A fixture in real estate and property management on St. Simons Island for more than 30 years, Mellette Dobson has risen to the role of assistant general manager at Hodnett Cooper Vacation Rentals. From everyday operations to managing owner expectations, she juggles multiple roles and has an in depth look at the past, present and future of vacation rentals on St. Simons Island.
Education: I have a bachelor’s degree in business from Western Illinois University.
Where were you born. Where did you grow up? I was born in North Carolina, but grew up all over, including South Carolina, California, and Illinois
Where did you begin your career? After I graduated from college, my parents relocated to Georgia and I said, “You are not leaving without me!” My first career position was in Georgia selling yellow pages (I know, what?) for BellSouth. Shortly after moving to St. Simons in 1986, I worked for Island Directory for several years selling advertising as they were just starting the directory at that time.
When did you start with Hodnett Cooper and what was it like then? I started working for Trupp-Hodnett in 1990 (yes, 30 years ago!). My first role was assisting in the rental division that included both long-term rentals and vacation rentals. We made reservations in a binder! It has always had a homey feel to me where you feel part of a family. I recall when we bought our first computers. We are now into software conversion No. 5!
What is your current role at Hodnett Cooper? What are your responsibilities? My current role is assistant general manager, and those responsibilities include many areas! One area is working with staff to support them and ensure they have the tools they need to do what they do every day. We have some staff that have been here 25-plus years and some have been here just a few weeks. I can hands-down say we currently have some of the best line-up of employees ever. In addition to employee relations, I also interact with homeowners on a daily basis – from signing up new owners to answering questions and solving problems with existing owners. I work very much behind the scenes to keep our operations working smoothly as possible.
How has the industry changed the last 30 years? What is the biggest difference/change? I would say one of the biggest changes has been the advent of third-party sites such as VRBO, AirBnB, Homeaway and Expedia. Vacation rentals are no longer just about property management companies such as ours. The number of properties available these days have risen exponentially and created a much more competitive atmosphere. I believe most people still seek professional property management, as they don’t want to deal with the hassle. There is also much more acceptance to the concept of a vacation rental as opposed to a hotel room.
What do you think owners want most from a property manager? I think they want to be able to trust their property management company, and that is something that has to be earned. It can include many factors — maximizing revenue, protecting their investment and essentially making decisions that are in their best interest.
How has your approach with owners changed over the years? We are more in tune with determining if we are a good fit for new prospective owners. Also, advances in technology have allowed us to reach new and prospective owners from all over the country and provide them with more effective communications.
Where is your favorite place to travel? Hands-down it is St. Johns, U.S. Virgin Islands. Over the past six years, I have been several times and have every intention of returning. The vast portion of the island is state-owned and not developed resulting in all sorts of hikes and trails to enjoy. There are so many beaches with different landscapes, and the snorkeling is awesome.
What do you love most about St. Simons, and what has changed over the years that you wish wouldn’t have changed? I love the tree canopy and the size of the island. I love the idea that I can get almost anywhere with a 5-minute drive. I share the dislike of what I see as the rampant development of the Island. I am not sure how many more neighborhoods and condominium complexes we can handle.
Why do you think Hodnett Cooper has such a following on St. Simons? Well, first of all we have been around a long time and there is a lot of history with guests and owners. Our database of past guests is extensive, and often past guests lead to new owners.
What do you think about the Short Term Rental Ordinance? I think there needs to be a level playing field established for the single property owners and the property management companies where we are all held to the same standard. Those standards run the gamut, including paying the appropriate taxes, monitoring behavior of guests in properties, ensuring trash is addressed and responding in a timely manner to issues. This ordinance will definitely help address these existing inequities.
How do you think the STR will affect vacation rentals on St. Simons? My hope is that it helps set the stage for appropriate behavior from our vacationing guests as well as provides some peace of mind to our local residents that this industry is trying to do all that can be done to help minimize any negative impact from visitors.