So you want to rent out your place on Airbnb, Wimdu, Dwellable, Roomorama, 9flats, HomeAway, short-term rental agencies, and the countless other ‘rent out your apartment and make some money’ sites that are out there? Or maybe you own or work for one of those sites and are looking to up your game against your competition?
You’ve no doubt read posts like this one from our friends at Making It Anywhere, full of tips about searching and using Airbnb.
That’s all well and good. We love Mish and Rob and we know they’ve spent more than their fair share of time teaching people how to use these sites as customers.
But I’m here for something else. I’m here to lay down the law for the property owners out there. And I’m here to lay down the law for Airbnb and all those other websites.
Whether you’re the platform owner or the property owner, this is what you need to do to attract the best customers – ahem, people like us – keep your reviews good, and keep that cash flow coming in.
We’re not the end-all, be-all of this game. But we are full-time travelers who only ever stay in furnished apartments.
This means we spend a lot of time on Airbnb and less time on the other sites because, well, they’re just not as good. (Sorry guys, it’s true.)
We also spread the word like mad and refer apartments to tons of other people. We refer sites and give our friends, family, and readers advice on how to book, where to book, and what to watch out for.
Alas, my time here is to aim at the companies and propery owners who make this all possible for millions of travelers around the world. Get your game right.
First and foremost is my disclaimer: We have loved 99% of our apartment owners. We have been extremely lucky across the world, but we have also been extremely careful when booking. We ask a lot of questions before we ever book a place. We vet the owners and they vet us.
1) Be accurate with your location
You don’t need to put your actual address. You don’t need to pinpoint the exact building you’re in when you put your listing on a site. I understand the safety issues with this, and I actually recommend that you pinpoint your location very close to where it is, in a vague area. (The apartment we lived in during our time in Seville was pinpointed in the grocery store next to it. Smart.)
Just don’t put it miles away from where it actually is. That’s irresponsible and misleading. I’ve seen beachfront apartments listed not far from where we currently live in Mexico. We’re about a 30-minute ride from the beach. Don’t be that guy.
Don’t tell people you’re an “easy walk to the center” when you’re a 20-minute walk. Not everyone is a spritely young hipster with knees of freedom and effortless mobility. We’re not that young and not that old, and we don’t mind a good walk. Older folks, on the other hand, require crucial information to be sure they’re not stranded somewhere that makes accessibility an issue.
It can also be a safety issue. Don’t tell people you’re “just on the western edge of [Insert Trendy Neighborhood Here],” when the true description of your location is “hood-adjacent.” This can seriously come back to bite you in the backside.
2) Be accurate with your apartment
Don’t tell people you have a full kitchen when you have a hot plate and a dish-drying rack. Don’t tell people you have a double bed when you actually have a fold-out couch. Don’t tell people you have a terrace when you have a rooftop deck that’s another four flights above the apartment in question.
Do tell people exactly what you have. Have a balcony? Tell them. Have a washing machine? Tell them. Put it all in your listing. There’s a reason that some of these sites have amenities checklists. Use them.
If you don’t have a washer, for example, explain why as well as what the solution is. Here in Mexico, it’s not all that common to have one. Instead, there are lavanderías on every corner. They’re inexpensive, efficient, they wash/dry/fold your laundry within 24 hours, and everybody uses them. Locals, tourists, expats, whatever. Tell people things like this!
Don’t half-ass it. Seriously. Don’t put a half-paragraph about your apartment, in all-caps, in a native colloquial dialect, leave all the amenities checklists unfilled, and then wonder why no one rents it.
Be sure to let people know how far crucial amenities are from the apartment: Grocery stores, banks, restaurants, the beach, public transportation, etc.
Be sure to tell people how accessible your place is: Is it up a hill? On a mountain? In a dungeon? On the 18th floor with no elevator? These things actually matter!
Lack of effort results in lack of customers.
3) Take good pictures of the space
Nobody cares about your catalog-ish, romanticist, closeup photos of candles and mood lighting.
What I decipher from that is that you cannot be bothered to showcase your apartment and instead try to entice people with bullshit photos that are meant to deflect from what your apartment is really like.
Your apartment is not an Anthropologie catalog.
4) Don’t embellish your internet connection
Be real. Don’t tell people you have high-speed internet or wi-fi when you have a 3G stick. Tons of your potential customers actually rely on high-speed internet. *cough cough* Don’t lie about it. If your connection gets one bar in the apartment, install a range extender or get a better connection.
Do you want to deal with a complaining customer because your internet doesn’t work properly? No? Then don’t lie about it and/or fix it.
I recently read a review on Airbnb where a customer was double-booked and put into a larger, nicer apartment for the same price. Upon arrival. But guess what? The other apartment didn’t have internet! And he relied on it for his work. Personally, I would lose my mind if that happened and you can be damn sure I’d put it all over the internet.
From here on out, I have promised myself that I will always ask what speed the connection is. Because a ground-level 3mb connection with no WAP for eight apartments on four floors is…just…well…if you know anything about internet connections, that’s a sad, sad state of affairs.
For the customers: I do recommend that you have a range-extending wi-fi adapter. Just in case, and because you never know. Also, they cost like $20 and are usually smaller than a pack of cigarettes. See this post by foXnoMad for more info.
5) Don’t be lazy about fixing problems
It doesn’t matter if you live in a ‘mañana’ country. It doesn’t matter if ‘things are done differently’ where you live. Sure, 99% of local customs should be respected because that’s how it is. That’s just life. We get that and we accept that, and if you know anything about us or our site, then you know that’s how we play the game.
However, as an owner, you are in a new position. You’re now catering to people who are most likely not from your country. Don’t think you can slack off like you do on a normal basis. You have put yourself in a position to cater to tourists. You now have a responsibility to do your freakin’ job.
People are paying a ton more for the privilege. They are paying the ‘foreigner tax’ or the ‘short-term price’ or whatever. You no longer have the right to treat them as if they’ve gotten a great deal on a place and will be there for ten years. You are now partially a hotel owner and partially an apartment owner.
It’s time to live up to the responsibility that you’ve created for yourself. Telling a customer that the internet will be fixed tomorrow – something that goes on for weeks – is simply unacceptable.
We had a major plumbing problem in Seville. It wasn’t the end of the world, and it wasn’t our landlord’s fault. It happened with the pipes under our apartment – more than once – and the primary fix didn’t work. The next time it happened was about 10pm at night. I texted our landlord to let her know.
It was really something that could wait until the next day. But you know what she did? She had a plumber there within an hour and the problem was permanently fixed. We will never forget how she went out of her way to fix a problem immediately.
We had an A/C leakage problem here in Mexico, which was flooding the floor in our second bedroom on a daily basis. I told our landlord every day, and we got to the point where he was bringing it up first because he didn’t want to suffer my complaints. A couple weeks later, the fix-it guys came and solved the problem. And then, after it was fixed, he told me that they only hire family for security reasons. This is why we had to wait.
Dude. All you had to do was tell us that in the first place! We would have understood completely and not asked you about it again.
But really, things like this are just common sense, personal responsibility, and respect. As customers, we are expected to be respectful of your property and your possessions, and to understand that problems can and do happen. The nature of the beast.
And as owners, you are expected to be respectful of the promises you’ve made and the (extra tourist/short-term rental) money that you’ve taken. That’s really what it’s about: Respect.
6) Offer (realistic) monthly prices
I bet, as you go about your carefree rental life, most of you owners don’t even consider how many people there are out there who want a monthly rental. Not just full-time travelers like us, but vacationers who get actual vacation time instead of a paltry 10 days or whatever the pathetic standard is in the U.S. now.
Just because you rent out your place for $75/night – “a better deal than a hotel!” – doesn’t mean you can ask $2250/month for the same place. That’s totally not how it works. Would you rather have your place rented out for 10 days a month total, to three different clients, at $75/night; or would you like to rent it out for an entire month, to one client, for $1100?
It’s not rocket science. Less responsibility, less of a variety of people to deal with, less cleaning, less fixing, less personality clashes, less payments to collect, less emails to deal with, yada yada yada. You get the picture. Time is money.
And for all you rental sites out there: Add a freakin’ monthly-price option for owners already. A lot of you don’t, and it’s a terrible, terrible mistake on your part.
7) Be open to change
Somebody always wants something, don’t they? We understand that your apartment is your baby. It’s your investment and you’re here to make some bucks off it on a short-term basis for whatever reason strikes you.
Here’s the thing: Not everyone is like you.
You are more than welcome to pick and choose who rents your place. That’s how it works. You’re the owner and you get to decide. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be open to things you previously thought might not work out.
Example: We own a dog. Most owners do not allow dogs. I understand why. I absolutely understand why. But, every case is different. Our dog is an older guy and he weighs less than a cat. He’s been around the block – and the world – so to speak. He’s also reasonably well-behaved.
On top of that and more importantly: We are responsible dog owners. He sometimes wears an anti-bark collar. He always stays in his crate when we’re not home. We always pick up after him in the yard. We’ve always been that way and that’s how we are. This is especially important when it comes to short-term rentals.
Almost every place we’ve ever stayed does not allow dogs. Seriously. I simply contact the owners and state my case. Some are amenable, some are not, some want extra deposits, and some don’t care. I understand all of that. You are not required to allow dogs.
(I’d also say that the majority of dog owners are irresponsible. They make us look bad and we completely understand that. It’s been that way for years and it will unfortunately be that way for years to come.)
Just, don’t be the guy who wants to rent us your apartment and then make insane demands about it. This one guy in Spain wanted us to rent his place, but was not satisfied with the above. He actually asked us to come over to his apartment and leave our dog with him every time we left the apartment. What?! Seriously.
No, guy, I will not do that. I told him as much, and told him we’d find another place. He proceeded to send me multiple messages over the course of a couple weeks, trying to convince us to do that. Why would we do that?
We instead found an owner who was open to a bit of change and let us stay there. We had a great time, she was lovely, and we all got glowing reviews after we left. And what a surprise: If I recall correctly, the other guy’s apartment was open and unrented the entire time we were there.
In Montenegro, our owner did not allow dogs either. They had a client bring a huge dog that destroyed a lot of things in their apartment. We made our case and the family decided they’d let us stay. If you read our site, you know how that turned out.
8) Follow the rules
These short-term rental sites have policies for a reason. Follow the rules or don’t use the sites. Or don’t wonder why you get no customers or get terrible reviews.
One thing that’s extremely common in Mexico – the only place we’ve experienced it – is that owners will ask you to provide a cash deposit and sign a lease when you arrive. As far as we know, that’s a big no-no on these sites. But it happens all the time, and it can cause problems for everyone.
A lot of owners will also ask you to pay utilities when they’re almost always supposed to be included in the price of your rental. Do whatever you want, but be up-front about it. Just be prepared to get kicked out of the game if you don’t play by the rules.
And if you don’t like how the game is played, then go play somewhere else.
And that’s about it for my rant. One would think most of these things are a given when it comes to operating a rental website or offering a property there. Really, one would. But, not everyone does what’s best for everyone, and we end up with requirements like this little post of ours. It is what it is.
We usually charge $150-300/hour for consultation, so here’s a ton of free advice. Use it and abuse it, and you may just find yourself a happier website or apartment owner. With better clients, naturally.
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Do you have any thoughts on this? Have any crazy experiences or insight into what these websites and their property owners can do to make life better for everyone? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!