A key figure in real estate and property management on St. Simons Island for over 30 years, Mellette Dobson rose to the position of Assistant General Manager at Hodnett Cooper Vacation Rentals. From day-to-day operations to managing owner expectations, she juggles multiple roles and takes an in-depth look at the past, present and future of vacation rentals on St. Simons Island.
Education: I have a Bachelor of Commerce degree 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 start your career? After I graduated from college, my parents moved to Georgia and I said, “You’re 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 to assist the rental division which included both long term rentals and vacation rentals. We made reservations in a binder! It has always had a warm atmosphere for me where you feel like part of a family. I remember when we bought our first computers. We are now in software conversion #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. Some of our employees have been here for over 25 years and others have only been here for a few weeks. I can say without hesitation that we currently have one of the best workforces of all time. In addition to employee relations, I also interact with owners on a daily basis – from signing up new owners to answering questions and resolving issues with existing owners. I work a lot behind the scenes to keep our operations running as smoothly as possible.
How has the industry changed over the past 30 years? What is the biggest difference/change? I would say one of the biggest changes has been the advent of third-party sites like VRBO, AirBnB, Homeaway, and Expedia. Vacation rentals aren’t just for property management companies like ours anymore. The number of properties available these days has increased exponentially and created a much more competitive atmosphere. I believe most people are always looking for professional property management because they don’t want to deal with the hassle. The concept of vacation rental is also much more accepted than that of a hotel room.
What do you think landlords expect most from a property manager? I think they want to be able to trust their property management company, and that’s something to be earned. This can include many factors – maximizing income, protecting their investment, and essentially making decisions that are in their best interest.
How has your approach with owners evolved over the years? We are listening more to determine if we are a good choice for potential new owners. Additionally, advances in technology have allowed us to reach potential new owners across the country and provide them with more effective communications.
What is your favorite place to travel? Hands down, it’s St. Johns, US Virgin Islands. Over the past six years I’ve been there several times and definitely plan to return. Most of the island is state owned and undeveloped, allowing for all kinds of hiking and trails. 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 you hadn’t? I like the tree canopy and the size of the island. I like the idea that I can get almost anywhere in a 5 minute drive. I share the aversion to what I see as the rampant development of the island. I don’t know 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’ve been around a long time and there’s a lot of history with guests and owners. Our database of past clients is extensive, and often past clients lead to new owners.
What do you think of the short term rental ordinance? I think there needs to be a level playing field established for sole proprietors and property management companies where we are all held to the same standard. These standards run the gamut, including paying appropriate taxes, monitoring guest behavior at properties, ensuring waste is handled, and responding to issues in a timely manner. This order will certainly help address these existing inequalities.
How do you think the STR will affect vacation rentals in St. Simons? I hope this helps set the stage for appropriate behavior on the part of our holidaymakers and provides some peace of mind to our local residents that this industry is trying to do everything that can be done to help minimize any impact negative visitors.