My Top Airbnb Guest Red Flags

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.

Happy hosting.

Pet Policies: Should I Let The Furry Friends Come Along?

This is a common discussion topic in all of the Airbnb forums I’ve joined and it isn’t a one-sided argument. Allowing renters to bring pets into your home not only opens you up to more customers – It also lets you charge extra in the form of a “pet fee”. Obviously, these animals can also lead to more mess and potential damage so, is it worth it? In this post we’ll talk about the pros and cons to letting your guests bring cats and dogs with them for their stay.

The Risk

I don’t need to say the obvious but I will anyway; poop, pee, hair. A well-behaved dog (and dog owner) might leave no furry footprint behind at all, but there is no easy way to vet the quality of canine prior to allowing them into your home. With that said, your best move is to assume the worst in a tailed-tenant. The dog will shed, scratch at your wooden floors and doors, and go potty on your floors. The stink will soak into your carpets and leave a lasting impression for guests-to-come. Plus, the dog will bark at passing cars and other dogs, to the point of annoying your neighbors. I know I’m being dramatic here but, like I said, let’s assume the worst and hope for the best when it comes to hosting dogs.

I let a 3-month renter keep her cat in the home during her stay and the first thing I noticed when I walked in post-checkout was the smell. It was obvious that a cat had been living there, even if it was trained to use the litter box. The second thing I noticed was the hair.. It was all over the furniture and caked on the fans I supplied in each room. My cleaner was able to take care of both the smell and the hair but not without me paying for it.

The Reward

By allowing pets in your short-term rental, you certainly set yourself apart from your competition. Though not as rare as a pet-friendly hotel room, it seems as though most Airbnb hosts lean toward a no-pet policy. If done right, this amenity can increase your occupancy rate and the amount you can charge per night.

People love their pets. In the last couple of years, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become increasingly attached to their animals. With working from home and social isolation being major themes in everyday life, pet owners have gotten used to spending the majority of the day with their little buddies. This attachment means travelers are more likely to want to bring the pets along and are also willing to pay extra for it. In fact, over 50% of travelers want to share their vacations with their pets!

I have seen fees range anywhere from $20 to $100 per pet. You can also consider charging a percentage of the guest’s stay as a pet fee. This method makes sense to me because the longer the guest stays, the more mess their pet can make, and the more the guest pays for it in fees.

In addition to the pet fees, do your research to see how much of a premium you can charge in your nightly rate as a pet-friendly vacation rental in your area.

Precautions and Considerations

First, if you are cleaning the unit yourself and have a serious pet allergy, that should be enough information to make your decision on allowing animals… and the same goes for short-term rental owners who outsource the cleaning. Make sure to ask your cleaning partner if they are okay with tidying up after pets. It is important to keep this vital piece of your operation happy and, if they have an allergy, think about how miserable they’d be in that environment post-stay.

If your cleaner has no issue dealing with pets in the home, be prepared to be charged an extra fee for the service. The fee you charge the guests should more-than-cover this cost to you.

It is not uncommon to see Airbnb hosts charging a refundable deposit to guests with pets. $200 is relatively standard for this deposit, which can be withheld from in case of any additional damages caused by the animal.

Lastly, consider your flooring. Materials like tile, vinyl, and laminate are some of the most pet-friendly options. Hardwood flooring can be scratched if a renter doesn’t keep their dog’s nails trimmed well. Carpet is the worst option for pets. Much harder to clean than a hard surface, carpets can capture stains and smells that can remain long after the guest checks out. Now, I’m not suggesting redesigning your rental property just to accommodate pets. I’m just saying to consider the flooring already inside the home in your decision-making process.

Happy hosting!

Respectfully Removing a Renter: How To Transition From Long-Term To Short-Term Rental

I left the closing table of my latest house excited to get started furnishing and listing my first out-of-state home on Airbnb. I was also excited, nervous, and unsure about a brand new challenge… telling the long-term tenants, who had never met me, that they needed to find a new place to live. This problem certainly isn’t new, but it is one that takes some thoughtful tact to ensure its resolution goes smoothly.

I found out very early on in the purchase process that the seller had a tenant occupying the home. If I were planning to use the property as a long-term rental investment, this would be great news. The transfer of landlordship would be relatively smooth. I would just need to review the lease agreement, evaluate the renter, and make a plan to get the rent up to the market rate. The switch from long-term to short-term renting created an obvious issue: I would need to kick someone out of their home. This post will be written from the lens of shopping for a new house, but the principles are all applicable for existing long-term rental owners.

How To Handle The Transition

This process is an emotional dance that may test your moral maturity, especially since we are assuming the renter did nothing wrong (this isn’t an eviction – we’re just telling the people they need to leave). It is also risky for your investment, as these conversations could result in negligence and destruction of your property if not handled well.

Step 1: Understand The Lease Term

If the incumbent renters still have 8 months (for example) on their lease and you want to get started with your Airbnb listing sooner than that, you should probably find another property or just wait patiently for the lease to expire (if you already own the house). If you are house shopping like I was, you may have a conversation with the seller/seller’s agent to see if the tenant has expressed interest in moving out early (if you own the house and have a good relationship with the tenant you could also have this conversation with them) but, otherwise, it isn’t worth the legal trouble and bad karma to try to kick a renter out before their lease is up. Personally, I would have just moved onto another property.

If the lease agreement ends in 3 months or so, I wouldn’t be nearly as discouraged. When you take into account the fact that it may be a month before you’re at the closing table for a new purchase, plus the fact that you’ll be making money (hopefully) from the rent while you wait after closing, the renter will be moved out before you know it. Plus, any extra time can be used to shop for furniture, research the area, and find cleaning and maintenance services.

Lucky for me, the lease agreement with the tenant was month-to-month. Jackpot! This was the best possible scenario. After closing, I just had to go meet the renter and ask him to start looking for his next home. Now is when the tact comes into play.

(Note: There is no hard and fast rule on how long you should be okay with waiting for a lease to end. The decision depends on how eager you are to get started with your Airbnb. I use 8 and 3 months in my go/no-go examples but these are just examples.)

Step 2: Make It Personal

I went straight from the closing table to the house so I could introduce myself to the renter. I wanted to make a personal connection so, to him, I wasn’t just another greedy landlord or corporation viewing him as an asset. When I saw he wasn’t home, I left a note in the mailbox asking him to call me.

When he called the next day I introduced myself and let him know I was the new owner of the house. I then learned about him, a student at the local university with a side job at a great sandwich shop, which he encouraged me to try. Now that we knew each other a little better, I wanted him to know that I was on his side. I asked about the living conditions and what I could do to make him more comfortable. I could tell he really appreciated that and that the previous owner made no such contact. Once we saw each other as humans, it was time for me to break the news to him.

Step 3: Save Some Details

Just because you plan to turn the home into a listed unit on Airbnb doesn’t mean you have to tell the tenant that. Remember, you want the person renting to see you as a person, not someone who is kicking them out for an opportunity to make more money.

What I told the tenant in my house is something along the lines of “I’m sorry to say it, but I did buy the house to use it myself”. “Using” the house is completely accurate to your intentions and runs the lowest risk of rubbing the other person the wrong way. They don’t need to know what you want to use it for and it’s pretty unlikely they’d ask. If you already own the house, you could say something as simple and vague as “I am getting ready to do something else with the house and, unfortunately, I can’t renew your lease”. This is a respectful way to get your point across that doesn’t place any blame or maliciousness onto the renter.

Needless to say, the renter in my house took the news well and said he would start looking right away. I told him to tell me if there was anything I could do to assist in his search. Seeing that I live 350 miles away and was probably far less familiar with the town than he was, there was a slim chance he would actually need my help. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to let the renter know you are there to make the transition easier for them.

Step 4: Be Specific

You want everybody to be clear on when the house is to be vacant. This is where the month-to-month agreement may actually make this process more tricky than one that has a certain end date. With my conversation happening in the middle of the month…December of all months…I wasn’t going to make the guy leave by the new year.

Rather, I asked him how long he would need. I already knew when I wanted him to be moved out (the end of the following month) but I wanted to ask him how long he might need. Luckily, he came back with “the end of January or early February”. Perfect. This way the timing was his idea and I get the move-out date I wanted. If he had said a date too much further off, I would be able to ask about his circumstances and either come to an agreement or stay firm with my timing if need be. Fortunately, we were on the same page.

Step 5: Sweeten The Deal

Now that you have made a personal connection, broken the news in a thoughtful way, and come to an agreement on timing, there’s still more you can do to incentivize a renter to leave your house in great shape. In theory, the security deposit’s whole purpose is to provide that incentive. However, it isn’t always the case.

To most serial renters the security deposit is already lost. If they get the whole thing back after moving out, this money will go right into their next home as its security deposit. And, the money probably came from a previous unit’s deposit before this one. The longer they’ve been in your home, the longer it’s been since they’ve seen the check. Because the money is so far removed from their pockets, it doesn’t quite do the motivating a landlord hopes it will.

When I spoke to a few real estate investors on the subject, they advised me to sweeten the deal a little bit by offering extra money to the tenant in the form of keys-for-cash. Now, I didn’t use the phrase “keys-for-cash” with the tenant (it sounds too corporate) but I did tell him that I wanted to give him “a little extra” with his security deposit after moving out, assuming everything is left in good shape. This way it’s sort of an additional “thank you” to them, as opposed to just threatening to withhold a security deposit they likely forgot about anyway. For me, $200 seemed like the right amount to offer a college student paying a cheap rent price. He seemed like a nice guy who didn’t really need too much buttering to get him not to flush a bunch of tampons down the toilet. For your scenario, you may want to increase the amount. Think of it as an investment in preserving your property. The better condition its in when you get the keys, the quicker you can get it listed on Airbnb and making you money.

Smooth Sailing

When the final walkthrough goes flawlessly and you hand the tenant a check in exchange for the keys, you can feel happy that both parties walked away smiling. Or, at least, that you did everything you could to keep everybody smiling. The most important thing is that you treat other person or people with respect. You may own the property but they have called it home for some period of time. You have now put them in a position where they need to find a whole new home and that should not be taken lightly. It is your responsibility to ensure everybody wins in this transaction. When you do that, you are truly running a respectful and responsible business.

Happy hosting.

They Had a Party: The Dreaded Phone Call And How It Improved My Short-Term Rental Business

My phone started “blowing up” with pictures and videos from my cleaning partner, showing me the damage and disregard for my house rules by the guest who had recently checked out. I was LIVID at first. But, after a few minutes, I realized why I should be grateful for the experience and started identifying the learning opportunities that will benefit my business in the long run. In this post I’ll explain what happened and how it became a positive for me.

The Reservation

The story started a week before the guest even checked in. I had Instant Booking turned on in VRBO, which allowed the guest to book their stay without me confirming. I knew something was fishy as soon as I reviewed the details. They booked a one-night weekend stay just a week in advance… plus, looking at the renter’s profile, I could see they were local. In fact, he lived in just the next town over. They clearly didn’t need a place to stay. Naturally, I inquired about the nature of their stay via VRBO’s messaging feature.

“I have 3 friends visiting from out of town and we want to have a Christmas gift exchange.”

When I asked why they couldn’t do this at his own home, he responded with, “We just want to get away from our busy lives for a night”.

Touching, really. Naively, I gave this young man the benefit of the doubt and wished him and his friends safe travels to my home and a fun gift exchange.

The Check-In Challenges

One of my favorite implementations in my short-term rental houses is my Blink cameras I installed at the front door. These cameras alert me when they detect motion, particularly when someone walks in front of them to enter the house. The night of this guest’s reservation, I got the alert on my phone and opened it to see the clip of a young man and a young women entering the house. They were equipped with a couple of gift bags and boxes wrapped in decorative paper. So far, everything appeared according to their story.

A few minutes later, clips followed that got my attention a little more. The same two people made trips up the porch steps with a couple cases of beer and silver trays of catered food.

Then, silence.

The last notification I got from Blink told me that the camera system had been disconnected from the network. I was no longer able to see anybody coming or going from my house. I was officially concerned.

Lie After Lie

My gut really told me something was up now. I messaged the guest asking him politely if he had accidentally disconnected the camera system hub from the wall. After an hour of no response, I gave him a call. I could hear the sound of people in the background but he quickly stepped outside to ask me “Who is this?” (and I’m fairly positive he wouldn’t have picked up the phone if he knew it was me).

He kept telling me that he had no idea what happened and that the Internet had just “gone out” in the house. With recent wind storms in Michigan, part of me believed that it really could have just been the Internet going out, which would explain the disconnection from the camera system to my phone. Still maintaining respect (ignorance?) for the guest, I apologized for the inconvenience and for interrupting his gift exchange. I almost asked my cleaning partner to drive by the house to see what was going on, but I convinced myself I was just worrying over nothing.

The Aftermath

When my cleaner entered the house the following morning, she immediately pulled out her phone to document what she saw. Coincidentally, I was sitting at the closing table of my newest short-term rental investment when I received the evidence. Her and I were both stunned.

Furniture moved all over the house, windows open, heat turned off… All of the basic signs of “there were a LOT of people in here”… Dirt and beer were smeared all over my hardwood floors and ruined the living room rug. Trim was ripped off of the walls. Food was spilled everywhere; floors, furniture, walls, cabinets.. Half-smoked joints were left on couches and incense ashes laid dusted on windowsills. The place wreaked… good thing they left a candle LIT to take care of the smell (*sigh*).

The place was a mess. My cleaner put in the work of 3 of our usual, respectful guest cleanups. She steam-cleaned the floors, washed comforters twice, and worked general magic to make the place look untouched before she left 6 hours later. Though the filth was cleanable, my biggest stressors left by these Neanderthals were the heat off/windows open (it’s Wintertime in Michigan and pipes freeze if you aren’t careful) and the still-burning candle we found. That one made me furious. They left the candle on top of the fridge, crammed among the decorations and trash they left up there with it. Clearly a danger, I made sure my cleaner captured a video of the scene.

Equipped with plenty of pictures and videos, and with my handyman scheduled to go repair the damaged trim in the house the next morning, I was ready to file a damage claim through VRBO.

The Positives

I was honestly a little confused about how quickly I moved from anger to contentment and even gratitude for the experience. I am not oblivious to the fact that I tend to hold on to anger longer than I should. So, this calming sense of “This stuff is going to happen and I am learning how to handle it through this experience” was a little foreign to me. Nonetheless, I ran with it and gathered my thoughts on how to move forward and improve my business.

Protecting Myself and My Home

I quickly made the following changes to my listings on Airbnb and VRBO:

  1. I increased my nightly rate. I had recently lowered it, trying to compensate for a slow Winter season for visitors. In doing that, it was clear I was welcoming the wrong kind of guest.
  2. I increased my minimum stay to 2 nights. This will deter people from booking my homes for a quick party.
  3. I am more careful with local booking requests. I turned Instant Booking off on VRBO so that I could take a better look at requests before giving someone access to my home. Young locals looking for a place to stay will be questioned and my gut will be given more credit from now on. I am not against locals staying in my homes, but I certainly will be more diligent about understanding what it is they are looking to do during their stay.
  4. I am considering requiring security deposits. I saw the option to require a refundable deposit from guests. I’m still debating this one, as serious damage would still require a claim to be filed anyway.

Gratitude

In the span of 24 hours I was taken on a rollercoaster of emotions that ultimately led to a better and more safeguarded business. My guard is certainly up now that I know the sort of deception and destruction short-term renters are capable of. I am glad to say that I was able to overcome my first unruly guest experience with the help of my partners in the area, all without making a trip to the scene myself. The fact that I was able to handle this fiasco remotely was a huge boost of confidence in my process I have set in place. This experience is going to help me in the next phase of my business, which is setting up my first out-of-state short-term rental in an area far more prone to parties.

Happy hosting.

Short-Term Staycation: Utilizing Your Airbnb Business To See The World

After I got my first short-term rental up and running, my mind started buzzing about a million miles-per-hour thinking about the possibilities of the business. Especially once I strengthened the automation of my same-state rental homes, I thought about what it would look like to have homes in other places…further away places…places I would want to stay for my own vacations. In this post we’ll discuss one of my goals for my business, something I’m calling “Travel Hacking” and how you can use it to make vacations easier for you and your family.

Building Confidence

For my first two short-term rental properties, I focused on a cozy, waterfront town just an hour and a half away from home base. It’s far enough away from my suburban neighborhood for a vacation-esque getaway feeling that potential guests would find appealing. And, it’s close enough for me to be able to make weekend trips for fixes, restocks, and whatever else I could anticipate a guest needing mid-stay. The proximity’s main benefit is probably the confidence it has allowed me to build during my first year of ownership. Soon my trips to the houses got less and less frequent, with more time and more guests in between. I learned how to trust my cleaning partner, my lawn caretaker, my security cameras, and the smart locks on my doors. I learned the right color towels to use to promote longevity and less replacements. I could go on and on… The point is that it was the right decision to start closer to home as I learned to work on my business with less and less hands-on activity.

Baby Steps

Like a worried parent sending their child off to college across the country, it was then time for me to trust my skills and my processes with something a little further. I wanted to try my hand at an out-of-state rental; something that would force me a little further from my comfort zone (literally). Plus, I was excited about having a place to stay should I want a quick Middle America vacation of my own. I went south about 6 hours to find my third house. In an earlier post, I mentioned my decision process when I was debating taking this leap.

At the time of writing this post, I am just a few days away from closing on this house. It has been an unusually long process and part of that has to do with the distance. Nonetheless, it’s getting close to being done and the keys being in my hand. This property is going to test my ability to set up the automated business as well as possible right from the start. I won’t be able to, nor will I want to, make extra trips on weekends because I forgot to take care of something for the Airbnb guests. From using long-lasting batteries in the smart devices, to writing ironclad house rules that will help protect my investment from afar, to finding a cleaning service that would supply their own cleaning supplies, there are plenty of things that I can do to ensure the business can run without me being nearby. Anything that required physical access to the house or the area needed to be outsourced or delayed.

I have no question that there will be mistakes made along the way as I strive for fully remote operation of this hub of my business. The drive isn’t so far to where I can’t make the occasional drive down to the property when absolutely needed. I am anticipating a trip every 10-or-so weeks, whether to replace/repair something, to ease my worrisome mind by actually seeing the house, or for a getaway of my own during a slow weekend of business.

The goal isn’t perfection off-the-bat – it’s to prepare me for an even bigger leap.

Far, Far Away

After I learn more about remote operation and perfect my from-afar approach to the business, I am anticipating going more extreme for one of my next purchases.

With growing confidence that I can manage and Airbnb property from nearly anywhere, endless possibilities will open up. My vision will start to include the question, “Where do I want to visit and explore?”.

Imagine this: It’s Wintertime in your Midwest neighborhood (if you aren’t from the Midwest just go with me for a minute). It’s cold and wet and you’re overdue for a vacation in a tropical climate or scenic mountain cabin. Instead of shopping rates on Airbnb for the perfect pad that isn’t price-gauged by the surge of other snowbirds doing the exact same thing, you head to your Airbnb listing and simply block off a few days for yourself to enjoy your investment decision. While you might miss out on some revenue, you will get the comfort of knowing you get to stay in your home-away-from-home, rather than deal with the uncertainty of booking a random stay.

Now we’re Travel Hacking. You pay the mortgage (if you have one) via the guests coming in and out during the year and you reward yourself with a “free-ish” getaway whenever you so please. What an awesome goal! Right now, for me, this looks like Miami, Hawaii, or Alaska; places I would love to both do business and vacation.

Wrapping Up

We all start somewhere in our hosting journey. That journey may begin in your home state, your neighborhood, or even in the extra room in your house. For many, that’s as far as they want to distance themselves from the action, and that is perfectly fine. For others, though, the challenge of running a rental from many hours away can be extremely rewarding in more ways than just financial.

Many hosts operate short-term rentals from across the world! I still have a long way to go before I’m ready for an international residence, it’s great to know it’s possible.

Happy Hosting.

My Top 10 Tips For Starting An Airbnb Business

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.

Wrap Up

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.

Happy hosting.

STR House Hacking: Renting Out Unused Rooms In Your Home on Airbnb

Buying an entire home to use as a strictly-rental investment is not the only way to scratch your itch for hospitality. I mentioned rental arbitrage in an earlier post and it can be an option for those trying to get into the game without owning the home. But, what if you own your primary residence and find yourself with a bedroom or two sitting vacant? Maybe you had a long-term tenant move out or you bought the house in anticipation of growing your family down the road. Whatever the reason, an empty bedroom or basement can easily be converted into a cozy home for short-term rental guests. When done right, you may be surprised at how well your business could do with a room-within-a-home strategy. On top of the booking payouts you’ll accumulate, you’ll also be pleased with the tax benefits associated with operating the business out of a portion of the home, but I’ll save that topic for another post. In this one I’ll talk about the specifics of renting out part of your home and how to make the most of it.

Potential guests looking for a short-term stay need a bed, a bathroom, and an area to make meals. Those are pretty much the only necessities for providing accommodations on sites like Airbnb. Many are even fine with sharing these things (well, maybe not the bedroom) with other people, whether it’s the owner of the home or another short-term guest visiting. This, of course, means that spare bedroom or basement in your home could be put to good use with a little bit of set up.

The Basics

You could definitely go as far as installing a micro kitchen (I like Summit Appliances for small-size kitchen appliances) and walling off sections of the house to allow for a private bathroom and private entrance. These are things that would all add to your space’s desirability and allow you to demand a higher nightly rate. However, you can certainly do without the private amenities. As long as you disclose the living situation in your listing, explaining what’s shared and what’s not with your potential guests, you can set up your short-term rental in any arrangement that makes sense to you, your home, and your budget.

Things to Keep in Mind

First, shared living space means shared filth. This goes for you and for your guests. Cleanliness of a space is the first thing a guest will notice when they step inside and it’s arguably the most important thing to your business. If you’re operating your STR with the intention of having guests share areas like the kitchen and a bathroom, you need to be extra sure that anyone else sharing the areas (yourself, your spouse, kids, etc.), are extra diligent with their cleanups. This could become a problem if the residents of the home begin to feel like they have to walk on eggshells to preserve your business’s reputation, which they may or may not be benefitting from. Be transparent with your housemates to level-set expectations and avoid arguments (especially in front of guests!). This concern goes the other way too…be prepared to share a space with new people, and new levels of messiness, regularly.

Second, remember you’ll be sharing your home with strangers. As opposed to a dedicated rental property, this model will have you sharing walls with new people very often (that’s the goal, right?). Your guests will be in your home even when you aren’t. This means that your valuables, collectables, and family heirlooms should either be hidden away or accounted for after each stay. This way, if anything does come up missing, you’ll know the primary suspect right away.

Third, when estimating your rental income, be sure to compare apples-to-apples. A 1-bedroom unit in your neighborhood with a private entrance, kitchen, and bathroom, will earn more than a unit sharing each of those amenities. You can likely imagine all of the variations of private-and-shared features a rental room could have. So, if you’re looking for a solid idea of your yearly takeaway, be sure to find a unit as similar to yours as possible for comparison.

Fourth, just because you’re only renting out part of your home, it doesn’t mean you should skip out on professional photos. Your listing will be competing with lots of others and, as with any type of listing, better photos will draw in potential guests as the first thing they notice while browsing Airbnb. Be sure to capture all areas that will be available to the guest.

Lastly, unlike Airbnb, VRBO does not allow hosts to rent out a room within their home. They only allow private, full-home stays.

Wrapping Up

Short-term rental hosting, and hospitality itself, is not just for individuals who can afford second homes dedicated to renting. Your basement, spare bedroom, and even garage can be utilized to provide guests a fantastic short stay. Just remember, to your guests, that garage is not a garage. It’s home, at least for their short-stay.

Happy hosting!

Favor Frugality? Know How To Pick Your Battles In Your Short-Term Rental Business

I consider myself a top-tier money-saver. I HATE spending. I find great joy in knowing that I’m able to forgo select creature comforts in exchange for a little extra money in my bank account. When it comes to my short-term rental properties, however, I’m smart enough to understand the areas that are NOT skimp-worthy. I have identified items on which I refuse to penny-pinch, for their benefit to my business is well worth the extra expense. So, if you’re frugal like I am, I hope you’ll read this article and highly consider following suit. I will explain the areas worth more attention and money, and the areas where you CAN happily save!

Spend It

When thinking about the items to shell out on, consider three themes: comfort, safety, and longevity. The first two should be thought of in the lens of the guest. Comfort is key to short-term rentals. You want to give your customers a cozy feeling during their stay. I mean, the personal home-touches of a rental are what sets stays booked through sites like Airbnb apart from stays at cookie-cutter hotels. Safety is pretty self-explanatory. You want your guests to feel protected in your home and on your property (plus avoiding lawsuits is cool). Longevity has to do with making investments in your property, rather than cheap expenses. Certain items in the home, when done right, can last a lot longer than their cheaper alternatives. This being said, here are some items I consider worth-the-wallet.

Mattresses and Mattress Toppers – Don’t go cheap on the mattress. You don’t need to go TOP of the line here, but you definitely want to impress the guests when they get into bed. Certainly don’t go used! Your mattresses are investments that will last for years and be a serious driver of reviews for your rental. Once you find a mattress and topper that works for you, as with all of your staple items, be sure to track them in a spreadsheet so you can easily find them when it’s time to add a new home to your business. The Sleep Foundation has a list of some top picks for STR mattresses.

Mattress and Pillow Protectors – These ones aren’t necessarily going to break by any means, but it can be tempting to skip them to save a few bucks. This is a longevity play. These plastic covers can protect your investments in mattresses and pillows. A spill or a heavy sweater may stain your sheets, but the extra layer of protection can keep the pricier parts of the bedding safe. There are many options that don’t feel plastic-y at all. In fact, guests won’t even know they are there.

Smart Lock – Buying smart locks for my front doors was one of the best decisions I made when outfitting my rentals. Instead of hiding a key in a manual lockbox, for which every guest has the same code, investing in a digital smart lock to replace your old door handle is a much more luxurious – and safe – way of allowing access. Not only does a touchscreen number pad give your home a futuristic and hospitable feel; it also allows you to change the code, from wherever you are, for each guest. Even if you choose not to change the code between guests, the smart lock at least gives the feeling that their code is unique and that they are the only ones who will be coming and going during their stay. The Sifely Latch Lock is what I use and it is on sale now for $129.99.

Security Cameras – While you cannot put cameras inside your short-term rental, outdoor cameras watching the entrances provide safety to your guests, yourself, and your property. Get cameras that can alert you when people are coming and going from your home. This could help you stop an unwanted party before it even starts.

Cleaning service – My cleaning partner deserves her own post (or a few). She is fantastic and worth every penny. I wanted to make sure I included this item in the list of spend-worthy because the cleanliness of the home is going to be the FIRST thing each guest notices. They want to feel confident that every surface has been sanitized, every linen washed, and every utensil scrubbed. Going with a cheap cleaning service, who doesn’t specialize in short-term rental turnaround, may save you a few dollars but you’ll likely start to regret your decision when your guests complain about cleanliness or your trust for quick between-guest turnarounds dwindles.

Save It

Okay, now for the fun part! Let’s talk about areas of the home that are perfect options for Walmart, resale shops, or Facebook Marketplace.

Dishes and Silverware – As long as they match and there isn’t any damage, there is nothing wrong with a used set of dishes. You’d be surprised at the quality of set you can find at a garage sale. A discount store is a good option too, if you want to go new, just make sure the dishes don’t have a lightweight, “cheap” feel. When it comes to coffee mugs, many people like the eclectic mix of mugs collected from different places and times. If this is a feel you want to go for in your home, check out your local thrift store for mugs as cheap as 25 cents.

Decor – Now, this one may vary based on location and the ~vibe~ you are shooting for in your home, but I have had great luck finding colorful vases, funky paintings, and vintage vinyl albums for my home decor-on-the-cheap at yard and estate sales. Expensive artwork and statues are just begging to be stolen or knocked over and busted anyway!

Functional Furniture – Things like dining tables and chairs, dressers, end tables, and TV stands don’t need to be expensive…they just need to work and fit the style of your home. These are also hot items at thrift stores. If you can find an older piece at your local Salvation Army, there’s a good chance it was built to last. Save lots of money here.

—– Controversial Pick!! —–

THE COUCH – I have heard both sides of the argument for couches. Some say you need to provide an extremely comfortable and luxurious experience for guests coming “home” at the end of a day of business or play, and that the only way to do that is by bringing out the big bucks. Some say that new, high-end couches are some of the biggest rip-offs out there… I am in the middle.

I would never argue against the fact that the living room sofa needs to be cozy and home-like for the guest. As with the mattress selection, you need to cater to the relaxation of your guests. That being said, there are great deals at retailers like Wayfair, Big Lots, and even Facebook Marketplace.. That’s right, used couches. See, when people need to get rid of a couch, they NEED it gone. It’s not an easy item to shove in storage or toss out at the curb. You can find great deals on used couches for a fraction of what they are really worth. Often the owner is moving and just doesn’t want to deal with transporting the damn thing. Of course, go and inspect it for yourself first.

So, I say feel confident in your choice of saving money on a couch, if that’s the direction you want to go. (Plus, if a guest ever spills and ruins your budget couch, you’ll be glad you made this choice!)

In Conclusion

Furnishing your home for short-term rental is an exciting time. The space is a blank canvas on which you get to decide the kind of comfort you will be providing your guests. Certainly your decisions are not set in stone, but it makes it easier if you can nail it off-the-bat. The choices I’ve made regarding where to “spend” and where to “save” are just my own opinions. Your mindset shouldn’t be focused on penny pinching if it doesn’t have to be. You should be prioritizing your guests and the quality of experience you will be providing them. All I’m saying is…if you can save a little money here and there… why not do it?

Courteous Contact: How I Communicate With My STR Guests

If you’re looking to get into the hospitality business without having to talk to (and be pleasant with) people, this may not be the business for you. There are countless communication strategies you could adopt for staying in touch with your guests, but in this post I will talk about mine.

End-to-End Hospitality

If you think of the traditional “sales cycle” of business trying to nurture a relationship with a customer, you’ll likely remind yourself that the communication starts before the potential guest even finalizes their reservation. Rather, the relationship begins when the person is just looking at the offerings and trying to choose how they will fill their need. This is how you should think of your short-term rental operation as well. You will communicate with your guests before they even become guests and you should continue the conversation after they have left.

I will walk through each of my touchpoints with my guests – First giving a high-level label of the interaction and then listing the main intentions and topics of the message.

My Communication Touchpoints, In Order

Keep in mind that all of these messages are sent via the booking sites’ messaging systems. With contactless check-in, I never actually meet my guests in person.

Note: The following list is NOT extensive. There are always other communication points that happen between myself and guests. There are payment issues, cancelations, and unique questions that arise. You need to be available to respond to all of these possibilities. The following is just a high-level timeline of communication that occurs between myself and my guests. Your roadmap may look completely different! Don’t take this as a prescription for guest communication. Rather, use it as a mental exercise to make sure you are ready to nurture your customer and provide them all of the information they need.

Contact Point #1: New Booking Inquiry

Timing: When a potential guest sends an inquiry for a stay (but has not booked)

Purpose:

  • To confirm the potential guest’s intended dates and the total price of the booking, so we’re all on the same page
  • To let them know that the dates are available
  • To place urgency on the request, letting the potential guest know that the dates may get booked very soon

Contact Point #2: New Pre-Approval

Timing: When a potential guest has been preapproved to book my home for a stay

Purpose:

  • To give the guest the all-clear to book their stay for the given dates
  • To let them know they have 24 hours from that point (pre-approval) to book, or else the pre-approval will expire

Contact Point #3: New Reservation

Timing: When a reservation is confirmed!

Purpose:

  • To thank the guest for choosing my home
  • To confirm the dates of the stay
  • To confirm the number of guests, which was stated when the guest made the booking
  • To let the guest know I will be in contact with more details on the home closer to the check-in date

Contact Point #4: Check-In Instructions

Timing: 1-3 days before check-in

Purpose:

  • To give the guest the full address of the home and any special instructions on how to find it
  • To give instructions on how to get into the house (lockbox, smart lock code, etc.)
  • To state/reiterate the house rules
  • To let the guests know about any accommodations provided (WiFi, coffee, soaps, etc.)
  • To give recommendations for things to do in the city/town
  • To give check-out time and instructions (which will be reiterated in a later message)

Contact Point #5: First Morning

Timing: 18 hours after check-in

Purpose:

  • To let the guest know I hope they had a great first night
  • To remind them that I am available for anything they need during their stay

Contact Point #6: Check-Out Instructions

Timing: 18 hours before checkout

Purpose:

  • To remind the guest of the date and time of their checkout
  • To reiterate checkout instructions

Contact Point #7: Requesting a Review

Timing: 24 hours after checkout

Purpose:

  • To thank the guest, again, for choosing my home for their stay and ask them to keep me in mind for future visits
  • To let them know I will be leaving a review of them as a guest
  • To ask for a review as well as any suggestions on how to improve the experience

Summing It All Up

As stated, the list of touchpoints you just read are things that I decided to implement in my operations. Yours may look completely different and that is great. Tailor your communication strategy to your style and your guests’ needs. Regardless, I hope this gave you some ideas and made you think about the type of relationship you are trying to build between yourself and your guests.

Happy hosting!

Winterizing Weekend: Steps to Get Your Short-Term Rentals Ready for the Cold

Midwest Winters are no joke, and neither is making sure your STR guests are comfortable, safe, and respectful of your home in the cold months. In this post we’ll walk through the steps I took to get my places ready.

Thinking Ahead

The colors on the trees have changed here in Michigan and temperatures are hovering between 50 and 70 degrees for the most part. I’m certainly not worried about this week’s guests shivering in my rentals or tracking in ice and snow onto the hardwood floors. Still, I chose this weekend to do my Winter prep so that there’d be no chance I’d be caught off guard by the season’s first surprise snowfall and find myself racing to the homes to get the job done. While my first Winterizing went pretty smoothly (took about 3.5 hours), I have identified ways to be faster and more efficient with the process next time.

The Steps for Success

I would be surprised if, over the next few weeks, I don’t realize a few things I forgot to do to prep the homes (please let me know any obvious ones in the comments!). Luckily, I don’t live too far away from the area to take a weekend trip whenever I need to. If you live too far for regular visits to your all-seasons locale, make sure you take all of these steps into consideration.

1. Prevent Pipe Freezing

My main concern here is turning off the water to the garden hose. A burst pipe can be disastrous for a home, rental or not. To protect yourself, you first need to find the shut off valve inside the house, closest to where the outdoor faucet (or “sillcock”…yes, that’s really what it’s called) protrudes on the exterior wall. In my homes, these are in the basement. Once you find that, turn it off completely. Then, head outside and open the hose valve to drain water that remains in the hose bib. Leave this open, but take note and action on any water that keeps leaking out after a minute or so.

2. Remove Window/Room AC Units

This one might be obvious but can be tricky to time just right if your home relies on window and room AC rather than central air. Here in Michigan we are known for our unpredictable weather. One day you can be sure it’s time to take the warm sweaters out of storage for good and the next you’re going out on the lake for another sunny boat ride. If you remove the units too soon in the year and then the next guest ends up feeling the heat to the point of discomfort, you may be in for a bad review or even another trip to put the units back in.

Though I was pretty sure it was the right time for me to remove the AC units, I left a fan in each room just in case the guests needed a little extra cool air. I made sure to remove the units from the livable space completely, storing them in the locked basement area where I keep all housekeeping supplies.

NOTE: Before I put the units away, I made sure to take a few steps to make it simple to reassemble the setup come next Spring.

First, I took pictures to show exactly how and where the window units were installed. For me, this included insulation foam placement, wood shims for sizing, and screw placement.

Then, with all of the units laying on the living room floor, I taped little baggies to each machine and put the necessary hardware inside. Mine were slightly different screw placements, so I made sure to label the bags to indicate which room each unit goes into. My goal was to make it as easy as possible for me to reinstall these units when it gets warm out again.

3. Change Air Filters

This one is another self-explanatory step, but one worth jotting down in the ol’ blog. Replacing HVAC air filters every 6 months is a good way to keep the guests’ air clean and keep your furnace working well for them. Doing this during my Winterizing and De-Winterizing (Summerizing?) weekends makes it easy to remember.

4. Prepare For Snowy Shoes and Boots

If you live in a home you own, you likely take extra care to ensure you don’t bring in water and snow from your shoes and track it all over the house. Renters, unsurprisingly, don’t always have the same conscientiousness about the floors. Short-term renters especially. To protect my floors, I added heavy duty door mats, one on the outside and one on the inside of the front door.

Though already specified in the house rules, I also added hand-written notes to “Please take your shoes off at the door!” and taped them to the walls in my rentals. This reminded me of a couple other necessary notes I wanted to add, including messages along the lines of “the sink doesn’t have a disposal so put your food scraps in the trash” and “don’t flush things you aren’t supposed to down the toilet”…totally unrelated to Winterizing but I’m glad the ideas came to mind while I was there.

5. Provide Shovels and Salt

If you’re operating your business like I am, in that you count on a third party to handle your lawn/outdoor care, it’s important to remember to give them what they need to keep your walkways clear and safe for your guests. A strong shovel and a few big bags of ice-melter or sidewalk salt should be enough to serve your STR for the Winter. I’ll be honest, these necessities completely slipped my mind during my recent trip to the homes. If it weren’t for writing this blog post, I’d likely be remembering these items when I looked outside and saw the first blizzard coming down… while sitting in my home, a 1.5 hour drive away even without slick road conditions. Needless to say, I’ll be making another trip soon.

All Set for a Michigan Winter

It was very pleasant heading “up north” in Michigan during the Fall, even if it was to get work done. If you’re in a place with Winters worth Winterizing for, you likely experience nice falls with crisp air and beautiful colors as well. You might as well enjoy your Winterizing trip and see what the town has to offer in the Fall season. It may inspire some new recommendations for your guests!

If you would add anything to the Winterizing steps I mentioned in this post, please let me know in the comments. I’m learning new things everyday and love hearing from others running short-term rental businesses. So, bundle up and enjoy earning money on cozy Winter getaways!

As always, happy hosting.