Short-term rental “athletes” know that owning and operating a rental is a marathon, not a sprint. Along the way, many roadblocks will pop up (understatement of the year!)…and successful, agile rentalists find ways to change course.
As a whole house owner back in 2015, I was extremely hesitant to create an Airbnb listing back. The company’s bad press and limited communication between owner and guests made me more than hesitant.
But in the interest of my short-term rental “marathon” I figured I’d give it a shot.
Now, I’m many years into my Airbnb adventure and oh, how things have changed since then.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned along the way…
1. Airbnb Can Be Downright Scary for Whole House Owners.
In my view, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about giving the keys to your home to a guest you can’t even speak with outside of Airbnb’s platform.
For traditional, home-sharing hosts (on which Airbnb was built), you can at least monitor the situation as it happens right under your nose.
For remote owners like me who are thousands of miles away from our rentals, any damage that is done during a guest’s stay is done far, far away from us. Which means we have little control… and that’s scary!
Of course, this is the case regardless of how a guest books, whether it’s via my website, on Vrbo, or somewhere else. And Airbnb lets me provide my own contract for guests to sign. Plus there’s the $1M “host guarantee.”
However, Airbnb is notorious for favoring the guest over the host. I’ve heard enough stories about this to make me nervous. And Airbnb still escrows my income and my damage deposit…and they have the final say in whether the damage is great enough for me to keep the damage deposit.
On top of that, I have to get them information about the damage within 48 hours, a real challenge when you’re managing remotely. (Remember: terms change often, so make sure that you call in and report the damage ASAP—before another guest checks in.)
There are some great things about Airbnb (which I’ll get to), but there’s an inherent risk here when it comes to guest damages.
Make sure you’re comfortable with the risks before you begin taking bookings!
2. Look for Completed Guest Profiles.
Since listing on Airbnb, I have received more inquiries than I can account for. I was surprised to find that some of the prospective guests hadn’t even bothered to complete their guest profile!
In one instance, I only had the first name of the guest. In another, the profile picture was of the person’s back! Not reassuring.
Was I overreacting? Should I let these folks slide by in the interest of landing a booking?
I contacted my friend Debi Hertert, a seasoned Airbnb host and founder of the Hosting Your Home podcast, who reassured me that my gut was (partly) correct: an incomplete profile can indeed be a red flag.
But not always.
She also pointed out that Airbnb is a community built on trust, and recommended I give Sally Stranger a chance. I could educate and encourage her to complete her profile and/or include a full face photo before booking. Good guests will take that extra step.
Maybe eventually Airbnb will require a completed profile before guests can book (hear that, Airbnb?). In the meantime, be on the lookout for sketchy profiles, and don’t be afraid to ask a guest to complete their profile before booking with you.
Also remember: the trust pact of Airbnb swings both ways: be sure your host profile is complete as well!
3. Positive Reviews are Important.
Unlike Vrbo and other STR platforms, Airbnb hosts can review and rate their guests.
This is great for screening purposes. Many whole house Airbnb owners I’ve talked to simply won’t allow guests with less than three stars to stay with them.
But in my case, most of the people who reached out to me did not have any reviews, period.
Who was I to criticize? I didn’t have any either!
But here’s what I do have: a fully filled out profile, and a verified identity (Airbnb uses your driver’s license and social accounts to prove you are who you say you are).
If your prospective guest is missing these other elements, then you’re right to consider giving them a pass. If, on the other hand, they have a complete, friendly profile with a photo as well as verification, don’t let a lack of reviews deter you. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Watch out for reviews that may have hidden meaning, too. One prospective guest had only one review, which called them “a good communicator.” I read between the lines that this person may be difficult to deal with (i.e. sends a ton of messages during their stay about every little thing!).
4. Make Sure your Property Listing is Detailed.
A detailed listing will benefit you, as an owner, and lets the guest know upfront if a booking is a good match.
Here are a few tips for keeping your listing up-to-date and accurate:
- Change up your headline occasionally (for example, if you’re in a four-season destination, highlight winter activities during peak winter booking times)
- Highlight your unique selling points
- Be thorough in your checked amenities (I’d missed important ones!)
- Find the sweet spot for fees and pricing
- Make periodic changes to your listing for accuracy, or just to switch it up—the search algorithm likes that!
5. There are Great Community Support Groups.
Airbnb offers a plethora of community groups for owners and managers to network, share tips, and brainstorm new ideas for improving the Airbnb experience for everyone.
As Debi Hertert said, Airbnb is all about community and trust, and it shows! Kudos to Airbnb for making it easy for hosts to connect with each other and kudos to Debi for sharing those stories in the Hosting you Home podcast.
Many cities and tourist areas have existing Airbnb groups – find out if yours has one and join!
My overall Airbnb impressions? Yes, signing up for Airbnb has been a worthwhile experience despite some of the challenges/nerve-wracking factors and I recommend that all hosts add it to their marketing toolbox if it makes sense for them.
Just remember, don’t work for the listing sites. Make the listing site work for you.
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