3 Tips to Help Keep Yourself (and Your Property) Safe on Airbnb

by | BiggerPockets.com

Most people we know get over their Airbnb concerns once the money starts coming in. Still, taking that first step can be scary. That’s understandable, given that you are inviting complete strangers into your home to do as they will with possibly your most valuable asset.

The good news is that there are a few simple ways to mitigate the risks. I’ve outlined them below. Following this approach has protected us. Hopefully it will also help you.

Related: The Top 10 Dos and Don’ts for Airbnb Short-Stay Landlords

1. Check Reviews

The beauty of Airbnb is that there are a couple of safeguards built in. First, the company requires that all users upload a profile photo. Second, the review system allows not only for guests to review hosts, but also for hosts to review guests. This is a wonderful feature. It incentivizes everyone to be honest and respectful (and is not available on all short-term rental sites; VRBO, for one, does not offer this feature). Finally, there are ways to limit your guests to those who are verified (verification on Airbnb can be through government issued IDs or social accounts). This extra measure really helps limit fraud on the site.

2. Lock Up Your Valuables

We added a lock to our walk-in closet to help limit risk at our primary residence. You can easily Google a list of what to lock up, but here are a few ideas: your laptop and other expensive electronics, your checkbook, your passport, and your underwear. Basically, anything valuable, anything that could compromise your identity, and anything that just isn’t meant for a stranger’s eyes.

 Related: The Upsides & Downsides of Airbnb: A Landlord’s Perspective

3. Get Insurance

Yes, yes, Airbnb offers an insurance product, but since it caters to both hosts and guests, we recommend getting an insurance product designed to specifically help you. [Note on this: your homeowners insurance may not cover short-term rentals, and you may even get boot you from your policy if your insurance company finds out you are doing them. Instead, Google short-term insurance products on line, explain your situation, and get yourself covered separately.]

What ways have you protected yourself and your property while hosting short-term renters? Share your ideas in the comments below!

About Author

Erin Spradlin

Erin Spradlin is co-owner of James Carlson Real Estate. She currently owns three properties and is looking for her next investment. With a background in Airbnb rentals and marketing, she is always looking for the next trend. Find more on Erin at: http://www.jamescarlsonrealestate.com/.

13 Comments

  1. Cindy Larsen

    Despite the steps you list to make it safe to use your property for air bnb, it is way too risky for me.

    I do thorough background checks on my renters (credit, criminal, foreclosures bankruptcies), require at least a 3 year job and housing history, and then call the landlords and employers listed. I also require a sizeable deposit, and first and last month’s rent. I talk with my tenants before signing the lease to set expectations: to make sure they know to contact me if there are any problems with the house, and to make sure they know that I expect them to keep it is nice as it was when they rented it. I inspect at least twice a year (4 times the first year).

    I do all that to keep my investment safe, by knowing as much as I can about my tenants up front, and by making sure they are respecting my investment on an ongoing basis. With airbnb you are letting strangers who you know very little about into your house. Most of the time it is probably fine.

    But what if they are meth smokers? What if they have lice or bedbugs, or even just a pet with fleas that they sneak in? What if the pet pees on your carpet? What if they trash your house, for whatever reason some tenants trash houses? This is why I talk to previous landlords. Some people are just crazy. I once had a neighbor who was buying his property from the previous owner (owner carried mortgage). The buyer paid neither mortgage nor property taxes. When he finally got forclosed on, he destroyed the house with a chain saw to the floors walls and cabinets, and a sledge hammer to sinks and toilets. Still vacant two years later.

    No matter what checks you do, you never know for sure. But I do everything I can to reduce risks, and understand who the people are before I rent to them. I don’t think that is really feasible with airbnb.
    Getting good tenants is, to my mind, the most important contribution to being a successful landlord.
    My investment properties are my retirement income. I want to manage my risk, and maximize my ROI.
    Airbnb may make a lot of income. But can you predict the expenses?

    • Erin Spradlin

      Well, I think that Airbnb does have some features to help qualify a person- namely, the reviews. History is usually a good indicator of future behavior, so if you only rent to people that have 10+ outstanding reviews, you are probably in a good position to assume that they will respect your property as well.
      A lot of people are understandably concerned about bed bugs. I’m concerned about bed bugs, but they are a force to be reckoned with that no one has really conquered. The Waldorf Astoria in NYC got bed bugs, so I think it’s a risk that you take anywhere.
      Sounds like your checks keep you safe and that you have a great system in place. I just think that different people have different levels of work or effort they are willing to put forth for the risk factor. It sounds like you have managed risk and expectations to your comfort level.

  2. Chris Mylan

    Erin, just curious – what’s the most damage someone has done to one of your properties and what was the payout you received from AirBnB (or another insurance co.)? Was it easy to file and recoup funds?

    I have had only minor damage of less than $150 (on two separate occasions) and it’s been a seamless process to file and get the money/ security deposit returned, so I’m wondering your experience.

    Thanks! And nice article –

    -Chris

    • Erin Spradlin

      Hey Chris- the most damage we’ve had is $2400. Someone ran into a garage door at a condo unit. While our exchange was captured through Airbnb, we actually ended up resolving it outside of Airbnb with the guest. Full disclosure, it was more of a hassle than we would have liked, but ultimately we did get the money back.
      Sounds like going through Airbnb worked out for you fine though? Nice to hear that recouping it wasn’t too much trouble because we’ve heard mixed reviews on that.

      • Laura O.

        I’m glad that worked out well for you guys. With our Airbnb investment property that we have listed on the site, we had a guest who trashed our newly renovated home. Airbnb only gave us $20 for the damages and they were basically like too bad. Every time I asked to speak to a supervisor, Fabio (the Airbnb patron) said that he was the only manager in charge of the account. We didn’t even request reimbursement for all of the damages such as the repainting that was required. We just asked for them to reimburse us for breaking our master bath freestanding bathtub drain plumber’s fee, the false alarm reduction fee from the city of Atlanta for not following the rules and not putting in the alarm code in on time before police were dispatched, reimbursement for the kettle they broke and a fee for forgetting to return the house keys. There was a laundry list of other items worth several hundred in damages that we didn’t even bother with because we were most concerned with the aforementioned items. We took pictures with date stamps of the trashed condition she and her guests left my home and I was shocked that Airbnb took the position to side with the reckless guests instead of protecting their hosts that serve their company. We have tried to call airbnb to speak to someone more senior and even threatened to sue. Fabio and Airbnb just didn’t care. Any escalation tips that you have?

  3. Jerry W.

    Erin,
    Thank you for sharing. I have started my first vacation rental. Currently I rent out half of a duplex. I am renovating the other side. I do not live there. I currently use VRBO, but am considering adding AirB&B. Do counsel for or against having a property listed with both sites? Currently I have only averaged 2 renters per month as it is the cold season here. We are a summer recreation spot. Of course I have just started so my experience is limited.

    • Erin Spradlin

      Hey Jerry- I would recommend using both platforms. First of all, it’s a volume game, so the more people you can get in front of, the more bookings you’ll get. Also, more data will help you decide what your price should be. Once you find out what nightly rate keeps you booked, you can use the second platform to charge slightly more and go with those requests as they come in. One thing to be careful with using two platforms is that calendaring issues occur frequently. It’s automated, but people have had problems- so keep that in mind.

  4. Michael Baum

    Thanks Erin for all you (and your husbands) posts. My wife and I purchased a lake house in Idaho (Lake Coeur ‘d Alene) that we will be doing STR in starting in Jan.

    It has been a great challenge (and fun) getting it all ready to go and I am really looking forward to starting it up!

    AirBNB will be our first foray into advertising our rental. Do you only use AirBNB or do you use VRBO/Homeaway?

    Have you used AirBNB’s free photography and if so, how did it work out?

    • Erin Spradlin

      Great question, Michael (and I’m jealous you have a place in Idaho, which I’ve heard is awesome like CO but without the people.) We recommend using both services as you get more volume that way. IT used to be that Airbnb trended more toward cities and singles or couples and VRBO was more for larger places and families, but Airbnb is everywhere now. So, go with both for volume and keep an eye on your calendars (it should be automated, but I’ve heard and experienced issues.) Also, set one of the platforms higher (we charged more on VRBO), so that you get more pay if people book through that site and keep your other platform at your standard rate, which you know will rent out.
      And, yes, we do use the free photography. I have a blog post coming out on that any day now… but it made a huge difference. The lighting they did really made our place look nicer than it was… and while some people may see this as false advertising, we never had anyone complain. I think you get them in with good lighting and win them over with great customer service. Good luck!

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