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When my wife and I talk to others who have hosted for any length of time on Airbnb, we hear the same thing over and over: Airbnb changed their lives. I’ve worked with several clients whose Airbnb money emboldened them to make new choices.
That’s our story as well. In addition to paying down credit-card debt and buying a car, our Airbnb money helped us buy our first home. Since then, we’ve leveraged that to buy other investment properties.
But for the uninitiated, Airbnb and short-term rentals can seem a little daunting. It doesn’t have to be. While perfecting the art of Airbnb takes some time, getting started is easy. Here are the first steps you need to take to become a successful Airbnb host.
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Check Your City and HOA Laws
Whether you choose to follow Airbnb rules is up to you, but you should at least know what they are and the consequences of breaking them.
To find your city laws, call your city’s planning or zoning department. There are three questions you need to ask your city planner:
- Are there any rules specific to short-term renting, Airbnb, or VRBO (to learn more about how to rent your place and list for free on VRBO, click here)?
- Are there any rules restricting rentals that last for 30 days or less?
- Are short-term rentals recognized in the city use code? And if not, are uses not addressed in the use code considered illegal?
Asking these three questions should tell you what you need to know about the legality of short-term renting in your city.
Similarly, if you have an HOA, you’ll want to check the declarations or email your HOA board to ask if there are rules limiting rentals lasting 30 days or less. (Some condo communities are small enough that directly asking them may put you on their radar, so reviewing the governing documents may be your best option here.)
Declutter Your Space
You don’t need to have a designer’s eye to build a good Airbnb space. (Though it certainly helps.) Just think less is more. Paring down your furnishings to the minimum is a sure-fire way to make your place more appealing in photographs. Some staging experts recommend getting rid of a third of your furniture for the best look. Even the frumpiest couch will look better if it’s not surrounded by junk.
If that doesn’t seem feasible, make sure your place is at least tidy: tuck chairs under the table, fold blankets, organize magazines and books, remove all the dishes from the sink (it may seem obvious, but it isn’t to everyone) so just remember: tidier is better.
Hire a Photographer
Here’s something to remember: Potential guests are looking at tens of listings and making snap judgments based on a quick glance. What draws them in? Photographs. And if yours are dark or not framed correctly, you may be missing out. Unless you have some expertise with photography, your iPhone’s not going to cut it.
Do one of two things: Take advantage of Airbnb’s free photography or hire your own. Many listings qualify for Airbnb’s free photography. Just Google “Airbnb free photography.” Unfortunately, some listings don’t qualify or the wait may be too long. In that case, I urge you to hire a professional real estate photographer. It may cost $100 or $150, but you’ll make that up in no time.
List Your Space
When listing your space, think inside and out. What is most appealing about the inside of your space? And what is most appealing about your outside or location? When you have your answers, fold them into one headline. And when doing this, try to sell the experience, not just the amenities.
For instance: Live the Local’s Life – 1 Bedroom within Walking Distance to Downtown
See the City: Urban Loft with Floor-to-Ceiling Windows
The listing is also a great place to discuss other important items: Are animals allowed? Is there laundry (and how much, if anything, does it cost?)? Remember this is public, so list the basics here but not the details (i.e., no wifi passwords, nothing about the neighbors, etc.).
One other note on your listing: Be transparent and honest about your space. People will forgive a leaky faucet or a not-quite-as-bright basement apartment if you’re upfront with them. Set accurate expectations, and you’ll prevent a lot of problems in the future.
Okay, you’ve decluttered your place, taken good photos, and set up your listing. Now, how much do you charge?
You’ve got a couple tools to figure this out.
- Airbnb Smart Pricing. Airbnb offers a tool that sets the price for you. This is great for those who don’t want to think too much. The problem is that they’re based on averages, and if your home is above average (and 50 percent of them will be), then Airbnb is pricing you too low. I’ve heard people get upset that somehow Airbnb allowed their 2-bedroom condo to get booked for $70/night for New Year’s Eve.
- Outside pricing tools. There’s a cottage industry of dynamic pricing tools tailored to short-term rentals. These have the same benefits of Airbnb’s Smart Pricing. And the drawbacks. They provide ease of use but are not that precise.
- Do your own research. The third option (and our personal favorite) is doing some good old fashioned market research. Act like you’re a guest and search for properties of similar size with similar furnishings in your immediate area. Be sure to check their reviews to see if they have some recent ones, which will indicate they’re getting booked.
(As a side note: One mistake people make is they rely on a host’s calendar to gauge occupancy. A host can block off dates for any number of reasons. They may be booked for the entire month of November, or they may have just blocked it off for their own use.)
Now that you know what comparable properties rent for, you’re set! Almost. First, you should cut 10%–20% off that price. Why would you do that? Because positive reviews are one of the best ways to move up in Airbnb’s search rankings.
If you’re priced at the same rate as similar properties with lots of reviews, guests are going to choose the listing with more reviews. You need to undercut your competition for awhile, grab a couple stellar reviews, and only then should you start to raise your prices.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Be enthusiastic and nice in your messages, in your face-to-face interactions, and in any phone calls or texts you make to your guests.
This is both an offensive and a defensive tactic. It’s offensive because your kindness may spill into the good review they’ll leave. That’s a good thing! It’s defensive because I’ve found that even if a guest has a bad time at your place, if they like you and think you’ve tried hard, they are less likely to leave a bad review. I’ve hosted tens of people who I know had something go wrong during their stay, and they either didn’t leave a review or left a review that simply said the host was super attentive and nice.
As we said before, to become a rockstar Airbnb host takes some time, and there are certainly more advanced tips to follow when operating a short-term rental. Don’t let that stop you. Take the steps we talked about and give it a go.
What tips did you find helpful when getting your vacation rental up and running? Let me know below!