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VOL. 37 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 06, 2013

Want to rent your space through Ainbnb? Some tips for success

By Jeannie Naujeck

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Veteran journalist and Nashville Ledger correspondent Jeannie Naujeck receives top marks from guests on Airbnb.com. Visitors give her 5 of 5 stars overall and 5 stars in all categories (accuracy, cleanliness, check in, communication, location, value).

She says guests are already booking for next summer’s CMA Music Festival and hosts can easily charge twice the normal rate.

Here are her tips to maximize the hosting experience:

Privacy: When you are creating your Airbnb unit, plan for as much privacy as possible within the structure of your home. Adding walls, doors and even entire additions to create a self-contained “guest wing” with separate entrance will help preserve your privacy, comfort and sanity, and you can recoup the cost by charging more and deducting many improvements (see tax tip below).

A kitchenette is a desirable feature that will help attract guests for longer stays. The ideal setup is a totally private unit with its own entrance within your home (basement, attic, addition) or on your property (guest cottage, carriage house garage apartment), but many Airbnb accommodations are simply rooms within a home.

If you go that route, at minimum guests need their own dedicated bathroom.

Sharing your personal bathroom with guests will get old very quickly, and it will be hard to stay booked unless you are charging rock-bottom rates.

A sophisticated look: Decorate the guest space as if you are staging your home for a sale. Think more W Hotel, less shabby chic. That means a sleek, uncluttered look, no personal photos or knickknacks.

Invest in quality linens and furnishings, and have several sets of sheets on hand. It’s tempting to use your own old towels and bedding, but it will look cheap.

Buy new: Costco has good prices on quality pillows, towels, rugs (buy low-pile, not shag; you’ll be vacuuming a lot) and microfiber sheets ($19.99 for a queen set that is softer than cotton and doesn’t wrinkle).

Overstock.com is also a great source for soft goods such as colorful comforters and duvet covers with no tax and free shipping. And IKEA has stylish furniture that will give your rental space a sophisticated look at an affordable price.

Your ad: Once you have decided on the parameters of your rental space, it’s easy to get started as a host on the Airbnb.com

Craft an attractive listing with a detailed description of your unit and your neighborhood and upload lots of quality photos. Guests like to see what they’re buying.

Decide on your minimum-stay requirement and cancellation policy.

Incorporate your cleaning fees into a flat per-night rate rather than tacking on an extra fee; guests don’t like feeling nickel-and-dimed. Just wrap it in.

You can charge different nightly rates for weekends, holidays, etc. by customizing your booking calendar.

Airbnb makes its money by adding a 12 percent booking fee onto the guest charge and charging hosts 3 percent of the nightly rate. That means a guest booking two nights at $50 per night will be charged $112 total and you, the host, will receive $97.

The 3 percent charge is a bargain considering Airbnb handles all the marketing and financial transactions and provides hosts with a guarantee against damages by guests.

Quick response: Be prompt in your responses to guest inquiries and bookings. Speed is rewarded. Hosts have 24 hours to respond to a guest inquiry; after that, you are penalized with a drop in rank, which affects your visibility and ranking. You can easily respond to messages while on the go by installing the Airbnb app on your smart phone and tablet. You can also set up your account so that you receive texts with guest messages; accepting a booking is as simple as replying “ACCEPT.”

Local secrets: Do the legwork for your guests to make their stay easy and enjoyable.

For guests, the charm of Airbnb is the chance to get the inside scoop from a local. As a host, it’s the pride of sharing the town you love and the fun of meeting travelers from around the world.

Have maps and brochures for all the popular attractions around Nashville so they don’t have to hunt for them (you can pick them up at the Convention & Visitors Bureau downtown).

Collect menus from your favorite local restaurants in a binder.

Supply current copies of attraction, entertainment listings in newspapers or magazines.

You can also write up your own guide to Nashville that lists your favorite places for dining and entertainment as well as “local’s secrets” such as the cheapest place to park downtown (the Public Library garage).

Email the guide to guests before they arrive to help them plan their visit, along with directions to your rental, check-in instructions and your cell phone number.

Keep it clean, very clean: Cleanliness IS next to godliness, at least as far as Airbnb-ers are concerned. A stray hair in the bathtub or on the sheets can lead to a bad review, which will sink your bookings and ranking.

An Airbnb host is part gracious innkeeper, part motel chambermaid, so buy cleaning supplies, paper goods and laundry detergent in bulk at Costco, especially Swiffer sheets. The amount of dust, lint and hair that collects on hardwood floors overnight will amaze you.

Allow at least two hours between guest checkout and arrival, and when you accept a booking, block out time on your calendar in advance for cleaning after checkout so your rental will be always ready for the next guest.

If you hire a maid service to do the cleaning, inspect their work with a sharp eye. Remember: no hair. Not even one.

Lots of stars: A good review is worth gold on Airbnb. Five-star ratings from previous guests ensure that people will want to book your accommodation, and the more frequently you stay booked, the higher you will rank.

Getting on the front page of the Airbnb search engine is critical, and you can achieve it by giving guests more than they expect. Coffee, tea and breakfast food are standard offerings at Airbnb properties, but it doesn’t cost much more to have a basket of snacks in the kitchen, toiletries in the bathroom, extra blankets and pillows and fresh flowers in a vase.

You can even welcome your guests with a complimentary bottle of wine. One host stops at a Trader Joe’s whenever she drives out of state and stocks up on “Three Buck Chuck,” which is not available in Tennessee.

The little extras may cost a few extra dollars, but they will pay off in rave reviews and increased bookings.

Tax tips: Airbnb reports the money you earn on a Form 1099, and your rental fees could add up to a substantial amount of money that will be taxed as miscellaneous income.

Save 30 percent of your Airbnb deposits in a separate savings account and keep receipts of everything you spend on furnishing your rental space as most expenses (furniture, linens, coffee for guests, cleaning supplies) are tax-deductible and any structural improvements and adaptations you make to create a rental unit (drywall, paint, a fridge) can be depreciated.

You’ll want to consult with an accountant on your tax impact and write-offs.

Take a break: Host burnout can occur after a long period of solid bookings. You’ll know it when you feel like checking into your guest quarters because they are more clean and inviting than your own living space!

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by a high-volume Airbnb, especially if you are juggling another job. Take a break by blocking out a week from guests. Better yet, plan a vacation and explore the incredible variety of accommodations offered by your fellow hosts. You can find everything from English castles and Costa Rican treehouses to adobes in New Mexico and thatched-roof huts in Bali – at prices that make traveling affordable.

There are many charming and unique lodgings within a day’s drive of Nashville as well.

Airbnb is a great opportunity to meet people while making money from space you don’t use. Hosting is a way to bring the world to you when you’re not out exploring it yourself. Best of all, it will help you appreciate Nashville in a whole new way. Happy hosting.

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