Everything You Need to Know About AirBnB and Vacation Rentals
For years, AirBnB eluded me. The idea of staying in someone's home, especially if they were living there, baffled me. To be completely honest, I barely like staying in my childhood home with my parents! (Sorry, Mom & Dad!) Being a savvy traveler, it was clear early on that AirBnB was here to stay and a huge hit among travelers.
Being part of the traveler community, I took a chance and booked our first AirBnB in Washington DC with my hubby and parents. We traveled up in July 2016 for our Global Entry interviews and made a weekend out of it. Hotels were my first choice, but to get 2 rooms for 4 people for 3 nights was incredibly expensive and, by a twist of fate, my dad won a $200 gift certificate for AirBnB. The fates aligned and we tried our hand at AirBnB. While it wasn't a terrible experience, it wasn't an overwhelming feeling of "THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN A HOTEL. WHY HAVEN'T WE BEEN DOING THIS FOR AGES!" And that's fine.
Then came our big Germany & France trip. We booked hotels for the whole trip, but looking back, for 6 people, we should have gotten a house together. It would have made so much more sense and given us a lot more flexibility in travel. However, we're big fans of loyalty points and we've been conditioned to feel comfortable in hotels.
Then came New Zealand. Auckland presented itself with an interesting set of challenges as the World Masters Games didn't appear to have enough rooms for attendees and athletes. The other problem was how the hotels in Auckland City Center jacked up the prices of the rooms. What normally would have been $120 NZD per night per room suddenly became $575 per night per room. Don't get me wrong, as a travel & tourism major, hotels have every right to capitalize on the events coming to town, but boy was I annoyed.
Luckily, I turned to the trusty interwebs and searched AirBnB and HomeAway. We had a bit of an issue with AirBnB in New Zealand, but HomeAway, who partners with NZ company BookABach, had a ton of great options. We found a lovely house just 10 minutes from where we needed to be for Dad's weightlifting competition. Through that, we had a great experience and really started to feel how there are some advantages of staying in a home. For example, my Irish family communicates by yelling from room to room - not something you can do in a hotel without disturbing the whole floor.
Once we had our home in NZ nailed down, the hubby and I started thinking about the people who come to our area for business, concerts, and various college functions. We also joked about how much our parents stayed with us and we should start charging them. Suddenly, the hubby's parents announced their intentions to buy a house in our area. Jackpot! Very quickly, we saw the opportunity of being able to make some side money with our lovely guest room. We made a few updates and 2 IKEA trips later, we were ready to host! Or so we thought.
When we started the process of listing our property, we found many decisions we needed to make beyond our nightly price. What time is check in and check out? Do we provide snacks? What amenities do we have? What's near us? Are we going to let guests use our stuff, like our washer/dryer or kitchen appliances? There are a quite a few decisions to make. AirBnB is very easy to use and incredibly helpful in giving you examples and pointing you to support articles and community forums to assist you. With just a bit of effort and a bit more conversation, we had our listing ready to go.
But we didn't make it available. Once we had everything ready, we knew my parents would be in town to stay with us leading up to New Zealand and they'd stay with us the night we returned. So, naturally we agreed to wait to list it until after our return. And within a few days, we had our first booking! And then another, and another, and yet another. It was exciting, but very scary. For such risk-averse people, the hubby and I didn't know what to make of this. Were we underpriced? Were we going to get robbed? Why did so many people want to stay with us? Our goal is to attract business people and young professionals coming to downtown Raleigh, and we were getting that in spades.
With each guest, we've learned a good lesson, some more valuable than others. If you're thinking about hosting on AirBnB, here are just a few things to consider.
If you are direct, honest, and open, setting expectations is a cake walk. AirBnB gives you the option to list everything you can possibly think of. You might need to add a few things in the house rules, like "We have 5 cats!" Or if you need/want quiet hours, you can add that. Anything you want to be very clear and specific about needs to be written in the listing. But here's the catch, hardly anyone reads the complete listing. We discovered this after our first guest. Not a problem! We took all of our information, printed it, and put it on a clipboard sitting right on top of the guest bed. We even included a little guide to tell which cats are which and what they like. Genius, right? Well, yes, but again, only if people read it. We discovered some folks were simply moving the clipboard to the desk and never looking at it. This was painfully evident when one of our guests didn't understand how to use the front door key pad and lock. SMH. So, we started explaining everything when the guests checked in, but again, people don't listen. They're trying to come in and get settled and get that icky plane feeling off them. As a last resort, we started communicating all of this information, at least the important bits (entry, exit, parking, check in and check out) through the AirBnB message system.
There's no such thing as over communicating.
Make sure the room is nice. I mean, that should be a given, but when we scoped out other properties in our area, we were shocked at the level of junk and mess people find acceptable to live in and invite others to visit. Beyond the room, make sure the rest of your house isn't junky. Seriously! Use AirBnB as an excuse to keep your house clean. It really works!
In the room, you want to be very intentional about what you have in there and what's available for guests. We have a closet in our guest room and we swapped the standard closet door knob for a key-locking one to keep any snoopers out of our stuff. We also made sure anything we had in there was easy to use and had clear signage. It took a tiny bit of time and a little thought and it was done. Easy peasy.
Are you going to offer guests a bare mattress and a plain shower? That's fine but make sure you charge appropriately. Are you going to offer your guests a deliciously snugly bed, snacks in the room, charging stations, TV, and access to your super fast wifi? Make sure you charge appropriately for it. You can definitely go the extra mile and offer coffee, tea, and snacks. You also don't have to if you don't want to put up the cash to do it. The other thing to consider is the bath room situation. Do guests have their own bathroom or are they sharing with other people in the house? We've chosen to provide guests with body wash, face wash, make up wipes (we get a lot of college girls), shampoo, conditioner, and a hair dryer to use at their leisure.
The big thing to know and look out for are the guests themselves. In just a short amount of time, we figured out what kind of traveler we wanted to attract and created a space for those people. Once you've gotten your space up to par, you'll have to remain vigilant about who you allow to stay. Quick things to know:
- All guests must be over 18. If they are under 18, they must be accompanied by a guardian. You as the host have the right to refuse the booking if they are under 18. If you allow it, you may not be covered if something happens.
- Good profile photo. You should always be able to clearly see someone's face in the photo. Be wary of group photos or blurry photos.
- Reviews. Airbnb is a review based community and it's important to have good reviews as a guest and as a host. That being said, if someone doesn't have any reviews, just remember, everyone starts somewhere.
Keep in mind - if something doesn't feel right, refuse the booking. It's your home and you should feel comfortable in it. We've turned away more people than we've hosted because of a combination of the above. There's no medal in having a skeezeball stay at your home.
Now that we've hosted successfully, we're now better equipped to choose good properties. Even if you have no interest in hosting, as a Three Star Traveler, here are somethings to consider when looking at AirBnBs.
- Location: Location is one of the things you get to review, but as a host, it's one of the things that makes me crazy. If you know you want to be in a certain area of town for your stay, look in that area and ask the host questions. The host can't help where they are located, but you can help where you choose to stay.
- Parking: are you comfortable with the hosts parking situation and feel comfortable leaving your vehicle? If you don't feel comfortable leaving your car, ask yourself, why are you comfortable staying there? Also, always lock your car, no matter how nice the neighborhood is.
- Amenities: what can you leave at home and what do you need to pack? Can you leave your hairdryer at home? What about sheets and towels? Believe it or now, some people have listings that require you to bring your own linens. Talk about an open call for bed bugs…
- Bathroom: What's included in the bathroom? Towels, toiletries, tissues? What do you need to be comfortable? Do you have to share the bathroom with the host or other guests? Make sure you know all of this before committing to book so you can be comfortable.
- Pets & Kids: Are there pets at the house? If you're allergic or just don't like critters, that's totally fine, but don't put yourself in an uncomfortable situation when it's something you can ask about.
- Smoking: Courtesy reminder - if you're a smoker, don't stay in a home which does not allow smoking. Smoke gets everywhere, no matter how considerate you try to be. It permeates into the carpet, the bedding, and even the furniture and yes, just after a short stay. If you're not a smoker, make sure your hosts aren't smokers so you're not subject to the smells and health risks.
Overall, AirBnB has been a positive and rewarding experience. It's all the fun of having guests with the added bonus of making money. Sure, there are some crazies, but it comes with the territory. Can't stand the heat? Stay out of the kitchen.
What's your AirBnB Story? Any tips or tricks to add? Share in the comments!!