Tips to Becoming a Successful Airbnb, Vrbo Host – AARP

Tips to Becoming a Successful Airbnb, Vrbo Host – AARP

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A decade ago, former correctional administrator Earl Huch and his wife, Lois Eldred, decided to become Airbnb hosts.

“We had just done a renovation with a bedroom, bath and separate entrance,” recalls the Catonsville, Maryland, retiree, 84. “We wanted to make a little extra money,” and someone told them about Airbnb.
Now their $75-a-night digs are almost fully booked on Airbnb through the end of 2022 by travelers seeking affordable rooms in the Baltimore area. With their 4.76/5 average rating from guests, Huch and Eldred have become Airbnb “Superhosts” (a Superhost, according to Airbnb, is “someone who goes above and beyond in their hosting duties and is a shining example of how a Host should be.”)
Travelers in increasing numbers are opting for vacation rentals over hotels, particularly in the COVID-19 era of caution and teleworking from anywhere. The demand has inspired more property owners to turn their houses, extra bedrooms or vacation homes into rentals.
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Many hosts are older. In 2021, more than 30 percent of Superhosts were 60 or older, says Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco. “Older adults are some of our most beloved hosts,” she says, noting that they earn on average more than $8,000 a year through the site. The Vrbo rental site (formerly known as Vacation Rentals by Owner) is also seeing more older hosts.  
“We expect the momentum to keep up in 2022, so it’s a great time to think about listing a vacation rental to generate extra income,” says Alison Kwong, spokeswoman for Vrbo.
“Rental rates are soaring,” says Cindy Vinson, 73, a San Francisco area resident whose three-bedroom beachfront Hawaii condo is booked through Vrbo for the rest of 2022.
Vinson adds that she’s able to finance a vacation home in Lake Tahoe by renting it out on Vrbo when her family isn’t using it. “We could not have afforded [the properties] otherwise,” she says.
The Airbnb and Vrbo websites guide owners through the process of creating a free listing, setting rates and uploading photos. Be sure to give your rental an inviting description, such as “Lakefront Retreat” or “Condo Close to Everything,” enter property details and special features, and set house rules. (When listing with Airbnb, you can chat with Superhosts and get some pro tips.)  
Airbnb typically charges a 3 percent booking fee, while Vrbo gives hosts the option of paying $499 a year for unlimited rentals or 8 percent for single bookings.
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Vrbo — unlike Airbnb — does not list shared spaces, and has about 2 million listings worldwide, compared to Airbnb’s 7 million.
Otherwise, the two platforms are very similar: Both offer up to $1 million in liability insurance at no extra cost, online calendars to keep track of bookings, and 24/7 phone lines to handle hosting and guest issues. Airbnb recently added $1 million in free insurance to cover property damage by humans or pets. Both sites also offer secure email messaging between owners and prospective guests.
You can list your rental property on other sites, including TripAdvisor’s vacation home rentals and Houfy. There’s also the exclusive Plum Guide, which will vet your property before acceptance. Many hosts list on multiple sites to reach a larger pool of prospective renters.
If you don’t want to deal with reservations or demanding guests, you could hire a property manager. That might be a local real estate agency or a large vacation rental management company such as Vacasa, which — for a fee —takes care of renting your property, managing stays and cleaning between clients.
If you don’t use a property management company, you will need to either clean your place yourself or hire someone to scour it in between guests.  
And note that there are risks to become a short-term rental host. Plenty of homeowners have a horror story or two, from out-of-control parties to disallowed pets wreaking havoc. Host Jenny Krones, 38, of Austin, Texas, tells of a guest who stole furniture and let her cat urinate all over her property, requiring extensive repairs.
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Once you decide to take the plunge and become a host, you can take steps to lower your risks of headaches and increase the chances that your guests will go home happy.
1. Present your property in its best light. Use as many high-quality photos as you can to showcase its best features. A dozen is not too many. People want to visualize themselves there. Airbnb, Vrbo and other sites offer help.
2. To reach a wider audience, list on multiple sites. Yes, it might get confusing, but there’s software that can help you manage bookings from multiple sites. Host Tools, for example, can sync rental calendars, send front door lock codes and welcoming messages to guests, plus text cleaners for $8 to $12 a month. Guesty is similar.
3. Make sure your space is guest-ready. That includes easy-to-use locks, comfortable mattresses and pillows, quality linens and properly working appliances, heating and cooling, TVs and sound systems. Declutter. Remember you’re competing against many other properties, and guests increasingly want an “aspirational experience, better than their own home,” says California Superhost Kate Shaw, 38. Digital locks allow guests to let themselves into the property, though many hosts like to meet their renters. Hosts must disclose if they are using noise monitors or security cameras in public spaces or entrances (some may do so to ensure that rules are followed — but prospective guests may be deterred by such intrusions).
4. Obey local regulations on short-term rentals. You may need a permit or inspection. In an apartment building, check whether renting for short stays is allowed. Don’t make guests sneak up in a service elevator or pretend to be visiting friends.
5. Set property rules. In a shared space, make clear whether kitchen, laundry facilities and public spaces can be used. Maybe you don’t want bachelor or bachelorette parties in your house or candles burned. You might want guests to take out the trash before they leave. Be clear on whether you’ll be providing sheets and towels.
6. Accept guests carefully. Vet them beforehand by phone or have them submit images of ID. Maybe Google them. On some sites, hosts rate guests, and other hosts can see reviews. A badly rated Airbnb guest can’t instantly book her properties, Krones says. Host Cindy Vinson keeps a “naughty list” of former guests she won’t let back.
7. Communicate with guests before, during and after a stay. That goes a long way toward ensuring satisfaction and fixing problems. Vinson personally calls guests after check-in to make sure everything is satisfactory. If it isn’t, she takes action. A downside (for hosts) to the boom in home rentals is that guests have become more demanding, she says.
8. Leave a notebook or binder detailing house rules, emergency contacts and property management tips. That includes how to operate things like heating and air-conditioning, and Wi-Fi passwords. Provide contact numbers for yourself, your management company or a local caretaker. Suggesting your favorite restaurants, markets and local attractions is a very nice touch.
9. Set a welcoming tone. That could mean a gift basket containing snacks, fruit, chocolates or a bottle of wine. Guests also appreciate a kitchen stocked with a coffeemaker, a variety of pots, pans and utensils, as well as basic condiments and staples such as oil and vinegar, spices, sugar, toilet paper, trash bags, laundry detergent and paper towels. Wine glasses and a corkscrew are thoughtful touches.
10. Encourage guests to leave reviews if their experience was positive. Those are important marketing tools to bring in future bookings. Ratings are often the first thing potential renters consider.
​Kitty Bean Yancey, a former USA Today deputy managing editor, is a travel writer and the winner of multiple Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers.
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