How Airbnb Funded 3 Months of European Travel
Renting out your home while you travel is one of the best ways to pay for your next adventure. While turning your home into an Airbnb accommodation requires an investment of time and money, it most often provides higher returns than renting your home to one person or doing a home exchange.
My home in Portland, Oregon is only 700 square feet, and if I can turn my home into an Airbnb accommodation, anyone can do this. It took several months of planning and hard work, but the rewards were worth it. The income I received more than paid for my three months of travel through France including airfare, accommodations, travel insurance, French SIM card, event fees, a rent-a-car for the entire time and the occasional dining out.
That said, I don’t travel extravagantly. I used my frequent-flyer miles for air travel. I stayed in two different Airbnb houses for five and a half weeks each and spent another 12 nights on road trips. I cooked most of my own meals. I attended local festival and events, most of which were free.
Here’s my tips for setting up your Airbnb business and transforming your home into an inviting and successful short-term rental.
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Think of your Airbnb as a business, because it is a business
Renting your home through Airbnb.com is a business, even if you are only doing it three months out of the year. You’ll need to register on Airbnb.com and depending on the local ordinances for your city, you may need a permit, a business license, an inspection, notifications sent to surrounding neighbors and other requirements. Don’t skip these steps as your city may fine you for having an unpermitted short-term rental. Plus, when you rent through Airbnb, you’ll be covered by their one-million-dollar host liability insurance. Check with your insurance agent to see if additional coverage is needed. And if you are renting, be sure to receive approval in writing from your landlord.
Find someone to manage your business
While you travel, you’ll need someone you trust to clean and manage the Airbnb business. Don’t for one moment think you can do this remotely. It only takes one bad review to scare away potential guests and negatively impact your earnings. Anything can happen while you are away: a broken pipe, a clogged toilet, air conditioning or heating that stops working. If you’re in a different part of the world, you may be sleeping when an emergency situation happens or if a guest loses their key or forgets their keycode. You need someone locally who can immediately address any issues that arise.
I could not have done this without my two co-hosts Ronn and Amanda who live next door. They managed communications and oversaw everything on a daily basis. And I couldn't have done it without my stellar house cleaner, Angela. You need a good, reliable cleaning person or service to turn your place around quickly when you have back-to-back bookings. This could be the same person as your co-host, but doesn't have to be. In fact, the more hands on deck the better.
Pack away personal items
The first thing you need to do is de-personalize your space. Store or lock away photographs, paperwork and other personal or valuable items. One, you don’t want to leave anything that you’ll cry over if it gets broken. Two, your guests need space for their things. It’s fine to have a few décor items, but don’t cover every surface with tchotchkes. It’s best to keep décor items on the walls and leave dresser tops and tables free of unnecessary items.
Over a couple months, I packed up and stored every personal thing I own, except for what I was leaving for the guests. I must have made over 100 trips up the ladder to my storage attic. And I made a dozen or more trips to Good Will.
Put yourself in your guests' shoes
Once you’ve cleared the clutter, it’s time to think about your place from your guests' perspective. Your guests will expect certain standards depending on the price you charge. Do you have a place for them to hang their clothes, lay out their suitcases and set their cellphone and other personal items by the bed? Will you provide basic toiletries like shampoo, conditioner and body wash? While setting up my home to Airbnb, I thought about how much my guests would enjoy the place and the special touches I included, like a milk frother, a retro pink toaster and a charging station.
Take a hard look at your place to see what needs updating, cleaning or repairing. Bring in a friend or relative who can give you an honest assessment of your home. You may have furniture or walls that need a fresh coat of paint. Or maybe it’s time to fix that running toilet and address other needed repairs. Keep track of receipts because all of these expenses are deductible and will lower the amount of tax you pay on your Airbnb income.
Decide what dishes and glasses you will leave for your guests. Most Airbnbs offer guests a way to make coffee or tea in the morning. It's up to you to decide what spices, condiments and other supplies you will provide. However, leave enough kitchen items, including pots and pans, to allow your guests to comfortably prepare a meal. But again, if there is something you'll feel heartbroken over if it's damaged, pack it away.
Make your place standout
In today’s market, there is a lot of competition. Other Airbnb listings will have hundreds of stellar reviews and you’ll have none. You need to differentiate your listing so potential guests will want to stay in your place instead of the other available accommodations. Think about the best qualities of your place and any unique features you can offer. Do you have a great, walkable location? Can you provide a beautiful, outdoor dining space? If there are many two-bed accommodations in your neighborhood, maybe you can add a sofa sleeper to make it a three-bed accommodation. Maybe you create a particular style or theme in your home. For my Airbnb, it's European country cottage with a touch of pink. See my next tip for more ideas.
The two best ways to make your listing stand out from the crowd are: one, write a great description and two, have professional photos taken. Which brings me to my next tip.
Write up your ad and hire a professional photographer
Good photos make all the difference in whether someone chooses your place over another. Photos are the first thing a potential guest sees and are your best marketing tool. Don’t skimp on the photos. Interior shots are difficult to light. You should be able to have professional photos taken for $250 or less.
Your second marketing tool is your listing description. Sell your place with a colorful and accurate description. Pick the best and most unique features that make your listing stand out from the competition. Is it the walkable location in a great neighborhood, or the views or the quietness of the surrounding nature. Good transportation links. Maybe you have a home office with high-speed Wi-Fi, which would be perfect for traveling professionals. Maybe it’s an outstanding feature in your house, like the cozy fireplace, chef’s kitchen or large outdoor dining table.
Next, research other accommodations in your area to determine a competitive price. There are many more steps to setting up your listing and I'll get into more detail on some of those steps in future posts.
Create a welcome book
Use a binder to provide valuable information for your guests. This is your opportunity to let them know about the basic operations of your house, including anything unique or which might not be intuitive. Are lights on a timer? Do they need instructions on how to operate the gas fireplace? Where do they put their trash? You'll also want to include the name of your WiFi network and the code. You can also include your house rules (even through they in the online listing), like quiet hours and no smoking, but keep the overall tone warm and welcoming.
I like to include a list of local restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, parks and tourist attractions. You may also want to place a few signs in key places for important reminders. But don’t go overboard. Guest won’t read a six-page essay on the maintenance of your place, and they won’t read umpteen post-it notes. Remember they are there to relax and enjoy themselves.
Launch your listing before the start of high season
You can start listing your place at any time. Just block out all the dates except for the ones when you’ll be traveling. It’s best to start at least a month or two before high season. Generally, high season starts in late spring, but if you live in a ski area, it might be the end of fall.
Reviews are key on Airbnb. Since you’re only doing this for a short-period of time, you need to build reviews quickly. Take advantage of Airbnb’s discount offered to your first three bookings, which will give your listing better visability on the website. As soon as your guests checks out, write them a review, then send them a message through the app thanking them for their stay and asking for a review.
While at times it seemed odd to think of all those strangers staying in my home, for the most part I thought about how happy I was slow traveling in France and how the income from my Airbnb was paying my travel expenses. There are many more details that go into setting up a successful Airbnb business. Check the Airbnb site for helpful articles. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing more tips on managing your short-term rental and how we became super hosts in just three months. Feel free to reach out to me in the comments if you have any questions. I’m always happy to share my experience.
Disclaimer: This post is advice based on my personal experience and in no way represents legal or financial advice.