Having strangers in my house, sleeping in my bed and eating porridge from my bowls on a regular basis took as much getting use to as the freezing water of Lake Tahoe itself.
Now, after two years of dealing with five bear break-ins when the house was unoccupied, receiving 44 five-star reviews (from people not bears) and achieving Airbnb's "Super Host" status--here are my "so you want to rent out your house on Airbnb" pro-tips.
1. Buy somewhere you love. California and more specifically, Lake Tahoe, made sense for us: most of our extended family lives in northern California. If you are going to buy a part-time house, make sure it's somewhere you love to hang out. I always want to be in Tahoe and don't feel like its a chore to have to come back to the same place every time we are in the U.S. And it ends up Tahoe is very popular with the rest of the world. If you love being somewhere, chances are, guests are going to want to be there too.
Not a chore.
2. Use good photos. Airbnb will send out a professional photographer to take gorgeous portraits of your house for you, for free. I'd already taken photos and uploaded them when I discovered this. Regardless of who takes the photos, highlight the personality and positive aspects of your home, in a online-dating, realistic-but-edited, kind of way.
3. The experience economy. People love lounging on our deck furniture, visiting the private homeowner's beach, playing board games, piano, guitar, the old-fashioned record player and cooking in a well-set-up kitchen. One of our favorite Airbnb stays was an apartment in Paris decorated with Johnny Walker bottles. Allowing guests to enjoy the same aspects of our home that we love is what they comment on the most. We have good pillows, updated lighting and a string lights welcoming you down the stairs into the house--it doesn't feel like just a rental.
4. Start out below the going rate until you get some reviews. I'd be leery of renting an unreviewed place, and I wasn't sure how to solve this problem at first. I did some research of other Airbnbers, and ended up underpricing the house for the first two months. Once we had five or so good reviews, I started charging the going rate.
5. Airbnb offers protection for both guests and hosts. Some strange Goldilocks will break the overhead light in the bathroom, a glass wall hanging and the lid to the toilet tank. You won't know how, but you do have recourse. I was worried about this sort of thing, but Airbnb support has been nothing but helpful in finding a resolution.
6. Airbnb says the most important thing for guests is that the place be clean. Airbnb tells us that a bottle of wine won't make up for chairs with stains. Last year after killing myself cleaning the entire house for the next guests, I let my son back into the house for two seconds. In those two seconds he cleaned a hairbrush. A lake view won't make up for a hairy house.
7. So. Find a housekeeping service you can rely on. A random individual housekeeper would probably be cheaper, but since I'm so far away most of the time, I need the peace of mind I can only get from a bonded housekeeping service. They send me pictures of carpenter ants, trash not properly disposed of and they are the ones who let me know about the broken toilet tank lid. Guests pay for the housekeeping service as part of their fees. There are quite a few housekeeping services that cater to Airbnb owners now. I found ours on Yelp.
8. What's ours is mostly ours. We leave most of our personal items out for use in the house, rugs we've collected, a set of Blue Willow dishes and the Chemex coffee pot. We use Ikea under-the-bed zipper storage boxes to stash clothes and toiletries so the dressers and bathroom cabinets are free for guests. Mostly people are very conscientious, letting us know if they felt like they disturbed something. The only things actually missing after two years are some hand-blown glass salt dishes and a painting I'd done myself. I consider the painting-stealing a compliment.
9. More information is better. My Airbnb listing description is extensive, and one week before check-in I email a four-page PDF that includes information about checking in, how to deal with the thermostat, trash and electrified bear-mat. I include two pages of area highlights, ski resort details and maps of how to walk to the beach and hiking trails. I started out with a one-pager, but it has grown since I've found renters comment on the usefulness of the information. My biggest problem is people not understanding how important it is to put the trash in the metal bear box--I'm thinking of having this check-in information translated, because this is usually a language problem with international guests who don't understand that really, bears break into the house.
10. Be prepared for some surprises. The first fire of the year might cause sparks to fly out of the chimney, inspiring the guests to call the fire department who will then arrive with three fire trucks. No matter how many cheese graters you have, guests will tell you they couldn't find the cheese grater. The next-door-neighbor will tell you about a crowd of young people who played beer pong raucously and then turned out all the lights and went to bed at 10 pm. A recent group renting the place for a "women's retreat" spent most of the weekend smoking cigars on the deck topless.
Sometimes our guest leave feedback like, "There are a lot of knives in the house, but none of them are sharp." (Um, knife sharpener in the same drawer as the knives.) I was accused of removing an advertised hot tub. (We've never had a hot tub, and certainly didn't have one removed.) But mostly we get positive feedback from world travelers who celebrated a birthday with their daughter who now works at Facebook, or they tell us that they roasted their first American turkey or enjoyed feeding peanuts to the Stellar Jays. People send photos of their son's wedding and their own magnificent house they rent out on Airbnb in the Cotswolds.
Is it worth it? A group of New Yorkers in town for the muddy Spartan Games at Squaw Valley, Russians who stayed during a dismal snow season who ended up fishing instead of skiing, and occasional drunken bachelorettes pay the mortgage, taxes and insurance most of the time we aren't in the house. Fancy salt dishes are only $20.
Airbnb hosting has been as interesting and worthwhile as some of our own travels in this wide forest of a world. As long as you don't mind the occasional middle-of-the-night email (Tahoe has an 11-hour time difference from Kyiv) asking Where is the cheese grater? having strangers stay in our house, discovering what they love about an area we love, has itself been a rewarding adventure.
Our listing is here.