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How to Succeed as an Airbnb Host With Your Vacation Rental

Are you looking for a side gig with the potential to bring in several thousand extra dollars per year? Do you have a spare room in your home you aren’t using, or are you frequently out of town and paying a mortgage on a space you rarely use? If so, then becoming an Airbnb host may be a great option for you.

More than 150 million people worldwide use and trust Airbnb for their travel needs, and on any given night, 2 million people are staying in an Airbnb rental, according to statistics from In addition, travelers increasingly prefer staying in Airbnbs over hotels. Airbnb rentals give travelers the chance to experience the local lifestyle, stay in potentially unique accommodations, and, in most cases, save significantly over the cost of a hotel.

If you’ve got extra space, Airbnb allows you the opportunity to cash in on it. For example, if you’re able to rent out your property for just $80 a night (the low end of the spectrum) for seven days per month, that’s a potential annual income of $6,720 – a 16% boost for the average full-time employee in 2019. Many Airbnb rentals, especially in urban areas, go for much higher.

What Is Airbnb?

Airbnb is the world’s largest accommodation sharing site. It’s an online marketplace that connects people who are looking to rent out either a room in their house or an entire home with people who are looking for a place to stay in their area. Currently, Airbnb has rentals in 81,000 cities and 191 countries.

Like at a hotel, guests can book a stay for their desired length, whether that’s one night or 12. Unlike at a hotel, guests have the opportunity to live like locals; enjoy potentially larger spaces, often with kitchens or kitchen access; and connect with hosts in their destination, giving them the opportunity to get tips from someone who lives there and potentially even make new friends.

How to Create a Standout Listing

Listing your space on Airbnb is relatively simple. To rent out an extra space or your entire home, you first need to create an Airbnb account, which is free; Airbnb makes their money by charging fees on actual bookings. Next, click “become a host” in the upper righthand corner of the refreshed home page and follow the prompts. Airbnb will take you through the steps to create your listing, even helping you set prices by showing the averages for other listings in your area.

If you’re serious about making money with Airbnb, there are several things to keep in mind to ensure bookings and repeat customers.

1. Determine the Right Price to Charge

Airbnb facilitates connections between guests and hosts, but ultimately, you remain in control of your own space. That means you decide who gets to stay there, when to make your space available, and at what price.

When setting your price, first consider the going rate in your area by looking at competing listings. Also consider the costs of hosting, including higher utility bills, taxes, Airbnb’s host fee of 3%, and cleaning. Many hosts charge an additional cleaning fee on top of their nightly rate.

Try to find a sweet spot – a rate that will make hosting worth it to you and that guests are willing to pay. One of the primary reasons guests choose Airbnb over a hotel is that it’s more cost-effective, so you don’t want to price yourself out of the market. In addition to making your listing attractive to potential guests, reasonably pricing your space increases the likelihood of a good review, and good reviews lead to more bookings and higher income.

Keep in mind that your rate can fluctuate according to demand. Airbnb’s Smart Pricing Tool allows you to set your rates to go up or down depending on demand, which can change with the season or with other factors, such as events in your area.

2. Write a Compelling Description

Be sure to include all the basic details about your property, such as how many bedrooms it includes and the number and size of beds, how many bathrooms guests have access to, whether there’s a kitchen, and if there’s an outdoor space.

To really make your listing stand out, think beyond a basic description of the space to the kind of experience you’ll be providing for guests. Consider the questions they might ask about your listing: Is public transit available? Are there nearby restaurants, fun activities, or cultural destinations? What kinds of experiences can guests have in your neighborhood?

Also think about the kinds of amenities you can offer, and be sure to include them in your description. Examples include wireless Internet, cable television, a deck with an outdoor grill, a pool or hot tub, or a fully stocked kitchen.

With literally millions of listings on the Airbnb – 4 million as of 2019 – a description that highlights your listing’s unique features will help it stand out from the crowd.

3. Take Great Photos

Even more than your description, your photos are what will ultimately sell your space. To ensure good reviews and full bookings, be as honest as possible with both your description and photographs, as guests will rely on them to determine if your space will meet their needs.

Taking the time to invest in high-quality photographs is well worth it, and if you’re serious about making money as an Airbnb host, consider hiring a professional photographer. Most Airbnb listings feature professional-quality photos, so you’ll want the same to ensure guests don’t pass over your listing. If you’re an active host, Airbnb will send a professional photographer for free in most cities.

The optimal number of photos for a listing is 10. Clean and declutter your space before having it photographed to present it in the best possible light. Your photos should capture the character of your place; all the individual rooms and bathrooms, if you’re renting out a whole home; the surrounding area; and any amenities, such as a swimming pool.

4. Be Responsive

Keep in mind that once your listing is active, you’ll need to devote some time to it if you want to be successful. One advantage of booking a hotel stay is that it usually involves a single transaction. Booking a rental on Airbnb, on the other hand, requires multiple interactions between guests and hosts.

Responding quickly to guest communications. It can reduce the chances of potential guests deciding to book somewhere else and create the best possible experience for all involved. Further, quick and pleasant responses to all guest queries build better rapport and connection, which will help you stand out and increase the chances of guests choosing your listing over someone else’s. That means you’ll need to pay constant attention to notifications and be ready to respond to them promptly in a friendly and courteous manner.

5. Become a Superhost

The ultimate way to make your listing stand out from the crowd is to become what Airbnb terms a “Superhost.” As Airbnb explains on their website, “Superhosts are experienced hosts who provide a shining example for other hosts, and extraordinary experiences for their guests.”

Superhosts are top hosts who have earned their position by generally being very helpful and consistently providing rentals that are clean and comfortable. This exceptional hosting results in such good reviews over time that Airbnb rewards them with the Superhost title. Superhosts are featured in search listings and emails, and guests can even filter their search settings to look exclusively for Superhost accommodations.

Superhosts are likely to have a steady stream of guests who will choose their highly rated place over others. Airbnb also rewards Superhosts with additional perks, such as travel coupons. Check out Airbnb’s website for specific Superhost requirements and benefits.

If you want to level up from Superhost status, and your home meets the requirements, you can apply for Airbnb Plus. Plus listings include not only exceptional hosts, but also exceptional homes. Airbnb rewards Plus hosts with even more visibility, splashier listing pages, and professional photography, including an immersive home tour.

How to Prepare Your Space

To be a great host and ensure good reviews, you’ll need to properly prepare your space. As good as your listing might be, guests won’t be impressed if they show up to your home and feel the space isn’t as represented. Here are a few tips to keep guests happy with your accommodations.

1. Do a Thorough Cleaning

One of the best ways to ensure a good impression is by giving guests a meticulously clean space. So, first and foremost, make sure your space is clean and free of clutter. That includes scrubbing the shower, toilets, sinks, floors, and so on before each guest’s arrival.

Many Airbnb hosts use professional cleaning services for this task and even tack a cleaning fee onto the rental rate to have their spaces professionally cleaned after each guest’s departure.

2. Make It Comfortable

A comfortable home helps guests feel welcome. As long as you’re able to provide a cozy space, you don’t have to go out of your way with extravagant gifts or fancy features to be successful.

Once your space is clean and decluttered, think about adding any little touches that will give it that extra bit of coziness. That could include blankets by the couch, extra pillows to lounge on, books to read, and games to play.

3. Make It Memorable

If you want to go above and beyond, you can make your space memorable by decorating it with interesting art, furniture, and bedding. Think about giving your home a unique feel that makes it seem more special than a generic hotel.

Fresh flowers are always a nice touch. If it’s spring or summer, think about purchasing some flowers from your local farmers market, or picking them from your garden if you have one, and place them in bedrooms and bathrooms.

4. Include All the Necessities

Airbnb requires hosts to stock a few essential amenities, including toilet paper, soap, linens, towels, and pillows. But if you’re looking for the kind of great reviews that lead to full bookings, consider providing some other small touches to help guests feel welcome and comfortable during their stay, such as:

  • An Emergency Kit. This could include a flashlight in case of a power outage, Band-Aids and other first aid items, an umbrella in case of rain, a sewing kit, extra light bulbs, and batteries.
  • Extra Toiletries. This could include extra toothpaste and toothbrushes, travel-size shampoo, and cotton swabs.
  • Extra Linens. Sometimes, one towel isn’t enough. Be sure to leave out extra towels, extra blankets, pillows, and so on.

5. Share Tips About the Location

Be sure to leave your guests plenty of information on what to do in the area. Many travelers choose Airbnb for the opportunity to live like a local. While a hotel concierge might give guests information on tourist attractions, you can provide insider tips on the best restaurants and activities that may be off the beaten path.

Leave your guests menus for local restaurants, brochures for local attractions, information on bus and transportation schedules, and even a tip sheet with short local day trips and activities. If you want to go the extra mile, think about emailing your guests before their stay to ask them about their likes and dislikes, and then using that information to make customized suggestions.

6. Stock Your Home With Snacks

This might involve a small investment, but it’s one that could pay off tenfold in your reviews. Especially thoughtful snacks could include continental breakfast items, such as fruit, yogurt, muffins, and cereal; traditional snack items could include cookies, crackers, nuts, chips, and drinks such as soda or orange juice. For an extra-special touch, consider leaving snack gifts of local products.

If nothing else, most hosts typically stock their kitchens with condiments, coffee, and tea. Make sure to ask guests how they like their coffee so you can also provide coffee creamer, milk, milk alternatives, or whatever else they prefer. Many hosts will even leave a bottle of wine for guests when they arrive.

7. Consider Anything Other Guest Needs

Successful Airbnb hosts are all about the details. So, in addition to stocking your place with necessities and snacks, think about what else might make guests feel welcome and at home in your space. That could include having board games, books, movies, or other entertainment options available for your guests or even sharing your gym membership with them by leaving guest passes.

How to Ensure You Get Good Reviews

Good reviews are crucial to making money with Airbnb. Guests read and consider reviews before making a booking, so you’ll want to ensure you get rave ones. Moreover, the quality of a host depends on their reviews, and Airbnb encourages guests to only book with highly recommended hosts. You can’t get to Superhost status – and its higher earnings – without great reviews. Here’s how to get them.

1. Be Honest

Guests are happiest when you manage their expectations. In addition to accurately describing and representing your space, be sure to disclose up front any specific challenges, if it has them. For example, if your space is a fifth-floor walkup, make sure your guests know that so they know what they’re getting into and won’t be unpleasantly surprised.

Also keep in mind that if guests are unhappy because you misrepresented your space, or the listing isn’t clean or otherwise as described, they have the right to ask for a refund.

2. Be Flexible

The more you can accommodate your guests’ needs, the more grateful and impressed they will be. That could mean being flexible with check-in or check-out times to account for flight or other transportation delays.

To avoid the potential issue of guests running late and you being unable to meet them, consider installing a smart lock or lock box. Airbnb has partnered with August smart lock, which will auto-generate a custom entry code for each particular booking and date in any home equipped with an August smart lock or smart keypad. That way, hosts don’t have to hang around late in the evening, guests can easily check themselves in, and hosts can feel a sense of security with a new code generated for each booking.

3. Communicate With Guests

Communicating with your guests helps build rapport and also paves the way for a smooth visit. A week before guests arrive, send them an email with information they’ll need for their stay, such as information about the house, the neighborhood, and any recommendations for places to eat or activities to try. If guests are driving to your home, let them know where they can park and if there are any parking restrictions in your area.

Also leave communications for when guests arrive, such as a small note of welcome and any instructions needed for operating electronics, light switches, appliances, and so on.

4. Be Friendly

Although it may sound simple, friendliness goes a long way with guests. Whenever possible, greet guests at the door, especially if they’ll be staying in a room in your home and not renting the entire house. Be mindful, though, that guests are often stressed from traveling when they first arrive. Some may be full of questions, but others might want to be left alone. If you’re unsure, it never hurts to ask if there’s anything your guests need.

If you have a guest that doesn’t want to be left to themselves, offer them a drink of water, coffee, or wine, depending on the time of day. Then, give them a quick tour of the home, highlighting where they can find the things they need, such as towels and toilet paper. If you won’t be home when guests arrive, think about leaving a warm welcome note, including an explanation of where they can find all the essentials.

Finally, if you live on site and the vibe is right, invite guests to join you for dinner. Many Airbnb guests, as well as hosts, find that traveling and hosting through the site isn’t just about saving or making money, but also about making connections, sharing stories, and potentially discovering new friends.

5. Go the Extra Mile

Always think about doing just a bit more than expected. There’s no need to go overboard, but sometimes, it’s the small details that can make a guest’s day. For example, one Airbnb host had a guest ask him if he had an ironing board. He didn’t, so he went out and bought one for her to use the next day. The guest was delighted, and he now has one on hand for future guests.

How to Stay Safe as an Airbnb Host

Although most Airbnb rentals go smoothly, and millions of guests and hosts use the platform without incident, Airbnb use isn’t without its horror stories. Renting your home to strangers can be a gamble, so to ensure the best possible experience as an Airbnb host, here are some safety precautions to keep in mind.

1. Check Reviews & Verify Identities

Hosts aren’t the only Airbnb users who are reviewed; guests can be as well. Before deciding to rent to a particular guest, be sure to check their reviews from other Airbnb hosts.

You can also limit the reservations you accept to guests who have completed Airbnb’s Verified ID process. Airbnb verifies the identities of both hosts and guests by having them upload a valid government-issued ID as well as linking their account to Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn.

2. Protect You Valuables

If you’re renting out your home, especially if you won’t be there, protect your identity by locking away any sensitive files. Also make sure to lock up anything particularly valuable, such as jewelry, and anything else you don’t want guests to have access to. Consider investing in locked safes and filing cabinets and locking any rooms or closets you want to keep off limits to anyone staying in your home.

3. Carry Insurance

If you’re concerned about guests trashing your property or potentially suing you if they’re hurt during a stay, the best way to protect yourself is with insurance. Airbnb offers a liability coverage policy of up to $1 million in such circumstances. But even if the policy covers you, you may be better off purchasing your own insurance.

Airbnb’s policy contains a lot of fine print that isn’t easy to read or understand. It isn’t a substitute for homeowners or renters insurance, and it doesn’t protect you from theft or personal liability.  Talk to your insurance company, find out what your renters or homeowners policy already covers, and make sure all scenarios are covered. Although some home insurance policies cover short rentals, if you have multiple short-term stays, your insurance company might require you to purchase a business policy, such as one that would cover a hotel or bed and breakfast, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Regardless, be sure to inspect your property after each guest checks out. Otherwise, if there is damage, you’ll have no way of knowing who caused it. Document any damages with before-and-after photos to substantiate your claim when you file it.

4. Charge a Security Deposit

Though the right insurance will take care of any significant damage to your property, it won’t cover wear and tear or the extra cleaning that might be required if guests make a big mess. For that, you should consider charging a security deposit. Airbnb allows security deposits to range from $100 to $5,000.

5. Make Your Space Safe for Guests

In addition to protecting hosts, Airbnb also has guidelines for hosts to make their homes safer for guests. Make sure to read these guidelines and make your home as safe for guests as possible, including adequately equipping it with smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers, as well as pointing out any trip or fall hazards.

Legal Considerations for Hosting

If you decide becoming an Airbnb host is the right side gig for you, there are some legal considerations to take into account before you list your space.

1. Is It Legal Where You Live?

Renting out your property as an Airbnb host isn’t legal everywhere. There are a number of cities across the United States (and in other countries) that don’t allow it, so make sure to check your local zoning ordinances first to ensure that short-term rentals are legal in your area.

Even if they are legal, if your property is controlled by a homeowners association or co-op, you’ll need to check their rules to make sure they allow short-term rentals. If you rent, be sure to get your landlord’s OK. Airbnb recommends adding a rider to your contracts with any of these parties to address Airbnb hosting specifically.

Additionally, some localities might require you to have a business license, especially if you’re regularly and consistently renting out your space.

2. What Kinds of Taxes Are You Required to Pay?

Depending on where you live, you could be subject to a number of taxes as an Airbnb host. The first of these is a basic income tax. If nothing else, you’ll owe federal taxes on your Airbnb income. Airbnb collects taxpayer information from all hosts and will send you a Form 1099-K for reporting income tax if your earnings exceed $20,000 in a tax year.

You may still be required to report Airbnb income to the IRS even under this threshold if you rent your personal home for more than 14 days per year or you rent out a space you don’t currently live in. For more information on the taxes involved with Airbnb hosting, check out Airbnb’s tax FAQ page. Airbnb also recommends that you consult with a tax professional, as tax regulations can vary significantly from one municipality, state, or country to another.

You might also owe state or local taxes on any income you earn. For example, many localities require Airbnb hosts to pay a transient occupancy tax, the same tax that applies to hotels.

For more information on legal and tax considerations, check out the “Your City’s Regulations” section of Airbnb’s host guidelines.

Final Word

The rapidly growing sharing economy offers many ways to make extra income that weren’t available until recently. Airbnb is one of these, and as it continues to grow in popularity, it has become an increasingly attractive source of lodging for travelers while providing a viable source of extra income for hosts.

Home sharing is not without its risks and requires you to be comfortable navigating shifting and often unclear local laws, sharing your valuable space and possessions with strangers, and potentially risking damage to self or property. It’s not something you should enter into without research and careful consideration. However, for those willing to take on the risks, it could provide thousands of dollars of extra income per year.

Have you used Airbnb as either a guest or a host? Do you enjoy using it? Have you had any great (or not-so-great) experiences?

Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She's also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.
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