I Put Properly Through The Ultimate Remote Host Test to Manage My San Francisco Airbnb from New Zealand — This is What Happened
35 days, $12,555 in Airbnb revenue, six turnovers, six 5-star reviews — all managed from 7,000 miles away
By Alex Nigg, Properly Founder & CEO
In late March we moved Properly’s engineering team from our headquarters in San Francisco all the way to New Zealand to launch Properly South. During the 35 days I spent in New Zealand, I made my San Francisco home available to guests on Airbnb. It was a welcomed test to re-examine how well suited our visual checklist app is for managing short term rental changeovers from very very far away.
It would also give Tammi and me a chance to refresh our Remote Superhost experience, ideas, and material. We had a lot riding on this trip and to be honest, it was nerve-wracking to know my Superhost status depended on it. We called it the Properly Remote Superhost Test and we came out of it with flying colors plus a few new practices we’re excited to share with other vacation rental hosts.
Diving in on the deep end
We wanted to make the Properly Remote Superhost Test very realistic. In a perfect world I could just call my one regular cleaner to perform every turnover at my home. She knows where everything is located, how I like to stage my house for guests, what to do with linens, knows which plants need watering and when, and of course, where to put the keys when she leaves.
But often times you can’t book your regular cleaner for a turnover due to a number of circumstances: they are sick, booked for other jobs, away on vacation, moved away, etc.
So we found and hired a great but brand new cleaning pro, Maria, to do the turnovers in our home between three sets of guests. Maria had never performed a turnover for us before, in fact, she had never cleaned our house at all.
Preparing a home for paying guests, using the Properly app, and cleaning my house would all be new for Maria. We figured this is perfect as it’s one of the strongest use cases for Properly: achieving a perfect turnover with any cleaner when your regular cleaner is not available and you are not there to train them.
All the while we would be 7,000 miles away, so if anything went wrong there would be no quick way to fix it in person. Without a safety net, we were really counting on the app.
To add some more complications to the mix, moving part of our small team to New Zealand was very much a start-up effort. As soon as we touched down in Auckland, there was a torrential downpour that left our property flooded and without Internet access. The engineers slept and worked in a hostel for the first few days.
Tammi and I spent the entire 5 weeks in my glamping tent. The logistics involved to just hold the team together were difficult enough to lock down, how would managing my Airbnb go?
The logistics involved to just hold the team together were difficult enough to lock down, how would managing my Airbnb go?
Turning a great cleaner into a hospitality superstar
As I mentioned, Maria didn’t have much hospitality turnover experience to begin with. Part of my job would be to help Maria transition from a great residential cleaning professional into a hospitality superstar using Properly as the teaching materials.
Residential cleans and hospitality cleans are often quite different: for example, residential clients wouldn’t expect Maria to snoop in the drawers of their bedside tables.
But in a hospitality turnover, we expect Maria to check that the previous guests didn’t leave anything behind. For us, the drawers of the bedside tables are where guests are most likely to forget something. And knowing which of the 6 groups of guests to contact about those left-behind glasses helps quite a bit.
When I customized my basic Properly turnover checklist for Maria, I made sure to keep in mind the principles I came up with to create the most effective checklists. First, who is my audience? In our case, Maria, a professional cleaner without hospitality experience. Therefore I’d have to teach and explain things to her that she would otherwise not know either a) how to do or b) that she was expected to do.
My checklist followed a typical turnover flow. It began showing and explaining the locations of supply closets. I also prompted Maria to do a quick walkthrough of the house to assess and photograph any damage from the previous guests in these rooms: the front room, the kitchen, living room, and master bedroom.
By doing this, I gave her the layout of my home and also got a sense of the condition which the previous guests left my place.
Then I added tasks that take longer in a turnover like putting the linens in the washing machine and turning on the dishwasher. These are baseline tasks that always have to be done in a turnover, so I didn’t have to add or customize them when I duplicated the original checklist.
Already, these tasks guide Maria’s route through the house and teach her the essentials of a hospitality turnover.
Because Maria is already a professional cleaner, I didn’t have to add basic cleaning tasks like sweeping, mopping, dusting, and wiping. It’s understood on both sides that these tasks are required. Plus they’d slow her down. It was only very specific cleaning tasks like dusting the top of a certain shelf or vacuuming my suede headboard that I needed to include for her.
I added the tasks that are crucial in a turnover and organized them room by room, as that’s how I would assume Maria would be referencing my list. For the upstairs bathroom, I showed her how to set the hand towels and guest bath towels, what to do with the shower mat, how many rolls of toilet paper to set out, and so on.
I enabled the “Ask for a photo” feature for the hand towels task which prompted Maria to take a photo of those towels that I could see on my side.
Then I moved to the kitchen where I described what to do with the opened foods in the refrigerator and where to find a new bottle of champagne to put in for guests.
I even added a small series of tasks explaining how to clean and refresh the jacuzzi, as I knew for a fact the guests were going to be using it. In six photos, I explained how to open the hot tub, check the water for quality, add chemicals to the tub, and then skim it.
Communicating with your cleaner makes you a better host
In the bedrooms I asked Maria to check the drawers, under the beds, and in the closets for items left behind from previous guests with my checklist. Lo and behold, she found a pair of sunglasses a guest left and reported it back to me using the “Report a Problem” feature.
This actually inspired a new Remote Superhost trick: I used Shyp, a San Francisco-based on-demand shipping company, to return guests’ belongings withthe tap of a button on my phone.
All I had to do was spend five minutes filling out an order on the app and a messenger picked up the glasses, packed them, and sent them back to their owner. The whole process including the pickup was done before Maria even left my house.
Another set of the guests brought their dog. Pets are allowed at my listing according to my house rules. Unfortunately, the dog had an accident on my Persian rug.
Maria reported the problem back to me with the note, “Here is the stain on the front door carpet. I personally didn’t see anything like that last time we were here. I think they used something to clean it, but they didn’t do a good job on it.”
Reporting it back to me let me explain how to quickly fix the problem and ultimately helped me avoid any complications from the next guests. In fact, I don’t think they even noticed.
Maria also used the “Report a Problem” function in another creative way. A particularly kind group of guests from Ireland brought us a thank you gift, but because we were not there to receive in person, we may not have even known about it. Maria took a photo of the gift and note and sent it back to us so we were able to thank them immediately (and in the appropriate time to make it to the review!).
You can use Properly for more than just the changeover cleaning
Managing guest to guest operations were not our only remote host duties while we were gone. Because we were away for such a long time, we had some tricky logistical challenges unrelated to hosting that we needed to figure out.
San Francisco’s street cleaning schedule requires us to move my car from one side of the street to the other every second Tuesday. I decided to use Properly and incorporate moving my car as per the parking regulations into the turnover checklist.
So before I travelled, I took photos of where I keep the car keys, where the car was parked, and where the car needed to be moved to.
Then I added this instructional series to a checklist I sent to Maria when it was time to move the car.
Once Maria moved the car, she took a photo so we knew exactly where she’d parked it. With that picture, I myself gained huge peace of mind that I wouldn’t get a parking ticket, plus I just swapped the photo of the car’s previous location with with the new photo Maria sent me so I could send it to any cleaning pro to help move the car the next week.
It worked beautifully. We didn’t get a single parking ticket in five weeks (which is actually better than my own record when I am at home!)
Our guest feedback and reviews
The guests loved our place and barely noticed we were hosting from so far away. We received six, 5-star reviews, including quotes like “One of our best Airbnb experiences so far”, “The house was flawless”, and “The house is beautiful and was perfectly clean.”
When I host, I surprise my guests with a welcome gift (usually in the form of chocolate or prosecco). It creates good will and it often shows up in my reviews. If something minor goes wrong, a gift usually balances out that minor a hiccup.
But because Maria turned out to be the real hero in our remote hosting story, we decided to reward her through our checklists too by incorporating tasks that pertained only to her.
I added a picture of the guest chocolates we have delivered to our home that she sets out, and made a special note to tell her one of the gifts of chocolate was specifically for her as a small token of our appreciation.
We also shared the guest feedback we received through Airbnb with her so she could see first hand just how much of an impact her work has on the whole experience.
The Properly Remote Host test was a complete success! We managed to avoid small issues as much as major disasters because my cleaner could easily report problems or damage back to me and I could then tell her how to solve them.
Maria successfully performed 5-star hospitality turnovers in a home she’d never been to just by using Properly, and now she can market those skills to receive more desirable, higher paying jobs. She even told me Properly has inspired her to shift her focus toward cleaning vacation rentals because she enjoyed the hospitality staging aspect of it as much as she enjoyed the extra compensation these jobs include. Meanwhile I maintained my Superhost status and my peace of mind.
If you’d like to download the Properly app, get it free on our website and let us know if you need help creating your checklists or have questions on how to best manage your turnovers!