• I Just Listed My Vacation Rental on Airbnb: Here's What I Learned!

    Vacation rental “athletes” know that owning and operating a rental is a marathon, not a sprint. Along the way, many roadblocks will pop up...and successful, agile owners find ways to quickly change course.

    Expedia’s acquisition of HomeAway was one of the biggest hurdles owners and managers faced in the last year. I’ve watched many of my colleagues’ businesses come to a halt under the new HomeAway “Best Match” algorithm.

    I’m one of the lucky ones: my HomeAway listing continues to generate solid bookings for my vacation rental. In fact, about 80% of my bookings come from HomeAway (another 15% come from my own personal website, created with the help of Matt Landau, and the last 5% come from a local listing site in my area called Summit Pacific).

    But am I really so lucky? I know I can’t count on those numbers forever. And with all of my eggs in one basket, that 80% could very well be a curse, not a blessing. If my “Best Match” ranking changed, what would happen to my rental business?

    As a whole house owner, I’ve been extremely hesitant to create an Airbnb listing. The company’s bad press and limited communication between owner and guests made me more than hesitant.

    But in the interest of my vacation rental “marathon” I figured I’d give it a shot. Consider me your guinea pig.

    Now, I’m two months into my Airbnb adventure. Here are 5 things I’ve learned.

    1.  Airbnb Can Be Downright Scary for Whole House Owners.

    In my view, there are reasons to be concerned about giving the keys to your home to a guest you can't even speak with on the phone.

    Airbnb began as a home sharing platform with the expectation that the host lived "on-site."  However, most of us whole-house owners do not live on-site. In my case, in fact, I’m thousands of miles away from my rental!

    I can get the guest to sign my contract, which is great. And Airbnb has its $1M “host guarantee.” But Airbnb still escrows my income and my damage deposit...and they have the final say in whether the damage is great enough for me to keep the damage deposit. On top of that, I have to get them information about the damage within 48 hours (terms change often so make sure that you call in and report the damage ASAP and before another guest checks in).

    There are some great things about Airbnb (which I’ll get to) but there’s an inherent risk here that you might not be used to outside of the Airbnb platform. Make sure you’re comfortable with it before you begin taking bookings!

    2.  Look for Completed Guest Profiles.

    Since listing on Airbnb two months ago, I have received about 6 inquiries. I was surprised to find that some of the prospective guests hadn’t even bothered to complete their guest profile!

    In one instance, I only had the first name of the guest. In another, the profile picture was of the person’s back! Hardly reassuring.

    Was I overreacting, I wondered? Should I let these folks slide by in the interest of landing a booking?

    I contacted my friend Debi Hertert, a seasoned Airbnb host and founder of the Hosting Your Home podcast, who reassured me that my gut was correct: an incomplete profile can indeed be a red flag.

    But not always.

    She also pointed out that Airbnb is a community built on trust, and recommended I give Sally Stranger a chance: I could educate and encourage her to complete her profile and/or include a full face photo before booking. Good guests will take that extra step.

    Maybe eventually Airbnb will require a completed profile before guests can book (hear that, Airbnb?). In the meantime, be on the lookout for sketchy profiles, and don’t be afraid to ask a guest to complete their profile before booking with you.  

    Also remember: the trust pact of Airbnb swings both ways: be sure your host profile is complete as well!  

     

     

    3.  Positive Reviews are Important.

    Unlike HomeAway, on Airbnb, hosts can review and rate their guests.

    This is great for screening purposes. Many whole house Airbnb owners I’ve talked to simply won’t allow guests with less than three stars to stay with them.

    But in my case, most of the people who reached out to me did not have any reviews, period.

    Who was I to criticize? I didn't have any either!

    But here's what I do have: a fully filled out profile, a verified identity (Airbnb uses your driver's license and social accounts to prove you are who you say you are) and 9 super-sweet references from owners/vacation rental insiders who vouched for me.

                           

     

    If your prospective guest is missing these other elements (see #3), then you’re right to consider giving them a pass. If, on the other hand, they have a complete, friendly profile with a photo as well as verification, don’t let a lack of reviews deter you. Everyone has to start somewhere.

    Watch out for reviews that may have hidden meaning, too. One prospective guest had only one review, which called them “a good communicator.” I read between the lines that this person may be difficult to deal with.

    4.  Make Sure your Property Listing is Detailed.

    A detailed listing will benefit you, as an owner, and lets the guest know upfront if a booking is a good match.  

    As I was creating my listing, I had the good fortune to meet Daniel Rusteen of Optimize My Airbnb and I’m forever grateful for the tips he provided after he reviewed my listing. As a former Airbnb employee, Daniel offers a valuable insider perspective to the inner workings of the platform.

    Let me tell you, Daniel scrubbed my profile from top to bottom!  Here are a few items he suggested:

    • Change up my headline for more clicks
    • Highlight unique selling points
    • Be thorough in my checked amenities (I'd missed important ones!)
    • Find the sweet spot for fees and pricing

    And lots more. 

    Because I am new to the Airbnb platform, Analyze My Airbnb was able to get me over the learning curve quickly. Check them out if you’re new to hosting, too! 

    5.  There are Great Community Support Groups.

    Airbnb offers a plethora of community groups for owners and managers to network, share tips, and brainstorm new ideas for improving the Airbnb experience for everyone.

    As Debi Hertert said, Airbnb is all about community and trust, and it shows! Kudos to Airbnb for making it easy for hosts to connect with each other and kudos to Debi for sharing those stories in the Hosting you Home podcast.

    Many cities and tourist areas have existing Airbnb groups - find out if yours has one and join!

    I also love the Facebook group The Hosting Journey. This group was started by Evelyn Badia and it is full of experienced hosts that are ready and willing to teach newcomers the ropes.

    My overall Airbnb impressions? It’s still a bit too early to tell if it will be worth it for me and my rental. But I’ve learned some interesting things about the platform and the people on it, and in the meantime, I’m happy to have another egg in my basket!