In a previous post I talked about my renter-from-hell experience and how it opened my eyes to the potential for awful guests in this industry. I tried my best to learn from the experience and protect myself from ever letting it happen again. In this post I’ll talk about what raises my antennas before and during a guest’s stay in my short term rentals.
I have always liked to give people the benefit of the doubt. The risk of having “egg on my face” after wrongly being defensive has made me rather naive to people doing me harm. My ignorance has often led to unearned trust in people who end up taking advantage of me. That all changed after a renter completely abused my home and my hospitality. I was painfully reminded that I am running a business and that taking a defensive stance on my home, my reputation, and my income does not mean I am any less gracious of a host. I even turned off the instant booking options on the hosting platforms I use so that I can use my gut to decide who gets to stay in my house. Here are the red flags that grab my attention, with some even making the difference between a reservation and a denial:
1. Local Bookings.
What are they doing in my house that they can’t do (or don’t want to do) at their own home down the street? On Airbnb you can see a potential guest’s hometown. If it’s nearby your home, you may want to politely ask the guest what brings them to your home before accepting their booking request.
2. No Picture or Name.
Having a picture on your profile makes it personal. It tells both the guest and the host that there is another human on the other side of the screen. That personal connection is kind of a big part of Airbnb’s success. When I see a booking request from an account with no picture or an impersonal name, it makes me wonder why the person is hiding.
3. Poor Reviews (Or None At All).
A potential guest with poor reviews is an obvious attention grabber. Give them a read through though, to make sure the issues weren’t perhaps misconstrued or exaggerated by the host. If the guest sounds like they are prone to giving hosts trouble, I have no problem with denying their requests. When it comes to guests having no reviews whatsoever, this one is a little trickier. It obviously is a bummer that we don’t get to see how other hosts feel about the person, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong with the person. For many people, their next Airbnb booking may be their very first one. The platform is still relatively new and people are creating accounts every day to take their first visits through the site. Don’t count someone out just for having no reviews.
4. One-Night Stays
A common practice in hostdom is to set minimum stays of two or more days. This helps keep away people who just want to come in for a quick party and then leave the next morning. You can set a minimum stay on Airbnb. This will prevent people from booking for one night.
5. Last Minute Requests
Most vacations, business trips, and family visits are planned well in advance. More than a couple times I’ve been contacted with a request for a same-day check in. Maybe the person was kicked out of their Airbnb for breaking rules or maybe a group of friends just decided to throw a raging party…both things we want to stay away from. Or, perhaps the reason for their request is completely understandable; maybe the Airbnb they booked in advance had to cancel last-minute or maybe they are on a cross-country road trip and didn’t know where they’d be that night. So, this is another red flag that doesn’t always mean an automatic denial of a booking request. It just means we should do a little communicating with the potential guest. From there, your intuition is your most important tool.
6. Asking For Extra Guests
When you have chosen a maximum number of guests to accommodate in your short-term rental, you have done so for a reason. The beds, the common areas, and the space itself were all intended for that many (or less) people. When a guest requests an extra person and you say “no”, I don’t always trust that the guest will just comply and tell their extra friend or friends to stay home from the trip. When I encounter this, I am sure to pay attention to my front door camera to watch as the group checks in. If I see there are more people coming in than are allowed, a quick call or message to the guest can be made to straighten things out.
7. Requesting To Communicate Outside Of The App
You should never agree to text with a guest outside of the provided communication tools built by Airbnb, VRBO, or whatever other listing platform you are using. In case of any problems with a guest, the platform will need to see that you adhered to this rule when reviewing the conversation history in order to side with you. The same goes for accepting payment. If you want the protection and support of Airbnb, do all transactions within the Airbnb system. There are a number of scams that involve a guest promising a check (presumably fake) which will be sent by an employer or other third party to pay for the reservation. If a potential guest asks you to bypass these tools, they may just be unaware of the norms or they are trying to pull a fast one on you.
8. Longer Stays.
This is another one that doesn’t mean the guest is a bad guest. It just means you should be a little extra thoughtful when accepting the request. With a stay of a month or more, I always ask the guest if they are okay with me sending in my cleaning person every couple of weeks for a touch up. If they’d rather not have this, I ask that they be sure to keep the place clean themselves. So far I have had no issue with longer stays.
Use Your Gut
I cannot stress enough the fact that none of the oddities mentioned above mean an automatic nightmare of a guest or a reason to cancel a booking. Any one of these red flags could have an explanation to them. Things like a request for a longer stay may be a fantastic opportunity for your business, but just require a little extra attention. I write about the red flags only to remind you to give caution to these signs should they come up in your hosting journey.
Every situation is different and so is every guest. If you find yourself doubting the integrity of a potential guest, err on the side of a business person. That means to play defense in protecting your operation. If you don’t feel comfortable accepting a particular booking, just remember that the revenue lost can be regained as long as your home is protected. There will always be travelers and it is better safe than sorry in the world of Airbnb ownership.