To be an Airbnb su­per­host, get to know your guests

Houston Chronicle - - EXTRA TECHNOLOGY + GADGETS - By Brian X. Chen | New York Times

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.

SET EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

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.

DOC­U­MENT EV­ERY­THING

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.

Minh Uong / The New York Times

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