Preparing Your Property
This section is for new hosts, people who have not yet prepared their homes for short-term renting. Using this section, you will be able to properly prepare your home and set it up for the photos you (or your hired photographer) will be taking for your listing.
Creating The “Home Away from Home” Experience
The best hosts excel in finding the sweet spot between the hotel experience and the “home away from home” experience. You want to provide a cozy, personal experience that is at the same time, a relaxing, comfortable one.
My best experiences as a renter on Airbnb have been exactly that – a cozy, relaxing environment with a touch of personalization. My least memorable experiences have been ones that have either resembled soulless, corporate hotel rooms or those that were so full of personal items I felt as though I was intruding on someone’s life.
A comfortable, inviting living room is a major reason why people prefer renting on Airbnb versus staying in hotels. Why? Because hotels don’t usually offer living rooms of course!
Families or groups rent on Airbnb because they want to spend time together in a common space. This isn’t typically possible when renting multiple hotel rooms. Couples and solo travelers also appreciate having a living area in which to relax rather than having to retreat to a bedroom as they do in a hotel.
This is a key differentiator and should be a major focus of your house preparation. Look through some Airbnb listings and see what catches your attention. It will most likely be one of two things: the outside of the house or the living room. Living rooms are the centerpiece of a home; the room that says “you are welcome here”.
There’s no one way to create the ultimate living room sanctuary. Start by thinking about your most likely customer. Are you listing a one bedroom apartment in the downtown area of a major city? Modern design is probably the way to go. A three bedroom house on the coast? It’s a different look entirely.
You don’t need to go crazy and throw out your existing furniture. As long as it’s comfortable, it will work. What you do need to do is make sure it’s designed well with good use of color. I’ve seen a number of drab, unwelcoming living rooms on Airbnb listings and I can tell you that is an immediate turn-off. If you think of your furniture as “mid-century modern” or “antique”, take a closer look at it. Are you sure it’s not just outdated?
Some places with old furniture have a quirky, charismatic feel such as the lovely Airbnb rental in England where I stayed recently. Yes, it was old but the setting was marvelous and the host didn’t oversell her place. Most places don’t get away with it.
If you think most of your renters will be solo travelers or couples, make the TV the main focus of the living room. If you’re more likely to have groups or families, then set up the living rooms as a community space. People will gather in the living room to socialize and play games. Don’t think about what you do in your living room, think about what your customers might want to do while they are there on vacation or business.
I have a 10-year-old deep red velour Pottery Barn couch. It looked great in my loft in Philadelphia but was a bit out of place in a three bedroom, single-family home in Boulder, Colorado. I simply covered the back with a plush white blanket and added some throw cushions to transform it from city-chic to cozy-country.
I purchased more cushions for the window bay and lined it with a comfortable mat so that it could be used as extra seating. I then purchased two Crate and Barrel armchairs on Craigslist for $30 each and hey presto, my living room was now the focal point of the house and centerpiece of my Airbnb photos.
When it comes to kitchens, there appear to be two types of people in the world: 1) people who like to have every possible herb, spice, oil, utensil and appliance close at hand, and 2) people who like a clutter-free kitchen counter surface. My sister is #1. I am #2. Personally, I think #2 is the best way to go for Airbnb. Keep it clean and clutter-free is my mantra.
If you’re someone who has a lot of stuff on the counters, you probably do so because you know where everything is located. Your guests may be the same way in their houses but in your house, they’re not going to be able to find anything. You may as well clear everything off the counters and store it in places where it can be found easily.
From my travel experiences, kitchens fall into three categories depending on whether the place is 1) the host’s primary residence, 2) a second home, 3) an investment property set up specifically for renting on Airbnb. In the first, you can find almost everything you could want for your stay but you might have to dig for it through the clutter. The second is typically the ideal set up – especially if it’s a second home that the owner uses fairly frequently. The third is typically furnished with the minimal amount of cooking utensils and appliances.
It doesn’t matter which category you fall into as long as you provide the essential items needed by your guests. Again, this depends on your type of guest and how long they plan to stay. Families renting a home at the beach need a lot more items than a couple renting a Manhattan loft for the weekend.
It’s safe to say that a large percentage of your guests will drink coffee or tea during their stay. Supply the devices to make it and include some nice coffee and tea. Add in sweeteners, sugar, fresh milk and non-dairy creamer and you’ll please everyone. I provide a drip coffee machine, french press, and Italian-style cafetiere for my guests to use with a selection of coffees and teas.
No one wants to go out and buy milk for a one or two-night stay and it’s greatly appreciated when you find a host that has anticipated guests’ needs. Surprise and delight as they say and you’ll most likely get glowing reviews.
Quite a few people will drink wine in your house. Have a wine opener in an obvious place and make sure your wine glasses are sparklingly clean. Keep in mind that wine glasses will be broken so hide the nice crystal ones and offer the cheapo ones you bought on Amazon for $3 a piece. Buy extras if you have some storage space. It will save you time later on.
There’s a good chance that one of the reasons they rented your place was so that they could cook at home and avoid the expense of eating out every day and night. Provide the basic implements for them to do that and you’ll be fine. I don’t need to go through individual items like pots, pans, and toaster ovens. Just put yourself in the shoes of your guests and think about what they’ll need.
Provide basic condiments such as oils and balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper, hot sauce, ketchup, and mustard, etc. It really sucks as a guest when you have to buy these items because you won’t use 10% of them during your stay but you’re not going to take them with you. If you don’t provide them, I’m sure one of your early guests will stock them for you, but they won’t be happy to do so which could reflect negatively on your review.
Other than supplies, the most important point to keep in mind about your kitchen is that is should be spotless and well organized. Start with your cutlery drawer.
It’s quite a lot of work to keep a cutlery drawer clean and organized. You have to remove everything periodically, wipe everything off, and replace it. I’ve rented a few places where it’s quite obvious that the cutlery drawer has not been cleaned in many months. They get a bit grimy.
During set up, clean and organize everything. Start with a spotless kitchen and try to maintain it as such. Clean out the trash cans and give them a good scrubbing. If you don’t, you risk getting dinged on cleanliness.
Clear out the bedrooms your guests will be using. Think about this from your own experience. Would you be comfortable sleeping in someone else’s bedroom if it felt like the owner of the house had slept in the same bed the night before? Probably not. You need to de-personalize the bedrooms. This is one area where you want to think in terms of providing a hotel experience.
Clear out all clothes from the drawers and closets. Most people don’t want to open a drawer to find your underwear. Those who might enjoy that experience are probably not the ones you want staying in your house!
Remove family photographs and any other personal items. No one wants to sleep in a room with a photo of someone else’s family staring at them. Photos from your travels or pictures of your pets are fine. They add warmth and character.
You may be asking where on earth you store all of your personal effects. This can be a challenge if you don’t have much storage space in your house or apartment, and one I addressed by purchasing a small cargo trailer that I parked in my drive. It cost me $1,500, which over the course of 3 years was far cheaper than renting a storage space.
If you don’t have space in your driveway or just don’t want a cargo trailer parked there, you can rent a small storage unit. Depending on your location, this should cost between $75 and $125 per month.
For me, this was a sound investment considering I would be earning more than $7,000 per month in rental income. It was also an opportunity for me to minimalize my life. Going through this exercise, I donated about half my clothing to Goodwill. Minimization is liberating!
Clear out your personal effects from the bathroom your guests will use. Store any items you don’t want guests to use. I simply put them in a storage box under the bathroom sink. Once again, I was able to get rid of many items that had been there for months, if not years, and never been used.
I shouldn’t need to say this but remember to clean out your prescription medicines and store them somewhere safe. Believe it not, I’ve seen plenty on my travels.
The two rooms in your house where you are most likely to lose review points for cleanliness are the kitchen and bathroom. When setting up your place, make sure your bathroom is spotless. Anything metal should shine, mirrors should be spotless, toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and showers should be completely stain-free.
Look up at the ceiling and check to make sure there are no mold or mildew stains or damp spots. Replace your shower head if it looks dated or has lime or rust stains. Replace the shower curtain and liner if they look a bit worn out. These are cheap fixes that really help your place to show well.
If your bathroom doesn’t look pristine, hire a handyman to give it a quick makeover. You can find one on TaskRabbit, Craigslist or Angie’s List. You can get the small touch up jobs, such as painting or re-caulking bathtubs, done quite cheaply via these sites. You don’t need to call a contractor.
If you are renting out your entire house while you travel, and have to move everything back when you return, this might seem like a lot of work. In this case, rather than clearing out everything in your bedroom and bathrooms, you could simply clear out some space for your guests to use. I’ve done this in the past and haven’t yet received a negative comment.
If the place you’re renting on Airbnb has an outside yard or patio, it’s probably already set up with the essential items such as patio furniture and a grill. If not, these are easy items to purchase. If your furniture is starting to look a little grubby, use this as an excuse to replace it.
Make sure you have enough outside furniture for the maximum number of people that may be staying at your place. For example, you may live alone in a one bedroom apartment with an outside deck and have a two-person bistro set. To maximize revenue, you may have a sleeper sofa to accommodate up to 4 people. If that’s the case, you’ll want to add more outside seating because your guests will likely use that space to socialize and if you’re not providing outdoor seating, they’ll likely use one of your indoor chairs instead.
If you have a grill, keep it and the grill tools clean. It is also a good idea to keep a spare tank of propane on hand just in case it runs out. If you have a charcoal grill, supplying fuel is a nice touch.
Removing items with sentimental value
Nothing will sour your Airbnb hosting experience more than finding an item of sentimental importance broken by a guest. Items such as electronics, new furniture, appliances, etc can be easily replaced and, if you’re lucky, you might get some reimbursement for the damage through Airbnb’s Host Guarantee.
Items with sentimental value, such as the dishware set passed down from generation to generation, are irreplaceable. You may have some financial value attached to them (and hopefully properly covered by insurance at that value) but you can’t insure sentimental value. It’s gone forever.
Go from room to room in your house and remove all items that have special meaning. Wrap them and store them safely or put them in places where they cannot be reached such as a lockable cabinet.
Don’t be alarmed. 95% of Airbnb guests will treat your house with the utmost respect. But accidents do happen (thankfully, mostly just broken wine glasses), so it’s better being safe than sorry.
There is only one item in my house that I would be very upset to lose. It’s my hand-painted Buddhist wheel of life, a souvenir from my trip to Bhutan a few years ago. I leave it in the house because it’s such a beautiful piece but I’m secure in the knowledge that it’s hanging high enough that no one can touch it.
Please see the insurance section of this manual for more information on making sure you are properly and adequately insured before you begin your short-term rental business.
Guests have certain expectations as to which services should be provided. As a host, it’s up to you to set those expectations by clearly communicating what you will provide. The type of ambiance you want to create, and type of guest you want to attract also factor into the equation. Naturally, the services provided at a remote getaway cabin are going to be different from those provided at a house in an urban area or vacation town.
The majority of places I’ve rented on Airbnb did not offer premium television packages. Typically, it’s just the basic channels. If the place I’m renting is the host’s primary residence, then the channels on offer are more expansive. Don’t feel obligated to provide premium television. It’s not expected. For my first year as an Airbnb host, I provided premium cable tv at a cost of $140 per month. For the second and subsequent years, I got rid of cable tv entirely, offering just Netflix at a cost of $10 per month. None of my guests seemed upset at not having access to premium cable channels.
If you plan to offer internet service, don’t skimp on it. I have seen many negative comments due to the lack of decent internet service. This is not an area where you want to cut costs by going with a cheap DSL provider. Get good cable or fiber optic internet. It will cost about $30 per month more but you’ll be saved from any negative comments.
For larger homes, especially older homes with thick walls, it is also recommended that you buy internet boosters. You can buy them off Amazon very cheaply. All guests will expect you to have internet service unless you specifically state that you do not include it. If you are listing a place as a remote escape, and think internet service distracts from the getaway experience you are selling, make sure you clearly identify that fact in your listing.
You may live in a place where air-conditioned homes are not the norm. That was the case with my home in Boulder, Colorado. You might be accustomed to using fans or sleeping with the windows open but your visitors might not. Also keep in mind that while you may not spend much time in your home during the day, your guests probably will.
If the place where you live gets hot in the summer months (which pretty much means anywhere in the US except Alaska), then you need to make sure your home cools properly at night as some people get very grouchy if they can’t sleep due to excessive heat. Grouchy customers tend to leave grouchy reviews.
Some hosts go the extra mile and provide a few bonus amenities for their guests to use. I call these amenities “bonus items” because guests don’t expect them but appreciate them, and often mention them in their positive reviews.
I purchased two second-hand cruiser bikes for my guests to use around town. I found them on Craigslist and they cost about $100 each. A number of guests used them and appreciated the gesture. The one downside to providing this amenity is that they do require maintenance.
I left two umbrellas for my guests to use in the rare event of it raining in Boulder. While I never received comments on this item, I’m sure those of you renting in places more susceptible to inclement weather would get positive feedback for including them. Of course, the more they’re used, the more likely they are to be left somewhere!
Maps and guidebooks
Most guests will likely bring their own guidebooks but it’s always nice to have one or two of your own handy for them to peruse. I also left a few of the free walking maps for my guests. Your local tourism board may have similar free maps. Transport maps and schedules are also a good thing to include if you’re in a city.
Pamphlets for local attractions
You may have a few favorites attractions around town or close by. Guests appreciate an insider’s recommendations on unique places to visit.
Setup Key Points
- Simplify your guest space and create a relaxing space for your guests
- Organize and make it easy for your guests to find the things they’ll need
- Find the right balance of personalization and comfort
- Add some color and unique touches
- Clean thoroughly and replace things that need replacing
- Add any items and services your guests might need or expect
- Include a few bonus items
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