These 5 simple steps can help you master the art of the stay—and attract even more bookings.
Superhosts, entrepreneurs, and interior designers Catherine and Bryan Williamson of Beginning in the Middle have built a business on crafting 5-star-worthy stays. Having hosted over 2,000+ guests, they are here to share their story and their expert tips on how to make your home memorable.
Catherine and Bryan’s Tips to Getting More 5-Star Reviews
Catherine: “For us, starting our Airbnb business and design firm was a happy accident we fell into. In 2013, we moved from New York City to Columbus, Ohio—that’s where Bryan originally grew up. We were wanting more space, as well as looking for a place where we could settle and create something of our own.”
Bryan: “We bought a three-bedroom house—and found ourselves needing to pay off some leftover debt. But we really didn’t like the idea of having a full-time roommate.”
C: “One of my friends knew someone who was listing out their spare bedroom on Airbnb and suggested we try it out. At the time, we didn’t really know what Airbnb was. Bryan and I thought: ‘Okay, if we could just get 10 nights booked this year that would be really great…’”
B: “We listed it, and there was a huge demand. Soon after, we graduated to listing our whole house. We’d explore and stay at various motels throughout Columbus until we found the one that was the least bad. It got to the point where we were staying there for weeks at a time. We knew the whole hotel staff and crew. But of course that wasn’t sustainable.”
C: “We paid off our debt and eventually bought another house. Fast forward a couple of years later, we’ve flipped and sold a few homes and kept our favorites on Airbnb. We quit our day jobs, created our interior design studio (Mix Design Collective), our vacation rental brand (The Village Host), and started our blog (Beginning in the Middle).”
B: “For us, we truly care about creating a special experience for every one of our guests. And that passion for hospitality has enabled us to create a life we really love. As a host, regardless if you have the fanciest of houses, if you can deliver an exceptional stay, you’ll see your reviews and occupancy rates go way up.”
Here are Catherine and Bryan’s tips on how to get more 5-star reviews:
01. Set expectations
C: “One of the secrets to getting a 5-star review is to set guests’ expectations before they hit the BOOK button. Our houses are old, and we’ve done a lot to make them feel homey, comfortable, and beautiful. But they’re not perfect, and so we try to give as much information upfront as possible. For example, we’ve got squeaky floors and squeaky doors.”
B: “Our bathrooms are on the smaller side. One of our units has a shared wall with a neighbor. We call that out so that people know to be courteous and mindful of noise. Parties are NOT okay.”
C: “We have an old clawfoot bathtub that’s slightly higher up than a standard bathtub—in case guests have any accessibility needs. Some people might be bothered by these quirks. Other people might not care—but we try to speak to the person who we know will enjoy the neighborhood and the house.”
02. Be a rapid responder
B: “Communicating with guests quickly and clearly is an important part of the 5-star experience. It helps show your guests that your care is constant.”
C: “People are only staying with you for a short amount of time—and usually it's for something that’s important—so you don't want someone to have to go half their stay without getting a response from you or getting something fixed. I’m very much a respond-within-5-minutes type of person, but if you don’t think you’ll be able to respond to people within a reasonable time, then consider bringing a co-host on board to help field your emails and messages. We do everything we can to show them that we’re here and that we care. And sometimes that means dropping what you’re doing to deliver the 5-star experience.”
03. Make it theirs
C: “When it comes to your decor and space, the most important thing is that guests feel like it’s theirs while they’re there. Spend the time and effort to decorate with furniture that feels unique—well-appointed finishes and touches.”
B: “And that doesn’t mean you need to go out and redo the whole kitchen with marble, or get top-of-the-line everything. I think the most important thing is that it’s clean, comfortable, and clutter-free.”
C: “It should feel like it’s been prepared especially for them. Take the time to clear out the personal photos, family mementos, knickknacks, junk, and anything that might feel like guests are in someone else’s house.”
B: “One important element that’s worth investing in is a nice bed. Again, it doesn’t have to be an expensive mattress, but we’ll add a topper and include two kinds of pillows: a down and down alternative.”
C: “For sheets, we usually do at least a 300-thread count, which is what a lot of hotels use. They should feel good on the skin and not like sandpaper—because at the end of the day people are booking your place to spend the night there. And as we know—especially as parents—a good night’s rest is a luxury.”
04. Add local flavor
C: “When people come stay with you, remember that you’re not just sharing your home, you’re also sharing an experience in your city. We like to try to make it feel more personal where we can. Small businesses are a huge part of our DNA in Columbus—and so we have fun getting everyone involved.”
B: “We’ll sometimes leave guests a little sample of the local things that we love: local coffee shop gift cards to encourage them to explore the neighborhood. We stock our home with shampoo, conditioner, and face wash from a local company called Cliff Original. We have natural hand soap from a brand called Glenn Avenue. We have a set of The Columbus Book Project’s books, which were made by a local entrepreneur highlighting local artists. Columbus is such an underdog city, but it’s such a great place to live, to grow up, to visit—and has so much to offer.”
C: “We love to show people Columbus through our eyes—and we love it when we can create an experience that makes people say, ‘I would love to move to Columbus.’”
B: “Another idea we are exploring to bring in the Columbus community is to use our homes as an art gallery or supper club to showcase local artists who may not otherwise have their work seen. We want to display a couple pieces at each house and rotate them every few months. Get creative and think of ways your home can reflect the local flavor.”
05. Field the fire drills
B: “Despite your best intentions and efforts to create a 5-star experience, know that emergencies will come up, and you’ll need to solve them—whether that’s a broken air conditioner or disappointed guests. One of our worst situations we had was this major pipe burst. It flooded the house during a guests’ stay. They kept calling us…”
C: “… But my phone was dead.”
B: “… And it was on their wedding night.”
C: “It was really bad. It was a huge learning experience for us. When those things happen, apologize and use your best judgment whether they should be compensated or if a gift like cookies, a bottle of wine, or a gift certificate to dinner would help. If guests genuinely had a terrible time, then we’ll refund them, but that normally doesn’t happen.”
B: “We try to use the golden rule of giving our guests the experience we’d like if we were staying in our own place.”
B: “Hosting is a form of artistic and creative expression for us. We put our heart into these spaces and then we put it out into the world for people to interact with it. It means so much to us to feel the appreciation from our guests.”
C: “Getting a 5-star review just validates everything we’re doing. When we’re in renovation mode, you hope that someone will appreciate the extra work we’re pouring into it. And I think if you're solely focused just on the numbers of a real estate investment, then it's easy to dismiss some of these extra touches.”
B: “Hosting is not easy. It takes a lot of work.”
C: “But it’s also been so rewarding and life-changing for us. It’s allowed us to pursue our passion for interior design and discover our love of hospitality. It’s given us the ability to start our business and grow continually. I think if it wasn't for Airbnb, we would have had a much harder time navigating through the world of small business ownership and getting off the ground. It’s helped us realize our niche, which is that we really love renovating spaces for other people to enjoy.”
B: “We’ve been able to exercise our entrepreneurial spirit and exercise our creativity. The best of both worlds is to be able to do something you’re passionate about—and to be able to do it for yourself.”
C: “We hope these tips help you get even more 5-star reviews.”
Catherine, Bryan + Bianca
Check out the full #howtohost series here.
That was a really good read. Nice to know I am doing many of those things you suggest and some great tips on how to improve on the things I'm not doing :)
I find the more I am a host and now i have super host status, the more I want to host. Yes i agree its setting guest expectations before they book. I also try not to be offended if I get a lower review as if I feel its something Ive not done correctly I use it to improve on.
Catherine and Bryan, thank you soooo much for sharing your excellent tips and advice with us! It is greatly appreciated. :-) If we ever make it to your part of the world, we will most definitely book a stay with you! :-)
I have only been hosting for a year and a half but it has become so much a part of who I am now, that I love it! It has been a wonderful journey so far. :-)
I am very new to this and about to host my first guest. Thank you Catherine and Bryan for the tips and to everyone for the reviews which also gives me some great insight.
Good list of ideas! Will try implementing most of these to ensure guests’ comfort and relaxation! So many things can be overlooked and it is good to note that other things need attention too!
Catherine and Bryan, this was truly helpful! Thanks for sharing these valuable insights about your hosting experience.
Chris & Sofi from Dubai
Thank you for your insight into your world of AIRBnb. We have a beautiful home situated on the Gold Coast in Burleigh Waters within walking distance to the worlds best beach 'Burleigh Beach'. We have called our Airbnb 'The Coastal Cottage'.
We too agree with all your pointers and have enjoyed reading our 5 star reviews each week. We are passionate about our guests having a relaxing, happy stay in our home. We add a little flavour of our local restaurants with coffee vouchers on arrival. We ensure that the gardens are manicured for children to enjoy the fenced and gated yard and playground including sand pit and trampoline.
Best wishes and thanks for your tips!
Paul and Nicky
Thank you @Catherine-and-Bryan0 your video and story is so much fun. I totally agree with everything you said. As an experienced short-term rental host we always tell property owners that expectation management is so important BEFORE guests book. The professional photographers we use all know that we want the best possible and realistic photos. The listings we prepare are attractive, as well as open and honest. Issues do happen - we had a small one today (repair person coming to the property unannounced when our guest had a sleeping baby inside) - and an apology within minutes and prompt resolution solved it all. Having a professional co-hosting company manage properties is definitely the best way to ensure all guest quires are responded to within minutes and appropriately. Thanks for your inspiration! Best, Sofia