Twenty-five years ago, the holiday homes rental market in the Margaret River region was almost non-existent. Very few holiday-home owners rented their houses out to strangers. And for holiday makers, those lucky enough to know a friend or family-member with a holiday house were expected to bring all their own effects: bedding, towels, soaps, even toilet paper.
That all changed in 1994, when Felicity Ruse and Rosie Harris founded Private Properties Holiday Homes, the region’s first luxury holiday home company. It began when some of Felicity and Rosie’s clients from Elite Leasing, their successful property management business in Perth’s Western Suburbs, started asking them to look after their houses down south.
Private Properties’ Flinders Bay House in Augusta.
“No one was really marketing holiday houses at that point,” says Rosie.
“If you rented a holiday house, you would be lucky if it was clean, you’d have to take all your own linen. It was a pretty unloved area of the market. We could see there was a gap to be filled. There had to be a better way of doing it than it was being done.”
So Rosie and Felicity set about transforming the Margaret River holiday experience. Private Properties created a new way for holiday properties to be run entirely, and they applied all the standard principles of property management to holiday rentals.
But initially, their idea was met with some reluctance, says Rosie, and it was their professionalism and tenacious approach that acquired them enough holiday rentals to get the business off the ground.
“Because this had never been done before, a lot of owners were a little apprehensive at first. They were worried their houses were not going to be looked after. We had to prove that we could do it, and do it properly,” she says. “We had to walk around and door-knock in Yallingup. We had some friends who had properties, and they would recommend us. I think we started with about ten properties. Some in Yallingup, some in Eagle Bay. We just did it by word of mouth, and picked up a few.
“We didn’t have the internet in those days. We had to market the houses with booklets and pamphlets and flyers. It was hard yakka, and expensive. But we built on it. And word was spreading that we were doing it properly.”
Private Properties’ “Salty Kiss” House in Yallingup.
The business really began to boom at the turn of the millennium, when Private Properties discovered the overseas market. It happened mostly by coincidence, says Rosie, and in order to meet the demand of ex-pats, Private Properties had to lift their standards to the next level.
“We had a huge lift when a lot of English people from Hong Kong and Singapore started using the properties. This was around the time there were fires in Indonesia, and SARS was becoming prevalent. People wanted to get out. And they didn’t want to stay in hotels; they had young families. They wanted to stay in houses. And they came to us,” she says.
“I have to admit that at that time we weren’t quite ready for their demands. We had been catering to the Perth market. We thought we were doing a good job, but we quickly realised that if we were going to meet this market, we were going to have to lift our game.”
As Private Properties lifted their level of service they found a niche in the top-end of the holiday rental market. Steady growth continued. Then the internet arrived, and things exploded.
“Suddenly, people didn’t have to wait two weeks for a brochure to arrive, or spend hours with us on the phone while we described in immense detail what was available to them,” says Rosie. “We developed a site where people could go and choose their house. That was a huge game-changer.”
Private Properties’ Injidup Bay House in Yallingup.
While Rosie and Felicity ran this business from Perth, local caretakers David and Jody Moyes, were quietly running things on the ground. And as Rosie became ready for retirement in 2012, she began to consider selling the business, but wasn’t prepared to see all her hard work go to waste.
“We didn’t want it to go to someone who really wasn’t going to maintain that. We couldn’t sell the business to someone who wasn’t as good as we were. It was just fabulous that David was there to take over. He has taken it up another step,” she says. “Because David had been working with me for as many years as he had, he knew the business. I was ready to help if he needed it. But he didn’t need me. He had his own ideas, and I’ve been happy to watch the business get better and better.”
David and Jody built on Private Properties existing strengths and continued expanding into the overseas market. They also utilised their local connections to cement Private Properties stronghold at the top of the market, and moved the entire operation from Cottesloe down to his hometown of Dunsborough.
“It was an easy step for us. From go to whoa, we were already doing the whole package as caretakers, which had enabled us to really know the properties, and know the owners,” says David. “We’ve also added a whole range of things: some high-end properties, some new destinations – and we’ve sort of pioneered a new brand of in-house service. Things like chefing, our concierge service, creating an itinerary; it’s not just a bed for the night, but the whole package.”
Since David and Jody have taken over, Private Properties has grown from around 60 properties to well over 100. Over the years, they have serviced over 13,000 guests from 21 different countries, and their team has grown to well over thirty staff, almost all of whom are local.
While Private Properties celebrate their twenty-fifth birthday this year and the brand continues to grow, their objective remains the same, says David.
“The natural attractions remain one of the biggest drawcards to the region, for sure. The service we provide is like the glue that bonds people to the region and facilitates them in getting back to nature. It also about connecting them with all the wonderful infrastructure that make Margaret River a world-class tourist destination: the wineries, the restaurants,” he says.
“It’s fantastic, I love it. I see it in a lot of our guests who come. I see them when they first come, and then I might bump into them a couple of days later and they’re changed people. They’ve got thongs on, boardies, a bit of sand around the ankles. That’s awesome. That’s what it is all about.”