At this point in the Airbnb Experiment, I’m pretty satisfied. I think I’ve made the right choices, and certainly put in the work to make this project an eventual success. I should be happy with how many bookings I’ve got this year. Four guests have stayed already and many more to follow, particularly this summer. All the fun stats are now on display on this blog’s right nav bar.
It may be an obvious point, but man, these vacation rentals are a heckuva lot more work to manage than our long-term rentals. Yeesh! If I didn’t have time for social media before, the Airbnb condo is making it downright impossible now. What kind of “work” is involved, when you’re hundreds of miles away from the actual premises? Allow me to explain!
Airbnb makes it pretty easy to manage all this stuff, in complete fairness. The thing is, if you want to build and keep up a reputation for excellent customer service, you’ve got to communicate early and often with your guests. That means sending a note before they arrive:
“Hello, Jane! I’m looking forward to hosting you and your group this weekend. Please let me know if I can be of assistance for anything you need. I’m happy to offer suggestions on activities, dining, and sites to see. You’ll receive your entry code the day of check-in via a special link from Airbnb. Best!”
It’s not much, but you need to remember to do this every time. And with Airbnb, you might have 3 or 4 different guests in a given week. My minimum stay is 2 nights, so it could easily happen, at some point.
Thankfully, Airbnb has a few tricks up its sleeves to help us noob hosts out. The “Saved Messages” feature is super helpful. It allows you to keep a set of templates for just about any situation. Just swap out the names and the rest of the content can be sent off as boilerplate.
There’s also a bit of back and forth that can happen during a guest’s stay. Sometimes a guest simply likes to have someone to text with. Must be a social media thing, I dunno.
I had a guest a few weeks back who couldn’t stop gushing about how awesome the place was, which was music to my ears (eyes), but after a few more messages asking “where did you buy this piece or that piece?” it started to get old.
Still, you have to take the time to respond, and treat your guest with respect. That extra effort pays off, especially when you get those 5-star reviews rolling in!
On Checking-out and Cleaning
After a wonderful couple of days at Cubert’s Magic Kingdom, I send another message, as a friendly prod to prepare to check-out. I set 10AM as the check-out time, in case I get new guests arriving the same day. This allows the cleaning person a healthy window to reset the place. (However, during this slower season, I’m letting guests linger for an extra few hours if they’d like to. These small gestures add up.)
“Thank you again for choosing to stay at our cozy pad! Please remember to do what you can within reason, to leave the condo the way you found it. Take any food you brought, and drop your garbage in the dumpster in the back of the parking lot. Our cleaning person will handle the towels and linens, etc. Feel free to stay an extra hour or two if you’d like, but be sure to turn off all lights on the way out. Please come back again soon, and safe travels!”
Wow. That little note wasn’t too shabby, actually. I just saved that one over on Airbnb for future use. Easy peasy!
Not all guests are equal
I’m fortunate to have a pretty reliable cleaning person on the case, but she’s not always able to get over there the day of check-out. This is somewhat worrisome, because I’d like to be sure there aren’t lights left on, or appliances (stove/oven/fireplace/bath fan) left on unnecessarily.
She’ll generally get in within 48 hours, and we haven’t run into any big problems just yet. The worst of the first batch of guests chose to leave ALL the lights on, including the electric fireplace, for God-knows-what reason. And, they figured it a good idea to take an entire pack of make-up remover wipes with them.
Maybe that’s karma for our habit of sometimes taking those little bottles of shampoo from hotels that we’ve stayed at. But taking that shit from an Airbnb, in Costco quantities?? C’mon!!
You just need to grin and bear it. I had jumped the gun, and given this guest a 5-star review, and she had done likewise in return. I would’ve still given a good review, even had I known sooner about the lights and swiped wipes, but my commentary would’ve included some flags for future hosts.
Lesson learned – wait until the cleaning person or property manager does a walk-through, before leaving a guest review! DUH!!!
Cleaning and Stocking
Just like all guests aren’t equal, neither is the cleaning that ensues after each stay. Sometimes it takes my cleaner two hours, and other times three. Not a big deal. However, I give my cleaner a $25 bonus for every 5-star review we get for cleanliness. That means a three-hour job could run me $100.
It’s simply the price you have to pay to make sure your place is ready for a steady stream of guests. Cleanliness is something you can’t afford to go cheap on. I’d rather pay a bit more, and offer an incentive, than to get reviews that mention sticky floors, hairs in the tub, or soap scum on the shower walls. It’s really non-negotiable.
In addition to coordinating the cleaning action, and making payments to my cleaner via PayPal, I’ve got to work with her to stay on top of stocking supplies. Simple things like toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, soap, and what-not get used up fast as you churn through guests.
I also have my cleaning lady put out a bottle of wine for each new guest. Whew! Thankfully, I can count on my parents to help with Costco runs to help keep the place stocked.
How we doin’?
So far, the return on investment is in the negative, about -10% cash on cash returns. Same as if you took $30,000 and invested in the stock market, and it tanked 10% by the end of 2018. I’m not discouraged though.
Yes, the cost to set up the pad was almost 25% more than what I had planned for ($15,000 v. $12,000.) And yes, I hadn’t taken into account the extra fees I’d owe to the listing aggregators (3% cut goes to Airbnb.) Oh, and I’m using Beyond Pricing to help me automate pricing – thanks to a tip by the Financial Panther. That’s another 1%. Sometimes it feels like death by a thousand cuts.
All that said, I’ve only booked 50 nights so far this year. There are still almost 250 nights left in 2018. PLENTY of opportunity time left to reach my initial goal of an ROI of 18% this year. Frankly, I’d be happy with an ROI of 10% for this inaugural 12 month period.
A 10% return is respectable for any investment. And I know that with more experience, good reviews and additional effort, this place will yield very nice returns.
As for the “part-time job” quip? Yeah, it is extra work, but as I get smarter about things like “saved messages” and settle into a routine, it’s gotten easier. And hey, I’m almost within 500 days of my early retirement goal. Gotta think of things to keep from getting bored then, right?!?
If you’re interested in visiting the most beautiful part of Michigan, check out my listing. Let me know in your reservation request that you found the pad on this site, and I’ll offer a 10% discount. Oh, and if you’re new to Airbnb, sign up here to get some credit (40 bucks!) on your first trip!