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The ultimate beginner’s guide to Airbnb hosting

In the words of Hamlet, to (Airbn)be or not to (Airbn)be, that is the question? Well nearly, anyway! If you are thinking about joining the estimated 23% of the UK population already sharing their home, then our ultimate beginner’s guide to Airbnb hosting.

Whether you have a motorhome on the drive, a spare room, a second home, or even a humble sofa, there are opportunities out there to bring in extra income. Airbnb alone offers 4 million (and counting) listings worldwide in 65,000 cities and 191 countries.

It’s environmentally sound, in many cases tax efficient, and starting to seriously challenge the traditional hotel sector. 

If getting on board seems tempting, or you’d like advice on how to get started, insured, established and ultimately be a brilliant host, this beginner’s guide to Airbnb hosting is for you. It’s written by home-sharing experts who want to help you get it right, ensuring you have all the information you need to share your home in the best way for you.

The ultimate beginner's guide to Airbnb hosting from GUARDHOG

Have you got what it takes to be a host?

It’s massively important that you take the time to consider if you actually have what it takes to be an Airbnb host. The last thing you want to do is spend any amount of money on prepping your space for it to fall flat! Some of us have been Airbnb hosts for several years, whether or not someone should try their hand at ‘hosting’ is a question we get asked all the time. Here are a few things to consider when making the decision.

Tolerance: You need to be open-minded. You won’t necessarily like or ‘click’ with all your guests, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad guest. You can choose which bookings you want accept, and set your guest preferences to be as specific as you like, but once you have accepted a booking, unless a guest has broken your house rules or done something upsetting or illegal, you have an obligation to put them up regardless of their likability.

It is a Job: Running a short-term rental property takes time. You need to view it as a part-time job to work out if you can fit it into your schedule. Answering enquiries, maintaining the property and “turning over” the property for each new guest, takes up quite a bit of effort and rushing it or cutting corners will end up in bad reviews, a poor rating and less bookings. You can make great money from renting out your unused spaces, but don’t expect it to be a walk in the park. It can be hard work!

Take the highs with the lows: There are no certainties with hosting. You can make really good money, but your income is not guaranteed so you must not make long-term financial plans based around the rental income. You also must accept that guests may not look after your home the way you would. Most guests are wonderfully respectful – but there will always be some that aren’t. If you will find the ups and downs stressful, re-consider, but to help you decide, you can have a read through our 8 tips to help prevent things going wrong.

The Return: It is hard work, but it is worth it. My holidays are paid for with what I earn from renting my home out whilst I’m away. And the revenue from regular guests I have staying in my “Summer House” is a very welcome supplement to my normal income. A survey we did, found that nearly half of people renting out on Airbnb were doing so to help fund holidays. A lot were also doing it to simply pay household bills and keep afloat. Whatever your reasons, you can make good money and it is worth the time you invest in it. 

So, what do you think? Are you ready to take the plunge? Our advice is to go for it. For us, all the work involved in hosting is worth it and with this beginner’s guide to being an Airbnb host by your side, you’ll be a successful one.

Our ultimate beginner's guide to Airbnb hosting

The practicalities of Airbnb hosting

You may not have thought about it this way, but if you do decide to become a Host, you are in some small way tip-toeing into the “hospitality sector”; that might sound a little on the grand side for your spare room …but remember, whenever people are paying real, hard-earned cash to stay with you, they do come with expectations. In effect even the most infrequent host is starting a small business (congratulations on becoming a “micropreneur”!) and, as we know, running a business isn’t all up-side.

There are responsibilities that come with hosting, as well as practicalities that need thinking about, in order to make sure that your micro-hotel is safe, hospitable and sustainable.

The Graft: Much like planning for maintenance costs, there is REAL work involved in being a host; work which you can either do yourself or pay a management company to help you with. The more aware and better prepared you are for these “loss” items in your hosting P&L, the more sustainable your home-sharing experience is likely to be. Then of course it’s vital, for every host, management company and the future of the sector, that plans are in place for the “worst case scenario”. 

Responsibility: In an ever more litigious world, there is a shared responsibility between all of us – hosts, guests and businesses – to keep each other in check, and grow a global community in which we can have total confidence. As a host, you must make sure your property is safe, as well as welcoming; check the likely sources of significant issues…stairs, banisters, windows and fire sources… have a look through our full list of health and safety tips for more information.

Costs: It’s important to remember that there are costs associated with running a business. If you suddenly increase the footfall in your house don’t be surprised when your carpets and floors get worn and your maintenance costs increase. But don’t let this put you off, just be sure to think about it when setting your price per night so you can account for any potential future outgoings.

Preparation: We’re process junkies, so we like to make sure that we have repeatable processes in place for everything in our own micro-hotel (we’re a bundle of laughs, we promise!); anything from having a whole spare set of bed linen for the guests when we have a booking, to making sure there are at least 2 emergency lines of contact in place at all times when guests are staying.

Protection: Insuring yourself in case of catastrophic losses and damage to property, or life changing injury to guests should be a no-brainer, and at GUARDHOG we can help to ensure the correct level of protection is in place for you. You can find out more here about the insurance solutions we offer.

Exploring while staying in an Airbnb

Preparing your home for guests

Now you’re ready to start sharing, it’s time to get your home ready. Remember, it’s not the same as having friends to stay for the weekend. You need to prepare, and a bit of effort up front will make the rest of the hosting journey much smoother.

Internet Access: Not having a high-speed internet connection is a deal-breaker for many guests nowadays, so it’s worth seeing what upgrade or booster options are available. This will make your property appealing to a much wider audience. And of course, don’t forget to leave the Wi-Fi code!

Clean, Clean, Clean: Cleaning is probably the most important part of preparing your house for guests. However smart or well-located your home is, if it feels a bit dirty, the guest will feel uncomfortable. Remember that guests can rate cleaning in their review, and a poor score will likely put off potential future guests. You should pay particular attention to the kitchen and bathroom, including the inside of the fridge and cupboards. And if you don’t have the time to ensure property is spick and span in between your busy schedule, there are plenty of companies out there that specialise in cleaning services for Airbnb hosts. We’ve put together a guide to picking the right cleaning service for you.

Insurance: You’ll need to let your home insurer know you are going to be home-sharing. Making money from renting out your home is considered a commercial activity by insurers and is usually not covered. In many cases, it actually invalidates a home insurance policy.

If it turns out that you need to change your home insurer, at GUARDHOG we provide a sharing-friendly home insurance policy. You will also need to take out host insurance to ensure you are fully covered for all the things that could go wrong whilst guests are staying in your home.

While some choose to rely on the Airbnb Guarantee, it’s important to understand that it is not an insurance policy, and there are many limitations when claiming on it. Taking out proper host insurance will ensure you are fully protected, and you can find out more about our host insurance policy here.

Do Some Research: Vrbo suggests browsing through reviews of other holiday homes on the site for inspiration. Feedback from travellers will give you an idea of what guests find particularly good, or bad, and what makes a trip extra special – and you can use this information to get your space ready.

Post: If you don’t have a locking mailbox, make arrangements to safeguard any personal mail delivered to your home while you are away. You can have the Post Office hold your mail while guests are staying at your home. You can also rent a Post Office box. Whatever you choose to do, ensure any personal information is kept that way!

Stash It: Put precious items and personal documents in a room, cupboard or safe and secure with a good padlock. But don’t worry about possessions in other cupboards. Most guests are not interested in poking through cupboards – they are staying there to do other things, like sightsee, visit friends or go to a conference. Accidents happen to the best of us, so protecting anything that is irreplaceable is a must.

Safety First: Make sure your home is safe. Walk around the space critically and with an eye towards safety. Are there any loose steps or exposed wires? Fix anything that may cause injury to a guest. Check all fire and Co2 alarms work in between all stays and if you’re unsure about how much battery power they have left, be safe and change them. It’s worth keeping a risk assessment document as a record of what you’ve done and a first aid kit, fire extinguisher and fire blanket on hand for any incidents that may occur. Label the best way to exit the property in case of emergency, especially if your property is within a flat as set procedures should be in place for the whole building. And finally, ensure you have provided contact details for all emergency services – even the obvious ones! Check out our full health and safety guide.

Write the House Manual: The more written instructions you leave for your guests the better. This way guests won’t have to call you every time they have a question. Be sure to include instructions on how to operate things like the TV, shower and cooker, if you have any house rules and any recommendations you have for places to visit. The more you can give them to help their trip run smoothly while in your care, but more likely you are to achieve those top reviews increase your bookings. Why not check out our full guide on how to write a house manual.

Write instructions for your appliances when hosting

Let Your Neighbour’s Know: Keeping your neighbours on-side is vital. Not only will they alert you if your guests break any rules, but politely telling them what you are doing will mean they are less likely to complain / make objections. It is a sign of respect that you have told them, and it really will help keep the peace. Often neighbours can pose issues if they’re being disrupted by guests coming and going all the time. So, letting them know that you’ve put as many measures in place as possible to ensure they are not disturbed will show forethought consideration of them.

Walk Through Your Home: Walk through your home as if you were a guest and imagine what they will be looking for or wanting. If you’re an Airbnb guest yourself, you should be able to base this on your own expectations. Are the plug sockets easy to find? Where are the light switches? Is there enough privacy? Think about what you want when you go away and try to provide that. It only takes a few easy tweaks to each room to keep your guests happy…

The Bedroom: For a lot of stays, especially short breaks, this is where the guests will be likely to spend the most time, so creating a welcoming environment is key. Simple touches like extra pillows, flowers, room spray and lamps are all easy to provide and will add to the guest’s comfort.

Also important is the bed. If you’re serious about making money from your home, purchasing a new mattress (or a memory-foam topper at least) is a good idea. And always use quality bed linen, (no polyester!). We can all be a bit crabby after a bad night’s sleep in an uncomfortable bed with scratchy sheets, and if your guest has a bad night this will likely be the focus of their review.

A pitcher of water and a couple of glasses on a bedside table is a welcoming touch and providing a hair dryer is essential. Finally, make sure there are plenty of hangers in the wardrobe and clear enough storage space for the time your guests are staying.

The Living Areas: Where possible, hide any personal items. Keeping living areas tidy and uncluttered will make it more relaxing, easier to keep clean and less likely that anything with sentimental value will get broken. Plants, flowers and artwork will add life to a space if it’s looking a little bare after you’ve tidied away most personal items. 

Hall: In your hallway, a doormat and shoe rack will prompt guests to clean and store their potentially dirty shoes rather than tracking them through your property. And a hook for coats will keep wet coats off the furniture and stop things from looking untidy. These are small touches that guest will appreciate.

The Bathroom: Always have fresh/full toiletries available for each new guest. It’s worth either raiding the travel mini’s section of your local supermarket or health and beauty store, or if you’re trying to watch your plastic waste, investing in refillables that will allow you to top up your toiletries in between guests. If you’re sharing the bathroom with your guests, ensure your personal toiletries are stored away separately and the ones for your guests are on display. If the shower needs wiping down after use, or there’s a trick to getting the taps to work, make sure this is clearly stated somewhere in your bathroom. A nicely displayed set of bathroom rules in an unmissable place should prevent any confusion.

a host cleaning their bathroom

The kitchen: One of the perks of renting on Airbnb is the fact that guests have the choice to eat out or self-cater. Remember that guests won’t know your kitchen like you do. Consider laminating a photo of the kitchen with arrows showing where everything can be found so they don’t have to open every cupboard and drawer to find the cutlery and things get put back in their proper place.

Make sure you have a full set of cutlery, crockery and kitchen utensils – you won’t have a very happy guest if they can’t find the corkscrew or tin opener. It is also helpful to leave out washing up liquid, hand towels and kitchen roll as well as basic kitchen cleaning materials. The guests are more likely to leave it clean if they have the means to do so. Whatever you decide to leave out, it’s important to ensure they are clean and hygienic.

Clearly mark your recycling bins to ensure everything gets disposed of properly – and leave instructions for when the bins need to go out. 

Final Touches: Smell is a really important factor when it comes to how a guest will rate your property. Put out reed diffusers or plug in fragrances. A plug adapter is a useful addition, as people may be arriving from all over the world. Piles of books and board games will help create a homely, welcoming feel.

Pricing your property

Now that your property is ready, it’s time to think about how much you’re going to charge your guests If you are looking for a fool-proof scientific formula worthy of Einstein that will tell you what to charge your guests, there are plenty of sites out there that are claiming to have the winning formula, including Airbnb.

Going down this route will know doubt keep guests coming thick and fast to your property, and you shouldn’t totally ignore the price they give you. In most cases, they’re a slightly under the mark starting point. But if you would rather cater to a specific type of people, it’s worth considering a few extra things that all these fancy algorithms don’t take into account…

Find Competing Properties: Use the Airbnb (or other platform) property search tool to see what similar properties in your area are charging per night. Filtering the search as much as you can to match your own property should give you the best idea for what to charge, and will allow you to undercut the competition in order to get your first few bookings in the bag.

Flexibility: You should consider the fluctuating demand for your property throughout the year. Think carefully about when your property is more valuable to a guest and raise the price accordingly. It’s common to raise the prices around public and school holiday, but you should try and keep your finger on the pulse for any local events that might be drawing people into your area too.

Deposit: Taking a deposit is vital for ensuring you are covered for any minor damages, but when we asked 1000 guests what they thought about deposits, 82% of them said are put off booking a property when one is required. So, you have two options here… You can either ask for a deposit and risk losing a lot of bookings or join SUPERHOG. By becoming a SUPERHOG member, we’ll back bookings between members with our £1 million guarantee and provide security deposit on your behalf. Want to find out more?

Your Price Tolerance: You need to work out the lowest price you can tolerate. There could be certain times in the year where you need to dramatically drop the price in order to get bookings. Work out what the minimum you are prepared to earn per night is and never drop below it. It’s worth having this as your base rate and upselling from there as it will show as the ‘advertised rate’ when your property displays in a search. Once dates the user had input their preferred dates, the correct price will be calculated, and if the price is more than they originally wanted, but they love the property… they will likely still book it. 

Long-term Discounts: You may think that more frequent one-night stays are a more lucrative way of running your Airbnb, but by the time you’ve handled all the check in’s/check out’s, safety checks and cleans, you’ll soon find that as well as spending more than you’re bringing in, your property will have significantly more wear and tear, and the whole process will become an unwanted chore. Applying a discount for those that stay longer at your property will help to encourage longer stays in general.

Fees: Adding the cost of addition services to your price per night is a big no no. You could be offering a while range of premium extras, but if the cost of these is added to your price per night, people will likely see your listing and scroll right past it to a similar property with a cheaper price that isn’t offering these amazing things just because the initial price is more appealing. Instead, add them as a one-off fee during your booking process, people will likely still book the property and you’ll keep traffic flowing normally to your listing.

Where can I advertise my home?

Now you and your house are ready, it’s time to think about how you’re going to get guests into your property. While providing a bed (sofa, floor or, well, a manger in a stable) for a night or more, in return for money or goods, has been around for millennia, hosts can now get their space in front of a potential audience of millions in seconds, with no need to resort to shining stars in the east, or any other direction for that matter. So what platforms are available, and what might suit you and your space?

Peer-to-Peer Rental Platforms

As a host, you can list your own property on several peer-to-peer platforms, such as Airbnb, Vrbo and Booking.com. They offer flexibility with the ability to set your own pricing and availability (so if the in-laws plan a last-minute trip you can instantly block off the dates). Alternatively, you can use the platform’s algorithm which works out a nightly price based on demand and time of year.

Private Members Clubs

Platforms like Stay One Degree, One Fine Stay and Third Home promote exclusivity and high-end experiences for their hosts. Having a more selective criteria for guests can be seen as a positive. Consequently, there’s been a rise in private members clubs. Third Home lets members trade time in their second homes for time in more than 90 countries. Stay One Degree is a club for luxury travellers that connects owners of exclusive homes who can access a related base of travellers. The company believes that staying with this group of insiders offers security, guaranteed standards and the benefits of personal, local recommendations befitting an A-lister.

An Airbnb hosts property located by a lake

Niche B&Bs

As a host you might prefer to join a group offering a stay in a niche property. Canopy & Stars, One Off Places and Cabins and Castles offer really quirky places to stay: treehouses, converted churches, castles, yurts and shepherd’s huts galore – and if you’re a host, remember that just because you didn’t need planning permission for something like a yurt, that doesn’t mean no other rules apply. Insurance is just as key – perhaps even more so when offering an unconventional stay like a treehouse!

Exchanging

When it comes to hosting there is more than just having paying guests to stay. Reciprocal platforms are based on a quid-pro-quo non-monetary exchange between the users. On some platforms, homes are swapped simultaneously. While on others, such as Home Exchange, a points system is used, and the hospitality can be returned at a later date. Alternatively, you might be offering your house for someone to stay in because you’d like the security of a house sitter while you’re away, or you need someone to look after your pets. With TrustedHousesitters, members pay an annual fee of £89 and can then look for house – and pet-sitters – or somewhere to sit.

Aggregated hosting platforms

Airbnb prides itself on offering everything from stays in castles to cheap and cheerful motorhomes, but it can be hard to find the luxe gems on their site, even when trawling through their newer Beyond by Airbnb and Airbnb Plus offerings. Instead of trawling through thousands of potential listings, the hard work has been done by aggregators on sites like the Plum Guide which takes on only 1 in 100 properties it looks at, rigorously testing each property on their books. 

Creating the perfect listing

Once you’ve decided where you’re going to advertise your property, it’s time to create the perfect listing. One that really sets you apart from your competition. While most platforms have minimum content requirements that you must fulfil in order to be listed, the more ‘complete’ the listing the better – put simply, the more information you provide, the more likely you are to meet a guests requirements and get booked. Now is the chance to really showcase what you’re offering to the world…

Property name: The title you give your property will influence whether people click to view it. Names can be longer than you think, so there are notable features like a swimming pool, mention it, or if you are near a popular destination or event like the Edinburgh festival, put this in the title. You can change the title anytime you want, so try out different things, stay current to the goings on around you and see what works best.

The ultimate beginner's guide to Airbnb hosting

Check-in details: Provide information on check-in / check-out times, when they will be sent codes for key collection, how to access the property.

Cancellation policy: If you have a cancellation policy it’s very important that your potentially guests understand it before booking, so go into as much details as you can here.

Important rules: Specify any important rules so there are no misunderstandings between you and your guests. Examples would be rules on parties, pets, smoking, number of guests, use of shared facilities. State that when booking is confirmed, it is on the basis that the rules have been agreed to, and so breaking them will result in a fine.

Lots of good photos: Get the best photos you can. The more photos you upload, the better. Some platforms boost you up the search rankings if you have more photos. Make sure the pictures portray an accurate picture of your property; there is no point making your home look grander or bigger than it is if guests will end up severely disappointed once they arrive. Show your home as it really is – but the best it really is. In some cities, Airbnb offer a free photography service, so it’s worth checking if you qualify for that. If not, you can either pay for a professional photographer or give it a go yourself by following our top tips for photographing your home.

List all amenities: List all the amenities your property features e.g. Wi-Fi, parking, Netflix, BBQ, Table Tennis… this way you won’t miss guests who are searching for properties using a specific filter. Describe the bed types in each room e.g. single bed, double bed, bunk bed etc… bed type/number is often more important than room number!

The ultimate beginner's guide to Airbnb hosting

Description: The description is your chance to “sell” your property to potential guests. The first thing that will capture their attention is the pictures. But if they are bothering to read the description they are probably interested, so this is the time to close the deal, (relevant keywords in the description will also aid the searchability of your property). Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing the description:

  1. Answer their questions before they ask them.
  2. Don’t make it too long. Put as much information as you can in the first paragraph.
  3. The Unique Perks: Highlight unique offerings that enhance the guest’s experience. e.g. a bike in bike-friendly cities, Xbox with games.
  4. Talk to your target guest: You know what type of guest will be best suited to your property, so focus on the features they will be interested in.
  5. Call to Action: Add something that encourages the reader to send an enquiry. E.g. “Contact me for details of an early booking deal”.
  6. Show your best side: Mention the features that make your property stand out.