In my last post, I detailed how to make money as an Airbnb host. Now, I want to share more of my personal experience with the peer-to-peer rental platform. We started renting our property on Airbnb almost a year ago and it has been a far different experience than we could have ever expected. It has been a great second income source for us, but it has also been far more than just a way to make some side money.

My experience as an Airbnb host

I had pretty much no idea what to expect when I listed my guest suite on Airbnb for the first time. I had always heard great things about the site from people who had both rented and hosted, but I really didn’t know if we would get good demand for our property, how much we should rent our house for, or if we would end up hosting axe murderers or orgies within the four walls of our home. Luckily, all of my fears and uncertainties were quickly put to rest.

Listing our property

After deciding that we would give short term renting a go, my wife and I bought some basic items for the guest suite, cleaned and decorated the unit, snapped some iPhone photos and sat down to create our Airbnb listing. We added all of the basic information that was required to create a listing, including a simple description of our studio that included words like “clean, cozy and quiet.” The listing process was very simple, until we reached the pricing section. We ran some quick numbers to determine what the absolute minimum threshold was for us to make money after cleaning supplies, consumable items (toilet paper, paper towels, etc.), Airbnb fees, income taxes, less frequent maintenance items (carpet cleaning, general fix-it work, etc.) and factoring in the time that it would take to clean the unit and communicate with renters. We wanted to make sure that we were getting an appropriate return on our time. We came to the conclusion that anything above $35 per night would give us a pretty decent return and help to offset the cost of our mortgage. After this analysis and entering our listing details, we used the handy Airbnb price recommendation tool that they have built into the host interface. It suggested for that time of year and the general specs of our property (size, number of beds, location, etc.) that our property could be listed for $71 per night. We decided to stick with that number for the short term and see what kind of response we got.

Hosting guests

Within four days of listing the property, we had our first renter. My wife and I spent some time doing final cleaning, tucking in the sheets with hospital corners (which I still have not fully mastered after one year), lighting candles to leave what Target had promised us was a fresh “ocean breeze” scent and figuring out which lights to leave on to create the best first impression when our guest walked in. I sat for about 15 minutes eagerly awaiting our first guest’s arrival and finally met them when they pulled into our driveway. It was a very lovely young woman who was moving across the country and needed a place to stay for a couple of nights while she was transitioning. We had a great conversation for a few minutes and a got a very validating “Oh, this is really nice,” comment from her when we introduced her to her new short term home (ocean breeze:1, stale air:0). We told her that she could call or text with anything that she needed and coordinated her checkout a few days later. With that, we were officially Airbnb hosts.

Getting into a rhythm

After hosting a few guests, I got over my initial nerves and obsessing over every detail and got into the flow of being a part-time property manager. One of the unexpected challenges of Airbnb hosting is that it can actually be a fairly time consuming endeavor. My wife and I made the choice to manage it ourselves as opposed to using a property management company, or an Airbnb-specific management company like Guesty or Pillow. While I don’t know much about these services, this is definitely something that I would recommend considering for anyone thinking about getting into turning a property into a vacation rental. Their fees are reasonable and it appears that they will manage everything from booking to cleaning and restocking supplies. We chose to handle this on our own simply because our property is attached to our house and after getting used to it, we have the cleaning and guest preparation process down to 30-45 minutes each time.

One of the keys to reducing the time spent on cleaning and preparing for a new guest is to have a system. For us, it always starts with changing the sheets, then cleaning the kitchen, then bathroom, emptying garbage, restocking supplies, then wiping down all surfaces and finishing up with vacuuming. The exact order may vary for you, but this helps us to turn the property over faster and ensure that we did not forget anything. Another useful tip is to have a list (either mentally or on paper) of all of the places that you need to check for items from the last renter. For us, this list includes drawers, closets, under the bed, bathroom cabinets, kitchen cupboards and drawers. One illustration of the importance of this was when we had guests who were between visits to National Parks and accidentally left a pair of hiking boots in the freezer! The lesson, of course…don’t forget to check the freezer.

Freezer Boots

The Airbnb Freezer Boots

Summary of our experience

This all started out as more of an experiment than anything, with the hope that it would some day turn into a second income stream that would help pay down our mortgage. Surprisingly, it has become much more than that. Yes, it has far exceeded expectations in terms of income, but it has also become something that I take pride in. I would probably never voluntarily sign up for a service-oriented business that requires attention almost daily, but now that I’m in it, I love it. One of the unexpected things that I have come to enjoy about hosting on Airbnb is that I have the ability to make someone’s travel experience a little better. Things that take minutes out of my day like keeping the place clean, leaving flowers for honeymooners, or giving guests personalized dining recommendations are easy to do, but can make someone’s day. I feel very fortunate that being a host has given me that opportunity.

I also really enjoy interacting with the people who stay at our Airbnb rental. We have hosted over 100 different guests from all around the world (including China, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Costa Rica and Brazil) and we have yet to have a rude, dirty or sketchy guest (knock on wood). I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone and there are horror stories out there, but in our experience, most of the people that we encounter are actually in the best mood that you’ll ever find them. Most people that we get to talk to are experiencing a new city and are often on vacation, which is about as happy as you’ll ever see them. At the end of the day, it is nice to know that you are making money while also providing a service to someone that they truly value and enjoy.

A few quick highlights from our experience with Airbnb:

  • 11 months as an Airbnb host
  • 114 bookings
  • One pair of boots left in the freezer
  • 87% five star reviews
  • Over $14,000 in earnings
  • 14 repeat guests in the first year
  • One guest who managed to forget their entire suitcase
  • 8 months with Airbnb Superhost status
  • Zero complaints from neighbors

That pretty much sums up our experience. We will continue updating from time to time with other things that we learn, but in the meantime, if you have been listing as an Airbnb host and have different experiences to share, go ahead and leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you!