I recently managed to take a nice, relaxing vacation. Yep, I left everything behind for a few weeks and got away. That is why I have not been posting here for the past few weeks. It is great to get away from the routine for a while. Seeing and experiencing new and different things can get you thinking a bit differently. While on vacation, one of the new things I experienced was Airbnb, and it got me thinking.
For those of you who have never heard of this website/service, it is basically an online exchange where property holders (hosts) and travelers (guests) come together to offer and reserve places to stay. These places can be a single room or an exclusive resort. The length of stay can vary from one day to several weeks. It really is a very interesting operation made possible by the internet.
As a landlord, I was really curious about what the Airbnb experience would be like. After all, offering a place on Airbnb.com is not too far off from what I do, as the hosts on Airbnb are essentially landlords offering shorter term rentals.
The Airbnb Experience
First, Airbnb is a great service. I think back to not too long ago and remember how different and difficult it was just to find a nice hotel to stay at while traveling, let alone a private rental. Now, no matter where I was looking to stay, there were a variety of places to choose from. Some were very expensive, others were cheap. Some were centrally located, while others were off the beaten path. Some had amenities like washers and dryers, others did not. There were a whole host of options that you could choose from. The variety was simply amazing, and it was at times hard to actually whittle down a choice.
Second, ratings are everything in this virtual marketplace. Ratings, which are made for both hosts and guests, were one of the things that really helped in my decision-making process. This ratings system helps to eliminate some of the risk for both host and guest. Think about it: As a guest/tenant, you do not want your vacation ruined due to a poor location, poor service or cancelled reservation. So, after narrowing down some locations, I searched for hosts with excellent ratings from other guests. Were the accommodations what the host said they were? Were the pictures of the property accurate? Were the hosts responsive to guests? Were cancellations frequent? These were all qualities I looked for.
On the flip side, our hosts had to make a decision about us. Since I had never used the site before, I had no ratings. However, you can write a small narrative to your host about yourself and your plans. Thus, in my request I explained to the host that I was a landlord who understood the value of taking care of other people’s property. This seemed to help, and my requests were accepted. All I can say about this rating system is that I wish we had something similar for landlords and tenants. It might get rid of a few shady landlords and make some tenants think twice before doing some of the things they do.
In all, I had a very good experience with Airbnb, and as I said, I began to wonder about it. Could I do this with some of my properties? At first glance, it seems like it would be very simple. I advertise on the web, then sit back and wait for the guests to book, arrive and leave — and then I cash the check. Sounds good, but I bet it is not quite that easy. Here is why.
A Few Downsides
I think some locations may be better served by this service than others. I could try it here in Memphis, TN, but perhaps I would have much more success in more sought after tourist locations, say Manhattan, Paris, Orlando or Vail. How long would I wait for a guest? How often would my place be rented? How do I calculate income from this model? These are questions to which I have very few answers.
I also think a host has a bit more risk. As a guest, I was not really checked out at all. I had never used the service so I had no rating. All the host had was my contact info and my request. Without a review, it all comes down to just the word of the guest. Security deposits are charged, but I could really do a lot of damage and be gone in a short amount of time if I wanted to.
A host also generally has to provide more services. Furnishings, towels, cookware, appliances, pillows, sheets and more are all things a host may want to consider supplying. Plus, you need to check people in, check people out, and get the place ready for the next guest. And, if any little thing goes wrong, who is the guest going to call? They will call you, the host. This potentially means that you are on call 24 hours a day, just like a hotel desk clerk. During a busy season, this seems like it could all get very exhausting.
To me, it seems that the key to successfully hosting on Airbnb is to hire services to help you and to also look for additional profit centers, just like any other landlord or business owner. For example, you can hire cleaning staff to clean and get the property “rent ready.” And you can also hire someone to get keys to guests and be on call. Further, you can stock the fridge with supplies just like hotels do with mini-bars or even provide other services such as bike or ski rentals.
In the end, operating on Airbnb is likely just like any other business endeavor. It is all about the numbers and the bottom line. What are your income and expenses going to be? Figuring out your income when just starting out, however, might be a bit difficult. But with a little experience and the right properties, being a host could be a profitable, fun and interesting endeavor. I might just look into it more.
What do you think? Would you be an Airbnb landlord? Anyone out there an Airbnb landlord?
Share your stories, good and bad, along with how you run your business with your comments.