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.
1) Didn't realize they could just "open" another ABB account with their same info. Name, DL number, birth date.
2) Really Bad Guest: Let them write their review first. Check the box, "Would not host them again". Don't write one until they write theirs.
3) Cleaning FEE...I ask them if they'd like to ADD a mid or quarterly CLEANING, and we can request they pay on ABB or I ask them when they want the vacuum, cleaning supplies etc to CLEAN with. They've always opted for the MID clean and paid it. One way or another.
4) YES, if we have a location, they consider "not ideal or perfect", I'm ONE mile from the beach, NOT ON the beach..they get the one mile away price. The one mile away free, plentiful parking. The one mile away no traffic, noises or homeless parading about all night.
All good points you make Gary. I'd rather NOT have a bad review than leave them one, but they don't know what we've written until AFTER we write it. Same with theirs.
I fear having someone WRECK something major, as I have a FEW friends who have had things ruined and ABB doesn't "make" the guests use their deposit to fix it. They ask them to. They seem to to be able to "make them". Some sites require the INSURANCE be paid for and bought ...and that may be a solution for ABB too.
Gary, I totally agree, I have been a superhost for 3 yrs now. but recently in 2019 have had a slew of bad guest. 1. guest stolen Vodka from my liquor cabinet. 2. guest check wanted to cancel but I had strict cancel policy and they can dictate that. Both these guest left bad review that dropped me below my superhost status. So after 3 years it was taken from me just like that. Your right guest support could was of no help and no support.
See also my comments earlier in the post. I'd be here all day if I wrote about all of the damages and thefts--plenty of which AirBnb denied with photographic proof.
Thanks so much for this article and video. So helpful and useful. We have just started hosting and LOVE it! Have so much to learn too. So thanks for leading the way and sharing all your knowledge. x
How do you deal with waste? I leave basics for the first breakfast and people just dig into the butter and make it messy. I try to use up what's left, but have to throw lots away... Also soap and toiletries do you put new in every time?
Individually wrapped butter patties and refillable shampoo and body wash bottles are what I do to avoid waste. Occasionally I'll have the guests who think the breakfast is there for them to fill up their pockets so they have something to snack on during the day while out doing tourist activities...
Yes, I had been thinking of using refillable bottles - but thought people might prefer branded goods. I'm definitely going to do it for hand wash.
I've tried slicing butter to encourage people to take a slice, but still doesnt work - will think about individually wrapped but not easily avaliable here... I would have to do it myself.
I run a communal larder and decided to be generous... I have lots of individual cereal packets which sometimes people eat every day, even though I say I only supply a starter breakfast for their first day (farm eggs, milk, butter, fresh bread etc) - other people dont touch them, so in my mind it just balances itself out.
People love the concept of a communal larder - it has all the basics in, plus lots more - I tell people to eat what they like and often people leave things too (mostly useful that get used by future guests)
Thanks for your input -much appreciated
Philippa I use really cool colored mini-bottles I ordered from Ikea. They're not branded of course but easy to wash and refill as necessary and also cheap to replace when guests make off with them as sometimes they do. As for the butter etc that's a hard one to solve if you can't find individually wrapped like in restaurants.
Good luck 🙂