowner to print the rating in our Vacations rental home catalogue that only is published once a year.  With the website we can upgrade or downgrade properties in "real time" as needed


            How many staff members are involved in the process?


       Currently we have two full time employees that are dedicated solely to Rating the properties and assisting the homeowners with the necessary refurbishment.  We refer to them as "the Cindy's" since their names are Cindy and Cynthia, our very own Ratings and Refurbishment team.


5.  Have you seen an increase in quality as a result?


      Definitely! Each year we have more and more homeowners wanting to improve their rating score.  Our scale goes Emerald, Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze.  If they drop to a lower level they are eager to get back to their former level as quickly as possible. Others use our suggestions to develop a three to five year plan on how to go up by one or even two levels through major purchases and renovations such as installing granite countertops or flat screen televisions throughout.  The end result is we as the owners of Emerald Isle Realty have protected our brand of offering only a top drawer vacation experience albeit at all price points from budget to luxury.  The highest rated homes achieve the highest rental rate. This also improves our bottom line as we can track increased revenue with increased quality.


6.  You're in a competitive beach market.  How has that impacted your standards?


      It has opened our eyes to the fact we must look at the quality of the product (the vacation rental home) we're offering to our customers, verses the quantity of our inventory. Our sweet spot we found is about 600 properties.  When we were at 750-800 we made a management decision to shed decrepit properties or homes with owners unwilling to maintain their home to our high standards.  It is the best decision we ever made (besides offering free ice cream in our lobby).  We developed the Sand Castle brand which in turn gave us a competitive edge over vacation rental managers who didn't have a luxury niche such as ours.  By rating properties we knew we had sufficient inventory to create a splash when marketing the most beautiful and well appointed of our beach homes.  Now luxury property owners seek us out as for our branding of the high end home just as they would their BMW or Lexus dealer!


7.   Has publishing your ratings on your website been beneficial to Owners or Guests?

      Yes to both.  Most importantly, by going public with the ratings it makes the process transparent for Owners and Guests.  Guests pay attention and if the home they booked drops from Gold to Silver on the webpage they are on the phone and want to know why.  This in turn gives us leverage to call the Owner and encourage them to replace the worn sofa or rusty appliances that caused their rating to drop.  The good news is as soon as the Owner alerts us that the refurbishment is complete and we have inspected their home, up goes the rating again.  It is a very interactive process! For our Owners it all begins with the Rating Report; it is so beneficial as it helps them determine where they need to spend their money first. For the Guest, it gives them a realistic expectation of what they're paying for.  If they want a 3 star experience similar to a Courtyard Marriott or Holiday Inn Express they know they can trust our Gold rating.  For our high rollers that want the crème de la crème of our inventory then only the Platinum or Emerald properties will do.  Our Guests are very savvy and very demanding which we think is true across the board of the traveling public these days.


8.  Why do you think it's important to rate your properties?


       In today's world with the marketing tools offered and on-line reviews our Guests have lots of choices when it comes to their vacation planning. Having the rating system in place gives us an edge over our competitors. By using a rating system we are also managing our guest's expectations so that they can be assured of selecting the quality of vacation rental home that is reflective of their lifestyle from our comfortable but casual Bronze homes to the superbly luxurious Emerald properties.


9.  Has it helped guide your Owners as to the most important improvements? 


       And do your Owners welcome the info? Yes, it has absolutely helped our Owners see where they should spend their money first and what matters to our vacationing Guests. This year, we have seen an increase in homeowner involvement when it comes to putting their money back into the property. Returning Guests notice the renovations as well and will continue to return to a home where there is owner involvement. Likewise, Guests can tell when a property is an orphan and not well cared for by Owner or property manager.  When we must, we actually stage interventions and triage on the Owner's behalf to avoid disappointing the Guest.  We educate our Owners on trends throughout the year through a monthly article titled Rental Signs written by Julia Batten Wax in a local magazine, Island Review, mailed to each property owner on the island.  To answer the question whether they welcome the info, our Owners are high achieving professionals, the fortunate few that can afford a second home.  This makes them often Type A behavioral types that were used to getting straight A's on report cards and other accolades in their chosen careers.  It hurts their pride to see their rating come in lower than before and we do have to find ways to diplomatically deliver the message and let them know they are important to us and their second home is still a valuable part of our inventory. Finally, our job is to help them make the most revenue possible which is best achieved by following the suggestions in our Ratings Report.


10.  Over the last few years money has been particularly tight, what are some of the challenges facing your department with regard to convincing owners to upgrade?


      When the economy hit bottom with the Great Recession it was a struggle but over the last two years we've seen a huge increase in owner involvement and willingness to spend money on upgrades.  We believe they have seen their occupancy and revenues increase due to our Ratings system proving again our axiom that Quality Vacation Rental Home = Higher Rental Revenue.  These homes are a business investment in which they must spend money to make money.


11.  Any advice to other companies that are just starting the process?


      Just knowing that the information you're providing to both your homeowners and guests is coming from a trusted source should be reason enough to get started!  While making the transition, use the Ratings first as an in house tool to assist your reservation department in booking the properties.  As you gain the confidence of your Owners that Quality = Revenue then announce when you plan to go public on your website, perhaps 6 months in the future, which will galvanize those who truly want the chance to improve their rating and make the suggested improvements.  If you are a medium to large size company it will pay to invest in at least one full time employee dedicated to

     Ratings and interacting with Owners to make the necessary changes to improve their vacation rental home.  The real winner?  Our Guests who will continue to book Vacation Rental Homes over hotels when they can trust our product nationwide!

Thank you Julia, Cynthia and Cindy


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