When I moved into a new market for my latest short-term rental home I had high hopes. A bustling town with history, nationally-popular yearly events, great weather, and a big university down the road would surely have no problem bringing travelers in for stays… But, a couple months into operation, the reservations were still few and far between. The options appeared to be to convert the home to a long-term rental, leave the market altogether, or make some drastic changes to my Airbnb listing and pray for the best. In this post I’ll discuss the expectations, how I missed them, and the chances I took to revive my listing.
The home in question was an exciting one for me. Not only was it in a popular destination and big city, it was also going to be my first chance to take on remote management. The 6-hour drive would make for a great challenge to make myself ready for cross-country/world listings next in my career. Furthermore, I used several market analysis sites and my own deep dive in Airbnb prior to getting this house to find that the market was not saturated. The nightly rates were high and the competition was not overwhelming in quantity or quality (based on the pictures, descriptions, and reviews).
It wasn’t that the home wasn’t getting any bookings. It would get a couple per month, seeming to cover the mortgage and a little more. After a few months, being sure to wait and see how the Spring “hot season” in the area would perform, it was clear that the operation was not profitable. Something was wrong… Our utility bills were normal, our cleaning partner was relatively affordable (especially with the cleaning fee charged to the guests), and the handful of maintenance issues we had up to that point shouldn’t have been bank-breakers. Despite all of this, month 5’s financial recap showed that the house had a negative cashflow.
- Switch to long-term rental. With the college nearby, I knew I’d have no problem pulling in a positive monthly cashflow right away by turning to LTR. I could take the utilities out of my name, stop having the place cleaned (except for 1-2 times per year), and collect a rent check for 2x the mortgage payment each month. Plus, less work! It seemed like a comfortable route to go.
- Sell the house and get out of the market. My other houses in Michigan were having great success…Why not pull my money out of this new market and head back to what I know, buying another home in a familiar market? I have all the resources and knowledge of the area. Plus, having all of my units in the same, nearby city would be comfortable for me.
- Get feedback and try some new things with the house and the listing. At risk of making this sound like a motivational speech, my third option was to not give up. I had a lot invested in this home; money, time, and excitement for the opportunity. Plus, the thought of driving down there and packing up a U-Haul with every piece of furniture in the house and bringing it…to my home….sounded terrible. This revival option certainly would have the lowest barriers to it, making it the easiest to try first.
Needless to say, I went with option 3. I wanted to pick apart my listing and see what changes could be made. The worst case scenario would be that none of my changes work and I turn to option 1 or 2.
The first step to the transformation process was a humbling one – To send the listing link to a few people I knew and trusted…trusted to give me honest and critical feedback. These folks came through with some great advice from an outsider’s perspective. The order of the pictures, the name of the listing, the color of the shutters; the wide range of feedback opened my imagination and excitement up to how well an improved listing could perform (and, admittedly, some of it hurt my feelings for just a split second before seeing the value in the sentiment).
With a list of improvements in mind, it was time to commit. Starting with the small, easy ones first, I watched as my listing took on a whole new identity.
- Listing Title. The original listing used a cute alliterative name pointing to the colorfulness of the house. Upon receiving feedback and some retrospection, I can see how the name might have weirded some potential guests out. A little tacky, perhaps. The new name I crafted keeps it simple and tells the customer what they are getting; A comfortable home with 2 bedrooms nearby X,Y,Z attractions. Oftentimes a descriptive title goes further than one that tries to attach a “brand” to your home.
- Pricing. I usually review my nightly rates every couple of weeks, making sure I’m not missing any appropriate adjustments for popular events or slow periods. When bookings were slow, I had leaned toward keeping my prices where I felt they ought to be, on the higher end. I did not want to risk becoming a “budget” option in the market. This time around, in another humbling moment, I decided that if I wanted to see the calendar fill up with reservations, I needed to lower my prices to the point people will pay.
- Pictures. This was an interesting one…In previous posts I’ve made very clear how I feel about getting professional pictures taken for your listings. I will always hire a professional to take these shots. That’s exactly what I did the first time around with this listing, before sending it live on Airbnb. However, since I was new to the area, I hadn’t yet found an awesome cleaner. I thought I had, but the (expensive) pictures I received back from the post-cleaning photo appointment were extremely disheartening. It wasn’t the pictures themselves that were bad. It was what the pictures showed; wrinkled bedspreads, visible dust on tables, disheveled couch pillows. The place did not look stellar. Immediately after getting those pictures back I started looking for a new cleaner. I found one (and she is absolutely perfect, to be honest) but, at that point, my budget was tight from all of the set up work and I didn’t feel like hiring the photo company again. Now that I was overhauling my operations, new pictures were a must. I hired the same photography company and got them in for a redo ASAP.
I kid you not – Within 12 hours of uploading the new photos to complete my listing updates, I received a month-long stay, starting about 2 weeks out. A couple hours later another booking came in for that 2-week gap. Just like that, the impact of the changes was being felt. If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this: Keep learning and improving your business. Little changes can add up and go a long way. Don’t be afraid to try new things that may not be successful…if they aren’t, you can change again. At least you tried and you learned.
A Sweet Surprise
When I received my pictures from the company, I immediately knew this redo was a worthy investment. My amazing cleaning partner had said to me before the appointment “I’m doing something special for you before your pictures…it’s my gift to you”. I knew there would be a nice surprise waiting for me in the pictures, but I didn’t know she would go all-out like she did. Décor, fake plants, throw pillows, blankets – the works. This new photo package would represent not only a new beginning for my listing…It also goes to show the difference great, caring partners can have on the success of your short-term rental.