Starting an Airbnb: Tips from a Host

If you’re looking for ways of making extra cash, starting an Airbnb could fit the bill.

It doesn’t have to be a whole house, either. If you have a spare bedroom in your house, a camper you’re not using, or even some land that would make a good campsite, those could work too!

You just need to describe whatever you’re offering accurately.

In my case, I decided to try renting out a vacation home on Airbnb. I’ll share my experience here, along with tips I’ve learned along the way that can make starting an Airbnb easier.

Pick a Target Market Before Starting an Airbnb

Before getting started, think about who will be staying at your Airbnb. As a host, you should know the area better than most. So take a few minutes to think about who your space would appeal to.

My space was a vacation house, so I decided to focus on people looking for a vacation cottage near Lake Michigan.

But there are plenty of other people to market a place to.

Here are a few examples:

  • people coming to visit an area attraction (theme parks, sports teams, nature, universities, events, etc)
  • remote workers & digital nomads
  • health care workers
  • people waiting for their house to be finished
  • folks visiting family & friends
  • people looking for a campsite
  • etc

If you’re not sure who might stay at your place, read the descriptions of similar listings in your area to see who they are aimed at. This is important because it will affect how you furnish and market your space.

Figuring Out Pricing When Starting an Airbnb

How much can you make on Airbnb? It’s going to vary. It’ll depend on what you’re offering, the competition, your location, and maybe seasonality as well.

That means pricing can be tricky, and it can change from day to day. If you’re somewhere seasonal, it may be very high for a short period, but then you may not having anyone staying during the off season. (Unless you rent it longer term, furnished.)

You can browse listing in your area to see what current prices are like. You can also sign up for PriceLabs and create a Market Dashboard to see area data. (Here’s a referral link for PriceLabs, where we’ll each get $10 discount. Usually your first month is free.)

You can also do research on AirDNA to get an idea. You can use AirDNA’s Overview and Rentalizer sections without signing up.

Since my listing has been live, I’ve used PriceLabs to automatically adjust my pricing every day with in a set range. I’m sure I make a lot more that way than I otherwise would, because I’d never have set such high prices on my own.

Speaking of which, when you first create your listing on Airbnb, set your prices EXTREMELY high until you get everything set up and adjusted. That way it won’t accidentally go live with a screaming deal.

Make Sure You Can Get Insurance

Before going further into starting an Airbnb, make sure you can get good insurance. Regular homeowner’s insurance doesn’t automatically (or sometimes at all) cover short term rentals. You’ll need to contact your insurer to see if they offer something that does.

Airbnb does include something called AirCover that offers some liability and damage protection. But I wouldn’t just rely on that, and if you do need to use it the window to file a claim is short. So it’s MUCH better to get your own short term rental insurance as well. CBIZ and Proper are popular choices. You may also want to get an umbrella policy.

All that insurance can make your operating costs pricey. But it’s better to have it and not need it than not have it and regret it.

Set a Budget for Outfitting Your Space

If you’re just listing a spare room or vacant land, your budget will be low. But if you need to furnish a whole house it can get pricey. My original budget for furnishing a 2200 sq ft house was $5,000. It took me about 10 minutes to realize that amount was laughably low.

It would have been doable if I’d been willing to take a lot more time getting started. Or if I’d been willing to just put any old furniture in it. But my goal was to have it nicely furnished fairly quickly.

So I increased my budget to $10,000, but still went over. I ended up spending $13,000 to get everything set up.

That included a mix of items I already had, Facebook Marketplace purchases, brand new items, and a few items I found for free. It also included linens, kitchenware, and unnecessary fun stuff like a pool table, foosball table, outdoor furnishings, and a grill.

So if you’re doing this as a way to make extra money, I highly recommend starting with a spare room in your house first.

There’s nothing wrong with listing a shared space! In fact it’s truer to the original spirit. You can start with whatever you have, so long as you describe it accurately. You don’t have to go hog wild like I did.

Must-Have Items When Getting Started on Airbnb

Based on my previous stays at Airbnbs, feedback from a group of frequent travelers, and thinking about what guests would need, I came up with a list of must-have items.

I’ll write up the exact list of everything I bought later. But here are the big things you’ll need if you’ll be renting out an entire place.

You’ll need:

  • exterior security cameras (disclosed in your listing)
  • keyless entry/smart lock
  • smart thermostat
  • a smart TV
  • reliable internet
  • at least two entire sets of bedding per bed
  • plenty of towels
  • makeup towels
  • two sets of bath mats for each bathroom
  • enough living & dining seating for the maximum number of guests you’ll have
  • enough place settings for meals (many people skimp on this, and guests needing to wash dishes 3 times a day just makes you look cheap)
  • cookware, coffee maker, tea kettle, toaster, & microwave
  • comfortable mattresses & sturdy beds
  • nightstands & lighting on each side of every bed
  • cleaning supplies

Basically, think about what a hotel offers, and what a minimally-decorated version of your house would look like.

You want plenty of furniture and things for people to be comfortable, but not so much stuff that there’s nowhere for your guests to put their own things. Having a dedicated spot where people can work on their computer is good too.

Remember that people will be booking based on photos of your space, so you want it to look good. But they’ll also actually be staying in it, so you want it to be comfortable and functional as well!

Handling Cleanings

When you sign up with Airbnb, you’ll need to agree to their cleaning standards. Of course your place should be sparkling clean, every time! And all bedding (including quilts!) should be washed every time.

Quilts are much easier in that regard than comforters or duvets. That’s because they dry faster and are easier to wash & put back. (Here’s a referral link for the quilts I use & like.)

I do the cleaning myself. I was originally only going to do it a few times to get a feel for how long it takes, but it turns out I don’t mind doing it.

However you will probably want to have a reliable and thorough cleaning team. If you do same-day turnarounds, they’ll need to be quick as well. I have check out at 11am and check in at 4pm, and it does take nearly that entire time to clean.

Take time-stamped pictures or shoot a video before every guest showing that everything is clean and set up.

Preparing to List Your Space on Airbnb

Once you have everything in place, set up, and sparkling clean there’s one very important thing you’ll need to do before listing your space. That’s getting good photos.

Good photos matter a LOT.

They need to be well lit, show each room clearly, and be horizontal. If you need to take the first batch yourself so your listing can go live quicker, here are a few tips:

  • Clean the inside & spruce up the outside
  • Park cars elsewhere, and put away gardening equipment
  • Declutter, hide cords, and look for anything out of place
  • Wait for a sunny day to take photos, and open all the curtains
  • Open any shower curtains
  • Close all the toilet seats
  • If you have a fireplace, spa, or fountain, make sure they’re on
  • Do one last walk-through and look at everything with a critical eye to make everything looks as good as possible
  • Hold your late-model phone or digital camera at about waist height to shoot
  • Take 1-2 shots in each room that shows the whole room as much as possible without having to use a wide angle lens. (You want things to look the way they really do, not abnormally spacious like they do in real estate listings.)
  • Some detail shots are fine too, but they should be of useful or extra nice-looking features, not the stereotypical two-wineglasses-on-a-balcony type.
  • Edit your photos to make sure they’re nice & bright

But really, use a pro.

Why Use a Pro Photographer?

Unless you have experience with styling rooms and shooting interior photos, you’ll almost certainly be better off hiring a professional photographer.

While I don’t yet have pro photos in my listing, I will be getting them done for my listing as soon as the gloom disappears and it greens up outside. And I do have professional photography experience (although not in interiors.)

Airbnb can refer you to local photographers, and they’ll deduct the cost from your future earnings.

Creating Your Listing

Once you have photos and feel ready to start, it’s time to create your listing. (If you’d like a referral to be a host on Airbnb or have questions about getting started, contact me and I’ll be happy to help you out.)

I already had an Airbnb account, so I just created my listing using the same login. In hindsight, it may have been better to create a new account so my travel & hosting info would be separate. But doing it this way hasn’t caused any problems that I can tell.

It’s easiest to set things up using a desktop computer. Once you’re signed up as a host, you click Create a New Listing and follow the steps.

You won’t be able to add a whole lot of detail and fill in some sections until you’re ready to go live. So don’t worry if you can’t figure out how to add more details until you’ve published it.

That’s normal. And it’s easy to go back and edit things afterward. (It’s a good idea to update your listing regularly anyway.)

Do set your prices high at first, and if you choose to enable any discounts, remember that they stack. So if you aren’t careful, you could end up with a booking for way less than you intended.

Once you publish your listing, it can take anywhere from a few hours to 3 days to go live. Make sure you have the Airbnb app installed on your phone so you can respond quickly to folks.

To Instant Book or Not…

You can choose to allow instant booking on your listing, or to approve every request. I do have instant booking set to on on mine, even though many people recommend turning it off.

Why do I have it on? Because when I look for a place to stay, I don’t want to wait around for approval. I just want to book it and be done.

So I have it turned on, but set with requirements. Those are turned on in the app by going to Menu > [your listing] > Booking settings > Guest requirements. In addition to the Airbnb requirements, I require a profile photo, government-issued ID, recommendations from other hosts and no negative reviews. Since my place is not suitable for toddlers or pets, it will automatically not allow people to book instantly either if they have those.

That doesn’t mean people who don’t meet those requirements can’t still book — they just can’t book instantly. Which means you’ll get a booking request if they try to vs. a notice that someone has booked.

Which brings me to this final point that’s often confusing when you’re first starting an Airbnb…

Dealing With Booking Requests vs. Inquiries

When you get a message from someone on Airbnb, you need to respond to them within 24 hours. The quicker, the better. I usually respond within a few minutes, because I typically have my phone with me anyway. (Unless it’s late at night or early in the morning.)

If the message is labeled as an inquiry, you just have to reply at least once and that’s it. It will ask you to pre-approve or decline, but if it’s an inquiry you literally just have to type a reply. You don’t have to pre-approve or decline.

But if the message is labeled as a request, in addition to replying with words, you have to either approve or decline within 24 hours. Not approving or declining counts as declining. You don’t want to decline too many requests.

So if someone who makes a request really isn’t suitable — such as asking to bring too many people, or wanting to have a party, etc — I explain why and then ask them to withdraw their request. So far everyone has, although I’m sure that will change.

Your First Guest

Having my first guest stay was nerve-wracking. What if I forgot something? What if they didn’t like it? I think it would have been easier if I was just offering a bedroom in our house, but it went well!

Of course nothing is ever perfect, so have a plan to deal with things that may go wrong.

But don’t let any fears or worries stop you from getting started with your first guest. Especially if you enjoy interacting with people. It’s a customer service role, basically. If that suits your personality, starting an Airbnb can be a great way to earn extra money while meeting interesting folks.

Take the leap and get started! And again, if you have questions or would like a referral, just contact me.

Starting an Airbnb? Get these tips from a host

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