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Starting Your First Airbnb Listing

One of our resolutions this year was to start an Airbnb listing. Each listing is unique based on location, room layout, amenities, etc, but here’s how we set up our listing from scratch.

Regulations

Most cities have regulations on short-term rental properties. We had to sign up for a Lodger’s Tax ID  and a short-term rental license or risk escalating fines. Additionally, we have to pay an additional city tax for all businesses (at least $48 a year, can be higher depending on number of owners and employees). A full list of US cities and considerations is available from Airbnb.

You will also need to look into HOA or lease agreements to make sure your listing is viable. The wild west days of sneaking under the radar are numbered.  Better to stay on the up and up.

Furniture

Furnishing your Airbnb depends on your market aspirations, the quality of your competitors, and your financial resources. We used a mix of existing furniture, tasteful Craigslist finds, and Target and Ikea purchases. Beware falling into the trap of finding new ways to spruce up the room.  We spent roughly $1,500 on everything to get to a solid 3-star hotel level of comfort and finish, but that was over a month or two. It’s not hard to add little things like a hair dryer, new towels, and some art to really separate your listing from the dozens of mediocre ones nearby. It’s that second-mover concept again.

Posting on Airbnb

Your description of the room is crucial. You use this to set the tone for when guests book with you and to describe any listing quirks and rules. Don’t be afraid to abbreviate or use rental shorthand (i.e. 1BD/1BA for one bed and one bathroom). Add in area attractions and neighborhood favorites to spice things up.

Your profile description is important because your guests will naturally want to know their host is reputable. Add some detail about yourself and why you’re excited to host guests.

All that said, pictures are worth a thousand words. Airbnb puts a strong emphasis on your pictures and your listing’s first impression is the difference between a booked night and a vacant night. We used a DSLR camera with an external flash. A cellphone is fine in a pinch, but make sure to take photos in the daytime, open all the windows, and turn on all your lights. You want bright and airy, not dark and suffocating. Present the room as you want the guest to see it when checking in: bed made, no clutter, and photos at eye level. The first photo should be the best and most representative one.

Pricing

Ok, so you have the room ready to go with a snappy description and great photos. What are you going to charge and when do you want your first guests?

Start by reviewing similar listings in your area. Look for active listings with recent reviews and dates booked in the future. Superhosts are a good place to start. Check their base pricing, weekdays vs weekends, cleaning fee, and extra guest fee. You won’t be able to command the same pricing initially, so aim for a temporary 20-30% lower price to attract guests to your brand-new listing. You’ll raise it as the 5-star reviews roll in.

Airbnb helpfully displays new listings towards the top of the search results for one to two months. Enabling instant booking will also help your ranking. You can manually add and update pricing for each night or allow Airbnb’s dynamic pricing algorithm to set it for you. In theory, it should bump up pricing when supply is low and demand is high, but their motivation is to have a high volume of guests paying service fees, so the model tends to aim low.

You can set a minimum price, as well as separate weekend pricing, to help offset the downward bias or override it and set manual pricing for local tourist events.  There are services like Everbooked and Beyond Pricing that promise a better result than Airbnb for a percentage of your revenue, but so far we haven’t explored those. Airdna offers interesting large-scale data sets and analysis, but the data for individual listings was too stale to be worth it.

As a final check, compare long-term rental pricing on Craigslist and Rentometer. You should be compensated higher with a short-term rental than a long-term rental, all else equal.

Cleaning

Every host’s favorite topic…

Whether you hire out to a maid service or channel your inner Cinderella, a clean space is a MUST. You will quickly appreciate your tidy guests. Charge a cleaning fee or build it into your price – Airbnb will show the combined base price plus pro-rated cleaning fee when users search for specific dates. We’ve elected to charge a reasonable cleaning fee to take the sting out of the extra work for short stays.

Cleaning supplies are stored under the sink and overall it takes about an hour to fully turn over the room using the second set of sheets and towels.

Tools

TurboTax was wonky to get set up correctly, but that was because we have a rental property, plus rent out a room in our personal residence. We highly recommend Every Landlord’s Tax Deduction Guide. If you aren’t able to put in the time to learn the tax rules and deductions available, go find an accountant for help.

Camscanner is a handy little scanning app for iOS/Android devices for all your various receipts and bills. Take a photo on your phone and the app will auto-size and color correct it automatically. Indispensable and FREE! Once a receipt is scanned, upload it directly from Camscanner to a cloud storage service. Google Drive is a favorite.

Evernote gets used every day for staying organized. Notebooks and sticky notes have their places, but Evernote allows you to search and link across all your notes and ideas. Also FREE for basic use (two devices, plus web access).

Sync your Airbnb calendar to your main calendar. Google Calendar is a breeze to sync up and allows you to see guest reservations alongside your other activities. Could you ever go back to pen and paper calendars? <shudder>

Resources

Finally, here are a few other resources we found helpful.

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