2 years ago I began my family business and Airbnb adventure by listing my cabin in Bear Lake Utah as available to rent. I now own multiple properties and manage multiple more for others in the area.
I've now gone through the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I've had some amazing experiences meeting people from all over the world, I've had some horrible headaches caused for me by guests. I've loved Airbnb and I've hated Airbnb. I've endured crazy winters and dreamy summers. I've been a Superhost, lost it, and got it back again. I've gotten stellar amazing reviews and I've gotten straight rotten ones. Among all of that this is what I've learned and what I would tell myself if I was starting again:
1. Document everything: Before, During, After
Before - Take pictures in high definition of every square inch of your house. Literally, break your room up into quadrants and classify each quadrant. Specific details you will look back on later, paint chips, holes, wear and tear, it will give you a base-line to compare damage to. Additionally, create a google spreadsheet of every item in your home, where you got it from, a link for a replacement, a picture of the receipt if you have it. Categorize items by room.
During - Some people oppose to this, but get video surveillance for your property; both inside and out. I have one internal camera in the main living room by the front door, and two outside watching my back deck and front door. This becomes particularly valuable in disputes. You have proof besides photos of dog hair that "could of been there when they arrived" (for no pet policies), or threw a party that got out of hand, or heaven forbid, walked out the front door with some of your stuff. Always make sure you disclose that your property is under video surveillance to abide by Airbnb's Terms & Conditions. My favorite is the Nest Cam for Outdoors, the 10-day playback subscription has paid for itself time and time again as a burden of proof.
After - I have created something I call my "100 Point Checklist". I have well over 100 items to check throughout my property after my guest leaves. Some of the key things on my list: count the towels, check each wall for holes/nicks, check the HDMI inputs on the TV, document any new scratches in the wood floor, check each comforter for stains, check couches for stains/things that got underneath, check all windows, check the carpet by room for stains, and many many more. This allows you to truly document the wear and tear in your property vs the damage and plan accordingly to address each.
2. Automate Your Property
While some hosts enjoy the thrill of spending time with their guests. I have found 95% of guests do not want/require the interaction. In these cases, I have automated my check in process. This also helps me as I now have multiple properties (multiple forms of income) that are difficult to be in multiple places at once. Key things to automate: Heater/AC & Front Door. Everything else is extra and not really needed. My favorite smart home integration is through Vera Controllers and connecting Nest Thermostats and the Kwikset 916 front door lock into the system. I LOVE the Kwikset 916, it has a touchpad that you can change the code to the last 4 digits of the guest's phone number and let them remotely access the property, while still maintaining security.
3. Always Be the Bigger Person
I learned this lesson the hard way. You will have demanding people, you will have rude people, you will host straight horribly demeaning people. They will yell, they will curse you, they will demand refunds for largely unsubstantiated claims and for events that are sometimes out of your control. I once had someone trash my property, he refused to be responsible and was so rude. I let my anger get the better of me and told him what I really thought of him through the messenger. It didn't make me feel any better, plus Airbnb decided not to award my claim case because of it. Always take a second step back, breath, then address the situation. It always ends better.
4. Be Quick to Apologize, Then Quickly Go Above and Beyond
I once had a booking where I just couldn't get it turned around and clean in time. I was 2 hours late for check-in. Amongst hundreds of bookings, things like this will happen eventually. If I was in my guest's shoes I would be furious. I quickly apologized, got them into my property and situated and quickly called the local pizza shop (which in Bear Lake is phenomenal). I had them hand deliver some gift card to my guest and told them pizza was on me. What could have turned into a disastrous review, became one of my most glowing review that has netted me MANY additional bookings!
5. ALWAYS Ask For Reviews & Feedback
Here is the exact message I send to every guest after they check-out, "I work very had for 5-Star reviews as they help my business a lot. This property is my small family business and a review goes a long way for us! If you enjoyed your stay, and wouldn't mind could you please write us a review about your favorite parts of our property? Also, if you had anything go wrong or suggestions on how we could improve would you please send them to me in this messenger as we welcome your feedback and love to improve". This magic message has brought me more 5-Star reviews than any other property in our area. It also serves as a release for guests to get the negative stuff off their chest before they put it in a review. I've phrased it to seem like I genuinely want their feedback, which I do, and have learned some of my most valuable ideas to make my property stand out from this feedback from my guests.
6. Don't Respond, Instead Start the Conversation
So many hosts try to keep their status by being "quick to respond". Tell them the information before they ask for it, be good at communicating everything they will need to know. You will get better at this over time. Remember, 80% of messages you need to send on Airbnb can be pre-written and sent at the opportune moment. Some examples: Directions, Check-in Instructions, How is Your Stay Going?, Check-out Instructions, Review Request.
7. Forge Local Partnerships
Areas are dubbed the term "communities" for a reason. It denotes the ability to help each other out. Take time to create a recommended list of "things to do" or "my favorites to visit" then go to the people on that list and let them know what you are doing, that you will have guests you'd like to send to them. Ask for exclusive discounts or partnerships. Not only can this turn into a second form of income from the referrals, it makes your guest feel special and well taken care of!
8. Take a Trip Yourself
Get out and go somewhere. Book someone else's Airbnb, take note of their style, and how they do things. Pay attention to what it feels like to be a guest. Nothing is better for putting yourself in your guests shoes than by being one yourself.
9. Always Follow-Up With Guests
When someone sends you a request, they are likely looking at multiple other properties similar to yours. They send multiple hosts requests, they get excited about their trip but then they wait to hear back from all the hosts, plus get feedback from those taking the trip with them. If you have approved someone to book, and they haven't responded in 2-3 days reach out with a special offer and knock off 5% off the price. Everyone likes scoring a deal, help your guests feel like you will make it worth their while to stay with you. This isn't a hard statistic, but I would guess this tip has netted me at least 15% more bookings.
10. Be Grateful
It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, it is easy to get frustrated with bad guests, it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the things to do with your property and life. Take a second, step back and find some gratitude for the opportunity to rub shoulders with diverse people in your life. Take a second to find gratitude for the extra income your property provides. Take a second and be grateful for the things that make your life great! It will really help you enjoy the journey, and love what you do!
This was mainly for me as I look back on my journey. However, I hope it has some value to someone out there!
Thank you for this great summary! I've book-marked it in case I want to pass it on to newbie hosts or even those more experienced ones that still haven't realized that being a host actually means being pro-active.
I'm curious, since you have multiple properties and are very thorough, do you at any point do an ID check/registration of your guests? It appears to send a strong signal to guests of 'I know who you are' to prevent a lot of guest nightmares like 3rd party bookings on arrival, theft, gross damages.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post and bookmark it.
I currently dont verify ID's but it is something that we have contemplated doing but havent pulled the trigger on yet. Is that something you are currently doing? I'd be interested to hear more of your thoughts on it.
@Spencer K, hi,
yes, I do it. One of the city of Amsterdam's regulations for the hotel industry and all others offering paid accommadations is to check ID and keep a hotel register with some of the booking data and names, city/country of all guests. Since it didn't specifically mention taking down the ID # I felt it slightly too invasive in the beginning and fudged this by simply writing down 'passport' or "country ID card". I only rent out a room in my home, vet my guests beforehand, so felt I had enough control that way.
That was the early days before I started checking out the major forums.
Seeing and reading about all the possible problems that a host can face and some suggestions on how hosts can handle the ID check (blame it on city regulations, even where it's not necessary), I thought I'd try it out. What I realized is that this official registration makes the whole transaction of room renting much more official for the guest since their passport # is on record. As in there's a record of your name and ID #, you're traceable by the police if you steal anything or f**k up otherwise with your host.
Now, my guests have more or less all been really sweet, occasionally annoyingly naive, but I've never had any problems at all. And still I feel there is something different about the whole procedure than just taking them to their room. It's as if a statement has been made that I do this officially and take it seriously even if I'm very welcoming and seem relaxed about it.
Since it's a room in my home it's also different - I always have supervision, so the potential for trouble isn't as large as if it were an independent unit. If I rented that I'd be far more wary.
I think that most of the scams, thefts, house trashings etc. that some hosts go through, wouldn't have happened that way or not been quite that bad if the hosts had -
1) only accepted ID verified guests (which guest who is seriously up to no good feels like going through that process?!)
2) done ID check/registration upon arrival. This definitely weeds out any 3rd party booking under an ID verified profile even if their appearance looks similar to the booker. Plus it gives the host leverage in case you have reason to file a police report. And guests up to no good know that.
I mean, as an example: would anybody lend their car to somebody off the street with just a name but not demand to see their ID? So it's logical to not do that with their probably most valuable property - their home.
Of course if you have automated everything for convenience it could be more difficult to enforce, but if there is a person greeting the guests, then it would be feasible. "Let's just do the check-in registration to satisfy the State of Utah, and then I'll give you the tour and you can get settled in."
Motels and hotels do it too, so there aren't going to be any guests who'll question this.
(I have to register no. of guests, dates of arrival/departure, city/country (but you could have them write down their address), type of ID (but I write down the #).
Andrea. Thanks for the suggestion of getting copies of ID's when the guests arrive. A great way to follow up if there is trouble later on. Simple to do to get out my phone and take a photo of a passport or drivers licence. Having had two problem guests already this year I will certainly be doing this in the future. The trick is to have it feel relaxed and natural.
I'm an experienced (2+ years) host and the first time I came across the issue/possibility of ID verification was last night when I booked a stay for myself in someone else's property!
My first reaction during the booking process, when asked for additional ID was 'what a nuisance'. It was late at night, - it had taken me longer to find a suitable place to book than I thought it would, and I just wanted to get the job done and go to bed.
I must admit, that if there had been 2 places on my shortlist, I would have abandoned my booking and chosen the easier option. Unfortunately for me, but lucky for the host, there weren't any other suitable options, so I had to go through the process of finding my purse, getting my driving license, taking the photograph (3 attempts before it was a good enough photo) etc etc
My point is that, by asking for additional ID, an honest and trustworthy guest my choose to book elsewhere just because ID verification is just one more step in the process. This is more likely to be the case in countries when ID verification isn't usually required (the UK in my case)
As a host therefore, I have chosen not to ask for it. In my 2 years of hosting (self contained large apartment) I have had very very problems, and would rather work on the trust basis. I also regularly review my laid back approach and think 'what's the worst that could happen, and how much would it cost me to put it right?'
Spencer nice one thanks
i always photocopy passports just like hotels we are living in dangerous times no one ever refused
@Andrea re: Spencer K's advice for Airbnb long-term rentals
Hi, very good information I agree! What if we decide we must rent our entire house, including the Airbnb portion, as it is all in excellent shape and working order.
Do Airbnb people have positive results? May we find or at least interview whoever you find for a year-round lease before we do it? We have experience with this, but were out of state, which made it difficult to check on our home at the time. Yes we had some problematic money issues where they forgeited their deposit, and did not pay rent for a few months. Thank heavens our Agent then issued them legal papers, putting a lein also on their names, in order to be paid back for the owed money if they attempted to buy a home. It never happened, but the family did move out, and our next one was absolutely the icing on our cake, wonderful folks, took care of feeding and watering our 2 horses, and we had little get togethers like friends do. They found a place and left our's, and in better shape, it was amazing.
So that's it. do you handle this, do you allow us to be part of the interviewing of someone for long-term renting, (this is common in our beach town, which is located near a city and 2 post high school schools, one is part of our state University system, and with high regard. The other is grown into a first class community college one may attend, and immediately be accepted by any of our Universities chosen if upon graduation their average is maintained at a particular GPA.
THANKS!! We are considering this carefully, as we did when we began our present part of our cottage as an Airbnb we adore!
I'm not from Airbnb, so can't give you answers from that side, if that's what you're asking.
Rentals that are at a distance from the host will always pose a problem, kind of like I imagine leaving a 13 yr old alone at home would.
I guess old Lenin had it by the tail when he said 'Trust is good, control better'.
Some humans are great guests in the absence of the host and will treat property with respect and honor. Others don't believe in karma or whatever you want to call it and misuse the absence of a host.
Best is always to have some kind of representative to have an eye on the place and meet guests at certain times. But like every landlord, hosts will have to find their own solution.
I only rent a room in my home, so that's easy without obvious surveillance.
There have been a myriad of past postings with all kinds of problems and suggestions to prevent them, some overlap, others are individual. It's probably worth it to scan back in time to get some ideas.
Here's an ironic article that's oh-so-true, and handles the absent host theme towards the end:
Personally, I'm not sure if Airbnb is the right way to choose longer-term renters since it doesn't allow the same kind of direct vetting as rental agencies in general.
It is not ideal or safe for long term rentals. The security deposit is insufiicient for long lets. Hosts will be disadvantaged because guests can give unfair/bad reviews just because they are not happy over somethings or if their demands are not met. There is no proper rental agreement. Its a loose arrangement. Utility biils are borned by hosts whereas in a tenancy situation the tenants pay. On top tenants pay 2 months rental deposit and another amount for utility deposit.
I found the "New Host" article very interesting. Trawling the AirBNB site they do a lot to make sure we are good hosts. I don't see as much effort made to ensure people are good guests. I had my wake up call with poor guests who put dirty feet on my couches and didn't clean the kichen stove unless I asked them. Gratefully I was living here and got to monitor their behaviour. After they left I didn't host for a few weeks until I worked out some house rules and an appropriate bond. These are now posted on my site. Another problem more recently is causing me to rething and strengthen my house rules.
I agree that renting long term with Airbnb has it's difficulties. Can't vet the prospective guests as the surname is unknown. Can't check their credit rating, criminal record or facebook page to see if they are party animals!
Debbie and Jim. Great idea re legal action. I had an AirBNB guest check out early accusing me of having a dirty property. I had three good reports before her visit, two of them five star! She was unreasonable from the moment she booked with me and the warning bells were going off for me. Three separate emails from her before she arrived illustrating that she had not read my profile and wanted lots of extras, like bicycles and being picked up from the airport. I said to myself "I will have to have good boundaries with this lady." However, I still got stung and I'm still trying to get AirBNB to pay me for her trip consistent with my strict no refund policy. To pursue her outside of AirBNB seems attractive.
I have avoided people that cause trouble by increasing my rates to stay out of the slums, however, if you have those earning flags going up, it may be of benefit to cancel them prior to they're stay.
thanks for sharing such valuable tips! I especially liked your message to guests about 5 star reviews and the idea of taking trips so you can experience life in the shoes of a guest. I personally wouldn't want to go down the video surveillance path, but each to their own! One of my favourite tips is a handwritten welcome note and some chocolates on the pillow.
people are pretty normal everywhere, but sometimes happen that just 1 guest make your life a hell, so is better be ready for that!
be ready my friend, be ready! :D