Living in London can be expensive, maybe you have wondered about letting a room to help pay the bills, pay for your next holiday or fund an expensive purchase for your home. If so, you may be wondering how to become an Airbnb host.
I registered with Airbnb in June 2017, just before the Wimbledon Championships (which I am conveniently located near) so luckily got bookings straight away and, with several positive reviews under my belt, have continued to do so. In my first full quarter of being a host I received Superhost status. You are reviewed every quarter (January, April July and October) based on certain criteria, such as star ratings, responsiveness and honouring bookings, and I have so far maintained this status. This endorsement sets you apart from hosts who haven’t got this status and is an optional filter for potential guests searching for accommodation.
In this first post I’ll go through some of the things to consider before you start accepting guests.
You will need to decide how much of your home you want to share. Are the lounge and kitchen available to your guests? I am unable to provide access due to the layout of my flat but if you decide to, this could be unlimited access or you could give specific hours they can be used. Some hosts will let guests use the kitchen to make a cup of tea whilst others will let them make meals. The choice is yours.
Is the bedroom suitable? A comfy bed is always going to be welcome but some successful hosts offer a sofa bed, so if that is all you have to offer, don’t let that put you off. I’m lucky to have an excessive number of built-in cupboards in the bedroom which gives me space to lock away my things and still provide a wardrobe, drawers and cupboard for my guests. Try to provide somewhere to hang clothes and some drawers, at the very least.
With people using your home, there’s always the possibility things could get damaged. If there’s anything of sentimental value to you or would be expensive to replace, move it, it’s not worth worrying about.
What are your neighbours like? If you live in a block of flats this is particularly important as they may object to people coming and going. Do they play loud music or argue regularly, etc? This could impact on the enjoyment for your guests.
What to provide
You don’t have to provide breakfast but a few essentials could make all the difference to your guests’ enjoyment during their stay. You may be limited on space, but a kettle is definitely a good idea. I haven’t got a kitchen available for my guests so I provide what I can in the hallway. This includes a fridge freezer, kettle, toaster, microwave, plates, cups etc and a few things such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk, butter, jams, cereals and biscuits. As people like to eat different things and I hate wastage I also put a few things in the freezer, such as pancakes and pain au chocolat – so if one guest doesn’t eat them, they are available for another. Most things I offer are things I like so I can always eat them if they are reaching their use by date. If you’re providing breakfast don’t forget to ask your guests for any dietary requirements.
I also provide wifi access, a Smart TV with dvd player, hairdryer, universal plug adapter, full length mirror, blanket, books, bedside table with lamp and a table and chair in the bedroom. Towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap and shower gel are provided in the bathroom and guests can use the washing machine and have access to an airer, iron and ironing board.
Safety and Security
You will need to think about safety and security both for your guests and yourself. Consider whether you need locks for the bedroom doors and where you are going to put your valuables. If you are a female host you can specify female guests only.
Keep your guests safe. Provide a first aid kit, information about what to do in an emergency, give details of the closest hospital and have (working!) smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and a fire extinguisher.
How much to charge
You will need to decide how much to charge per night and whether to add a cleaning fee and security deposit. Airbnb add a commission to the guests and take a commission from you, so factor this in when deciding how much you need and what people would realistically pay. Have a look at what other hosts charge near you. Make sure you compare yourself with similar properties in similar locations – there’s no point charging the same as a property near a tube station if you live further away – you won’t get the bookings. There are several options for pricing structures. Options include smart pricing (a fluctuating price depending on demand), fixed price, charging more at weekends and charging a different price during special events or just on a particular day. You can also offer discounts for one-week stays etc.
How do you get paid? When the guest books, the booking fee goes to Airbnb who then release the money the day after the guest has checked in. It gets sent directly to your bank account and can take a few days to show up. Airbnb take out their commission before sending you the money.
Tip: Don’t spend your money until it is safely in your bank account, and preferably not until the guest has checked out. It is not uncommon for guests to cancel, with very little notice, even during their stay. You can set rules for cancellations by choosing from differing refund options.
You will need to decide on the check-in time and how they will check in. If you work from home or keep regular hours then this is easy to determine. Or you may have someone who can welcome your guests. Some hosts have a key box outside their door or other means of the guests letting themselves in. You can say you can’t accept bookings on particular days of the week (e.g. you can’t accept bookings on Tuesdays) but there currently isn’t the function to choose specific dates you can’t accept check-ins. You can block off the day but that would mean you can’t have someone before that date staying on as it shows up as unavailable.
You can set a minimum and maximum length of stay. I limit the length of stay as I don’t feel my home is suitable for long stays without the guests having access to the kitchen. I have been very lucky on the whole with the guests I have hosted but you need to consider some guests may not quite appreciate it’s your home rather than a hotel, could be difficult or you may just have a personality clash – ultimately you want to feel comfortable in your home so think about this when deciding your maximum stay. One night stays can seem like you’re washing the linen moments after making the bed and not all hosts offer this but I have chosen to.
You can choose how far ahead to have your calendar – I have dates up to 3 months open but I also opened up specific dates in July early to enable advance bookings for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.
Airbnb encourages hosts to offer instant book. I chose to do this as you’re more likely to get bookings and there’s an instant bookings filter for guests to choose when searching. If you are concerned that you don’t know who you are accepting, you can set requirements such as only accepting someone who has a review from a previous host, proven certain identity criteria, etc and you can cancel if you feel uncomfortable with the booking.
Promoting your accommodation
When deciding what to write in your description – be honest, if you say you are next to the tube but end up being 20 minutes away – that’s more than likely to be mentioned as a negative in your guest’s review. Is there anything unique, fun or convenient on your doorstep? This could be a tourist attraction (famous or unknown), great walks or parks, shops nearby, etc.
You will need to take photos of your home. Show it in its best light and let them imagine themselves there. Make sure it is clean, the bed is made, there is no rubbish or clutter in the photo. Showing the bathroom and kitchen is quite important to some prospective guests as they want to make sure that it looks clean and well equipped. Take the photo when the sun is coming in so it doesn’t look dark or if you are doing a night-time photo put lamps on to make it look cosy.
Once you’ve made all your decisions and completed your profile, you’re ready to publish. Airbnb suggests offering a discount for your first booking. It is quite a saturated market and without any reviews to prompt people to book with you it’s probably worth doing to make you stand out from already established hosts.
Of course not everything is always going to be wonderful (for me it’s ironing the bedding 😉 ) and sometimes problems arise. It can be restrictive with regards to making plans. I have heard of some hosts making their guests wait until the last minute to tell them when they are home to let them in – but personally I don’t think that’s good hosting etiquette. It’s probably inevitable that at some point you will have a guest that for whatever reason you’re not enjoying hosting and as people won’t be used to the way some things work in your home there may be accidental breakages which can be an unexpected expense.
There’s going to be an initial expense, but probably very minimal, as most things you will have anyway, and you can wait until you have received a booking to purchase any items. Things you may need to buy are new towels, bedding, additional cleaning products etc. You can charge a cleaning fee to cover some costs but I decided against doing so. As I provide a separate kitchen area I provide separate mugs, glasses, plates etc but you may already have enough of these. You will also need to check your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and fire extinguishers are working and in date. If you are going to provide refreshments then these will need to be purchased. The great thing about Airbnb is that it only charges you commission on your bookings so the only time you have to pay them any money is when a guest has stayed with you.
Ultimately, for me, the upsides outweigh the downsides. Obviously earning an income is useful and perhaps it will help you re-invest in your home or pay for a holiday. There are many other benefits too. By opening up your home on a worldwide platform such as Airbnb you get to meet different people from all over the world and learn new things from them. You can help them enjoy their visit to London and perhaps they will even find a great restaurant or discover a bus route you weren’t aware of that you can benefit from and enjoy too 🙂
So what are you waiting for, get hosting 🙂
By Jo, Airbnb Superhost
In the next post I’ll look at what makes a good host