Welcome Stranger: A guide to making money from Airbnb
Updated: Dec 20, 2018
When I first took occupation of my flat in November 2016 I used Airbnb as a way to supplement the expense of living alone in my flat. Over the course of 6 months I was host to 15 different guests/couples over 44 nights.
In a neighbourhood not exactly known for tourists I attracted mainly South Africans travelling for business or visiting family in the area. The fact that my flat was not located in a tourist destination ended up working in my favour because there was next to no competition in the area and if there was my offering looked far more attractive than the other options.
I had to manage my bookings wisely because the purpose of this listing was not to be permanently booked out, but rather to try earn some additional income while staying with friends or family while my flat was occupied. I ended up rejecting over 10 bookings in order to manage this.
The process was hard work, and because my listing was what I would refer to as a budget offering, I had to keep my expenses under very strict control. This meant personally cleaning up the flat after every booking. Vacuuming and mopping the floor, doing other people’s dishes, throwing away their old food, cleaning the toilet after them, I could go on… I would definitely miss this least.
Despite the hard work that was required I did manage to earn some very useful extra income. I managed to cover about 50% of my bond repayment costs over the 6 month period with the profit I made.
I also learnt a new skill. It taught me about an industry I previously had no knowledge of and it taught me not only about how to host a guest but how to be a guest myself.
Being an Airbnb host is a big responsibility, here are some of my tips to ensuring it is done right:
List every last detail!
It is a big frustration for someone to arrive at booked accommodation and find that it is very different to what was advertised on the listing. “What’s the Wi-Fi code?” “Sorry the Wi-Fi is currently down at the moment”. This is just not good enough.
There are two parts to getting this right. The first is to ensure your listing leaves your potential guest with no questions to ask. You need to list everything. Are there rules that need to be followed because you stay in a complex or sectional title? Do you offer a fully equipped kitchen for your guests to cook in? Again, you need to list everything. Take a look at this listing for an example of a comprehensive listing. Man I wish I owned that apartment.
Secondly you need to chat to your guests or potential guests to ensure that they fully understand your offering before they have paid Airbnb for their booking. Check that they have read and understood the listing and ask if they have any questions which can be addressed before they arrive.
I for example did not have a TV or Wi-Fi in my flat. It was crucial that I knew the guests understood this and were not expecting it. As many people browsing through a listing would not even question whether the place has a TV or not.
How hard could it be to take a few pictures?
One of the most important factors to drawing in potential guests is great pictures. This does not mean that because you have a high resolution camera any picture is good enough. You need realistic, appealing and well-taken pictures.
There shouldn’t be any surprises for guest walking into your place, in fact they should feel as if they have already been there before.
Some people are unfortunately completely oblivious to what is and what is not appealing in a picture of their own apartment/house. This is why it is my advice to use a professional. Airbnb offers a connection to professional photographers in certain cities (when I initially launched my listing in November 2016 this service was free of charge), these photographers have loads of experience shooting pictures for a listing. This service is extremely useful and the quality of the pictures can really enhance your listing.
Do your homework in order to be comfortable
Someone will be sleeping in your bed, using your shower, using your toilet and I won’t go into any more detail than that. There is no ways around this, you are going to have to trust complete strangers and allow them complete control over your property.
Trusting may be difficult for some, but your risk can be minimised by doing your homework upfront. This means checking every single one of you potential guests reviews from previous hosts, I would even allow instant bookings from guests who were well reviewed. In my experience the guest’s previous reviews told me everything I needed to know. If they had a good track record, they were generally ideal guests. If they had mixed or no track record often it probably wasn’t worth the lack of sleep in accepting their booking request.
I also made the call to not accept any booking requests from un-reviewed guests. As my flat was a lower budget option any risk associated with damages to the property and last minute cancellations would really cost me.
Leave no trace
You don’t want your place looking like you have been living where your guests will be staying. The place must be immaculately clean. This means you cannot leave anything in your fridge nor can you leave half eaten packets of chips in your draws. When you live this kind of lifestyle of packing up and moving out every other week for a new guest you learn quite quickly how to make sure you don't give yourself a lot of work to do each time.
This is luckily strength of mine and because I like to live in a very minimal and clean environment it was easy for me to portray this image to my guests.
Three locked kitchen cupboards was all I needed to pack and fold all my clothes and personal belongings into to keep out of side to my guests. Everything else that was accessible to a guest was planned and apart of the package. (Can’t lock your kitchen cupboards? A cable tie will do just fine)
The check-in and check-out
Most people when checking in just want the keys and then complete privacy. So don’t stand around chatting for days if you are the only one talking.
Give your guests a quick tour of the place mentioning every important detail – leave a copy of the listing to remind the guests of what is and what is not offered, this is also important in case there are any queries after you have left.
I also wrote up a welcome letter detailing where in the area they can go for all their various needs such as groceries or restaurants. If the guests were foreigners then I would leave a more comprehensive welcome letter also detailing various attractions and recommendations of things to do in or just outside of the area.
It is important that you are available to respond to any questions from your guest during the time that they have booked with you. Being able to address any issues immediately will help both parties have a more pleasant experience.
The check-out process should be mentioned in the listing document but a friendly reminder the day of checking in as well as one day before checking out on the check-out time as well as process is normally necessary. My guests would always drop off the keys with security after leaving, this meant that I didn’t need to drive to meet them when they wanted to check-out.
Take the feedback
People are brutally honest when reviewing you and if you drop the ball on Airbnb and get a couple of bad reviews this is seriously going to impact your ability to attract guests going forward.
You are going to make some mistakes and some guests are just going to find problems no matter how much you have done to ensure otherwise. Take the feedback and try your best to correct it, otherwise just move on.
At the end of June 2017 I moved out and got a full time tenant in my flat. There is no doubt that in my circumstance having a full time tenant in my flat will be more profitable than it being full time on Airnb, this is just based on the price that I am able to charge per night for my offering as well as the booking demand that I experienced. But this was never the equation I was trying to weigh up. I lived in my flat and only paid the living expenses of staying in my flat, and being an Airbnb host allowed me to live in my flat at a subsidised cost for only a little bit of discomfort. This option is definitely not for everyone, but if you can make something similar work for you, it can be extremely rewarding.