What it's really like to be an Airbnb host

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Since early 2017, I’ve been hosting guests from all over the world through Airbnb. I started when we lived in our old flat in London, and I loved the experience so much that as soon as we moved to our new home in Hertfordshire I started doing up the guest room so we could get back to hosting again. We’ve been up and running as hosts for just over two months now, and so I thought it was time I shared some of my experiences just like I’ve been promising to do for a while. You can see our guest room listing here. I get asked a lot about it, and I think there’s a lot of misconceptions that people have about what it’s like to open up your home to strangers from the internet…

Firstly, I love Airbnb a lot! I almost always use it when I travel, and I think it’s the most wonderful way to see the world, meet interesting people and get to snoop on some fantastic interior design. You get a real feel for a new city when you get tips first hand from someone who lives there. I find it so much better value than a hotel, as well as a much cosier and more personal experience. I can’t imagine ever booking a hotel now that I know how good it can be when you travel using Airbnb. Overwhelmingly, being an Airbnb host is brilliant. You meet interesting people, make some extra cash and get all the feel good vibes from providing someone with a great experience in your home. The vast majority of our guests have been a dream, many of them being people we barely see because they arrive late and leave again early in the morning. Everyone is different, some people love to chat and hang out, while others are so conscious of not wanting to bother you they purposefully stay out of your way. I’ve shared meals, glasses of wine, trips to the market and many cups of coffee with our guests, swapped email addresses and Instagram accounts and had offers of places to stay in France, Brazil, New York, Japan and Ireland. If you like people, and you’re friendly, this side of being a host is wonderful.

But, of course there are some downsides and things that can go wrong. A lot of it you can negate by being as upfront as possible in your listings, communicating well in advance with your guests and anticipating as many of their needs as possible. That way no one gets lost, has to ask you for a spare charger or a toothbrush, and they are fully prepared for your kitchen to be a mess and your dog to be crazy. But, of course you can’t be prepared for your heating to break in January plunging your guest room down to 10 degrees (we offered a full refund!) or guests arriving unexpectedly early during a slightly fraught argument with your partner (yep, that’s happened to us too) or your dog sneaking into the guest room when no one was looking and throwing up on the carpet. It’s awful when those things happen, it’s embarrassing and you feel so terrible for your guests. But, in my experience everyone is understanding if you go out of your way to compensate them for any issues. Offer food, wine, chocolate, vouchers to a local coffee shop or restaurant and always a full refund if things really don’t go as planned. If you’re nice, kind and apologetic then most people don’t even leave you a bad review. They err on the side of just keeping quiet, as they don’t want to affect your ratings and they know you did your best to provide good service.

The more experience I’ve had and the more I’ve understood about the expectations a guest has when they stay in our home, the better I’ve been able to cover my bases. I have a spare heater in case the boiler breaks, free coffee vouchers for local coffee shops in case our internet breaks, phone chargers, spare blankets and all kinds of other things to make our guests feel as comfortable as possible. Some people are always too hot, some too cold, some like soft pillows and some like hard ones. Everyone is different, but you can’t please everyone. All you can do is be up front, honest, kind, welcoming and do as much as is reasonable for you to accommodate different people and their tastes. Go the extra mile, trust your guests and in turn almost all of them will reciprocate for you.

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Here are some of the major pros and cons of being an Airbnb host…

THE PROS:

  1. The different kinds of people you meet. I’ve hosted over 30 guests/couples and I can honestly say every single one of them has been kind, interesting and respectful of our home. My favourite thing is meeting people from other countries and cultures, you just learn so much and everyone has a different story to tell. It’s such a pleasure to be brought together with some really amazing people just because of Airbnb.

  2. The act of hosting. I get a lot of pleasure from going out of my way to ensure guests enjoy staying in our home. I love making they room cosy, stocking it with tea, coffee and snacks and leaving out all my favourite books and magazines in case they want to dip into them. In some cases guests are going through a hard time when they stay, perhaps they’re away from family, going through a break up or are visiting someone in hospital. You can really make a huge difference to someone’s day if you offer to make them lunch, run them a hot bath, or even just provide a kind ear when they need it. Airbnb is a trust based system, that runs on people being kind and welcoming to strangers. I think with all the darkness going on the world just now we could use a lot more of that kind of thing.

  3. The extra cash. This is a big one! It’s such a great thing to be able to earn extra money from your own home, and in a good month we can cover half our mortgage from our Airbnb earnings. As a freelancer and work from home mama my income isn’t that big, so any extra I can bring in is a huge deal for me and my family.

  4. The flexibility. You have ultimate control over your calendar and pricing, so you can block off nights when you have family or friends staying, up the price when you get busy or drop the price to fill nights at short notice. You can host as much or as little as you want, and even rent out your whole house when you go away on holiday to cover the cost of your trip.

  5. Your guests only really want a place to sleep. Most of our guests arrive late in the evening and leave early in the morning. Tourists want to be out and about exploring, they don’t want to sit in your living room all day. Anyone who stays for work is usually so tired when they get back they just want to shower and go to their bed. Most guests are low hassle, and won’t bother you for anything at all. The more you anticipate their needs, the less they have to ask you for.

  6. Airbnb provides you with some insurance against any damage from your guests, and as you can verify guests identity and read their reviews before you accept their booking (unless you have instant book on) it gives you some piece of mind to know you aren’t inviting any old weirdo off the street into your house. As I mentioned, we’ve had over 30 guests in our home and not once have we had any concerns about our property or our safety. Most people go out of their way to be respectful to you and your house.

  7. It’s so simple! The initial setting up of your listing is time consuming, as you need to prepare the space, take photos of your house (at least 9 photos is ideal) and write your guidebook, house rules etc. But after that it really is so easy. Airbnb do all the marketing, so all you have to do is set a fair price, be ready to communicate with guests and just wait for the bookings to roll in. You can promote via your own social media, separate website etc but if you don’t have those channels it doesn’t matter at all. Just be smart about your pricing, create a warm and welcoming experience and the rest is easy.

THE CONS:

  1. The washing. There’s a lot! If you’ve got kids and have family/friends staying then add your paying guests to that and it can seem like you have a full time job running a laundrette. One night stays are the most frustrating, because no sooner have you washed and dried everything it’s all back in the machine again ready for another round. I’d say the extra washing and cleaning are definitely the worst things about being an Airbnb host. However, if you’re charging properly and adding a cleaning fee, you can at least feel better that you’re getting financially rewarded for all your hard work.

  2. Late check-ins. Quite often guests want to check in late (after work, late flights, nights out etc) which isn’t ideal if you’re like me and can’t keep your eyes open past 9pm. Even the quietest guests sometimes disturb the dog/baby/neighbours etc or perhaps even phone you in an emergency if they get lost, can’t open the door or something else they might struggle with. We used to leave a key under the mat for late arrivals, but we have a key box now with a code so guests can check in much more easily 24 hours a day.

  3. The admin. It’s important you keep your calendar up to date, reply to guests promptly (ideally within the hour), leave reviews and encourage guest to rate you and give feedback. Depending on your pricing strategy, you might also be making some adjustments to the price for certain nights you want to fill too, so you just need to stay on top of it all especially when you’ve got busy weeks and months. if you’re disorganised, it can cost you ratings, good reviews and you can even get fined by Airbnb if you cancel more than one or two bookings a year.

  4. Careless guests. Now, this is definitely a rarity for us as on the whole I’ve found people super respectful, clean and quiet in our home. But, accidents happen and sometimes things can’t be helped. Prepare yourself for spills, breakages, things not turned on and off properly, windows left open, child gates not shut etc. It’s important to leave clear instructions about things, but at the same time you don’t want to leave reams of rules for your guests to read through! So as long as you feel people have been as respectful as possible, you have a to be little bit chill about the odd coffee stain.

  5. Some people DO outstay their welcome. Again, a rare occasion but some people just spend a little more time in your home than you’d ideally like. Perhaps they have a hospital appointment in the afternoon, and they hang around your house all day until they need to leave. We have had one guest who stayed out until 4am every night and so slept all day and was up showering and wanting breakfast at 2pm - they were perfectly nice and respectful, but obviously the ideal situation is that you’re just providing a bed and some breakfast but getting the house to yourself all day.

  6. Unreliable income. Depending on where you live, bookings can be seasonal and very sporadic during quieter months. Many people book at very short notice, so often you have no idea how much you’ll earn that month, and it can vary wildly. When we were in London, our bookings were very seasonal and it was crazy in the summer time. Weekends were more popular and tourists were our main type of guests. Now we’re in Hitchin, it’s more steady and almost all of our guests are here for work. We have some with longer contracts who book up certain nights each week for months at a time, weekends are quieter and on the whole we make more money even though we charge less per night. Your success depends a lot on your knowledge of that market, and your efforts to experiment with pricing to attract more bookings. Do your research and it will pay off!

  7. It can be a little disruptive. Guests often arrive around 7pm right when I’m trying to do bath and bedtime with my daughter. I’ve got a wet toddler in a towel in one arm while trying to show guests to their room with the other. Sometimes people want to check in when you’ve got things planned, or their flights/trains etc are delayed, they don’t give you enough notice what time they plan to check in and just appear at your front door at a rather inconvenient time. As I mentioned above, I have a key box outside the front door now so if I really can’t be home when a guest wants to check in, I have a back-up plan.

  8. Pressure to keep your house tidy. Without kids and pets, this is a little easier I’m sure. But for us it’s almost impossible. Guest areas are always kept immaculate, but our kitchen frequently resembles the scene of a burglary. I’m up front about it on our listing, but I still have to do my best to keep communal areas of our home tidy. It’s a little stressful sometimes! Most guests don’t use these areas, but I’m always horrified if they want to before I’ve managed to clean up.

I’ve been so lucky that during my time as a host I’ve never had one bad review. Everyone has always been happy, and even guests that I felt didn’t quite get the best of me always had kind things to say. It helps that I’m around a lot, so guests get to know me a little and feel comfortable asking for things or just being in our home. I can give them tips, make them breakfast and provide them with a good experience which would certainly be harder to do if I worked full time out of the house.

If you have a spare room in your home, I can’t recommend being an Airbnb host enough. I have absolutely loved it, and the pros have always far outweighed the cons for me. The extra cash can cover significant expenses in your life, such as mortgages, childcare and fees for education or you can save it up and use it for something fun like a holiday. Sure, it’s extra work and you have to have strangers in your home, but if you love to meet and chat to people and genuinely take pleasure from hosting then I’m sure you will love it as much as I do.

And if you’re looking for a room to rent in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, you can view and book our guest room on Airbnb!

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at homeSiobhan Wattsairbnb