How we got started with Airbnb hosting
Our journey to Airbnb hosting started over four years ago. When my wife and I got engaged, we started to look for a new place that we could call home. We visited over 75 different houses, made about 15 offers and were having no luck for over a year. Yes, this means we are picky. Finally, we came across a short sale in a neighborhood that we were very familiar with because one of my coworkers lived there. We learned that this home had a “mother-in-law suite” that was attached to the main house, but had a separate entrance, parking, kitchen and bathroom. We loved the idea of having a renter to offset our payments, so we made an offer and it was accepted.
After about a six-month closing process on the short sale, we moved in. My buddy Luke was in between apartments and became our first long-term tenant. After a few months, he went on his way and my wife had a friend who moved in. She lived there for the better part of a year before moving across the country. While exploring our options for renting our guest unit, a friend threw out the idea of Airbnb hosting. A couple days of research and the mother-in-law suite became a short term vacation rental.
My experience with Airbnb hosting
I have already detailed the first year of my experience as an Airbnb host, but overall, I have very few complaints about it. It allowed me to connect with people in some of their happiest moments. It gave me the opportunity to make their trip just a little bit brighter by giving them a home for the day, week or more. It made me a better at communicating, planning and managing my time.
My wife and I will look back fondly on the late nights and early mornings that we spent together, making someone else’s bed for the night, cleaning the floors, doing laundry and other chores. It doesn’t sound like something that should be fun. I can’t say that it always was. But there is something great about having a routine and taking pride in getting that routine down. Taking pride in knowing that you are going to contribute to making someone’s vacation just a little bit better, even if you never meet that person.
As for the financial side of it, it was pretty awesome. We lived in our house for four years and rented on Airbnb for three of them. During those three years, income from Airbnb paid for about 40% of our mortgage (yeah…I’m not counting taxes, insurance, utilities and all of that, but it was still good). Speaking of taxes, we were able to write off a portion of our home expenses, which was a nice little bonus when it came time to pay Uncle Sam. Here are the stats for our almost three years as hosts:
- Total earnings: $28,492.00
- Total stays: 217
- Guests from 47 of the 50 states
- Guests from 23 countries
- Lowest per night rate: $42.00
- Highest per night rate: $139.00
Lessons I Learned
- Location is everything. There were three factors that helped us a ton in getting listings on Airbnb. The first was being located in Phoenix, Arizona. We enjoy a few huge periods of travel and tourism, especially around Spring Training, a big PGA golf tournament and events like the Super Bowl and the Final Four. The second factor was being close to the airport. Our rental location was about a six minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, which allowed our listing to show up quickly for anyone who started their search with the airport as their central location. Showing up in more listings naturally leads to more bookings. The final factor was being located in an area that was central to most major attractions. Our Airbnb guest suite was about ten minutes from Downtown Phoenix, ten minutes from Scottsdale and walkable to a number of restaurants and bars.
- A little kindness goes a long way. People are cool. Especially when they are on vacation. There will naturally be conflicts that arise with Airbnb hosting. You don’t have an amenity that someone wants. They get lost when they try to show up in the middle of the night. They are playing loud music or disturbing the neighbors. Your cleaning lady accidentally hits the knob on the stove and your guests check into an apartment that is completely filled with natural gas (true, but scary story). People can be unhappy, but they are still people. Most of them are extremely reasonable. By being honest, having integrity and talking through issues in a kind manner, you can have a great experience as a host and more importantly, provide a great experience to your guests.
- People love free shit. It’s amazing how little tokens of your appreciation can completely make someone’s weekend when they are staying in your Airbnb rental. Leaving flowers for a woman who is in town for a funeral, a card for newlyweds, bottled water and snacks for guests on a long weekend, ibuprofen for the guys in town for the bachelor party…these tiny items that cost a few bucks can make people so incredibly happy. Positive reviews aside, it’s well worth a few extra bucks per stay to add a friendly, personal touch to your guests’ stay.
- Most people are clean. Some are gross. Roughly 96% of all guests that we ever had in our Airbnb property were extremely clean. 4% were filthy human beings. If you sign up for Airbnb hosting and decide not to use a cleaning service, you should be prepared for this. Luckily, we never had the gruesome war stories that many hosts surely have. But I’ve picked up some used condoms, cleaned pizza sauce off of bed sheets, cleaned about a quart of glitter from the…how do I say this…adult entertainers that stayed for a week, and wiped up enough body hair to create a life-sized Sasquatch replica. If you end up managing an Airbnb property, be prepared to hold your breath, cover your nose, and eventually, have a few good laughs at that select 4%.
- Time is money. As with any side hustle, it’s all a balance. You trade your time for money. In this case, the commodity that you are really trading for money is access to a nice place to stay, but it’s important not to forget your time. In the blistering summer months of Arizona, we forgot this a couple times in our first year. We dropped the rate for our guest suite down to the $40 range to drive more demand. After a few back-to-back nights and a couple hours of cleaning, I came to realize that after our variable costs were subtracted, my wife and I were making in the ballpark of $10 per hour for our efforts. Granted, the vast majority of the time, we were making between $80-200 per hour, but it is a good reminder that you should always value your time and factor that into the cost of renting on Airbnb.
- It’s easier to keep an existing customer than find a new one. One of the greatest joys that I had while renting on Airbnb was seeing guests come back for a repeat visits. We had a businessman who stayed with us about 10 times in two years. I only met him one time face-to-face for about five minutes, but I felt connected to this man. I gave him a safe, comfortable place to stay for over 25 nights of his life. He paid a fairly decent chunk of my mortgage. Over the time that we rented on Airbnb, we had over 20 repeat guests. They were always friendly, knew the rules, kept the place clean, and were less sensitive to price than a lot of other guests because they knew what they were getting. We saw an increase in our second year, then our third year in bookings, mostly because of these repeat guests that were filling in our calendar. Make people happy and they will come back.
Will I be back to Airbnb hosting?
In my recent years, making money on Airbnb has been one of the best decisions that I have made financially. It put us in a position to live comfortably while paying our mortgage and ended up being a lot more enjoyable than either of us thought. We got to meet great people from all over the globe. We became Superhosts and got some cool gifts from Airbnb, including vacation credits and a smart lock for our guest suite. It opened up a whole new world of side hustling to us and helped us to get our financial lives together. Finally, it allowed us to save up enough money to sell our home and move into a “forever home” for our budding family. We will no longer be renting out a portion of our house on Airbnb, but this is certainly not goodbye. I am almost positive that we will be investing in properties in the future with the sole aim of a return to Airbnb hosting. Until then, I’ll stick to cleaning up after far fewer people and coming into contact with far less abandoned body hair.