How to not suck at being an Airbnb host

As we’ve mentioned a few times, we have made liberal use of Airbnb to find where to stay as we travel around. We’ve used them for everything from a single night when Mighty went up country for a wedding in England to a month and a half  long stay for all three of us.

One of the things that we like best about Airbnb as a service is the ability to find pretty much exactly what you’re looking for, from the location and size of the rental all the way down to the price. Our decision on where to stay is based first on location since we are fully pedestrian (Mighty is completely terrified of driving in Europe and I don’t blame him). We try to limit the need for cabs to trips to and from the airport, so the ability to walk or take a bus/metro is key to our trips.

Once we’ve established where we want to stay, we look next at price and size of the flat. This, as you can imagine, requires some compromise. We need to have an entire unit to ourselves – there’s just no way the Cap’n wouldn’t get us thrown out of someone’s house with his love of screaming like a fire truck – so that leaves off a large number of listings. We also need WiFi, a ‘real’ bed (as in not a pull out sofa), a full kitchen, an in-unit bathroom (that may seem pretty obvious if you’re American, but I assure you it’s something you have to be aware of in some of these older buildings where a shared bathroom isn’t considered that strange), and I like to have a washing machine to avoid treks to the local laundro-mat or worse, having to hand-wash the clothes for three. Further, if we’re going to be staying for a longer period of time we prefer to stay in listings that are dedicated rental units rather than someone’s personal home that they’re letting while they’re on holiday themselves. While a personal home is likely more comfortable and better equipped, my nerves would be are in overdrive trying to keep an errant rubber ball from smashing someone’s grandmother’s priceless heirloom vase. Have I mentioned that traveling with a toddler is a bit of a stressor?

So, once we’ve got all the must-haves sorted, it comes down to which place it looks like we’ll be the most comfortable in. Does the bed look like it’s been retrieved from the dumpster behind Ikea? Is there a work space for Mighty? Somewhere to sit besides the bed? Is there a television? A microwave? A bathtub? If it’s up several flights of stairs is there a lift? What about over-all condition? Is it run down or dirty looking? I can’t stress enough how important pictures – ACCURATE, CURRENT PICTURES – are to our booking decisions. We’re on our seventh eighth rental now and while most of the listings have looked exactly as the pictures suggested, there was one notable exception and came it close to ruining our entire trip. The room was n0t only not as pictured, it was sort of coming apart at the seams, with loose tiles in the bathroom, exposed hot water pipes that would have scalded the baby, no curtains, etc.

“Okay, Charming”, I hear you saying, “I know what you don’t like. But how can I make my listing not suck? I know repeat customers and good reviews are the key to success! Well, Reader, I’m so glad you asked!

Think first about what it is your guests are there for . . . somewhere to sleep. The most important thing, and the thing that you should absolutely not cheap out on, is the bed. It needs to be both sturdy and comfortable. There’s nothing quite so alarming as rolling over and feeling the bed shift, creak, and groan in a way that makes you wonder if you are going to wind up on the floor in the middle of the night. Buy a good mattress too. In addition to not needing to be replaced as often as an inexpensive one, a good night’s sleep is what your guests are paying you for. Hand in hand with that would be good quality sheets, pillows and blankets. Think about offering more than one blanket weight and more than one pillow density. If possible, and especially if you’re renting the unit for more than a week, have an extra set of sheets on hand for the guests so that they can wash their linens during their stay.

Second may sound sad, but we live in a digital age. Even non-digital nomads want to check their email and upload their photos to Facebook while they’re staying in your flat. In fact the very first thing we filter for when looking for a flat to rent is WiFi (and bonus points if they have hardwired internet as well). With Mighty having a job he has to go to every day, we simply cannot have a bad or worse-yet non-existent WiFi signal. Do yourself and everyone else a favour and invest in a high-quality router/access point and reliable service and secure it with a strong password that you change regularly (can you tell Mighty has been rubbing off on me?).

Third on your list should be attention to the bathroom. At least one full set of towels (bath, hand, face) for each guest as well as a bath mat to keep them from breaking their necks stepping out of the tub. If your shower has a curtain instead of a door, ensure that it’s mildew free. Have a pump of hand soap, a rubbish bin with liners, a box of tissue and an extra roll of toilet paper.  You don’t need to blow your budget on top of the line matching sets however, so hit the white sales or even the garage sales and don’t worry about everything being matchy-matchy.

Fourth on my list would be other furnishings. If space permits, a table or desk with two or more chairs, a sofa or arm chairs, and somewhere to put away clothing are all good items to have. While most people won’t spend all their time in the unit, it’s nice to have somewhere to sit and eat, send some emails, or relax after a day of sight-seeing. It’s also great to have a spot to unpack, stash away the luggage, and settle in. Other items that aren’t NEEDED but are nice to have would include a television (a newer model that guests can attach their laptops to for streaming movies is great!), a floor covering of some sort to dampen the noise, a bit of art on the wall (local scenes are always great) for color, and an alarm clock are all great to have. If your unit has a washing machine, provide a drying rack or bar with hangers. Actually, have lots of hangers anyway.

Seems pretty basic, right? It’s what you look for in a hotel; comfort and function in the basics. Here, however, is where you’re going to want to make your list. Because you’re NOT running a hotel, the needs of your guests are going to be a bit different. Unless you’re planning on providing maid service multiple times a week, and also assuming that you don’t want to get your flat handed back to you looking like a hurricane has blown through it, you’re going to want to leave your guests the ability to clean up behind themselves. A broom, dustpan, paper towels, a cleaning spray, toilet brush (and side note? PLUNGER. You DO NOT want to get THAT call in the middle of the night!), a mop and bucket, and potentially a vacuum are all necessary if you’re renting a full apartment. For a single room in your own home, just show the guests where to find those items.

If you’re renting a unit with a kitchen, place settings for four (plate, bowl, cup, mug, silverware), a pot, kettle (electric or for the stove), frying pan, cooking utensils, a baking dish if there is an oven, a dish rag or sponge, towel, washing up liquid, and a dish drying rack are all needed. You don’t need to stock it as fully as you would your own kitchen. Again, no need to buy top of the line, or even new items. Good quality second hand, one-offs from a discount store or Kitchen-in-a-box style offerings are all fine. If you really want your guests to love you a toaster, coffee maker, and microwave are nice to have as well, but not necessary.


Lastly, if you are looking to make a stay really great consider having on hand some of the following items; a Lonely Planet for the city you’re in, a map (grab a handful of the free tourist versions and use those!), a pad of paper and pen, coffee, tea, creamer, and sugar, a few bottles of water (bonus points if they’re cold! The best thing that’s happened to us so far was a large icy cold bottle of water in the fridge upon our 3am arrival in BCN), salt and pepper, a guest book, umbrella, electric fan, menus from local restaurants (especially those that deliver or are open late/early) and a list of “things to know” that includes how to operate the appliances, where to catch public transportation, directions to or locations of a grocery store, pharmacy and coffee shop, where to take the rubbish out, and other things that you think your guests might need to know during their stay.

The closer you treat your guests like they’re long lost friends coming for a visit, the better your reviews and chances of returning guests will be!

2 thoughts on “How to not suck at being an Airbnb host

  1. Gee, thanks! I personally have had it hosting people. You want all the perks of a hotel – and all the perks of using someone else’s house. And no, if the owner is on the premises, most people don’t bother to clean up after themselves. I don’t even list the kitchen, yet people show up there and make a giant mess – oh and they want cheap rates cause it’s ‘just’ your house. And then they get free maid service too. And every other guest breaks something, or uses your towels for god knows what, or buggers on the sheets, or stains something, or buggers on the sheets that also stain. Or water marks your nice wooden desk – because no one showed them how to use a coaster. I am done working hours for earning a pittance – and still not even having my mortgage covered, let alone a bill, now broken crap I must replace, like a toilet seat. And my place has been left wide open three times in six weeks!!!!~ And the last guy who contacted me wanted to my place for a month for $600, even though max stay is listed as 7 days and rates are listed as non-negotiable. And for saying NO – I get penalized with crap search results for not slobbering and jumping all over an offer than leaves about $10 a day in my pocket after taxes – which has to account for all the cleaning as well, and destruction of my home, and loss of privacy, and acting as full time kitchen maid. So enjoy the airbnb ride while you can honey.

    • We’re sorry to hear you’ve had some really terrible experiences with your guests. AirBnB works because hosts act like they’re inviting friends to stay, and guests act like they’re staying with a close friend (or maybe their Gran – we’re all on our best behavior there!) and when one side or the other doesn’t live up to their end it gives everyone a sour taste.

      With the distance of a year (and 8 or so more AirBnB stays – all with glowing reviews for both sides of the transaction) we can see that the title of this post shouldn’t have been how to “Not Suck” but rather “How to be the Super Star AirBnB host” because not all of the items on our wish list above are required or even needed. We’ve stayed in everything from a 300sf flat to a 2,000sf house and none of them have had everything – though more than one has come very, very close. We’re a different sort of traveler (or were, we no longer travel full time) and live, rather than just stay, in our rentals. And like good guests, we leave our rentals in the same condition we found them; clean, organized, and undamaged. We look specifically for hosts who OFFERS what we need rather than taking from a host something that’s not listed as being provided. That’s a dick move, and again we’re sorry to hear that’s happened to you.

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