AirBnB: You should totally consider letting out your house!

I admit to being a bit of an AirBnB evangelist, because it has made such a difference to our family finances. I want you to have more money!

We’ve been letting out our house in Wellington, New Zealand with AirBnB for as long as we’ve owned it, whenever we’re not in it ourselves. We’ve had hundreds of guests use the house while we’ve been out of town for a few days, or overseas for months.

This is something you can do too, if you own your own home, or if your landlord agrees to you doing it. And I reckon you should!

Here’s WHY, and then in the next post, HOW.

How and why to let your house with AirBnB when you're not in it - answers, tips and reassurance from Sacraparental

 

The two things go together, of course. I know it seems daunting, but I think it’s totally worth it, and I’m here to make it as easy as possible for you!

This isn’t a sponsored post, or anything – I don’t do those – though if you want to sign up to AirBnB through my referral link, that would give me a welcome bonus that kicks in whenever you host your first guests. But that’s optional, of course, and not the reason I’m writing this.

I’m writing all of this up because I really want to make life easier for people, and a bit of extra cash will do that for most households, especially if you’re on a tight income, as many people with young children are.

While I’m mentioning money (and this whole post is about money, really, after all), today I’m launching my Patreon, a way you can support my work on Sacraparental and elsewhere, so I can keep creating this content for free. Take a look!

AirBnB as a tool for hospitality, generosity and sustainability

Just because I do always see things through a lens of making the world a better place, indulge me briefly in viewing AirBnB as a tool for doing that.

Hospitality, making sure strangers are welcome, and sheltered, is an ancient tradition, all over the world. It doesn’t necessarily mean for free, either, it just means with open generosity. There are a lot of people looking for hospitality, in that warm sense, and we can provide it by opening our homes – either when we’re in them, if we have a spare bed, or when we’re away.

I explain below why your home might be a much more pleasant option for a traveller than booking into a hotel. You are providing something kind and generous by doing this.

Because most of us will be charging much less than commercial accommodation providers, we’re also helping people out financially – and ourselves: it’s win/win, for sure.

And making the very most of our (expensive and resource-intensive) possessions is a core tenet of sustainable living. A house is meant to be occupied! AirBnB, or other house-sharing systems, lets your home be fully enjoyed, even when you’re out of town.

Why you should host with AirBnB

Apart from that cosy stuff about hospitality and sustainability, it mostly comes down to cash. You could do with a bit more, right? For kids’ music lessons or hockey fees, for warmer clothes in winter, for charitable giving, for a trip to visit a relative – you could probably make good use of a bit more income.

Most of us don’t spend 365 nights a year in their homes. We go away for weekends to see family, or attend weddings or other gatherings. If we’re lucky we get away over the summer for a few weeks’ holiday. This post is designed to make you a bit more lucky in this respect – to make it more possible for you to afford to go on holiday.

Now that sites like AirBnB (and there are plenty of others, like Bookabach and Holiday Houses in New Zealand) make it so easy to share your house with travellers, you can turn these period when you’re not at home anyway into a financial asset. If you’re in a position to do it, it’s kind of like money for nothing.

Just a note on the various websites: we use only AirBnB, for a few reasons. The main thing is that it’s international, so people travelling from overseas find us more easily. Also we’re an urban family home, definitely not a ‘bach’ or holiday house, so it seems like a better fit.

We don’t advertise with all three options at once because it would be hard to coordinate the booking calendars – one site wouldn’t know when another was accepting a booking for a particular period.

 

I don't take advertising or sponsorship for anything on Sacraparental. A new way you can give me time to write this kind of article is through Patreon. Come on over and have a look - you even get some behind-the-scenes stuff :)

I don’t take advertising or sponsorship for anything on Sacraparental. A new way you can give me time to write this kind of article is through Patreon. Come on over and have a look – you even get some behind-the-scenes stuff :)

How much money could you make per night with AirBnB or another house-sharing site?

The main factors are your location (do lots of people come there, needing accommodation?), your facilities (are people going to find what they need in your house?) and the competition (are there already thousands of similar houses on AirBnB in your area?).

Here’s a good way to figure it out: head to AirBnB.com now, and search for accommodation that’s a bit like yours – your location, your number of rooms, your type of house (a comfy family home, an executive apartment, or a sleep-out?). That will give you a bit of an idea.

Some extra data for you: What guests pay – so what you see when you do this research exercise – is slightly less than what hosts receive, because AirBnB takes a small cut. Also, people tend to put their prices up and down depending on the season or local demand, like when there’s a big event nearby. Check a few different dates.

Your listing is also more competitive when you have been doing it for a while and have loads of positive reviews (more about this later), so you might want to set a lower starting price as you get started and build credibility, knowing you can raise it as you go on.

Your location will determine how fully booked you can get, which makes a difference to your income, too, of course. If you are away on holiday for three weeks, and you live in a place where lots of people will be coming through and looking for accommodation, you might get to two-thirds occupancy, or higher if you are in a really popular place and doing everything else well, and you have your listing organised well in advance, when people are wanting to make bookings.

If you’re in a place where you don’t get too many travellers, you may get less traffic. But there will usually be people coming to visit your neighbours, or travelling for business, or looking for an out-of-the-way retreat for a friend reunion, so don’t despair if you’re not in a tourist mecca. Set your price attractively and see what happens.

AirBnB has a feature when you’re setting up that you can turn on and off, where they will estimate an appropriate price for you, based on their data on similar homes in your location, and what demand is like. I find that they tend to underestimate for our house (maybe they don’t account for the view, or the fact that we have three double beds, or whatever else means that we experience more demand than they calculate), but it could be a good starting point while you figure things out.

But is my house flash/fancy/exciting enough to tempt travellers?

Our house is in a good location for AirBnB. We’re in between the airport and the centre of Wellington, and we have a lovely view. That’s definitely half of the appeal for our guests.

Our view! Aren't we lucky!

Our view! Aren’t we lucky!

But the other half is that we have a three-bedroom house that a whole group can stay in. If you’re touring New Zealand with your in-laws, or have a big family, staying at our place is going to be miles cheaper than booking three motel rooms.

More pleasant, too. Our guests can hang out in our lounge together. They can cook their own meals in our fully-equipped (ie: normal) kitchen, and they don’t need to get dressed before they have coffee together in the morning.

Last year my family stayed in a place that was just used as an AirBnB guest house – not someone’s home normally. There were four glasses, four forks, four towels, and so on, and not nearly enough cooking utensils and pots. It makes a real difference to have a whole household full of stuff. Make sure you emphasise that in your listing (more about this in the next post.)

So even a very ordinary family home is a useful thing for groups. And ours is an ordinary home. It has three bedrooms, just one bathroom, a few cracked panes of glass in the windows and not much insulation. It’s not flash or fancy (though we’re very grateful for it).

We often have groups of three couples coming to a rugby game or festival event, or a bunch of people meeting up for a wedding weekend. An ordinary house can be great for travellers!

But what if our location isn’t popular, or attracts visitors only once a year?

If you live somewhere that hosts an annual event, that might be a good week to plan your own holiday – start a new family tradition that you have an adventure together every May or August or whenever.

When there’s a lot of demand, you can charge a price that will cover your expenses to head away, and then everyone’s a winner: conference or festival guests get a proper home to stay in, and you get a holiday!

Check your local council website for major events coming up. Think about sports events, conferences, festivals, performances, and maybe even check with local big businesses when they’re having national gatherings.

I’m not an advocate of suddenly charging $10,000 a night when the Lions are in town, but if you can figure out when there will be a lot of demand for accommodation, you might be able to make the most of occasional opportunities.

But what about all the kids’ clutter in our house?

The other main group of people we have as guests is families with kids. They love that our house is full of toys and books, and isn’t too fancy so they won’t feel terrible if they spill something on the carpet. It’s painfully obvious to everyone that our carpet has already seen many spills in its short, sad life.

When you’re travelling with children, what a relief to find new toys! You can have adult conversations while your kids play with things they’ve never seen before – even if it’s just someone else’s Duplo.

But – UGH! – what about all the cleaning I’ll have to do?

Never fear! AirBnB lets you charge a separate cleaning fee, and you can use that to pay a cleaner. This is a great way to share the love/money around!

Most guests don’t have any objection to paying a cleaning fee – they know someone has to clean the house and change the sheets, and this means they don’t have to worry about any of that as they leave the house. It’s just another piece of the booking price, and most people don’t think much about it.

I charge a relatively high cleaning fee (NZD$120), for a few reasons. When we are out of the country for a few months (we have family overseas, and lived for a year volunteering in Thailand), we can’t know in advance when the house will be occupied. Bookings come in all the time. I need to have cleaners available to come on any day of the week, so I want to pay them especially well to recognise that flexibility and because they are essential to us making any money through this.

They also need to do an excellent, superb job – no one wants to walk into a house they’ve booked and paid good money for and feel like it isn’t quite clean. They have a lot of responsibility – it’s not going to be okay for guests to turn up and find that the beds haven’t been changed since the last group!

It takes quite a lot of time to do this. Not only does our cleaner have to change three beds, vacuum and mop a whole house, clean the bathroom and kitchen and do the more occasional things like windows and the oven sometimes, she also needs to process all that linen – sheets and towels for up to seven guests. We now have a system where our cleaner takes the linen home and washes it there – two or three loads – for an extra fee on top of her hourly rate (to cover her electricity and detergent and so on).

The other great benefit of doing things this way is that you can afford to pay your cleaner to come when you leave the house and get it ready – so that’s much less stress for you at that end – and when you come home, your house is spotless!

But how can I find a cleaner to work such random times?

If you’re going away for a week or more, and will have bookings pop up without advance warning, it’s a bit tricky to arrange cleaning, but it’s solvable.

We’ve tried a few different things. I think there are three main options, for most people.

  1. Hire a cleaning firm, who will always have someone available. This will be for a fairly high hourly rate, but you’ll have the advantage of professionalism, reliability and flexibility. Do make sure you do a test run or have other reason to trust they’ll do a great job.
  2. Organise a bunch of different friends or contractors, who have different availability. This is much more work and less reliable, but we did it for a three-month period when we first started out. Our main person was a mum at home with kids at kindy and school, so she was generally flexible during the day, and could be on the weekend if necessary. Another was a student. If you do this, pay one of these people extra to be the arranger, so you don’t have to check in with everyone before you accept a booking.
  3. Best of all, find someone who is available anytime. This has worked for us. Our lovely cleaner for about two years was a woman who had kids in school, worked from home on her husband’s business, and had in-laws around so she could whip out at short notice if necessary. She usually only needed to come to our house 2-3 times a week, but she could manage any day. She had a friend and her mother who she showed how to do things as a back-up.

I found this magic woman just by asking in a Facebook mothers’ group. Give it a go!

And if you’re just going to be away for a weekend at a time, it’s much easier, because you’ll know your dates in advance.

And if you’re in a big city, like London, there will be businesses that arrange all of this for you, for a fee, so that’s all the hassle taken care of.

But how will people get the key if we’re away?

We started with a kind neighbour who would put a key in an envelope in their letterbox (it being not in our letterbox seemed more secure) whenever there was someone arriving. It worked fine, but it was one more thing to organise.

A better option is that we now have a combination lock on our back door, so we just give our guests the combination, and they let themselves in.

You could also mount a lock-box onto the side of the house, or onto a tree or washing line or something, with a combination lock, and your house-key inside it.

But will our house be okay? What about damage?

In four years we have had almost no damage to our house or possessions. Astonishing, eh? A few drinking glasses broken – about as many as we break ourselves – and one (very old) sofa that someone must have jumped on, and one of the support beams broke so it wasn’t so comfortable. We wouldn’t have even got $40 for selling that sofa, though, so it wasn’t too big a deal. That’s all. No other damage that I can recall.

Here’s the thing: AirBnB works on trust and reviews. At the end of the visit, our guest rates their experience, and we rate the guest. AirBnB sends automated reminders until we do it! If the guest was horrible to deal with, or caused major damage, we can say so, publicly, and anytime they want to stay anywhere with AirBnB in the future, hosts will have that information.

Similarly, if my guests think that my photos were misleading, or the house wasn’t clean, or something else went wrong, they can say so. Reviews are super important (more about this in the next post), so make sure you are kind and honest in everything you do.

 

Image description: Screen shot of some reviews of our house. Click through to read them.

Image description: Screen shot of some reviews of our house. Click through to read them.

 

It’s a system that works.

Perhaps we’re also in a good position because we’re a family home in a suburb and less likely to attract reckless guests – if they exist. But I don’t think problems are at all common.

Does using AirBnB affect my insurance?

You’ll need to check with your insurer to be sure, but the situation in New Zealand at least is that no one is insured for malicious damage caused by people you invite into your home – even your dinner guests, or a long-term boarder. AirBnB guests are in exactly the same position.

If you have home insurance, it covers accidental damage just as normal, if you have guests in the house.

So if your AirBnB guest (or your dinner guest, or your child) deliberately sets your house on fire, you’re not insured. But if any of those people leave an appliance on accidentally and the house burns down, you’re covered as normal.

Different countries work differently, but in many, AirBnB also covers damage by guests through its host guarantee system.

You can also charge a refundable security deposit if that makes you feel better, but I don’t. I figure it’s more of a faff than it would be worth in most circumstances, and I like sending a message of trust and respect and expecting guests to behave appropriately in return. As I say, we haven’t been disappointed yet.

But do I need to pack all our stuff away?

We don’t pack much away. A couple of boxes of precious things, the odd special toy. We leave our pictures on the walls and our magnets on the fridge (etc).

We don’t empty our drawers or cupboards. Our guests are only passing through – we almost never have a booking longer than a week, and most are 2-4 days – so I think most are perfectly happy to live out of their suitcases.

I make this clear in our listing. I say right at the beginning of the information: ‘This is our family home, available when we are away,’ so people know they’re coming to a house full of normal stuff.

 

Screen shot of our listing: click through to read it more easily.

Screen shot of our listing: click through to read it more easily.

 

It’s definitely true that knowing people are coming to stay is a good incentive for some proper decluttering and organising, but if all else fails, you can shove the piles of papers on your desk or kitchen bench into a box and pop it in a cupboard. No worries.

Some people pile all the clutter, or all the precious things into the smallest bedroom or study and lock it, then advertise the house minus that room, so that’s another option.

But what about my [insert special situation here]?

Do you have pets? A really small house? Are you in the middle of renovations? Something else that makes you hesitant?

AirBnB is very much a free market, and none of those things disqualify you. In fact, you can turn most of them into a selling point.

My advice: be really open and honest, and price accordingly.

If you have pets your guests need to care for, title your listing ‘Pets Included!’ – some people will love that! If your house is only half-painted or whatever, say ‘We’re in the middle of doing up the kitchen, so we’ve dropped our prices for the next month – get in quick!’

But…?

What else? Do you have other questions or worries? I’m super happy to chat about them! Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.

In the next post, I’ll go through the step-by-step process of how to get set up, including giving you my ‘guide to the house’ document so you can save time. I’ll talk about tax and accounting, and all the little tips and tricks I’ve gathered.

If you’re convinced – or even half-convinced! – and you are going to sign up, I’d love you to consider doing that by click my referral link. This gives me a referral fee when you start actually hosting, and doesn’t cost you anything.

And let me know what you think! Are you gonna go for it? Let me know how it goes!

If this has been helpful, you might like to check out my Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and now: PATREON!

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HOW and Why to let your house out with AirBnB whenever you're not at home. But what about the risk? Will anyone want to stay in my home? How will I arrange cleaning? What should I charge? Is it a lot of work? Answers, tips and reassurance at Sacraparental.com!

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4 comments on “AirBnB: You should totally consider letting out your house!”

  1. Heather Reply

    Hi Thalia – this was really interesting. I’m a bit uncomfortable with AirBnB, though. For all the reasons you give, it’s such a good opportunity for people who have houses they aren’t always using – and it can be a great opportunity for hospitality. But it also seems to be causing systemic issues that I don’t know how to avoid.

    I have a friend who is black, and she has told me that she doesn’t know a single other black person (herself included) who hasn’t tried to book an AirBnB place only to be told it wasn’t available. Just too much for coincidence. I would never in a million years expect you to be discriminating on the basis of race, but such things are easier to have happen in an informal system like AirBnB than in a fairly regulated system like the motel industry.

    Kind-of-relatedly, it is very difficult for people with physical disabilities to get places in AirBnB rentals – sometimes because of actual discrimination, but also because the facilities we need just often aren’t there in regular houses. I have to ask a million questions of AirBnB places that I don’t have to ask of cabins and motels, because the latter are regulated and have to provide standardised facilities, whereas people who say their house is ‘wheelchair accessible’ often don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Plus, people who have physical disabilities are much less likely to let out their houses (as we just tend to have less bandwidth than other people as daily living is that much harder and simply getting away on holiday is a major mission), so there just aren’t options for people with more severe issues than me.

    I’m torn about AirBnB. I have used their services twice (once because I was able to find a place just down the road from a wedding venue when the nearest motel was 20 min. drive away, the other time as it was vastly cheaper for a group of 8). But I don’t like doing so as I feel like I’m killing the motel industry by doing so. And the motel industry may be more expensive, more ‘boring’ and not-quite-located-where-you-want, but it is regulated to prevent discrimination and required to do things like provide a certain proportion of ‘accessible’ units (and where that has a known meaning). I think losing those would be really bad for a lot of marginalised people – and the very attractiveness of AirBnB that you describe risks that happening :-( I don’t know what to do but I wanted to raise that set of issues – either, in case you weren’t aware of them – but, even better, in the hopes you might have some thoughts/answers based on your extensive involvement!

    • thaliakr Reply

      Really good points – as always! I agree with your concerns, too.

      I would expect (but I’d have to look into it to be sure) that if you’re offering a whole house (not just a room in it) NZ hosts would be subject to human rights laws just as moteliers are, so I hope that this kind of appalling discrimination may lessen – but I agree it’s awful.

      And for sure, access issues are a big problem – and of course, not just in short-stay accommodation, but also for disabled people looking for general housing. The NZ housing stock (especially in a hilly place like Wellington) just isn’t sufficiently accessible. We need to push for it to be more so as more houses are built – I was shocked to see that the new proposed developments in Auckland don’t include nearly enough accessible homes.

      I’m not at all in favour of wiping out the motel industry, but perhaps it has got too big? A few hundred years ago/in other societies public house accommodation was/is the minority of the hospitality sector. Households routinely hosted guests. Only recently have motels boomed, and I’d see the growth in AirBnB as a sensible market correction. For the reasons you give, and others – like professionalism, predictability, convenience and so on, I don’t think AirBnB will ever replace commercial hospitality through motels etc. But the fact that staying in an AirBnB *is* vastly cheaper and better quality than motel accommodation in lots of cases means it has a place in the sector, I reckon.

      • Heather Reply

        Interesting. I hadn’t thought of it as a market correction, but that’s given me food for thought!

        With regards to the AirBnB system and discrimination, I guess I’d be more convinced they were taking it seriously if it was them (rather than, as it seems from that article, the state of California) who were initiating spot checks – and even more so if all listings were subject to such checks, rather than just the minority that were from people with multiple listings. But it is a start, and hopefully it will spread! I suspect systematic checking is much more likely to lead to prosecutions than people like my friend complaining: systematic checks can involve people with identical profiles (except for race) applying for the same property, so it can be more clearly demonstrated that race is the issue.

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