For all the controversy about people illegally renting out their apartments on Airbnb and making affordable housing harder to find for long-term renters, you might think most Airbnb hosts were making bank. But with a median income of just $440 a month, according to data reported by loan company Earnest, hosts' typical haul is surprisingly modest.
Wondering how to get into this elite group? It’s all about impressing your guests from the get-go. From wowing them with amazing photos of your home before they book to having an ample supply of fluffy towels, here are some tips on how to become a superhost too.
The devil is in the details
"When you’re traveling, you still want to have a little bit of the comforts that you’re familiar with,” said Sean Rosas, a superhost in South San Francisco. That can include everything from shaving cream in the bathroom to sugar and cream in the kitchen for coffee.
And while the specific needs of each guest vary, everyone wants fast wifi and lush bath towels, said former Airbnb host and blogger Symon He.
If you're renting out a high-end place, consider splurging for “premium additions,” as Huzefa Kapadia, a former Airbnb superhost and the author of Get Paid For Your Pad, calls them. These include things like curtains that block out all outside light ($30), foam tops on mattresses for extra comfort ($99), and earplugs and eye masks by every bed ($13).
Two extra details that cost nothing are a free city map from your city tourism information center and flyers for popular attractions which sometimes have coupons or discounted entry fee tickets. Or kick things up a notch by providing a detailed local guidebook. To really get fancy, leave out an iPad that guests can use to swipe through your suggestions.
Not sure which extras make sense for your rental? “Look at the top performing listings in your market and see which amenities show up for these listings, but not for typical listings in the market,” He said. “Look for opportunities to add amenities that fit the reasons for your guest's travel, like providing outdoor equipment for guests traveling to explore the outdoors.”
Does your pad pass the first test?
When renters browse listings, the first thing they see is the pictures.
“People book first with their eyes,” said He. “Poor photos lead to fewer click throughs, fewer bookings, and less money. Not having a professional to do your photos is a huge missed opportunity for many hosts, especially new hosts.”
So make sure your photos pop. If you can't afford to hire a professional photographer (Airbnb even offers them for a fee), be sure to shoot pics on a sunny day or tweak the brightness and contrast on pics before posting. It never hurts to add fresh flowers and clear any clutter before the photo shoot too.
Of course, high-quality photos aren’t going to be much of a sell if your place isn’t well-decorated in the first place. Rosas advises hosts to present a cohesive interior design that is both authentic to their own tastes, while also representative of the area that the rental is located.
“Have a theme that you want in your home,” he said. “For us, it was really easy because it’s the Bay Area, so we made it very relevant to the area where we are. It has this warm Old World charm but with an eye towards the modernity that we need in our lives.”
“If you’re just randomly putting up the extra photos that you had in your house and the art that you didn’t know what to do with, that will be reflected in the quality—that comes across,” he noted. “People are very attuned to that.”
Make sure the price is right
The biggest mistake casual Airbnb hosts make is overestimating how much money they can actually charge. “Even in the hottest markets, there are pockets where there is just not enough demand to make it worthwhile to host,” said He. “Know your price before jumping in.”
A good rule of thumb: “If you get no bookings, you've priced too high,” said Kapadia. "But if you do your homework by viewing other listings, you will get a good education on what a reasonable rental rate is.”
Airbnb's pricing calculator gives you a ballpark idea of how much you can earn, based on location and size of the rental, but other services like AirDNA give a more realistic estimate by tracking average occupancy rates, daily rates, and monthly revenue for active listings in your area. For the most useful neighborhood data, often broken down by zip code, the service charges between $10 and $40 a month.
Manage your costs
“Running an Airbnb is a business, folks, so you’re going to have a business mind,” Rosas said. That means making sure you are not spending more money than you are making.
So before you splurge on thousand dollar mattresses, for example, make sure you have enough in the bank to pay for them so you don't wind up paying a crazy high interest rates on your credit card while you wait for more bookings.
For Airbnb hosts on a tight budget, it’s best to buy in bulk. For instance, you can get a pack of 200 ear plugs for $18 or a 50 eye masks for $35. And if you want cheap furniture, head to IKEA’s “as-is” section, which sells pre-assembled showroom pieces at a discounted price, or scout out garage sales on weekends for knick knacks like mirrors, lamps and vases at a reasonable price.
Most importantly, save the receipts, because you can write off everything you buy as a business expense come tax time. “Make sure you itemize [on your tax return] because you’re going to change how you’re going to report them on your taxes," said Rosas. "If you’ve been doing the 1040EZ—buddy, those days are over.”
A little something extra—for you and your guests
It's possible to bring in even more money than your nightly rate by offering extras like restaurant recommendations and airport runs.
Suggesting nearby places to visit or eat can earn you commissions. For example, when guests ask, “Can you recommend a good place to eat?” just direct them to your list of recommendations online on a site like My Dining List , which gives you a cut of the advertising revenue that comes from visitors browsing the site, suggests Oslo-based Airbnb superhost and tips blogger Jan Yngve Jordet.
You can also make money by arranging airport transfers for a fee. Pay a friend with a car to pick up your guests from the airport or order an Uber. Just make sure to price this service higher than your costs to make an easy $20 or $40 per ride.
And remember—don’t forget the plush towels.