UPDATE: part 3, the financial results! is here.
- HAVE A CLEANING CHECKLIST. Whether I'm cleaning it, or our cleaning person is, it's helpful to have a checklist for the apartment. It should contain all of the things that need cleaning, all the things that need washing, amenities (e.g., toilet paper, coffee) whose levels need checking, a list of valuables (art, coffeemaker, electronics) that might have been stolen, and cleaning supplies. The flipside of my OCD: this made me realize just how little cleaning most hosts are likely doing before new guests arrive. *shudder*
- LAUNDRY, LAUNDRY, LAUNDRY – it's probably the most time-consuming duty of a host. A normal guest will end up leaving a minimum of 2 loads of laundry (set of sheets + bath towels). Kitchen towels, bath mats, duvet covers, and cleaning rags can also add to the pile. Even if you have in-unit laundry, it might just be faster to go to a laundromat and do all of it at once. Or have a 2nd/3rd set of sheets and towels so you can wash them back at your home at your leisure.
- ALWAYS CHARGE A CLEANING FEE. I realize this might prod a guest into thinking "well i paid $50, i'm not going to pick up after myself!", but because there's no published cleanliness standard for guests beyond "don't leave a mess", I always charge it. It's still not enough money to cover the cost of an actual cleaning person, though (my cleaners charge $100 for 750 sqft apt), so I'm definitely doing a few of the cleanings myself when the timing works out well.
- GUESTS DOING LONG STAYS WANT CLEANING SERVICES. It's probably good to offer them access to your current cleaning person or some kind of service that YOU trust to do a good job and to not steal their stuff.
- PEOPLE LIE ABOUT HOW MANY GUESTS ARE COMING. So far I've had 3 rentals out of 12 where the guests put "2" people but 3 or more were actually coming — even though I have the listing set to "2 max". Thus far I've not made a big deal out of it, but that extra person does mean there's more laundry to do and it just feels dishonest given that they have to explicitly state the number of people during the booking process.
- SOME PEOPLE AREN'T SLEEPING THERE. I've had one guest who was actually shooting scenes for a movie he was making for his senior project. Several people were staying at nearby hotels and were using the apartment as a shag pad. I didn't ask a lot of questions but I suppose if work was putting me up in a hotel double-occupancy with another coworker, I might want a place to "get away" for a few hours. Might a good thing to get a waterproof mattress cover...
- HAVE A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD GUIDE. Since positive reviews are the lifeblood of AirBnB, I have to say that many of my guests publicly raved about my neighborhood recommendations. Never assume that because they're in a big city that they already have their own guidebooks and preconceived ideas of where they're going.
- PEOPLE WANT BABY CRIBS AND STROLLERS. Even if you don't provide them, you should have the number of a nearby (or airport?) service that rents them so you can look helpful and prepared.
- PEOPLE WILL SMOKE IN YOUR APARTMENT even if you tell them not to. I guess it's just a matter of how egregious the smell is when they check out. Most people seem to attempt the "hang out the window/sit on the fire escape" thing so it's not too bad. One person clearly spent some of her own money on some industrial Febreeze to cover her tracks.
- YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE TECH SUPPORT for your Wi-Fi, TV, etc... I got so sick of dealing with Time Warner Cable/Internet outages that I just hid a Mi-Fi in the laundry closet and told guests where to find it and how to plug it in and connect during outages. I found that vastly preferrable to sitting on hold for an hour with TWC only to learn "there's an outage in your area". It's probably also good to have an ethernet cable for people to plug into in case the Wi-Fi goes down.
- GUESTS WANT TO LISTEN TO MUSIC so it's nice to have an easy way for them to connect their iPod/iPhone to some kind of amplification.
- GUESTS SOMETIMES NEED AN IRON and and ironing board... weddings, job interviews, etc. Might as well have a lint brush, too.
- HAVE A HAIRDRYER. I had at least 4 guests who wanted to make sure we had one before they booked. I also keep one of those free travel kits from the airlines in the medicine chest in case the guest forgot their toothbrush or other toiletry.
- FOREIGN CURRENCY EXCHANGE offices are occasionally necessary for visitors from overseas. It's a good idea to know where the nearest one is and its hours. Include it on your neighborhood guide along with nearest 24-hour hospital and pharmacy, grocery store, gym, laundry, and liquor store.
- DO THE MATH ON YOUR TAXES! your AirBnB money is reported to the government as income, and since AirBnB takes out no deductions, you'll owe around 30% to the IRS at the end of the year. It's also helpful to divide your rent by 30 to see what you're paying your landlord per day. EXAMPLE: if your rent is $4500/month, that's $150 per day. Once you factor in a 30% tax rate and AirBnB's 3% host fee, you have to charge $220 just to break even. Your accountant might be able to set up your AirBnB as a separate business and count the rent you pay your landlord as a business expense, but accountants aren't free, either.
- USE A CALENDAR! I use AirBnB's calendar export feature in conjunction with Google Calendar so I have an overview of guests, but I also found it helpful to send guests a welcome email (several days prior to their visit) that also asks for their arrival information and expected time of departure on check out day. I add that to my google calendar so I can plan the rest of my day. After my 3rd or 4th reservation, I couldn't keep track of it all in my head and got sick of fishing through old AirBnB messages to find the times.
Google calendar with auto-imported booking (bottom) and flight reminder
- WORK THOSE POINTS! Most Airline mileage programs and transferable point credit cards have some kind of online shopping portal where you can earn bonus miles. I used the Chase Sapphire portal to buy cleaning supplies, and consumables like paper towels and toilet paper from Drugstore.com. They also offer free shipping on orders larger than $30. What's more, they also have their own rewards program that offers 5% cash rebates toward future purchases.
- NEWBIE GUESTS NEED MORE HAND-HOLDING. If you see that a guest has no reviews as a host or as a guest, there's a very good chance that they're going to want a larger number of comforting messages letting them know that you haven't forgotten them and that they aren't arriving to a locked door and nobody home to answer the bell.
- ADVERTISE. Like Google, AirBnB has a complex algorithm for which places appear at the top of their search results. (There's a great article about it here). But what to do when you're a new host with no reviews, no response rate, no renters, and you're only getting 4 page views per day? Advertise. I know we all HATE Facebook ads, but I spent $10 a day for one month to "prime the pump" and the results were instant and dramatic: page views of my listing jumped from 4 per day to over 100. Then I cut it to $5/day, and then I turned it off altogether. I made sure to be a great host with very quick communication times and within a month or two I didn't need the ads to drive page views at all.
There are many tutorials online for doing Facebook ads so I won't go into that. But I will say that FB gives you very fine control of who sees the ads (and ergo who stays in your rental). I chose to advertise to Western Europeans over 25. Very old apartments – even nice ones like mine – usually have a shabby "charm" about them that most Europeans understand. Americans from the suburbs who are used to new construction tend to be freaked out by the fact that my radiators clank, that there's no thermostat, that 750 sq. ft. is considered large, and that you have to walk up 2 flights of stairs because there's no elevator.
See your page views by clicking the triangle at the top of the Calendar view
- AVOID FUSSY PEOPLE, MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE COOL ONES. I've had people ask me to re-shoot the pictures of the entire apartment because "the girlfriend isn't comfortable" with the ones I had. Another wanted my assurance the neighborhood was "crime free". Yet another wanted to send a friend over to inspect the place prior to renting, and one even insisted on knowing the "brand name of moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, and beauty products I was providing". I just clicked Decline because I know that's just the tip of an iceberg right there. On the other hand, I've actually gone to dinner and made friends with the more social and easy going guests.