When Inez Valk put a clawfoot tub in the upstairs bedroom of her country house, she didn’t anticipate that guests would get carried away “by the romance of their surroundings,” as she delicately puts it, overflowing the tub so bathwater seeped through the floorboards.
“We urgently — but gingerly — knocked on the door and were greeted by flushed, sheepish guests,” she recalls. “Then we called a plumber.”
Becoming a successful Airbnb host isn’t just about landing a booking; it’s about what happens after the guests arrive. You wouldn’t know that from looking at Airbnb’s website, however. For all its splashy photos and big, useful maps, Airbnb focuses more on the nuts and bolts of hosting — regulations, insurance, and safety — rather than offering helpful tips for choosing bed linens, schmoozing with guests, and, for better or worse, setting the mood.
“People who have chosen to go this route are not just looking for a well-appointed hotel room,” Valk says. “They are looking to engage their imaginations,” which may mean finding imaginative uses for a beautiful clawfoot tub.
First-time Airbnb hosts need to think beyond nailing the practical bullet points — like “the requisite number of glasses, blackout curtains, and packaged bathroom products,” according to Valk — and consider why travelers are paying to live in a stranger’s house in the first place.
Natascha Folens, an interior designer in Washington, D.C., who specializes in Airbnb rentals and runs two of her own in Middleburg, Virginia, and Ibiza, Spain, echoes this sentiment. “If you search in D.C., you get over 1,000 properties,” she says. “So how do you stand out?”
People choose Airbnb for the homey experience, says Valk, who lists her beautiful Catskills studio, Table On Ten, on the website. Guests yearn to engage with hosts, even if that means having “a first cup of coffee together while we’re still setting up,” she says. It’s all part of the charm and fosters a sense of belonging.
You don’t have to be a four-star tour guide, but it helps to point guests in the right direction when they have questions. “We always tell guests about activities like the state park that’s nearby, which everyone loves,” says Prentice. She recommends greeting every guest when they first arrive since “people really want to make the most of their time.”
“We try to furnish our house with things we would want if we were to come into the space,” says Prentice, who admits she has high expectations. “I like to drink out of nice glasses, so we provide good quality wine glasses and make sure there are decent knives in the kitchen drawer.”
Your rental should immediately grab people’s attention, says Folens, who has reached Superhost status on Airbnb. With clients, she says, “we’re always looking for that special feature people remember,” be it an antique tub, hip Swedish décor, or super-soft, blush-colored linens. Whatever it is, play it up.
Prentice put hanging swings on her porch because “it’s such a big thing in the South,” she explains. “We wanted guests to have a genuine Southern experience of being outside in the nice weather.” Consider what you’d do in your town if you were a visitor and try to give your guests that experience.
“All the atmosphere in the world won’t remedy a grubby bathroom,” warns Valk, before adding that no one wants to find “stuff in garbage cans, false teeth, or hairs of any kind.” Folens suggests hiring a cleaning person armed with a checklist of overlooked tasks such as scrubbing the oven, dumping out coffee, and emptying the dishwasher.
“A lot of guests leave their stuff all over the place, so the more you can remove your personal things, the better,” Folens says. “Guests don’t want to open a drawer and see your things.” Be sure to empty the closets and anywhere else guests may stash their belongings.
Your job is to create an atmosphere that encourages guests to relax. “If your design elements overwhelm basic coziness, they’re not going to relax,” says Valk. Folens agrees but sees another advantage to neutral interiors: “They’re easy to touch up if there are scratches.”
“Good mattresses, sheets, and towels” speak volumes about your attitude toward guests, says Valk. People appreciate “simple, understated good quality.” They also notice nice scents, which have “such a potent effect on the imagination.”
Having to ask a host for towels is unnerving, so make sure you’ve stocked plenty — and anything else guests may need, such as shampoo and face wash. If the space gets cold in winter, provide an extra heater to warm it up. Prentice recommends making it easy for guests to hang towels after using the shower.
Make sure the kitchen is equipped with the usual suspects, like a microwave and stove, Folens says, and stock the fridge with fresh groceries (think eggs and milk). Runners and placemats will make the dining area cozy, but above all, the kitchen should just be “functional and really clean.” Espresso machines, she adds, are always a nice touch, too.
“People are nervous about renting a house, so try to manage their expectations,” says Folens. Before they arrive, inform guests of anything they’d want to know, like whether it’s okay to park in the driveway or smoke on the patio. “We always give them the good and the bad so they’re not disappointed,” Prentice says.
A few subtle styling touches can really make a big impact, says Folens, who recommends tossing throw blankets and accent pillows on beds to make them look cozy and using bud vases to bring in nature.
“A record player is a great example,” says Valk. “One person in the bath, the other picking tracks from records they love. Who wouldn’t want that?” If you strip the space of what makes it special because you’re worried someone’s going to run off with it, you’ll seem mercenary and like you’re trying to get the deal done at a minimal cost — and guests find that to be a major turn-off.
As Valk learned, it helps to have the plumber on speed dial — and to be prepared when any features of your listing end up causing an issue. After all, it’s your property. It’s important to have a plan so you can enjoy the experience, too.
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