By BRIAN X. CHEN
IN my spare time, when not writing about consumer technology for The New York Times, I have a sideline renting out a cabin on Airbnb. So when Jose reserved the property last October, it was nothing unusual. He said he wanted to host some relatives for a quiet weekend in the mountains. I welcomed him without hesitation.
That Saturday, my neighbors texted me as they watched caterers carry large white pillars and bouquets into the backyard. Then 10 cars surrounded the front yard and dozens of people wearing suits and dresses poured into the house.
It became clear this was no intimate get-together. For a day, my Airbnb rental was turned into a wedding venue, which broke city laws. My business would be in jeopardy if the police were notified.
Such is life as an Airbnb “Superhost.” Since buying my cabin in Northern California in late 2015, I have hosted about 30 groups and become part of the booming ecosystem for Airbnb, the online reservation marketplace that lets people turn their homes into vacation rentals. With more than 140 million guest arrivals to date, Airbnb has proved a boon for hosts and an attractive option for travelers looking to avoid hefty fees from hotels.
In the process, I have been named a Superhost, which means I have hosted many guests and consistently received five-star reviews. It’s a small group — researchers say only about 7 percent of hosts are Superhosts.
In exchange, I get more visibility in search results, invitations from the company to exclusive events and a medal next to my profile photo. The designation as a Superhost has paid off: My house is a few bookings away from netting a profit.
Yet vaulting to Superhost status is hardly intuitive, and I learned hard lessons along the way. Here are some tips on running a successful (and lucrative) Airbnb rental based on interviews with Superhosts and my experience.
Hospitality, Not Real Estate
People who rent your house on Airbnb are choosing it over a hotel. So you had better be as hospitable, friendly and communicative as a hotel.
For your rental, that means a few things. Provide staples like cooking equipment, cable TV, soap for bathing and cleaning, towels, toothpaste and toilet paper. Your house should work as advertised — faulty appliances should be repaired or replaced.
For another, be extremely responsive to guests, much like a hotel front desk. Nobody trusts a host who is slow to respond. Jasper Ribbers, a co-author of “Get Paid for Your Pad,” a book about his experience as an Airbnb Superhost who has completed more than 300 stays, uses the app AvivaIQ to respond automatically to messages from potential guests, which comes in handy when he is asleep. When he is awake, he can continue the conversation.
Being dishonest about your listing will hurt when it comes time for a guest to leave a review. It’s better to be straightforward about what you are offering and transparent about any imperfections.
In my experience, guests were surprised in the summer that the house lacked air-conditioning, even though the listing never said it had air-conditioning. I resolved this with subsequent guests by saying explicitly in my welcome email that the house lacked air-conditioning and that portable fans were in each room.
Solve Problems Quickly
Be quick to address complaints, or risk facing a negative review. If a dishwasher breaks or the shower pressure is too low, send a plumber. If a remote control was misplaced or stolen by a previous group, have a backup remote ready in a drawer.
If you host the property remotely, the best option is to befriend someone trustworthy in the neighborhood who can act as a property manager. Pay the manager a fee for each task.
Make Cleanliness a Priority
Airbnb attracts travelers from all over the world, and it is remarkable how standards for cleanliness differ from person to person. My jaw dropped when one guest left a positive review about her stay, but dropped me one star because the dish-scrubbing brush was dirty. (Couldn’t she have used the clean sponge instead?)
There is no point acting defensive. The solution is to hire superb professional cleaners. Relay any negative feedback from guests to your cleaners so they improve over time.
Set Prices Based on Demand
Depending on where your house is, demand may be higher at certain times of year. If you hope to ever make a profit, you will want to set prices higher during peak rental seasons, and reduce prices during slow seasons.
But constantly changing prices on your listing can be daunting. I use a dynamic pricing tool, BeyondPricing.com, that automatically adjusts prices based on demand, including factors like holidays, peak travel season and the day of the week. (Airbnb provides its own dynamic pricing tool called Smart Pricing, but in my experience it chooses rates that are too low.)
Get the Guests You Want
Last year, Airbnb introduced an anti-discrimination policy that urged hosts to welcome guests regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and age. That makes sense, since Airbnb wants to connect hosts with travelers from all over the world. But it doesn’t mean you should let just anybody into your home.
Hosts reserve the right to decide what types of groups they would like to host, especially when taking into consideration city laws. For my rental, city law forbids loud parties past 10 p.m. When guests request the house, I ask them the purpose of the visit and ask them to carefully read and agree to my house rules, including one about loud noise. I am less inclined to book a group of college students looking to have a party than I am to book a family planning a winter vacation. (Though if the students promised to stay quiet, I would probably book them.)
Mr. Ribbers, the Airbnb Superhost, said he preferred families or couples staying in his two-bedroom apartment in Amsterdam partly because of the size constraints. He also typically accepts bookings only from guests who already have positive reviews themselves. When guests reserve his home, he reads their profiles to get a sense of their personalities and check if they have verified their identities with Airbnb by providing driver’s license information, among other documentation.
Some vetting is permitted by Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy, which says hosts can decline to rent based on factors that are not prohibited by law — so my rejection of those planning to have loud parties fits the bill.
Another important point is to describe your listing depending on the guests you want. Mr. Ribbers titled his listing “Couples Getaway.” My listing, intended to attract family ski trips, advertises the house’s proximity to the ski lifts.
Most guests are not bad people. But perhaps one out of 10 times, a rotten egg will pass your smell test. The lesson I learned from Jose was that being a Superhost did not make me impervious to the actions of a misbehaving guest.
To protect yourself, diligently document everything valuable in your house. Take photos of countertops, the refrigerator, stove, dining table, barbecue grill and television set. In the event anything is damaged, Airbnb will ask for before-and-after photos to prove that guests caused the damage.
With Jose, after an Airbnb representative evicted the group for breaking my house rules, I found a large chip in my kitchen countertop. After sending Airbnb the photo of the damaged countertop, a company representative concluded it was not reasonable to let me keep Jose’s security deposit because “there is no way to document whether or not the chip on the counter was there before or after this guest stayed at the listing.”
Airbnb did agree to charge Jose for excess guests — but only for those my neighbors were able to photograph.
Nick Shapiro, an Airbnb spokesman, said I should have been treated better and the company apologized that its resolution process “did not work as it was supposed to in this incident.”
In my conversations with Jose, he insisted that he did nothing wrong and that I broke the contract by kicking his group out of the house. Neither of us could leave each other a review because his reservation was voided.
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