AirBnb is more than an amazing site that lets anybody put their spare couch, room or house up for rent – it’s a game. The goal for hosts: to rise through the search rankings, allowing them to get bookings, meet great people from all over the world, and swim in cash. For guests: to stay at amazing and unique places for a fraction of the price of a hotel room. Here’s what you need to know to win.
Charge less than market rate at first, then raise your rates
Pricing your room is basic economics – sort of like an advanced version of that old lemonade stand video game: Charge too much money, and nobody will book. Charge too little, and you won’t be making as much money as you could. But since it can be tough to get bookings without a solid base of reviews, you’ll want to undercharge at first. Once you’ve built up a nice stash of testimonials, raise the rate to be comparable with similar listings in your neighbourhood. As a bonus: You’ll have tons of reviews lauding what a great bargain your place was, even after the price jump.
AirBnb Will Offer To Send A Free Professional Photographer. Use It.
There are two reasons for this. First: The photos look great. The photographers use fancy lenses, know what they’re doing, and generally do a great job. And second: AirBnb-commissioned shots will pop up with a nice “Airbnb.com Verified Photo” watermark, which can go a long way towards soothing the nerves of AirBnb newbies who may be sceptical that your killer apartment actually exists.
Start out taking as many one-night and two-night rentals as you can
The goal of the AirBnb game is to rise up the search rankings. The quickest, fastest most powerful ways to do this are by accepting reservations and by earning reviews. Yes, short-term stays can be a pain (you need to prep the room and check in guests more frequently), but it’s also a smart strategy at first. The reason: a review that comes from a one-night stay is basically indistinguishable from a two-weeker’s. So if you want to build up lots of reviews (which you do), shorter stays rule.
In addition, the AirBnb search algorithm doesn’t care how long your guests stay, only how many guests book. (Note: This could change in the future, but is true for now). In other words: taking lots of short-term tenants earns you more points that fewer long-term guests. Once you earn a couple of nice reviews, you can (and should) accept low-maintenance longer-term tenants. But at first, go short.
Leave a review as quickly as you can
Many tenants are new to the AirBnb game, and might be inclined to either not leave a review, or to dash off a short “Stay was good”. The best way to ensure that they leave a substantive review for you is to leave one for them first. As soon as the site allows you to leave a review for a departed guest, do it, and do it before they have a chance to leave a useless three-worder. Once the guest sees how it’s done, they’ll usually reciprocate with an enthusiastic and useful write-up.
At the top of your listing, ask that potential guests send you a note inquiring about availability before they try to book.
AirBnb newbies tend to view the site like it’s Expedia: If the listing is there, they sometimes feel entitled to book. Putting this note there does a number of things.
First: It serves as an acid test for whether they actually read your listing before attempting to book, or were simply dashing off requests to everybody in a 10km radius. It also allows you to communicate with potential tenants, so you can gauge whether or not you feel comfortable taking them into your home.
Beyond that, AirBnb’s algorithm grades you on what percentage of bookings you accept. By forcing tenants to inquire about availability before attempting to book, it is very easy to keep this rate at near 100 per cent, which is icing for your search ranking.
Respond to every single message
If only to say: “Sorry, the place isn’t available”. AirBnb tracks and publishes what percentage of messages you reply to as your “Response Rate”. Not only does having a high number look good, but it is very important when it comes to search rankings. Couldn’t keep up with a deluge of messages at one point? No biggie: This figure only applies to the past three months.
Fill out your profile to be as detailed as you can
That means a real photo of you (smiling, of course), and a bit of information about who you are. A filled-out profile helps with the algorithm, and reminds potential tenants that you’re a real person.
Couples = More Cash
AirBnb allows you to charge a surcharge for extra guests. I’ve found that adding $US15 or $US20 to the one-person rate is totally acceptable, and can go a long way towards beefing up your bottom line.
Update your calendar frequently
Even if every date for the next three years is free, block out a random date and then free it up again. AirBnb gives you points for keeping an up-to-date calendar, and tinkering with it signals to the site that you’re on top of this.
Make sure you list your neighbourhood
AirBnb listings allow you to tag your place by neighbourhood. Do it: It allow users who are searching for particular neighbourhoods to find you (the vast majority of my tenants are looking specifically to stay in my virtually hotel-free neighbourhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn).
Will my stuff get stolen?
This is the number one question I get. While I can’t make any promises, I can tell you that I have had dozens of guests, and not one has taken anything that I’ve noticed. In fact, most actually bring gifts (I have accumulated an impressive collection of wines that international guests have brought from their home countries). And because guests prepay through AirBnb (which holds onto their credit card info), there is zero risk of getting stiffed for the bill. You’d be surprised just how awesome and worldly AirBnb guests tend to be.
Connect via Facebook
AirBnb will automatically scout out which Facebook friends of yours have AirBnb profiles, and list them. The number of friends you have doesn’t affect your search ranking (at least for now), but it does appear prominently on the search page, right next to the number of reviews you have, and can go a long way towards making you seem legit.
Have friends write recommendations
Even if you’ve yet to actually book a guest, your friends can set up AirBnb profiles and write recommendations for you and your place (offer to buy them a beer in return). These help with your search results, and also serve as nice stopgap reviews until you’ve booked real guests.
If somebody has no reviews or an incomplete account, ask them to send a bit of info about themselves
A lot of first-time users quickly set up accounts without filling out their profiles. You want to know as much about a potential tenant as possible (remember: you are letting them into your home, and want to feel comfortable having them stay with you). I’ve found that just about everybody is happy to tell you a bit about themselves and what brings them to your town. If they balk or ignore your request, move onto the next tenant.
Get a hair dryer, even if you’re a dude who never uses one
I can’t tell you how many guests I’ve had who’ve asked me if I had one (I do, for this purpose), and told me that I just saved them luggage space. Ditto with providing clean towels: Anything you can do to lighten their luggage load is a plus.
Hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles are your friends
Every time I stay at a real hotel, I make a point to grab the mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Leaving these staples in the guest room makes guests feel like they are being taken care of in a professional, hotel-like environment. Feeling shameless? A quick callout via Facebook letting your friends know how much you’d appreciate if they scooped up a few bottles on their next trip can help you build up a stash for future guests.
Make sure a trusted friend in the neighbourhood has a key to your place.
You never know when an emergency will pop up, and you’ll need their help.
Consider getting a burner/prepaid phone for foreigners to use
I keep a prepaid phone for my international guests to use. If you do this, you can either fold the costs into your pricing, or have them pay you for the service while they use it (it’ll cost them less than buying a local phone and SIM, and they’ll appreciate it).
Stay with a live-in host if you want to live like a local
AirBnb has an enormous database of places to stay, with hosts offering everything from a spare couch, to a guest room, to an entire apartment or house, to a wedding-friendly castle. Some hosts rent out their entire place, while others live on-site and offer something closer to a roommate experience. If you’re travelling alone and want a feel for how the locals live, staying with a live-in AirBnb host can give you easy access to a tour guide, and possibly even a temporary friend.
Book from your own account
A lot of people try to book for their friends or employees/bosses. Try not to do this, as it creates confusion for hosts when they want to leave a review or vet you as a guest. I can also say that, from personal experience, stays that are booked through other people’s accounts almost never result in the guest leaving a review, which is common courtesy.
Do not try to book without communicating first
I go into detail about the reasons for this in the “Hosts” section, but AirBnb is NOT Expedia: just because a date appears to be available does not mean you can stay there that night. Message the host and introduce yourself and tell them what brings you to town. Then ask politely if your requested dates are available.
Read the entire listing before messaging
As a host, I can’t tell you how many potential guests ask me questions that are answered plainly in my listing (“Is there a kitchen?” “What does it cost to stay?”) You aren’t just wasting the host’s time by asking questions with readily available answers, you also make yourself seem like an undesirable and inattentive guest, and are far more likely to have your booking request rejected.
It is not a hotel
That means you should have some basic courtesy when it comes to cleaning up after yourself and making noise. And while it may be awkward, ask the host first before bringing guests back to the place. Remember: It’s still their home.
Fill out your damn profile
Same rules apply to guests as hosts. Even if you have no reviews from previous stays, if your profile makes you look earnest and decent, I’ll usually allow you to book. That means a real (non-threatening) photo of you, and a bit of information about who you are and where you’re coming from. More than just about anything else, this will increase the percentage of your reservation requests that are accepted.