Many with spare space mull the idea of joining Airbnb (airbnb.com) to make some easy extra cash. But while changing the sheets in your kids' old room seems like a license to print money, it's important to do some homework on what's expected before opening your door to strangers.
"I offer attraction brochures and sit down with my guests to familiarize them with the area," says Vancouverite Marc Smith, who rents out the second ensuite room in his well-located Yaletown condo. Guests have full use of his kitchen and laundry facilities and he says he's been booked solid all summer. Being personable is a vital trait of hosting success, he believes.
"Quick and thorough communication with guests before they arrive is important. Also, be well versed in the attractions they might want to see outside of the well-known hot spots. And be friendly – put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what would you want in a host?"
Meeting your guests is important, but it's not always practical, so Smith has a "back-up host" available for when he's out-of-town. Overall, he says Airbnb has been a hugely positive experience. "It's been a great way to cover household expenses and meet some cool people from around the world."
Money, of course, is the main motivator for most hosts. Tara Hunt listed her downtown Montreal loft apartment for six months to help with cash flow when launching a start-up business.
"My boyfriend suggested renting out my place and staying with him and it was soon booked solid. It eventually led to me moving in with him full-time and not renewing the lease on my apartment."
While she misses the cash, she doesn't miss the time commitment of handling the five new guests who typically arrived every week. Plane delays, early morning arrivals and the occasional scramble to prepare her place in double-quick time were challenges, she recalls. "That's why I liked those who stayed an entire week. If I did it again, I would hire a cleaning service and charge a cleaning fee for short stays."
Most of Hunt's guests were quiet, conscientious and friendly, she says, and some even left thank-you gifts. "I loved Airbnb guests and only had one troublesome person. She left early, then wrote a scathing review saying 'American standards of cleanliness are obviously higher than Canadian standards.' She thought my apartment was unclean, but all my other reviews raved about how clean it was!"
It's a reminder that hosting is a serious undertaking, according to Vancouver-based Lili Carvalho, an Airbnb host since 2010. After welcoming more than 300 guests – and receiving many glowing reviews – she has plenty of tips for newbies, starting with crafting a great listing with good photos.
"Try to anticipate guests' questions and answer them in your listing – nearby transit and attractions should be included in your description," she says, adding that preparing your accommodation also takes serious thought. "Remove clutter and personal objects – guests don't want to see your clothes hanging in the closet."
When you're starting out, she adds, be strategic with your pricing. "Start at a lower rate than you actually hope to charge. This way, you'll quickly attract guests who will write your first reviews. From there, you can readjust the price."
But never forget that hosting is also a two-way street. "Always check the profiles, reviews and verifications [of potential guests] and ask anything you want to know before accepting requests. Good guests will offer information and communicate in a polite and friendly way. If you don't feel comfortable, go ahead and say no. It's your property, after all."
Follow John @johnleewriter.
Once a guest books, Airbnb does not allow you to impose any further house rules on that guest. Unless you want to spend a fortune getting your sewer line unclogged, replacing compressors in A/C units or installing a new furnace (been there, done that, and paid a lot of bills!), you need to be very specific, ditto with municipal rules about smoking or waste removal practices. Deborah Sawyer
Fluffy robes = major points! And a universal charging dock – very thoughtful and swish. @SisiTravels
Look carefully into your insurance liability. @RemyScalza
Have printouts of guidelines, city or neighbourhood tips and emergency contacts ready for the guests when they arrive. @_TeeLee
My top three tips: keep the house clean, provide the best customer service possible and respond to all inquiries ASAP. And keep your calendar updated! @AirbnbSuperhost
Read other Airbnb posts to write a great description. And have good photos! @blackoutpete
Don't be afraid to set limits: minimum stays, check-in times and house rules make your rental manageable and you a better host. @eleanorstacey
Having a clean bathroom and fresh clean linens would be top of my list. @lacouvee
Be clear on your guidelines (check in/out, etc.), be prepared for fantastic people and get tourist maps from hotels for guests. @49thFriday
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