Owning a vacation home isn’t only your own personal escape hatch from the real world. Thanks to the explosion of short-term rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway, having your vacation home up on such sites can also net you some serious cash!
After all, the tide has turned: Short-term rentals are becoming ever-more-popular alternatives to hotels. In 2018, Airbnb made up about 20% of the total lodging spending among U.S. consumers, and HomeAway, owned by Expedia, made up 11%, according to data from Second Measure.
But here’s the thing: Renting out your vacation home isn’t quite as easy as posting a few photos and waiting for guests to arrive.
“Hosts often think that by listing the home on a particular channel that they can kick back and let the reservations come in,” says Caleb Donegan, vice president of digital at Vacasa, a vacation rental management company that uses platforms like Airbnb and VRBO to list homes.
“Major listing sites like Airbnb and VRBO have millions of properties, and it’s important to take the proper steps to become what they consider a good host.”
In this latest installment of our Guide to Buying a Vacation Home, we show you how to become the host(ess) with the most(est). Keep these insider insights in mind to maximize your profits with minimal headaches.
1. Get some protections
Not only are more guests using Airbnb and similar sites to make travel arrangements, but the sites also offer protections for homeowners renting out their homes, says Airbnb superhost Dana McMahan, who makes $30,000 per year running Airbnb properties in Louisville, KY. She also offers workshops on how others can follow in her footsteps.
But McMahan’s early experiences weren’t always so rosy. She remembers a time in 2007 when she and her husband rented out their properties by listing them on her travel blog, Body by Bourbon.
“The people came, we picked them up at the airport, we made them dinner, we were really supernice to them, and they wrote us a check and it bounced,” she says. “We never saw that money.”
Since guests are required to pay when they book on platforms like Airbnb, homeowners don’t have to worry about getting stiffed. Airbnb does charge a host fee of 3% on the booking subtotal for most listings, but most consider that money well-spent.
2. Describe the vacation home accurately
It may seem obvious, but Donegan emphasizes that homeowners be accurate in every aspect of the listing: the property description, photos, and calendar. An unhappy guest could leave a negative review, which could affect a host’s ability to attract future bookings.
“If you list your home as a ‘luxury beachfront property,’ only to have guests arrive to find the home is more of a ‘quaint bungalow many blocks away from the beach,’ they are bound to be disappointed and leave a bad review, even if they ended up enjoying their stay,” he says.
Include all details about the property (good and bad), amenities, location, and rules for the home. Also, list items the home is stocked with, like a hair dryer or dishwasher.
“One of the most important things about getting your listing right is making sure you’re very clear what you’re offering and what you’re not offering,” McMahan says, and avoiding “unpleasant surprises” for guests.
For example, one of McMahan’s guest suites is accessible by a set of steep stairs, so she mentions the stairs multiple times in the listing.
“I don’t want somebody to get here and say, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know there were stairs like this.’ Even though you can run the risk of scaring people off, it’s better to let people self-select to stay at your place based on giving them really clear expectations.”
3. Showcase the home with professional photos
Professional photographs highlighting all aspects of the home are a must, McMahan says.
The photos should accurately show off the interior and exterior of the home, along with amenities like a pool or hot tub and elements, to portray the home accurately.
Hiring a photographer may be an extra expense, but it’s key to maximizing profits on your vacation rental, McMahan says.
“Chances are you’re going to have a lot of competition, and if you don’t have great photos of a beautiful space, then you may as well not exist,” she explains.
4. Keep your calendar up to date
A common mistake new Airbnb hosts make is not keeping their property’s calendar showing its availability up to date, McMahon says. If the home is cross-listed on multiple sites, this could mean someone might book the home on Airbnb for the same days it’s just been reserved on, say, HomeAway. As such, you’d have to cancel one of the bookings.
Not only does this send a bad message to guests, but Donegan warns that Airbnb and other sites may penalize hosts (and potentially shut down their accounts) who decline bookings on nights listed as available.
5. Keep your rental clean and well-stocked
There’s a difference between staying in a place you own versus one you pay for while on vacation. Tiny details matter, so consider what’s most important to you when you travel and offer that same experience to anyone booking your home.
If you manage your rental from afar and have never stayed there (or haven’t recently), bunk down there for a night or two to see what the place might be missing.
“I can always tell when I stay in an Airbnb if the host or owner has never spent time there, because they just don’t get the details right,” Donegan says. “Until you stay there, you may not know, for instance, that you need a lamp by this couch because it gets dark here early in the winter and it makes it hard to read.”
Also, keep the home “immaculately clean,” McMahan says. “That’s the one area you cannot possibly skimp on. It doesn’t matter how nice the place is, how great your location is, how nice you are—if the place is dirty, that’s not going to fly.”
Guests also expect the home to be stocked with all of the supplies they’ll need for the stay (e.g., dish soap, paper towels, plates, and mugs). They also want detailed instructions for how to use the coffee maker, washing machine, the TV, and Wi-Fi.
Want to score some extra points with guests? Welcome them with a bottle of wine, snacks, coffee, or other gifts, Donegan says. Also provide them with details about places to eat and things to do nearby.
6. Be courteous with guests—even if they complain
Timely communication with guests, resolving issues that come up, and going above and beyond to welcome them also help hosts earn positive reviews, which are important for securing future reservations, Donegan says. Reviews play a role in the algorithms that Airbnb and other sites use to rank properties in search results.
Donegan urges hosts to thank guests for their feedback in all cases. If there’s a complaint, respond to let them know you’ll take action in the future, or use private messaging to address concerns.
7. Keep an eye on your listing
Listing your property on Airbnb or similar site can bring in extra income when you’re not using your vacation home. But McMahan emphasizes that it can be a lot of work.
“The main theme I like to get across to people is that this isn’t ‘landlording.’ This is hospitality,” she says. “There’s more to it than handing somebody your keys and saying, ‘Have a great stay.’ It’s really caring about your guests and making sure that you are doing everything you can to give them a really memorable experience and that your place becomes part of that experience. If you have a passion for it, you can really do well.”
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