March 20, 2015 11:59 AM   Subscribe

My parents are considering getting a pied-a-terre in our mutual hometown, which could be used as an AirBnB at other times. What would we need to know to get into being hosts?

My parents want to retire about 2.5 hours away, but might come up every couple of months for a week or so: doctor's appointments, seeing the grandkid, schmoozing, etc. They are very open to this being an AirBnB rental; assume that any homeowner's association or whatever would approve. We would probably live five miles away at most, so this would not be our own home but would be easily accessible. I'm guessing it would be anywhere from a studio to a small two-bedroom in a walkable neighborhood.

We live in a vibrant college town with any number of events which make renting it out for football weekends, commencement, Ironman, etc. a very tempting possibility. Obviously there's risk in who we rent it to, but we can be kind of picky, right?

So for those of you who host for AirBnB, what do you wish you would have known? Are there any reasons you think people should NOT do it?

For those of you who do AirBnB frequently (we've done it a few times but not a ton), particularly in whole-property rentals when the owner is not present, what are some dos and don'ts you've experienced? Anything you look for in particular?

posted by St. Hubbins to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've sublet my NYC studio (via Craigslist, before AirBnB) a total of probably 30 times ( several days to a week at a time). These are the things I've learned:

1. Counter-intuitive but true: the more money you charge, the less demanding the tenants. I started out charging $50/night and ended up charging $150/night, and the more money I charged the better tenants I got, every time.

2. As much as I hate to say this, very large people require special accommodations. I've rented to some very nice people who were very overweight, and they ended up busting my bed and my chairs even though I am sure they did not do anything particularly egregious. Replacing furniture that's more expensive than the money you made on a stay sucks.

3. Any drama and poor planning or communications during the reservation process will only multiply during the stay. Very last-minute reservations count as drama/poor planning.

4. A bad tenant will cost you more than no tenant.

5. Most of the time, you know the tenant is bad because they didn't say that they are a good tenant in the intro email when they asked to reserve your place.

6. Any special requests that are money-related are a sure sign you will not see the money.

It was painful to learn these lessons but once I started applying them, I didn't have any problems.
posted by rada at 12:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't host myself, but have friends who do a lot; they own two properties - one in Moab, Utah, and one in the Catskills - and they also have their Brooklyn Apartment posted as well. One of the first things they'd probably want to caution you about is to be very clear what your town's laws will allow. (For instance, my friends have cut way back on the Brooklyn apartment hosting, unless it's a longer-term booking so they can qualify for what the city calls a "sublet".)

I'm a frequent guest, though, and I have definite opinions about that - most of these will be informed by a rather ill-starred booking I had back in February.

* KITCHEN SUPPLIES: It's a really nice touch if you have at least small containers of some pantry staples (coffee, tea, sugar, salt, pepper) on hand, as well as having a small thing of dish soap. Even if you live near a supermarket; sure, if I'm a guest I could buy my own sugar, but if I'm only going to be using a couple spoonfuls of sugar for tea and I'm only staying two days, buying a whole box of sugar just for that is a little of an annoying inconvenience. Also, you don't have to have every last kind of kitchen appliance on hand, but some means to make coffee and tea would be nice.

* BUILDING ACCESS: If you're not going to be on hand to give your guest the key in person, send them extremely clear instructions for where to find the key and how to obtain it, and be sure that this spot is accessible 24/7. A lot of hosts will leave their keys in a lockbox doohickey that you need to use a combination to access; if you go that route, please make sure you explain to your guest exactly what you must do after you enter the combination (pull something? Push a button? Twist something?).

* WIFI: If you offer free WiFi, and the guest needs a code to access it, please have this information CLEARLY written down somewhere prominent, and make sure that that information cannot wander out of the room. As a failsafe, I would also email this information to the guest as a backup. (A room I stayed in once had the wifi password written down on a slip of paper that was supposed to be tucked under the signal box on the nightstand in the bedroom - but the cleaning lady had thrown it out.)

* COMMUNICATING THE NON-OBVIOUS IN GENERAL: It would be a fantastic idea to have a small book on hand at the site that explains some of the basics about the neighborhood ("there's a supermarket at Smith and Market Streets, two blocks up the street.....the nearest bus stops are at [blah] and at [blah], and you can take this bus to get to [blah]....there's a great restaurant at [blah] and I recommend the chocolate pancakes"), and some basics about the apartment itself ("here's how you work the TV/VCR/heater" or "here's how to turn on that weird light in the bedroom" or "hey, I keep all the pots and pans in the oven, FYI"). My friends typed up this info and made a few copies for each property, and have this posted in a few places on-site; meanwhile, the last place I was at, I'd specifically taken oatmeal to save myself on breakfasts but couldn't find a pot so I never cooked anything - and then as I was getting ready to leave my last day, I saw that all the pots and pans were in a hall closet. Would have been nice to know.

* IN CASE OF EMERGENCIES, SMALL AND LARGE: Having some kind of first aid kit on hand is essential. So would a basic repair kit (hammer, nail, wrench, screwdriver, duct tape) in case anything goes screwy in the house - my friends' place once had its toilet go screwy while a tenant was there, but they had a wrench on hand and the tenant knew how to switch the pipe off so they spared them a huge flood. And on the other hand, a place I stayed at had a window break, but when I went to try to cover the window over with a blanket....there was nothing to secure it to the window. Also, my friends' places all have a sheet of paper on hand listing where the nearest doctors and hospitals are, and give directions how to get there (and they also remind international guests that you dial "9-1-1" for emergency in this country).

* NICE TOUCHES: A selection of local takeout menus and guide books to the area are nice. One place I stayed in also had a pair of parking permits on hand for a local beach if any guest wanted to use them. Another place I stayed had a collection of books about the area, while my friends also stock some movies and board games in each of their properties.

* RESPONSE TIME: When my friends have an emergency crop up at their properties, they drop EVERYTHING and work to fix it. The tenant with the toilet had switched the pipe off, but my friends still immediately called the town's local plumber to get him to head over and check things out. Similarly, I was once hanging out with them and they had an issue at the Moab place come up, and they both immediately vanished into two separate rooms - one was on the phone with the tenant and the other on the phone with whatever local Moab service they could get to solve the problem, and I was just chillin' in their living room waiting. (Conversely: when I had that window break, at midnight, and couldn't get any tape to fix it, the host said that she could come bring me tape - but I'd have to wait two hours. She offered to reimburse me for that night's stay, which I took, but it still completely trashed my plans for the next day's stay because I didn't get to sleep until 3 am and I was exhausted.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

My brother owns a bunch of properties - he lists on VRBO and Homeaway (he gets enough bookings through those and I believe they have better fees than AirBnB/9flats, but the popularity of each site depends on the market).

Definitely have a house manual -- this can detail: where the towels are, how to use the washer/dryer, where the fuse box is, whether to strip the beds before leaving, the wifi password, local emergency services numbers (911, 311, super, gas company, etc.), local attractions, etc. Anything the guest may need to figure out during their stay, put it in the book.

Buy everything with wear and tear in mind -- leather couches are generally best, dishes will break, hardwood is preferable to carpet. Whatever the lifespan of an object is in a regular house, it will be drastically less in a vacation rental (think about how you treat your own car vs a rental car).

Leave 1 roll of TP in each bathroom, 1 roll of paper towels, some laundry soap, etc, but not a whole stash. Most renters know they may have to replenish these things themselves. For when your parents stay there themselves and want toiletries, their own clothes, nice towels or sheets, etc, keep a locked storage bin in one of the closets.

If this will be a kid friendly rental, consider buying a pack-n-play for guest use. If it will be a dog friendly rental, consider including some dog toys.

Hiring a cleaning person/service is worthwhile - make sure to check the condition of the property before they clean (or make sure they report the condition of the place to you). Keep the cleaning supplies in another locked bin.

Have proper insurance -- make sure whatever insurance you have covers the pied a terre/vacation rental situation.

Follow local tax and zoning laws.

You can learn a lot from reading the 3-star reviews from places on VRBO - places that would be great if not for a few bad things.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:04 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have a little Bluetooth speaker unit available so people can listen to their own music. If it's confusing, have instructions on how to use it.
posted by matildaben at 3:37 PM on March 20, 2015

Hi, Super experienced Airbnb Host here (150+ 5* reviews and over 600 guests from 31 countries and 30 states).

What EmpressCallipgos wrote is great for the guest experience! It is awesome to see such a detailed list of things we do to ensure THE SPACE ADVERTISED delivers for visitors!

To make it simple, we offer a couple of good quality rentals, however the key to our 5* reviews are based on the interaction with the guests not the standard of the apartment/house/garden etc. Guests really want some attention as to what to do in the city and find out more of what is around town aside from the tourist map.

On the back end of that, after you have sorted out what the guests needs are, it comes down to being able to deliver a personal touch quickly and in tune with what your guests want to achieve from their visit.

Our philosophy has always to treat guests like we would like to be treated. Others can comment on the toilet paper or instructions on how to use the space being listing, but as somewhat professional hosters - those things should be in place already.

Communication, communication, communication, willingness to be proud of your area and make good recommendations really are the difference.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 11:31 AM on March 21, 2015

Just want to second that. Higher prices means better tenants and less stress to have to accept the bookings you wouldn't be comfortable accepting.

Don't feel pressured to say yes to every request. I don't accept high school/young single kids who are from the city and want to stay downtown because I know what will come with them. I proactively reach out to returning business visitors and offer discounts because those folks are the BEST GUESTS EVER.

Don't forget to budget for updating sheets, towels, every 30-50 stays as things wear out with intense laundry.

Most important to most renters: making sure the place "feels" clean, so whatever you do start with that - make the place easy to clean and easy to make FEEL clean.

A few things I have (I rent out my own place and stay with my bf):
- separate sets of sheets, towels for myself and guests (down to and including mattress pad and pillows and duvet)
- a cleaning lady who knows exactly how I need the place cleaned when I can't do it myself (it's a great job because most guests are super clean)
- empty surfaces and no small valuables
- lots of communication ahead of time and during stays - makes me feel safer and provides for a better experience for guests
posted by olya at 1:21 PM on March 21, 2015

Oh, I have something to add:

MAKE SURE YOUR CLEANING PERSON CHECKS EVERYTHING AFTER EVERY STAY, OR DO SO YOURSELF. I once stayed in a place that looked okay on first glance - tubs and sinks clean, linens nice and fresh - but when I woke up the first morning there and went to make coffee, I discovered a filterfull of used grounds still in the coffeemaker which had been there so long they had begun to grow mold.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:40 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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