I get asked a lot about getting started on Airbnb.  How do I do it?  It is a viable option?  I have talked to so many people in short conversations, written so many emails with tips that I am going to try to publish a post (my first in quite some time) with some advice.

First of all, get in the community.  Follow the right groups/companies.  Here are two Facebook groups that I’m in — there are more.

Airbnb Profit Club
San Diego Hosts

There are some great resources online.  Get professional photos of your place.  Airbnb will usually finance this, but it takes some time for them to get the photographer out.  If you have any kind of urgency to get your place rented, pay $150-250 to get a real photographer out there.  This isn’t someone who takes baby pictures.  This is a real estate photographer.   Look on Craigslist if you don’t know where to start.  Your place needs to look good (while being a realistic portrayal).

Spend some time writing your description.  Proofread.  Give folks a realistic description of every room and how the house flows together.  Point out what’s different about your place (i.e. Sonos stereo, fast wi-fi, cool art, jacuzzi, etc.).  Features go a long way.

Your headline is your one of the most important parts.  Make yours stand out.  Grab their attention.

A big part of the algorithm are reviews.  You need to get some.  There are a lot of people who get their friends to book their places (for $20 or something) and then have them write 5 star reviews.  I think this is a decent way to start.  One day, Airbnb/VRBO will likely crack down on this, but it seems to be a viable option.  One thing I rarely do anymore (that I should) is encourage people to write reviews.  And review your guests first (positively).  You can even copy and paste the 5 star review you just left them.  They will have some obligation to return the favor.  And if they had less than a 5 star experience, they’ll feel a little guilty about giving you a less than perfect review (since you already hooked them up).

Pro Tip – get your friends on Airbnb to at least open your place on a web browser and add it to their wish-list.  This will help your place with exposure.

If you are serious about this, you need to do VRBO as well. It’s a no-brainer.  They charge $400 a year and you’ll get books through this platform.  You can use the same photos, etc.

Instant Booking?
There is an option to let folks book your place without you approving them.  This will lead to twice as much exposure on the Airbnb platform.  And in theory, twice as many bookings.  What are the risks?  Mostly, just that you don’t have your hand on the pulse of who is staying at your place.  Plus, the chance of making a mistake or overbooking increases.  Lastly, you could forget to raise the price for a special event (i.e. Super Bowl is coming to your town) and leave some cash on the table. This is a personal preference.

Property Managers
Most good agencies want to charge at least 20% of overall revenue. Some, like Pillow.com, claim they’ll increase your top line revenue by that much (so it’s basically a push).  Twenty percent is a lot of money. But it’s a lot of work.  You’ll want to give it some thought.  When someone calls you at 11:00 p.m. because the TV doesn’t work, are you ready to answer the call?

I get approached often by people who have a condo and want to try Airbnb.  My advice – don’t.  Going against your HOA is going to lead to you getting caught eventually.  It might make sense for a week here and there to maximize some bucks for your family.  But again, you are breaking the rules of your HOA.  They’re right and you’re wrong.  You agree to those rules.  I would never invest in an Airbnb deal that had an HOA involved (which said we couldn’t do short term deals).  Airbnb is controversial enough as it is.  You don’t need to go shady.

Gift Baskets
We leave all of our guests a gift basket that costs us about $40.  Right away, this gets them feeling grateful.  Instead of complaining about a light or two being out, they’re happy to get a bunch of freebies that they weren’t expecting.  In this, we have wine (and cold beers in the fridge), snacks (pretzels, chips, etc.) and coffee.  I wish I had better gifts overall.  I’d love to leave them souvenirs (bought in bulk) and a better selection of local artisan products that told the story of the city and/or neighborhood.

You’ll want to eventually think about little things:

  • checkin time/checkout time.
  • smart locks
  • do you allow same day bookings?
  • tax reporting
  • are you clearing out the fridge every time?  Or having a half used container of ketchup for the next guest?