Whether you want to rent out a room in your house, try your hand at rental arbitrage, or invest in a whole house to list on Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms, there are several non-negotiables which I always recommend to people looking to get started in the hosting business. In this post we’ll discuss my top 10 pieces of advice to make sure you hit the ground running with great reviews of your short-term rental home. The tips are in no particular order and make many references to previous posts I’ve written, which take deeper dives into the topics.
1. Professional Photos
I’ve seen far too many Airbnb listings with photos shot by the owner on (presumably) their smartphone. What do people do when they see these listings? They keep scrolling! Your photos are part of your first impression for potential guests. Until they’ve seen your space in person, the photos are almost all they have when deciding whether or not to pick your home. Invest in a professional real estate photographer, preferably with experience shooting for short-term rentals, to come and capture the space, paying special attention to the aspects that set it apart from the competition.
2. Experienced Cleaners
The cleanliness of your space is arguably the most important thing to your guests. The first thing they will notice when they walk inside is how well you cleaned up from the previous guests. As I mentioned in another post, every guest should feel like they are the first ones staying in the home. On top of cleaning skill, it’s important to find a cleaning professional (or company) with experience handling quick turnarounds between short-term rental guests. Make sure you create a very detailed cleaning checklist for your cleaning partners to follow every time.
3. Communication is Key
Hospitality doesn’t stop at providing a place to sleep. Communicating with your guests regularly to ensure they have what they need before and during their stay is critical. It is your job as their host to make sure they are taken care of. You should maintain a positive tone that shows you are eager to help and to please them…even when it’s hard to. This topic is so important to me that I dedicated a whole post in which I lay out some of my communication touchpoints with my guests.
4. First Stay Discounts
Your reviews are everything on listing sites like Airbnb. It is important to start building your review base early, racking up positive reviews in the early weeks and months of your business. A common practice of hosts is to offer discounts for the first few guests in your space. A discount of 15% for the first 3 guests is common on Airbnb. You can look at this as a trial period, giving you a chance to get helpful feedback from your very first guests, in return for a discounted rate for them. Plus, a generous discount may entice these guests to be extra kind to you when it’s time for them to rate you with 1-5 stars. Your average star-rating is one of the main drivers of Superhost status for Airbnb hosts. In a previous post I lay out the specifics to reaching top-tier status on Airbnb and VRBO.
5. Diligent Pricing Practices
Don’t “set it and forget it” when it comes to establishing your nightly prices! Take note of trends in the area. Is the location popular in the Summertime? Is there a hit music festival in April but bitter cold in the Winter? Take these things into consideration to try to match your prices with the demand in the market. If you anticipate more people flocking to the area during a certain time of year, make sure you keep prices higher during that time. The same goes for lowering prices when the area is less attractive for travelers. You don’t want to miss out on guests because you forgot to drop your prices during a month your competitors didn’t. Speaking of competitors, a good way to get pricing advice is to search on Airbnb as a traveler looking in the area. Try to look for homes with similar amenities to your own and see what they charge throughout different times of the year.
Airbnb’s Smart Pricing is a tool offered by the platform that will set prices for you, with the rate fluctuating throughout the year based on market data. I have heard from many hosts that this tool puts out prices that are “way too low”, resulting in lost revenue. So, if you choose to use Smart Pricing, do so with caution and double check the prices using your own intuition.
6. Protect Yourself
Forming an LLC takes less than an hour and $50 (here in Michigan, at least). By forming an LLC, or limited liability company, you can help protect yourself from the liabilities of doing business with your property. If you were to be sued by a guest, without the protection of an LLC or similar organization, your liability would be unlimited. This means that the guest could, theoretically, come after everything you own in order to soothe their woes. With the business being run instead by an LLC, the guest can only sue for the assets of the business. This corporate veil separates and protects your personal assets.*
Additionally, it’s important to keep ALL guest communication within the listing platform! If you need to dispute anything with Airbnb, you need to have all interactions and exchanges of money with your guest within the Airbnb system. Otherwise, they will brush you and your request off without a second thought. So, if a potential guest asks you to text or call them to discuss an arrangement, deny their booking request and move on.
*NOTE* I am no lawyer and this isn’t legal advice!!!!
7. Clear House Rules
Leaving dirty dishes in the sink, shoes on the carpet, small gatherings that turn into large (and drunken) ones… If you don’t want things to happen, you need to explicitly mention them in your house rules. Just because at home your family wouldn’t dare playing loud music late at night, it doesn’t mean your guests will have the same common sense or sense of responsibility in your space. While we should always treat our guests with respect, you also need to treat them like people you don’t know…and who don’t know you and your desires. Lay out your rules clearly and in multiple places. Personally, I write my rules in my Airbnb listing details, pre check-in communications, and even a few on physical signs around the house.
Keeping your rules clear and written protects your house and gives you evidence in the case of a complaint against an unruly guest.
8. Have Extras
Unless you’re living within a mile of your short-term rental and a Walmart, I’d suggest stocking up your rental property with the expectations that spills happen, complimentary cookies get eaten, and cleaning supplies will run out quicker than one would think. The more you stock up, the more hands-off you can be in managing the place. Plus, bulk discounts on supplies can really add up. However, more is not always better. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you might remember when I dove into the art of stocking your supply closet.
9. Listen to Reviews
The best way to make a product that customers love is to let them design it for you. This is why it’s so important to be an active listener to your guests. As tough as it can be to click on a sub-5 star rating to see what the displeased guest has to say to the world about your place, it is critical that you see the positive in this feedback. It is a free lesson in how you can improve your home for the next guests! Positive reviews can help too – Knowing what you’re doing right will help you know to keep doing those things and will provide an extra boost of “maybe I really DO know what I’m doing!”.
10. Eye-Catching Listing Title
“Whole House in Rockford” doesn’t quite have the same spark as “Spacious Mountainside Cabin with Hot Tub and Great Views”. Aside from your pictures, the title of your listing is your only chance to grab your potential guests and wow them enough to want to click to read more. The title is more than just what the home is… it’s what value it brings to guests. What sets this stay apart from any others they could choose from? You don’t get unlimited characters to describe your pad, so choose a couple of key, unique features that guests will love to enjoy during their getaway.
Now that you’ve got your pictures and listing title nailed, you love your cleaning partner, and your extra bed sheets are tucked away in your supply closet, you should feel more confident in your ability to run this business. Follow these tips, or at least give them some serious thought, and then go off and let your creativity shine through. While I’m here to help with the basic guidelines of hosting, there are endless ways to make your place unique and special to both yourself and your guests.