A Master Class in Airbnb Hosting

Ever thought about renting your place? Here’s how.

My condo, which I rent on Airbnb.

If getting paid to travel sounds like an ideal job for you, seriously consider becoming an Airbnb host. In the summer of 2016, I took the plunge and rented my San Francisco condo during a two-week trip to Italy. I had three different groups stay. I was nervous, but when I came home everything was fine and my vacation had essentially paid for itself. Since that experience, my husband and I have continued to rent our place during vacation, and we even used Airbnb as a way to develop a more flexible lifestyle. Since we can often work remotely, we’ve spent extended stays in places like Lisbon and Paris. Airbnb means we don’t pay for two homes at once, and most times we make money.

In San Francisco, you are allowed to rent your home short-term for a total of 90 days. If you’re an owner, like we are, you have to show that it is your permanent residence. If you rent, you have to get permission from your landlord and may not be allowed to charge guests more rent than you pay, depending on rent control rules. In either case, you need to register for a permit. If you live in SF, you can contact the Office of Short Term Rentals to ask about your situation. Each city and town has different rules, so be sure to look them up yourself. You’re also subject to your HOA or lease agreement.

I’ve been doing this for more than two years now. I’m an Airbnb Superhost and have rented to more than 50 different groups. To help share what I’ve learned, I asked my friends for their burning questions about renting a place on Airbnb. Here are my answers.

FAQs About Being an Airbnb Host

Q: Do you have a second set of linens, products, etc that you use for guests only?

A: Yes and no. We do not have separate sheets or towels for our guests. We simply bought a few sets of white sheets and duvets and towels that are interchangeable and we can wash with bleach. Before you say, “That’s gross!” let me ask you this: do you bring your own set of sheets to a hotel? Probably not. Once you realize you “share” sheets on other occasions, it doesn’t feel weird. Plus, I trust my washing machine.

As for products, I do set out a separate set of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, as well as mini toothpaste tubes for guests. I use higher-end products for myself, but buy drugstore shower products for my guests.

Q: How to you protect your valuables and sentimental property when you have strangers in your home?

A: Before we rented our home, we bought a scanner. With it, we digitized all of our important documents and put them on Google Drive. We shredded the hard copies and now have fewer sensitive documents. We also have a locked owners’ closet, where we store valuables.

Our home is optimized to be functional, uncluttered, and pleasing to a wide range of people.

Overall, renting our place on Airbnb has encouraged us to acquire fewer sentimental objects. It fits with our frugal lifestyle goals and desire to spend our money on experiences rather than nice things. Instead, our home is optimized to be functional, uncluttered, and pleasing to a wide range of people. We may lose some personal touches, but that’s actually more our style anyway. If you ever wanted to be more minimal, renting your home on Airbnb is a great way to actually make some changes.

Because we rent our place on Airbnb, we keep it clean and clutter free.

Q: Have you ever had anything broken or stolen?

A: We’ve come home to stains on our bedroom carpet before. I think a guest went out on our fire escape and brought dirt back in. We had to call in a carpet cleaner and it was about $100 to clean. The stains didn’t come out completely, but it’s not the end of the world.

It’s all the cost of doing business.

Our washing machine and a shower have also stopped working while we had guests. I’m not sure if the guests were responsible for breaking it or if it was bad luck. Either way, I refunded them a bit of money for the inconvenience. I’ve also had a guest use some of my beauty products that are put away. While this has cost me a bit of money, I know overall I’ve made it up from renting my place. It’s all the cost of doing business.

Q: What is the most challenging part of listing your home?

A: Keeping track of the city regulations. I had a nightmare situation happen recently, where Airbnb canceled my upcoming reservations and removed my listing because my permit had expired. This happened right before a big trip, when I was counting on Airbnb rentals. It was partly my fault for not keeping better track of my permit, but Airbnb had also emailed me a few months before saying my permit was renewed for two years. The city of San Francisco also makes it confusing, requiring you to renew a business certificate every year and a short term rental permit every two years.

To get everything back on track, I had to go down to the city planning department two different times in the middle of a work day. It was stressful, but it worked out. The guests stuck with me while I waited for the new permit, and Airbnb was as helpful as they could be.

Q: Do you have an Airbnb horror story?

A: I did have a bad experience as a guest! I arrived in a Sydney Airbnb that smelled badly, had mold, and no hot water. In fact, the water came out brown, too. Because I contacted Airbnb within 24 hours, I was able to get a refund and move somewhere else. We were supposed to stay for two weeks, so it was great that we could get our money back. Airbnb required that we take photos of everything and a video of the water running over ice cubes without melting them, to show that it the water was cold.

I try to be proactive about refunding guests a bit when things don’t go perfectly.

I haven’t had any horror stories as a host. There have been some stressful moments, like when my cleaning woman forgot to come before a guest arrived or when a guest had her purse and our key codes stolen from her car. It’s rough when those things happen when you’re traveling (especially with a time change), but if you have someone that can help you back home, it will be OK. I also try to be proactive about refunding guests a bit when things don’t go perfectly.

Q: Has your desire to rent your place on Airbnb changed since you had a baby last year? 

A: Adding another person to our house, and all the stuff that goes with it, has presented challenges. For the first few months, our daughter slept in a portable bassinet, which was easy to put away when we had guests. During this time, we spent a few weeks at my parents’ house in Sonoma. Renting our place on Airbnb helped me supplement the small amount of California disability money I got while on “maternity leave.” It allowed me to make money while still being with her full-time during her first four months of her life. Partly because of Airbnb, I could transition back to freelancing at my own pace.

Being an Airbnb host has helped keep the baby industrial complex in check.

Now that she’s almost one year old, we’re still doing it. She sleeps in a high-end travel crib that has a mattress, so we can put it away. We keep her toys contained to a basket that we store in a closet. We found baby-proofing solutions for drawers that can easily be turned off. When we buy baby gear, like a high chair, we look for something that can be put away. Overall, being an Airbnb host has helped keep the baby industrial complex in check and limited how her stuff can take over our apartment. As she gets older, we might only do it when we go on longer trips, since the overhead will be higher, but so far it’s working for us.

Q: How does the political climate in SF affect your experience as a host? 

A: Airbnb has impacted how I see the debate around housing, especially Airbnb regulations. The nightly rate people pay for my place makes me realize just how expensive this city is. But I feel OK about it. We are following the rules and only list our residence short-term 90 days. We aren’t taking housing off the market. Airbnb is a way for locals to cover the cost of living in San Francisco, and it allows me to have a more creative, flexible job. I also think it provides tourists in SF an attractive alternative to hotels. I take the job of host seriously and work to make my home welcoming. I leave a guide with my favorite spots in SF and constantly make small improvements around the house with guests in mind. In addition, tourism is the number-one industry in the city, and I don’t think the hotel corporations should get all the benefit. Because of Airbnb, individuals and families are able to have their own “hospitality” small businesses.

Q: Have you made any friends through the process?

A: I have made “friends” with other hosts while waiting at the city planning department. We’ve exchanged numbers to keep each other in the loop about any regulatory headaches. I have yet to take advantage of host meet-ups, which are supposed to be great. One thing I have done: convinced friends I have already to give it a try. After I encouraged them, one couple we’re friends with rented their place during their honeymoon and loved it. Now, they’ll just list their spot for a weekend. If they get a booking they’ll use it as an excuse to travel somewhere.

Q: I’d love to see all the checklists you mentioned keeping.

A: We keep checklists for everything! For our cleaning woman and for us, it helps keep things consistent. Here is what we’re sure to do before we leave our apartment and have a guest arriving.

Day before leaving:
Make sure we have enough sheets and towels
Make sure we have enough toilet paper
Quick clean kitchen fridge, drawers, cabinets
Check soap dispensers
Prepare guest bathroom (shower gel and shampoo)
Run dishwasher
Re-print cleaning checklist and/or guest guide if necessary
Take down boxes to recycle
Empty lint from washing machine
Make nice glasses hard to reach
Empty drawers in bedroom
Put out fireplace instruction card
Make sure olive oil and vinegar aren’t almost empty
Prepare coffee station with Nespresso capsules, creamer, sugar
Prepare guest bedroom
Take out mini toothpastes
Prepare cleaning payment envelopes

Day leaving:
Prepare master bath (tidy, shower gel, and shampoo)
Empty the fridge
Change sponge
Hide baby stuff
Tidy living room
Take out wine and cereal (for guests)
Hide breast milk in freezer
Put out clothes hanger rack in master bed
Move fireplace remote next to TV remote
Move dirty laundry to landing closet
Put away Apple TV remote / Take out Panasonic remote / Set correct TV channel and volume
Move kitchen keys basket to owner closet
Lock owner closet
Remove baby proofing

And if we have to clean: (aka cleaning woman not coming before guests)
Replace sheets
Replace towels
Quick clean toilets
Clean fridge door
Empty trash from all rooms
Final kitchen counter clean
Sweep kitchen and living room

You can see it’s quite a bit of work! Renting your place on Airbnb doesn’t mean free money. But in addition to the extra cash, you get a more organized home and a chance to welcome travelers to your city. If you want to know more, ask me your questions around The Assembly clubhouse.

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