5 Lessons Learned As An Airbnb Host
I’ve been operating an Airbnb for 2 years. At first, I lived in my apartment and rented it out part time and just recently, moved out and transitioned to full time. This is the 2nd of a 5 part series (see Part 1 here) on stories and tips for those who are interested in seeing the dirty (not literally) behind the scenes of an Airbnb host, or if you’re interested in becoming a host yourself.
Becoming an Airbnb host was a no brainer for me. However, different strokes for different folks and I realize not everyone has the interest or chutzpah to welcome strangers into their home.
I was looking for a side hustle, and it was one of those right place and right time situations. In 2015, I was ready to buy my first home but was terrified about buying something that cost way more than all the money I had. Airbnb was a way to satisfy my risk-adverse nature. I figured that if I lost my job and wasn’t able to make mortgage payments, I could make some extra cash without having to completely give my apartment up to a long term tenant. My boyfriend also lived within a 15 minute walk and my parents a suburb 30 minutes away. That made it a lot easier to bunk elsewhere.
The math also worked out (more on that in a later post). It was tough to calculate exactly what to expect for revenue, but the apartment was also my primary residence. Any extra cash was icing on the cake.
So I got my mind on my money and money on my mind. Because I got my place with this Airbnb idea in mind, figuring out location, the place itself and how to furnish it was easy (I’ll talk more about that in the next post). After everything was set up, managing my new mini B&B mostly meant playing maid a couple of times a week, cleaning before and after each guest.
Here are five lessons I learned so that you don’t have to that will help you successfully share your home with strangers.
1. Be A Minimalist
You don’t want to have too much stuff. Everything needs to be cleaned and your personal stuff put away so less is better. I had to put away my personal stuff like underwear, makeup and framed photos in a locked walk-in pantry and then take it back out when the guests left. Eventually, most things just ended up staying in the pantry.
Less stuff also means more room for your guests, who are bringing their stuff to their temporary home. That means also minimizing your personal touches. No wedding photobooth pictured of you and your boo on the fridge or an art collection made by you when buzzed on Wine and Paint Nights. Guests will appreciate a clean, uncluttered space, one where they’re not constantly reminded that they’re staying at a random person’s house.
2. Hold Off On That Dream Home
Sorry to say but your space isn’t 100% yours when you’re an Airbnb host. You’ll have a revolving door of people coming in and you’ll have to design with them in mind. The easiest way to do this is to think cookie cutter. Fancy cookie cutter designs are like those you see at West Elm and budget cookie cutter designs are in last season’s IKEA brick of a catalog. Regardless of what you decide, buy used. If you live in a large city like mine, there are tons of people selling like-new furniture on Craigslist, OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace for a fraction of the cost.
You’ll also want to have furniture and furnishings that are 1) easy to clean and 2) dark colored. Light and bright furniture and décor are “in” right now, but they might not be the best choice for your Airbnb. While white, plushy towels are luxurious and scream clean, darker towels hide stains. A tufted, light gray fabric couch with mid-century modern legs is gorgeous but a black pleather couch from IKEA is easy to wipe down and disinfect. Plus, you won’t cry when someone inevitably spills wine on it.
3. Don’t Be Too Attached To Your Things
Other people will not care for your stuff as much as you do. And your stuff may end up broken, dirty or even *gasp* stolen. Hide and lock away anything that you do care about, and be mentally prepared if something happened to your things.
I had this mentality with my living room rug. Every few months or so, I discover a new stain. Eventually, I gave up my dream of getting one of those modern white/beige wool rugs. It would have just been disappointment and heartbreak.
You also shouldn’t be attached to the food in your fridge. Prepare to share because they will be eaten. Once, I made the mistake of buying a pack of 30 black bean burger patties from Costco. When I got around to wanting one, I opened the cardboard box to find the plastic packaging torn, 1 burger missing and the rest freezer burned.
4. Find The Time (And Energy)
Having a long term tenant or a roommate is different from hosting guests for a few days at a time. Whether you rent out a spare bedroom or an entire home, it is not passive income and requires work. Even if you have automated processes, a dependable cleaner, and the best guests, you’re still going to need to be hands on and available, especially when issues occur. The alternative is hiring a management company, but I’ve found that the math doesn’t work out for a small space like mine.
Cleaning is one of the most time-consuming tasks. I started out doing it myself and pretty much became a part-time housekeeper. A couple of nights a week, I’d come home from a long day at work and clean for a few hours to turn it over. You could also find a reliable cleaner, which I thankfully was able to do after a year or so.
In addition to cleaning, here is a list of things that you’ll need to find time and energy for:
- Setting up your space: Make sure you have decent furniture and enough dishes, pots and pans, linens, towels, lighting, toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags, dish soap, body soap, etc. to make your home livable for other people. This includes stuff that you might personally not use, like a hair dryer or iron, but guests would expect you to have.
- Setting up your listing: Take the time to do a little bit of competitive research on high-performing listings in your area. Borrow some of their ideas to write a comprehensive and enticing description of your space. Pretend it’s a dating profile and include semi-professional pictures that show off your space’s best features and paint it in the best light.
- Vetting and interacting with guests: An ongoing task, you’ll need to spend time on the Airbnb platform (the app works decently) to manage your rental calendar, talk to potential guests, and help them with questions or issues during their stay.
- Maintaining the space: Guests will expect your place to be in hotel-condition, as if no one actually lives there. It’s a bit of a ridiculous expectation and requires meticulous cleaning, especially dusting. You also need to keep consumables like soap/shampoo/toilet paper/paper towels/tissues/dishwasher detergent/welcome snacks stocked. Here’s where Costco comes in.
5. Bite Your Tongue And Bend Over Backwards
This might be the toughest for those of us who have no professional customer service experience. When you’re providing a service, your goal is to make your customers happy. They are giving you money and potentially leaving a review to get other people to give you money. Because of these factors, you’re sometimes gonna have to hold your pride, be the bigger person, and accommodate ridiculous requests- even if you are right and the other person is wrong. In a way, life is like this and I like to think of learning these skills as building character.
One example: During a particularly frigid week in November, I had a not-so-bright guest (this isn’t the only issue we had) who insisted the heater was broken. I felt bad for him- he was so cold that he couldn’t sleep and even turned on the oven to cope. I was in Dallas for a wedding that week but had to spend the morning withstanding mild verbal abuse, texting troubleshooting directions and shopping for a space heater on Amazon Prime Now. We couldn’t figure out the issue and it was an incredibly frustrating and stressful experience. In the end, he found a new place to stay and got a 100% refund. Later, when I went to check out the heater, I found out that it wasn’t broken- the dial was just turned the wrong way.
Managing an Airbnb is no cake walk. It’s like a regular job with a learning curve and moments of stress, but it get easier the more you do it. As long as you come into the experience with an open mind and the right expectations, it can be incredibly rewarding in both connecting with people and getting paid 😉