Over the last two months, I’ve hung up my house flipping hammer and picked up the vacuum as part of my new role as an Airbnb host. As with any new adventure, it’s had its ups and downs…and several lessons. As with house flipping, Airbnb hosting requires a lot of work but the potential for profits is also great. When I started as a rookie host a couple months ago, I had no idea the lessons I’d learn (and mistakes I’d make). Despite the learning curve, I’ve enjoyed this new avenue of real estate investing! If you’ve heard about Airbnb hosting, and you’re curious if it’s for you, let the five lessons I’ve learned since becoming an Airbnb host be a guide for you!
Lessons I’ve Learned Since Becoming An Airbnb Host
Prior to buying a house to Airbnb, the extent of my vacation rental hosting came from my travel experience, blogs I’ve read, and other hosts I’ve stalked on Instagram. But no matter how much you read or how many Airbnbs you personally stay in, there will always be lessons taught to you by your guests. In my two months, I’ve learned about people, preventing problems before there are problems, complaint resolution, creating a home-away-from-home, and staying on top of a calendar.
Learning About People
As a Realtor, I deal with people every day. I’ve worked with difficult people, naive people, experienced people, understanding people, and everything in between. I thought I’d figured people out, but here’s the fundamental difference between working with clients and working with guests: clients are focused on business and guests are focused on relaxation. How you interact with a client selling a house is dramatically different than interacting with people vacationing at the lake for a week. I’ve had my share of interesting people (like the guy who never used a single towel the entire week and only used the pumpkin spice kitchen soap in the shower) and kind people (the family that left several sidewalk chalk pictures thanking me).
As a host you can expect that you will get guests that you enjoy– and guests you can’t wait to see leave. Whomever you host, keep in mind these universal lessons about people:
- People want to be heard.
- I once had a guest that complained that I had put bloody sheets on her bed. I knew this wasn’t true because they were brand new sheets I had put on the bed immediately prior to their arrival. Her initial contact with me had an upset tone. My initial thought was “I can’t recover from a bad review about bloody sheets!” Instead of immediately dismissing her complaint, I listened. Then I offered to provide new sheets and explained that they were brand new sheets. I came to the house, cleaned the bedroom, and remade the bed with new sheets (again). Come to find out, she had had a bloody nose in the night and had bled on the sheets. She eventually realized it, apologized, thanked me, and left me a five star review. Listening to people has a tremendous impact. I listen to them when they tell me why they’re coming, and I try to make mention of that or leave a small something that reflects the purpose of their trip. People love being heard, and listening makes you a better host.
- People want to feel special.
- When you stay in a hotel, it’s never catered specifically to you. But imagine if it was! You’d feel so excited and appreciated, and you’d want to go back there, right? That’s my philosophy with hosting. Some hosts may object that doing extra things isn’t cost effective, but my argument is that not doing something extra for each guest hurts financially in the long run. Sometimes the “extra” stuff I do costs me $3– like Razorback donuts for the Arkansas alumni that came back to visit or $7 custom cupcakes from a local bakery for a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Each of those guests commented on the extra touches, and even went so far to mention that they’d be sure to stay at my Airbnb again.
Identifying Problems…Before They’re Problems
I feel like second to people, identifying problems before there are problems is my most dominant task as an Airbnb host. The very first night I had guests at the Airbnb, I hardly slept because I thought of all of the potential things that could go wrong. Little things. Big things. Before my first guests, I tried to identify big potential problems- problems that could get me sued- and how to prevent those. I tried to identify small problems- problems that could get me a negative review- and how to prevent those.
From supplying minor things like coffee, a hairdryer, magazines, USB outlets, extra pillows, and even shampoo and soap, I try to identify things travelers may need or at least appreciate. I also made sure the home was safely equipped for guests by installing smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, & non-slip bath mats. By thinking ahead of what guests might need or want, I try to prevent problems before they occur. That is not to say I haven’t missed things or problems haven’t arisen (like the bloody sheet incident!), but I’ve learned to do my best to prevent routine problems before they have the chance to occur.
Honestly, this is the most crucial lesson to learn, and one that doesn’t come easily to me. Resolving complaints diplomatically and quickly is essential to maintaining a positive reputation as a host. Like I mentioned earlier, once a guest leaves a negative review about bloody sheets, that is extremely difficult to overcome. Any future guests are going to see a negative review about bloody sheets, and they won’t book with you. I knew I had to be extremely diplomatic in solving the complaint. My gut reaction was to just respond with “They were new sheets, so the blood must be yours.” And while that statement is true, it’s not a diplomatic approach to solving the problem and ensuring a positive review. However, by offering to clean the home, providing new sheets, and quickly resolving their issue, I was able to turn a negative situation into a positive one.
Part of hosting, rather than house flipping, is dealing with complaints. Your job is to make guests enjoyable and not just about the profit. When, not if, complaints arise, it’s important to remember these tips:
- Quickly resolve the issue. The faster you respond, the better the guest will feel.
- Do not make the situation more contentious
- Be diplomatic (even if you don’t want to)
- Provide something extra (bribe ’em!). Did I need to clean the house or remake the bed? No. Did it show my guests I was committed to providing a comfortable and clean visit? Yes.
Creating a Home-Away-From-Home
Unlike a typical hotel, guests are looking for an experience. They want to feel comfortable. From the towels I buy to the mattresses I purchase, I want it to feel overly comfortable. I don’t buy the cheapest linens. I decorate with charming accents. I provide small luxuries from home- coffee & creamer, bottled flavored water, small chocolates, down pillows, high-thread count sheets, just to name a few.
I’ve said it before, your Airbnb shouldn’t feel like a Bachelor Pad with leftover dorm furniture. You want there to be style and comfort. Initially when I started shopping for items to furnish the Airbnb, I think I was a little behind on this. But there more reviews I read of my local competitors and the more hosts I followed, I learned how this often overlooked thing can be the difference between setting you apart from other hosts. One of the fundamental lessons I’ve learned in this process is that Airbnb hosting is part of the hospitality industry far more than it is part of the real estate investing industry. If hospitality isn’t on your agenda but you want the profits of an Airbnb, it’s certainly worth hiring an Airbnb Property Manager (BTW-if you’re in NWA, I provide this service to other hosts!).
Dates, dates, dates…The KEY!
Each platform, Airbnb, VRBO, etc. has their own online calendar to keep up reservations. They even have the ability to sync all of the multiple calendars which makes life so much easier. For example, if I get a booking on VRBO, it automatically blocks out those days on my Airbnb calendar so guests don’t double book. It’s extremely handy! I also keep a paper calendar as well. So far, I have not had a double booking, but I’ve heard some horror stories! When I first listed my home on the platforms, I had four bookings in the first hour. I learned really fast that I needed a system to keep it straight, so I personally keep multiple calendars.
The other important thing about dates that I learned is that you need to be incredibly familiar with dates for local events. People come into town for festivals, concerts, athletic events, etc. The more popular an event means that as a host, I can charge more on those dates. I’ve also learned I rarely get a booking for a random Monday night, but I’m almost always booked on a Friday night. I have taken that information and reduced my Monday rates to encourage more bookings and increased my weekend rates to generate more revenue. Websites like Airdna allow you to monitor the popularity of certain dates, and you have the power to monitor and adjust your rates- a key to hosting success.
The profits from an Airbnb have the potential to be substantially more than a long term rental, but, as I’ve learned over the last two months, it requires a lot more attention and time. I’ve made a lot of trips to the Airbnb house. I’ve washed a lot of sheets. I’ve scrubbed a lot of toilets. So the profits come with a sacrifice. I don’t know how long I’ll Airbnb– it’s a good distraction and supplemental income while I’m on my flipping sabbatical. I have learned, though, that being an Airbnb host isn’t for everyone. Not everyone wants the worry, the commitment, the time, etc. But there is tremendous potential with vacation rental hosting, and with the lessons I’ve learned since becoming an Airbnb host, I hope it doesn’t seem too daunting!