House vacation rentals aren’t for the faint of heart. “How is that safe?” “What about your stuff?” and “Is it even worth the trouble?” are usually the first questions I hear when Airbnb or VRBO hosting comes up.
When we started Airbnb hosting five years ago, we wondered the same things. Becoming a host can feel like it comes with a lot of risk, but we’ve found it’s often a simple, stable way to make a little money on the side. As hosts, we get to meet interesting people from all over the globe and subsidize our absurdly high Bay Area rent.
Considering renting out your place? Here’s what you need to think about first.
1. Figure out what rental arrangement works for you.
There are all kinds of Airbnb setups to accommodate all types of guests. Whether you have a space on your couch or a spare European castle, think about when and how you’d like to rent out your space. Some renters only set availability for when they’re out of town, while others are comfortable having guests stay in spare bedrooms year-round.
Will you allow access to common spaces, such as a laundry room or kitchen, or will you provide room-and-bathroom amenities only? Limiting guest access can help new hosts feel safer and more confident, but it also could reduce potential guest interest. Strike the balance that most appeals to you.
When we started hosting, we would rent our one-bedroom apartment only when we were both out of town. Now that we have a four-bedroom home, we full-time rent out two bedrooms. Both rooms have their own entrances and en suite bathrooms, and we lock the internal doors so guests can’t access the rest of the house. This setup is what works best for us, but find one that fits your situation.
2. Consider your host style.
Some travelers are looking for homemade breakfast and a guided tour of your city, while others are visiting for all-day conferences and want to be left alone when they arrive late at night. Develop a host philosophy: how involved you’ll be with guests, how much you provide for them, and so on. Being open and consistent about how you host will help you attract the right renters for your place.
In the Bay Area, our visitors tend to be business-minded techies visiting for work who come and go at odd hours. We installed a keypad so they can enter and exit on their own timetables. We also added blackout curtains if they need to sleep off jet lag, as well as a list of walkable dining recommendations. For longer-term renters, we offer a cleaning service and additional towels. We love to meet our guests, but given common time constraints, we leave that option to them.
3. Evaluate the cost.
Airbnb is really like running a business — your success is largely up to you. You do market research to set the price, you decorate the rooms, you’re the first call for maintenance issues, and you’re responsible for scheduling and paying all third parties, such as cleaners or managers. You also must provide amenities, such as water or coffee, snacks, a vacuum, disposable toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, a first aid kit, a blow dryer, or even Netflix or Hulu access. All of these require an ongoing financial and mental investment. When planning your new Airbnb side hustle, make sure to account for these different factors. Ensure you’re comfortable handling unexpected challenges.
Generally, our guests have been great, and I hear the same from other hosts I know. From hundreds of stays, we’ve only had to charge a couple of guests for extra wear and tear — once, a demolished chair; another time, a suspiciously blood-like stain covering half the bed quilt. Far more costly are the mundane, consistent things: laundry, cleaning, and all-hours availability in case of emergencies. While you’ll rarely have to worry about bad guests, even perfect guests can take more work than you might anticipate.
4. Follow the law, and clearly communicate any special house rules.
Before you turn over your house keys to a stranger for the first time, remember to check relevant local laws or neighborhood ordinances. Different cities, subdivisions, and landlords have different policies when it comes to short-term rentals, and you don’t want to run afoul of any of these.
Airbnb has rules, too. Make sure to read over its renter requirements, like ensuring that all communications and payments stay within Airbnb or that your pictures and descriptions reflect reality. Trying to ignore any of these requirements will only hurt you in the long run.
If you have particular house rules, let your guests know. With our two adjacent rental rooms, so we ask that guests be quiet during regular sleeping hours. With only one exception involving a particularly amorous couple on a weekend getaway, we’ve never had a problem. Consider any other rules or courtesies you’ll want from your guests, and communicate those before their arrival.
5. Have fun!
Airbnb is a great way to make new friends. With some basic precautions and common sense, you’ll have a blast. We ask guests to put a pin near their home in a world map on our wall, and the map is now totally covered.
Put your own personal spin on the experience, and get ready to host. Airbnb renting isn’t for everyone, but for those willing to invest the time, money, and energy to make it a worthwhile endeavor, it definitely pays off.
Jessica Wilkes is an attorney, long-time AirBnb host, mother, and dark chocolate lover.