Finding the market supply of long-term rentals incredibly tight, we decided in late 2017 to invest in a condo in Northern Michigan.
This wouldn’t be a long-term rental. Nope.
In this summertime tourist hot spot, we’d establish our first short-term vacation rental. But we needed a complete setup checklist to make this conversion profitable as soon as possible.
New Airbnb Setup Cost
Typically on most long-term rentals, you’ll fork over about $5K – $10K (or 5 to 10 times that for rehabs) to get a place ready for tenants. With a vacation rental, you might as well add about $10K to factor in the cost of furnishings and supplies.
Our 1,000-square-foot condo required about $7,000 in remodeling work. I hired a pro painter and it wasn’t cheap, but I don’t regret it. I’ve painted countless interiors over the years and don’t mind the work, but it is time-consuming. Add in vaulted ceilings, and game over.
I did sign up to replace the carpeting DIY. OOF. To give a sense of what our unit looked like before we got our hands on it, have a look at this pic:
Without a healthy face-lift, our place wouldn’t have made very many bookings. Vacancies in high season, or, renting at low rates would’ve made for a dud of an investment. That carpeting in the photo above is the original nasty nap from 2005. The walls and trim were abused and dull.
Easy upgrades that didn’t take too much time to complete:
- New goose-neck style kitchen faucet ($243)
- New kitchen cabinet hardware (we went with brushed nickel handles for $32 on Amazon)
- Nest thermostat ($177)
- SCHLAGE Sense door lock ($243) – This allows guests to tap in the code for easy check-in. No keys!
- Google Wi-Fi Station ($124) – Elegant and easy to set up
There are some tactics you can use to mitigate the upfront costs. A very handy Home Depot credit card offer allowed me to defer the Pergo, Faucet, and Schlage Lock for 24 months at zero percent interest.
I ended up paying it off in full within a few months, but it was nice to have the flexibility.
Remember second-hand options. My parents still have a lot of stuff from their recent downsizing. Our unit benefited from a rarely used toaster oven, coffee maker, and other kitchen essentials. All of this adds up.
Even though your up-front costs could be fairly significant, if your forecast and market research pan out, you’ll recoup those costs in no time. For us, a typical summer month generates over $4,000 in net returns.
Given five fully booked months from May to September, our condo will return $20,000 before the low season arrives in November.
1. Make Your Airbnb Rental SHINE
Getting your vacation rental ready for prime time requires a good eye for design and lots of elbow grease. Learn what good interior flow is and how to make a space welcoming for guests.
One tip I can offer: Spend a night in a newly-built quality hotel. Even the newer Holiday Inn Express hotels are super nice. The rooms are minimalist and modern, with the right blend of colors and textures. The spaces flow.
When we bought our condo, the place had been used over the previous decade as a Coast Guard rental. The carpet was original, and the walls were beaten up all to hell. There weren’t any improvements made since its construction.
As a result, we had to essentially remodel 80% of the space to bring it up close to Holiday Inn “par”. New flooring, new light fixtures, and re-painted walls, doors, and ceilings. You name it.
The following Airbnb setup checklist will help ensure your vacation rental looks and feels welcoming to guests:
- Floors. I highly recommend wood flooring throughout the living spaces. Laminate works great if you buy a quality product and install it with precision. Linoleum is fine in baths and kitchens, so long as it’s a neutral color that doesn’t distract. I like linoleum because things tend to bounce off when dropped on them. Ceramic tile? You’re looking at a lot of broken dishes and glasses.
- Walls. Go with a light beige or “greige” (a combination of light gray and beige). Avoid anything dark and avoid primary colors. Use large and interesting art pieces, sparingly. Large mirrors are very important, especially in small spaces. Place them to maximize outdoor light.
- Use area rugs to dampen sound and tie rooms together. You don’t need anything fancy. Walmart has decent rugs for cheap. Be sure to get the no-slip pads underneath to keep the rugs in place.
- Look for furniture that’s modern but timeless. I like IKEA to get ideas. And then I use Wayfair.com to find a similar style. I like Wayfair because of its free shipping and superior customer service. If anything is damaged or defective, they’ll replace or refund it, no questions asked!
- Don’t go crazy with the kitchen. If anything, the cabinet doors and drawers should have pull handles or knobs installed. I tend to think white cabinets and drawers offer a clean, open look. But you don’t need to buy all new stainless appliances. Maybe a new gooseneck faucet to provide a focal point is nice. But overall, just make sure the kitchen is sparkling CLEAN.
2. Create an Appealing Space
Removing the tack strips from concrete padding? That sucked. Thankfully, we got a hold of some serious pry bars and were able to pop those strips out. It was a workout though. Fortunately, the padding wasn’t overly glued down, so scraping up bits of it was no big deal.
By the time we were finished, we had filled up the entire cargo capacity of my stepdad’s Silverado with dead carpeting. Don’t ask about the complex’s dumpster. I am not a friend of the earth after this past weekend…
One thing you’ll realize while remodeling a vacation rental: It’s NOTHING like setting up a long-term rental.
Vacation rentals are a never-ending list of to-do’s to get your Airbnb ready for that first booking. Hone your planning skills, keep checklists, and enlist HELP. You will get there!
After our remodeling weekend, we had another month and a half to wrap up shopping online for furnishings (Wayfair.com, Sam’s Club for mattresses). As I mentioned earlier, Ikea inspired the style, while the goods came from Wayfair.
After the painting and flooring, the bedrooms were empty. The living space didn’t have any tables or stands. No beds, no lamps, no towel bars in the bathrooms.
A lot of work lay ahead. You get your first mortgage bill in December and realize you can’t host until February, and you get a little nervous.
We got it done though. A long weekend of a concerted effort in mid-January allowed us to prepare the place for its very first guest. Those checklists come in handy. And I had a lot of boxes to unpack and furniture to assemble from Wayfair.com.
Did I mention how much shopping is involved? After I went into Costco and bought a 40″ LED television, I packed it into the trunk and proceeded to go back in for more.
The shopping carts at Costco are relatively huge, so you should be fine. Of course, if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll wind up in the pain reliever section with a cart like THIS:
It’s important to score deals and use coupons wherever possible. Every little bit helps. We used a 30% off Kohl’s coupon to procure all of the bedding (sheets, pillow protectors, mattress covers, duvets, etc.).
Hopefully, setting up a home is the kind of work that turns your crank. I put in 12-18 hour days for three days over that chilly January weekend to complete our setup.
3. Set a Budget for Furniture, Rugs, Linens, Electronics, etc.
Talk about a stack of receipts! Home Depot, Costco, Sam’s Club, and Walmart. Kohl’s too? Basics like towels and linens are good buys at Costco. We filled an entire shopping cart with bath towels.
I recommend stocking enough towels for three turnovers, in case a towel or two goes missing or gets wrecked.
Pro Host Tip: White is a great choice for linens but NOT for washcloths. Too often we’ve had guests use our white washcloths to remove makeup, and that’s a lot of stains that do not come out. Instead, buy dark gray or black washcloths specific for makeup removal. Have your cleaning crew set out 3 to 5 of these on the vanity with each turnover.
4. A Typical Condo Airbnb Furnishing Checklist
Here is the checklist we used to get our place ready. There were a bunch of things that came later, but you don’t need everything under the sun right out of the gates. But man, a lot goes into furnishing even a basic 2BR condo!
5. Allow Time for Deep Cleaning
One of the last stops I didn’t mention was the grocery store. It’s important to save money where you can, and avoid dining out during the setup process. Unless you’re in the middle of remodeling, your kitchen should be able to handle it.
Besides, this is the time when you can put your pad through its paces. Cook your meals and do your laundry. Be sure that the appliances are in fine working order. Going out to grab food all the time would’ve cost me precious time.
God bless my mom. When we took possession of our unit after closing, she volunteered to deep clean the kitchen. That means getting behind the range and fridge, where years of crud, dust, and spills had built up over 12 years.
I don’t believe the appliances in our unit had ever been moved for cleaning. A little advice if you didn’t know: It’s really important to keep good airflow underneath a modern fridge. It doesn’t take much in the way of dust bunnies to clog up the vent and cause your compressor to fail.
The main kitchen light fixture was a haven for dead flies of all species. Congealed with cooking grease to fossilize in fluorescent glee…
With any vacation rental, be ready to invest time and energy to make that kitchen spotless. And then, make sure your cleaning crew is programmed to keep it spotless.
After emptying and breaking down countless cardboard boxes, and after assembling every solid piece of furniture, and hanging mirrors and prints and towel bars, you get something like THIS:
Tips for Airbnb Hosts Managing a Rental From Afar
- Avoid social media for a few days so you can FOCUS.
- Assemble your furniture with a power drill. I spent the first two days using just the screwdriver and man, that got OLD FAST.
- Take photos of the model/serial labels in all of your appliances. You never know when you’ll need to call in service.
- Use two nails or hanging posts for all wall coverings. Off-kilter art and mirrors don’t look good.
- Set up the bed first, so you have a nice place to sleep that first night.
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