To be an Airbnb superhost, get to know your guests
In my spare time, when not writing about consumer technology for The New York Times, I have a sideline renting out a cabin house on Airbnb. So when Jose reserved the property last October, it was nothing unusual. He said he wanted to host some relatives for a quiet weekend in the mountains. I welcomed him without hesitation.
That Saturday, my neighbors texted me as they watched caterers carry large white pillars and bouquets into the backyard. Then 10 cars surrounded the front yard and dozens of people wearing suits and dresses poured into the house.
It became clear this was no intimate get-together. For a day, my Airbnb rental was turned into a wedding venue, which broke city laws. My business would be in jeopardy if the police were notified.
Such is life as an Airbnb “Superhost.” Since buying my cabin house in Northern California in late 2015, I have hosted about 30 groups and become part of the booming ecosystem for Airbnb, the online reservation marketplace that lets people turn their homes into vacation rentals. With more than 140 million guest arrivals to date, Airbnb has proved a boon for hosts and an attractive option for travelers looking to avoid hefty fees from hotels.
In the process, I have been named a Superhost, which means I have hosted many guests and consistently received five-star reviews. It’s a small group — researchers say only about 7 percent of hosts are Superhosts.
In exchange, I get more visibility in search results, invitations from the company to exclusive events and a medal next to my profile photo. The designation as a Superhost has paid off: My house is a few bookings away from netting a profit.
Yet vaulting to Superhost status is hardly intuitive, and I learned hard lessons along the way. Here are some tips on running a successful (and lucrative) Airbnb rental based on interviews with Superhosts and my experience.
HOSPITALITY, NOT REAL ESTATE
People who rent your house on Airbnb are choosing it over a hotel. So you had better be as hospitable, friendly and communicative as a hotel.
For your rental, that means a few things. Provide staples like cooking equipment, cable TV, soap for bathing and cleaning, towels, toothpaste and toilet paper. Your house should work as advertised — faulty appliances should be repaired or replaced.
For another, be extremely responsive to guests, much like a hotel front desk. Nobody trusts a host who is slow to respond. Jasper Ribbers, a co-author of “Get Paid for Your Pad,” a book about his experience as an Airbnb Superhost who has completed more than 300 stays, uses the app AvivaIQ to respond automatically to messages from potential guests, which comes in handy when he is asleep. When he is awake, he can continue the conversation.
Being dishonest about your listing will hurt when it comes time for a guest to leave a review. It’s better to be straightforward about what you are offering and transparent about any imperfections.
In my experience, guests were surprised in the summer that the house lacked air-conditioning, even though the listing never said it had air-conditioning. I resolved this with subsequent guests by saying explicitly in my welcome email that the house lacked airconditioning and that portable fans were in each room.
SOLVE PROBLEMS QUICKLY
Be quick to address complaints, or risk facing a negative review. If a dishwasher breaks or the shower pressure is too low, send a plumber. If a remote control was misplaced or stolen by a previous group, have a backup remote ready in a drawer.
If you host the property remotely, the best option is to befriend someone trustworthy in the neighborhood who can act as a property manager. Pay the manager a fee for each task.
MAKE CLEANLINESS A PRIORITY
Airbnb attracts travelers from all over the world, and it is remarkable how standards for cleanliness differ from person to person. My jaw dropped when one guest left a positive review about her stay, but dropped me one star because the dishscrubbing brush was dirty. (Couldn’t she have used the clean sponge instead?)
There is no point acting defensive. The solution is to hire superb professional cleaners. Relay any negative feedback from guests to your cleaners so they improve over time.
GET THE GUESTS YOU WANT
Last year, Airbnb introduced an anti-discrimination policy that urged hosts to welcome guests regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and age. That makes sense, since Airbnb wants to connect hosts with travelers from all over the world. But it doesn’t mean you should let just anybody into your home.
Hosts reserve the right to decide what types of groups they would like to host, especially when taking into consideration city laws. For my rental, city law forbids loud parties past 10 p.m. When guests request the house, I ask them the purpose of the visit and ask them to carefully read and agree to my house rules, including one about loud noise.
Ribbers, the Airbnb Superhost, said he preferred families or couples staying in his two-bedroom apartment in Amsterdam partly because of the size constraints. He also typically accepts bookings only from guests who already have positive reviews themselves. When guests reserve his home, he reads their profiles to get a sense of their personalities and check if they have verified their identities with Airbnb by providing driver’s license information, among other documentation.
Some vetting is permitted by Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy, which says hosts can decline to rent based on factors that are not prohibited by law — so my rejection of those planning to have loud parties fits the bill.
Most guests are not bad people. But perhaps one out of 10 times, a rotten egg will pass your smell test. The lesson I learned from Jose was that being a Superhost did not make me impervious to the actions of a misbehaving guest.
To protect yourself, diligently document everything valuable in your house. In the event anything is damaged, Airbnb will ask for before-and-after photos to prove that guests caused the damage.