Anyone with a spare room (or, depending on your local laws, apartment or house) can make extra money by renting it out on a home-sharing service like Airbnb. But to earn strong reviews from guests and create a consistent money-maker, there are tips to separate your listing from the pack. Here are 20 things we did right in our first year as an Airbnb host. They may also help you beat out your competition.
Starting a Listing on Airbnb
1. We optimized the listing for search.
It's important to view your advertisement for the space as its own web page, which can perform well or poorly based, in part, on how easy it is for potential guests to find it. Taking an SEO approach, we littered our listing with commonly searched keywords, details and advice about how to enjoy our neighborhood.
2. We kept guests' expectations at a realistic level.
By explaining your listing's pluses and negatives of your space, you'll avoid having guests feel like they paid too much (or perhaps not enough) to stay with you. For example, does your apartment have a mini-fridge? Be sure to explain this to a guest who may or may not want to make use of your kitchen during their stay.
3. We kept our calendar up to date.
By updating your availability on a daily or weekly basis, as needed, you're increasing the searchability of your listing even further. On Airbnb, potential guests are searching by the dates for which they're looking to be hosted, so it makes sense for you to have your listing open as much as one to three months in advance. The danger here is that you may receive a December booking in October but then have to change plans by November, so only list your space for dates you're sure that you can fulfill.
4. We responded to every inquiry within 24 hours.
Simple enough: Be communicative with potential guests, and they could turn into actual guests.
5. We avoided using Airbnb’s faulty Smart Pricing tool.
Airbnb wants you to list your price at a level that will make you and your guest happy. But, given its profit motive, Airbnb would also be happy with you listing at a very low price. So we don't advise blindly accepting the company's suggested rates. Do some of your own research to come up with the right rate for your space. Answers to these questions can guide you in the right direction: What do nearby hotels charge? What do nearby listings charge? What would you have to charge to make this worth your while at all?
6. We adjusted our nightly rates on the fly.
And there's nothing stopping you from doing so. You are the CEO of your listing, so it makes sense to increase your rate from, say, $99 per night to $129 per night during the holidays or on weekends of big events that attract many out-of-towners in need of reasonably-priced lodging.
Catering to Airbnb Guests
7. We simplified the fee system.
In addition to charging the host and the guest a service and booking fee, respectively, Airbnb allows hosts to break out their nightly rate to include other fees: for cleaning, for extra guests and for a security deposit. In building our listing — and remembering our own experiences as an Airbnb guest looking to make a reservation — we simplified the pricing of our listing, charging nothing for cleaning, multiple guests or security. Instead, we increased our nightly rate and explained that the higher price would go toward keeping the space clean.
8. We used a flexible cancellation policy.
Also in the interest of making it simpler for potential guests considering booking our space, we offered Airbnb's least stringest of cancellation policies. Why? If you read them carefully, you'll notice that even "flexible" means Airbnb's booking fee is non-refundable, so guests won't be in a rush to cancel any reservations.
9. We turned on “Instant Book” — and kept it on.
The fastest way to simplify the booking process is to rely on Airbnb to verify the guest's identity and allow anyone who meets their corporate criteria to book without your say-so. We found this worked well. In fact, in nine months of running our listing, all 34 guests used the "Instant Book" function. Conversely, not a single would-be guest who inquired about the listing without immediately booking it ended up making a reservation. (Airbnb highly encourages hosts to turn "Instant Book" on because it stops hosts from turning away potential guests based on their race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, which plagued the platform in the past.)
10. We turned on weekly discounts.
Anyone who has rented out a space on a home-sharing platform knows that it's easier to have one guest for a week than it is to have three guests over the same span. Every time a party checks in or out, there is work to be done. To promote longer stays and make hosting more worth our while, we offered guests a 15% discount for booking a whole week. At $99 per night, that would lower a guest's stay from $693 to $640.
11. We set up a good key-retrieval system.
In the event you can't (or don't want to) be present during a guest's check-in, figuring out how to hand off a key to your space is essential. There are third-party services that offer this service for small monthly fees, or you can DIY-hack it yourself, which we did successfully.
12. We left a welcome letter for each guest.
In addition to also plying them with towels and toiletries — who knows, you may host a dentist — we also left contact numbers and asked them to get in touch with any questions or concerns. Very few guests texted or called, but a great many expressed appreciation for having the option.
13. We kept the space clear during guests' stays.
Beyond removing our valuables — a camera and a laptop in our case — to take the option of theft off the table, we also simply made the guests' room bare so that they could fill it with their own stuff.
Making (and Saving) Money on Airbnb
14. We invested in sheets and towels.
Having more of each means not having to do laundry as often between stays.
15. We kept track of every data point.
The more information you have at your disposal, the better decisions you can make as a host, whether it pertains to pricing or something less important.
16. We set aside money for tax season.
This is particularly important for hosts who welcome at least 200 guests or earn at least $20,000. At that point, Airbnb will have you fill out a Form 1099-K in addition to a W-9.
17. We figured out how to fairly divide profits.
In addition to setting aside profits for recurring operating costs (such as laundry), you may need to divide your earnings with a roommate or building owner, for example. Do this, as we did, by creating an unassailable, shareable spreadsheet.
18. We used Airbnb's referral program to get a bonus $100.
All you have to do is have someone else use your referral invite to start their own listing and successfully host their first guest.
19. We requested that guests leave us reviews.
While reviews helped us attract more guests, we also asked our initial guests for real feedback to ensure we didn't have blindspots in our service. In our case, one guest early on reminded us to put an extra trash bin in the bedroom.
20. We studied Airbnb’s terms of service.
As a result of going through the legalese, which includes an explanation of Airbnb insurance, we were aware of our rights when one guest tried to score a free night, and the Airbnb support staff came rushing to our aid.
This story originally appeared on ValuePenguin.