When most people think of real estate investing, they usually assume a few things. One, they think they need a lot of capital to get started, and two, they think they need to own a lot of property to make money. Want more articles like this? Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inbox Sign up for free Although owning property and having a lot of startup capital certainly isn’t a bad thing, it’s really not necessary with the model I’m about to show you. What Is Airbnb Arbitrage? Allow me to introduce a revolutionary investment strategy known as Airbnb arbitrage. The word arbitrage is a financial term that basically means taking commodities from one marketplace and selling them for a profit in another. In reference to Airbnb, it is when an investor rents a property from a landlord, then lists it on Airbnb and collects the difference. For example, if you rent a condo for $1,500 per month, and you list it on Airbnb for $4,500 per month, then you collect $3,000 per month before expenses. Expenses can range from $250 per month to $1,000 or more, depending on your strategy. Most rental arbitrage investors aim to make around $1,000 net profit per property—although you can make much more. Is Airbnb Arbitrage Legal? When I first came across this model, I had several questions. I wondered if it was legal or how the landlord would respond when they found out. Looking back, they seem like silly questions. But they must be addressed by anyone who wants to crack into this business. So, the answer to the first questions is yes! It’s completely legal. In fact, real estate arbitrage is a strategy that’s been used for a long time. It’s just not talked about very often. Like many creative investment strategies, it stems from the realm of commercial real estate. In terms of dealing with the landlord, all you have to do is just tell them what your intentions are with the property. Some will be open to it; others will not. If you encounter one who isn’t, you move on. The key here is approaching it honestly. Now that we know the business model is legal and ethical, let’s dive into the details. Airbnb Arbitrage Business Facts First off, I want to show you some statistics about the Airbnb business as a whole. A lot of people think that it is just a fad or short-term disruption to the industry. Many people said the same thing about the internet, smart phones, and even motor vehicles. I want to show you that this industry is not going away anytime soon. In fact, the home sharing and short-term vacation rental business is booming like never before. If you don’t already know, Airbnb is an online community and marketplace that allows individuals to list and book short-term lodging accommodations around the world. It was founded in 2008 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk. As of 2019, Airbnb is reported to have over 150 million users and was last valued at $31 billion. There are listings in 191 countries around the world with more than five million properties. By the way, that’s more than the top five hotel brands combined! So, as you can see, Airbnb has been a major disruption to the short-term market and is currently rolling up the entire industry in a way that can make you very wealthy in the process. For example, let’s take a look at the story of Pol McCann, a 52-year-old host from Sydney, Australia, who first used Airbnb as a guest while taking a trip to New York City. He was able to rent a studio apartment in Manhattan for a fraction of what he would have spent on a hotel. He enjoyed his experience so much that upon returning to Sydney, he decided to list his own apartment. He cleaned it up a bit, took some photos, and had his first booking within 24 hours. That single apartment would continue to stay booked for an average of 28 days per month. The money he made from his first listing after six months allowed him to purchase a second apartment in the same complex across the street. Today McCann estimates he earns around $100,000 per year after expenses. A six-figure business is a pretty good deal for your first year! How to Get Started in Airbnb Arbitrage In the beginning, I mentioned that you didn’t need to be a home owner or have access to a lot of capital to get started with Airbnb. This is because the costs associated with listing your first property are pretty low. Plus, we’re going to be using other people’s properties. Here’s the basic outline for getting started: Setting Up Your Business Building a Team Market Research Finding Properties Listing Your Property Increasing Sales & Optimization Automating Your Business Let’s take a closer look at each step. Related: 6 Vacation Rental Beginners: Look Where They Are Today! 1. Setting Up Your Business Something you first want to understand is that this is a legitimate business. Some people have the misconception that building a portfolio of rental properties on Airbnb is somehow not a “real” business. This isn’t true at all, especially if you’re going to be doing this professionally. If you want to scale your portfolio to larger than three properties, then you should start your business properly. This means setting up the right foundation and infrastructure to conduct business in good standing and to grow effectively. The first thing you’re going to want to do is set up a legal entity. I’ve found that for most people the LLC works best because it’s easy to set up, simple to manage, and has favorable tax options. Setting up an actual business is going to help you get more deals later on when you start searching for properties. Some property management companies won’t allow you to perform this business model without a corporate lease. However, if you are set up to do this, then you will have access to opportunities that amateurs won’t. In this stage of the process, you will also want to take inventory of your assets, resources, and network that you can potentially leverage to help you succeed when you launch. If you already have a second property that you don’t live in, then you are ahead of the curve. You may be able to turn this property into your first listing depending on its location, quality, and zoning. However, having an existing property is not necessary to get started. As I mentioned before, you don’t need tens of thousands of dollars to get started in this business. If you already have quite a bit of investment capital, then I’m encouraging you to start off small. While it’s tempting to jump into the business head first and throw your money at something, you need to learn the systems first before you scale. Capital-wise, all that’s needed to get started is around $1,000 to $2,000. 2. Building a Team Like any good business owner or real estate investor, you are going to need a good team. It’s easy to handle everything yourself in the beginning when you’re just managing one property, but once you start to scale, you will need to rely on your team. Your core business team should consist of your accountant and your attorney. When finding an attorney, you should look for someone who specializes in corporate law and/or real estate. It’s even better if they have personal experience with real estate investors and other rental property owners. The same thing goes for your accountant, as they should understand tax strategy and have experience with real estate investors. These two members of your network are going to help guide you around common pitfalls that many newcomers fall into. Once you scale out to three or more properties, it’s time to start expanding your team. Here are some of the key members that you’re going to need: Co-Host A co-host is a member of the Airbnb community who doesn’t control any property themselves but helps full-time hosts manage their existing properties. The co-host is essentially your personal property manager, who helps you with the day-to-day operations of the business. Airbnb allows you to give the co-host a percentage of the profit of each deal that they help you with. If you have a lot of properties all over town or in different markets, you will have multiple co-hosts, who manage their own little piece of the pie. Cleaning Crew In the beginning, you can clean your own properties; however, this is very time consuming and will not be possible once you get more than three properties. You have a few options when it comes to hiring a cleaning crew. You can find a professional company, or you can find an individual or small business to handle the job. They each have their own pros and cons, so you will have to decide what makes sense for you and your business. Generally, mom-and-pop cleaning crews are more adaptable and cheaper, while professional companies cost more but are more effective and have more accountability. Other Members: Landlords and Owners Real Estate Agent Bookkeeper Interior Designer Photographer Contractor Related: 13 Mistakes New Vacation Rental Owners Always Make 3. Market Research I could literally talk about market research for days as it’s one of the most important steps in this entire process. Most people who get into Airbnb don’t conduct any market research beyond a Google search—if that. Just because you have a nice property and you think it’s in a popular part of town doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful. You want to use hard facts to find properties in the most profitable parts of town. You want to find out which submarkets, zip codes, and streets are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck! If you’re going to skip some steps and rush through the process, I’m telling you: don’t skip out on solid market research. There are many ways to find the information you are looking for when deciding where to acquire a property. Some of these methods are free; others can cost quite a bit of money. As you grow your portfolio and your cash flow increases, you will be able to invest in more sophisticated methods of market research. However, when you’re just getting started, you may be a little more limited as to what you can afford. Here are just a few methods of conducting market research in the beginning. Airbnb Website The Airbnb website can tell you a lot about your market. You just have to know what to look for. If you open up the website and search for homes in your market, you are going to see a map with various filter options. You are going to want to select “Entire Home” and create a filter for properties with a minimum nightly rate of $100. The reason for this is that we are not starting a room-sharing business. If that’s your business model, then you can go forward with it, but generally we’re talking about renting out the entire home. You will make more money with this method. As for the minimum nightly rate of $100, you want to use this to find out where the most in-demand properties are located. I like to calculate 50 percent occupancy worst case scenario and still be profitable, and a nightly rate of less than $100 usually doesn’t make the cut. Now you will want to look for clusters of listings and go through them one by one to build a pattern. Certain markets are going to have a demand for certain property types, number of bedrooms, amenities, proximity, decorating style, etc. Your job is to find out those details during your analysis and then model those statistics in your own business strategy. Find the attractions that people are talking about in your city. It could be beaches, parks, shopping, or bars. You can find this information in the descriptions of the top Airbnb listings, the reviews, and with Google searches on various travel sites. This will give you a better idea of where you want to start looking for properties. Next you want to calculate the potential profitability of your listing and test for demand. If you can still be profitable at 50 percent monthly occupancy, then your property is probably going to be successful. If the going nightly rate in your target location is $200, then 15 days of bookings is going to make you $3,000 for the month. If your rent and expenses are $2,000, then you’re going to net $1,000 for the month. That’s pretty good for 50 percent occupancy and doesn’t even account for additional costs that you will charge the guest (like a cleaning fee). Find out what the going rents are for your market and run some numbers of your own. There are tools to test for occupancy and demand, but you can still do it for free with the Airbnb website. If you look at several listings in your market and then look at their future bookings one to two months into the future, you can get a decent idea of how they are actually doing. To do this, just click the “Check-in” button on the right side near the calendar. Then cycle through the months with the navigation arrow. The days that are booked will be filled in, and the open days will be bold text. There’s obviously a lot more that goes into market research, but this is enough to get started. 4. Finding Properties Now that you’ve collected real market data showing you exactly what areas are most profitable, what home types people like, what attractions people want to be near, and so on, it’s time to find your first property. Finding a property at first can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, but the market data you collected earlier will help narrow down the search. There are many property search tools online, but the one you want to start off with is Zillow.com. Open up the page and search for your market, and then choose the filters that apply to your property search metrics. If you want to make things even easier, simply search the zip code that you are looking to acquire a property in. Once you narrow your search down to the exact submarket or zip code you are considering, it’s just a matter of searching and analyzing. There may be 50 to 100 properties that you have to go through to find the one that you’ll end up choosing, but this effort will be rewarded in the end. If you want to narrow the process even further and cut down on your upfront costs, you can search specifically for furnished properties. 5. Listing Your Property Listing your property is pretty straightforward. Just follow the instructions on the Airbnb page by selecting “Become a Host.” You can create a dummy profile to get started, and then create your real listing later on. After you are set up, you can create your schedule, requirements for guests, and daily prices. Once you’re set up, everything is pretty much taken care of on the Airbnb website and app. Having all of the backend business operations handled is what makes this model so easy to get into. From this stage, you can begin optimizing your listing so that you will attract more guests to your property. 6. Increasing Sales & Airbnb Web Optimization Now that you have your property set up on the Airbnb platform, you can begin optimizing your profile to attract more guests. Every profile has a rank, which is determined by an internal algorithm only known to Airbnb (just like Google search results). There are many known white hat methods of increasing your rank within the algorithm and attracting more guests. One of the most important things that you can do to increase the number of people who click on your listing is to have great pictures. If you can hire a professional photographer for a couple hundred bucks, then do it. If not, then try to borrow an expensive camera and learn a little about lighting and photo editing. Your pictures are one of the first things people notice when clicking on your listing. Therefore, they can be a deciding factor in whether or not guests book with you. If you want good examples of great photos and top-of-the-line listings, then click the “Airbnb Plus” homes to view the top-rated properties in your market. To get a good idea of what your property should look like, browse through the Airbnb Plus properties to see what’s working. Are there certain keywords people are using in their titles? Are they showcasing the living room, bedroom, kitchen, patio, etc.? Is there an interior design pattern that stands out? Ask yourself these questions, and do your best to model your profile after the top performers. A lot of people who get into Airbnb just wing it and try to come up with everything by themselves. This is why most people get mediocre results. If you put a little time and effort on the front end into effective market research, marketing, and interior design, you are going to do very well. 7. Automating Your Business Successfully building a portfolio of multiple rental properties that generate thousands of dollars per month is pretty awesome, but being stuck working 100 hours per week to maintain it certainly isn’t. We didn’t get into business and investing so we could work two or three times as much as everyone else. We did it because we wanted freedom, control, and options in life. Putting the proper systems in place can allow you to run your Airbnb business with minimal effort and continue to make reliable income. Luckily, a lot of the technical mechanics of the booking process are handled for you by Airbnb, but there’s a lot more you can do to separate yourself from the day-to-day operations. Automating your business is all about systems and processes that you and your team create. It also comes down to some essential software and tools to streamline the process. Once you have your property set up, it’s just a matter of maintaining the basic property management tasks and a continual cycle of cleaning after each booking. If your landlord has a property manager or you are using a condo in a complex, then your basic property management needs are taken care of. If not, then you will need to find a good property manager who can handle these things. Your cleaning crew needs to understand everything that needs to be done each time they show up to clean. They also need to know when to show up and get the job done. The best way to do this is to sync your Google calendar with your Airbnb schedule, and then share a “read-only” version with your cleaning crew. This way they can access the calendar, but they can’t change it. This will give them what they need to show up on time without you having to schedule after every booking. Also, since you shared it with them, you can also revoke access if you have to find a different cleaning crew later on. Your next most powerful automation technique is to get a co-host. I briefly mentioned co-hosts in the team section and how they can help you run your business. You want to find someone you can trust, who also has experience in the hospitality and real estate industries. This person will be the face of your business on the properties that they represent and manage. They will be responsible for handling guest questions and providing additional services. They’re sort of an internal Airbnb property manager for you and your listings. If you have numerous listings in multiple markets, then you will have more than one co-host who manages their own section of your portfolio. After a certain point, you can hire a CEO or asset manager, who will take on your job of overseeing and growing the company. Next you want to automate the check-in process. The last thing you want is to have to personally drive to your listing and greet every single guest who stays in one of your properties. The way you get around this is by allowing a self-check-in process for your guests. In order to do this, they will need access to the keys to enter the property when they arrive. You can use the old school lock box that real estate agents use, or you can use smart locks. The downside of the lock box is that people can lose the key or come back months later and rob you. The upside is that they are cheaper. When it comes to smart locks, you have a lot of options and many more security features. A popular model is the August Smart Lock, which will run you a couple hundred dollars. With smart locks, you are able to remotely access the property from your phone. You can give temporary codes that expire after your guest leaves, and you can see who is accessing the property with personalized codes, too. This gives you a lot more control and accountability when managing your property. Another fundamental key to automating your business is creating a comprehensive house manual. The house manual is something that your guests will have access to once they book with you. An effective house manual should cover every possible question a guest could have so that they don’t feel the need to contact you. It should have everything from WiFi passwords, gate codes, and available amenities to local attractions, transportation options, emergency contacts, co-host contact information, etc. This manual will give your guest everything they need to be self-sufficient. Most people don’t want to be bothered when they are staying at your property, just as they wouldn’t in a hotel. Make it easy for them to get what they need without too much effort by providing them with a detailed house manual. Final Thoughts Starting a business with Airbnb is one of the best models for people who don’t have a lot of real estate experience or startup capital, because a lot of the mechanics are handled for you. However, it’s even better if you do have these things, because you will be able to launch and scale your business that much faster. If you put your head down and diligently work on this, you will be making a six-figure income in 12-18 months from the day you start. That kind of success is almost unheard of in most industries! I hope you enjoyed this guide on Airbnb arbitrage, and I wish you success in your journey. Resources: https://muchneeded.com/airbnb-statistics/ https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2018/02/27/the-airbnb-effect-cheaper-rooms-for-travelers-less-revenue-for-hotels/ https://www.nber.org/papers/w24361 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5918039/From-broke-billionaires-rise-Airbnb-founders.html https://www.inc.com/leigh-gallagher/how-these-airbnb-superhosts-earn-100k-a-year.html https://www.airbnb.com/ Any questions? Need further instructions? Ask me in a comment below!