For the last 3 or so months, my partner Brandon and I have decided to experiment with Airbnb as a tertiary source of income. We spent much of the last 2 years spending time and money on restoring our 1927 Tudor Revival home in Detroit back to a livable state once again after 7 years of vacancy. Our experience documenting our home restoration and all of the fantastic people we have met and spoken to along the way, led us to want to try becoming more official ambassadors to The Motor City. Airbnb seemed like a great way to not only make a little extra income, but to meet new people and to share our love of the city of Detroit with others.
Our experience so far with our Airbnb has been overwhelmingly positive. We have had many bookings in these short 3 months with many different kinds of guests. We’ve had people in town for things from weddings or work, to visitors simply passing through Detroit, to Red Wings fans, to new Detroiters moving to the city, and even to guests arriving in full costume to attend Detroit’s famous Theatre Bizarre. Airbnb has connected us to a wide range of fantastic people. Through these experiences we have learned a lot in a hurry about what makes a successful Airbnb listing. Here’s what we’ve learned in the first 3 months of opening up our home.
1. Good photography can account for 70% of your success.
This is likely the biggest way to ensure you get booked reliably. Having quality photographs is the best way to showcase what your listing’s strengths are. Have high-end furnishings and a modern aesthetic? Listing offers a cozy cabin-like vibe? Historic details adorn your home? These details should shine in your photos. Like any real-estate based business, the location is important, but the look and feel are what bring a person in for more!
Hire a real estate photographer for your photos or get clever with your iPhone and a wide lens attachment. Be sure you take images on a bright, sunny day if at all possible to bring in natural light. Make sure beds are made perfectly and leave little details around like folded towels, books to read, plants in the window, or a cute stuffed animal in the chair to bring more personality to your place. Nice closeup images of fabrics, lights and textures will really make your space feel personal and cozy too.
A lot of this of course comes down to decorating, so be sure that colors are bright, but not too saturated. Keep rooms light in color unless you have enough openness and light in the room to go bold with a dark. Show your personality in your decorating, but certainly be sure that a space still feels welcoming to strangers. Like comic books? A comic-book themed room can be fun and cool, but go too far and it quickly can look unprofessional or childish. A nice balance of personality and maturity is what to strive for.
2. Keep it clean, but cozy!
Obviously cleanliness is one of the biggest winning/losing moments of an Airbnb. We’ve had several people walk into our home and the first thing they say is, “Wait, you live here full time?! This place is spotless!” A clean space is often the difference between a bad Airbnb and an incredible one. There’s nothing worse than using the guest bathroom and seeing a stray hair on the sink or toilet, so be sure to keep the bathrooms especially clean.
Being clean doesn’t mean being empty, though. Be sure your place feels like the welcoming home of a friend. Have things like extra warm blankets, artwork, mirrors, things to read and candles around to make your place feel loved. If your place is well cleaned, bright, and welcoming, you’ll be sure to have people plan on coming back and recommending you to others who are heading your way. Consider hiring a cleaning person on a bi weekly basis to help you keep things dusted and swept! Dust bunnies definitely don’t leave your guests with a good impression, so do what you can to keep the floors and corners clean!
3. Find your listing’s strengths and run with them.
When listing your Airbnb, how would you describe it to someone in a sentence? Don’t worry about including too many specific details in your title as their search parameters will make sure what they see in search fits their needs. Is your home a relaxing retreat from the bustling city, or is it in the heart of the action downtown? Does your home offer a unique experience of some kind? Make sure that your title really evokes the type of impression you want your guests to leave with.
At the end of the day, an Airbnb traveler is usually looking for one of two things:
1. An affordable place to stay compared to a hotel to crash
2. A unique experience from their typical hotel stay.
What is your listing offering someone? A comfy, quiet place to crash after a weekend out on the town? A peek at a unique community that a hotel isn’t near? A convenient location to their destination of choice? A full kitchen for gourmet cooking you won’t find in a hotel? A inspiring place for a history buff to relax with a book? Access to a friendly local (yourself as the host) with the best local recommendations? Make sure your listing conveys the best aspects and features of what your listing has to offer. Show your personality and the personality of your space in the way you write and communicate your listing.
4. Create an awesome guidebook to your city.
This can take some work to really nail down, but it’s so crucial to making sure your guest feels at home and empowered to hit the town! I built Our Airbnb Guidebook with Microsoft Word, so it’s easy to do if you put in the time!
Your guidebook should include things like:
1. Rules and Instructions on using unique features of your home — Ours includes instructions on how to use our smart lights, our Sonos speaker system, and how to use the smart TV and smart locks.
2. Things to do — Definitely lay down a wide gamut of options. Need ideas? I recommend checking out the sidebar on your city’s subreddit if you live in a major city and start there. Museums, walkable neighborhood “downtowns,” activities, parks, etc are all great recommendations. Keep in mind indoor vs. outdoor options for weather and include things like online coupon links if you have some. Pro-tips on parking at various locations are helpful too.
3. Restaurants — Another one where a wide gamut of options is helpful. If possible include a nice picture and/or clickable links to the restaurant’s website or Yelp. Make sure to have a section on vegan/vegetarian options as I am amazed at the percentage of Airbnb guests we have had that do not eat meat.
4. Your contact info — This is a given, let people know when and how you are available, and offer to text for their convenience! I typically text my guests once the day of their arrival so they have it in their phone when they need it as well.
5. Local Secrets — have a secret awesome spot to see live music? Know the best dessert in town? Have a convenient bar that will shuttle people to the sporting event they’ve come to see? All of these insider tips will make you outshine the competition.
A guidebook I think is great when digitally sent to your guest ahead of time so they have time to look through it and have access to it from anywhere, but it’s also smart to have a printed version in their room upon their arrival. Using a public file on Google Drive is a great way to host your guidebook and easily send it via text message. I also recommend using tinyurl to shorten your link’s length for easier sending. Build a guidebook using something as simple as Microsoft Word or Apple Pages, but always save your file as a pdf when sending to guests so that fonts and picture placement don’t behave strangely from person to person and device to device.
5. Smart Home features are always sure to impress!
Smart locks are one of the best Airbnb investments we made on our home. A smart programmable keypad allows our guests to not need keys, come at go anytime, and allows us to add and revoke access at will, it’s also so convenient for your guests. We use the Schlage Sense lock and enjoy the ability to set custom lock codes for visitors.
Things like smart lights or speakers can also be fun additions when your guests are looking to spend time in the home and enjoy themselves, just be sure to include instructions on how to use them in your guidebook. We use Sonos One speakers in our home that do everything from playing Spotify, to turning on the lights, setting timers, and even opening the garage doors!
6. Accommodate as many special requests as possible.
Your guest dropped some wine on their shirt? Offer to let them use your wash! Want to check out the neighborhood? Offer a bicycle and lock! Maybe your guests is visiting for a wedding, offer to take their photo before they head out to the event! It’s little things that show you are listening to their needs and giving them a unique experience that make Airbnb better than a hotel, so take advantage of any opportunity to go the extra mile!
7. Build initial momentum with your price, but be true to your listing’s value and don’t take Airbnb’s price tips as gospel.
Airbnb makes its money by booking as many listings as possible, that means they’re motivated to encourage you to list your place as cheaply as you’re willing to list it. Using Airbnb’s Smart Pricing feature I found helpful to start, but after using it for a few weeks, I realized that customers were willing to pay much more on weekends than Airbnb would move my price from the base. I encourage you to use the Smart Pricing feature for the first few weeks or months, but after that manually setting your weekday and weekend prices are likely the best way to go once you build up some reviews and initial bookings, at least in an area like ours.
Consider allowing same day bookings.
One thing I have discovered is that many Airbnb Hosts do not offer same-day bookings for their space. In the thousands of Airbnb listings in Detroit, only a small fraction of them offer same-day booking. I have found that many of my weekday bookings happen from last minute guests and by not having my place available same-day, we’d get hardly any weekday bookings at all. Set a time limit for how late you will accept a same-day booking (Mine are set to 11am), this will allow you to take something like your lunch break and run home to ensure your room or space is ready for guests.
8. Offer hotel-like amenities, but better.
Build a mini-bar with a tip jar for honor-system payment. Leave a water bottle or two in the guestroom or make sure you’ve got coffee at the ready in the morning! If you’re a real stellar host, offer extra benefits like breakfast for your guests, fruit on the table, and some emergency necessities like Advil, Aleve, an extra toothbrush and toothpaste or a few tampons in the medicine cabinet in case of emergency.
Always have things like body wash, shampoo, conditioner on hand… but maybe offer extras like shaving cream & disposable razors, hairspray, a hairdryer, dry shampoo, bubble bath & candles, hair ties and more to go the extra mile for women who can’t always travel with their full glamour toolkit.
9. Be an outgoing host!
Nothing sells your home better than you do! You chose to live where you do for a reason, if you love your home than it should show through the way you treat, engage, and communicate with your guests! The biggest bonus in my opinion of an Airbnb over a hotel is the amazing experience of friendships and relationships you can create in your travels.
As someone who traveled through Iceland exclusively on Airbnb and stayed with local families, I can’t express enough how much of an incredible difference it makes to actually feel like you got to experience the real city from a real local, and not just the place that tourists typically go from a hotel.