Features editor Christine Ryan’s tips and tricks for making the most of renting out your place on Airbnb
I’d never really thought of myself as a potential Airbnb host. Although I live in a place that’s ridiculously popular with visitors—Bernal Heights, in San Francisco—my apartment has just one bedroom and one bathroom. And as close relatives (whose visits I honestly do look forward to—I swear, Mom!) will confirm, I am someone who needs her own space. However, I was going back east for a couple of weeks over the holidays last year, then heading to Healdsburg for most of January, house-sitting for some family friends. Why not rent out my place while I was gone?
Well, one reason was my cat, who wasn’t coming east with me. A friend who Airbnbs a spare room in his apartment claims that his dog is popular with his guests, but it’s not like they have to actually take care of him.
Still, it was worth a shot. (Places a lot less charming than mine were renting for $300 a night!) First, I wrote the listing, which was hard, treading that thin line between being boring and bragging. Then I took some pictures, posted them, and set a price (a low, low $140 a night) … all to a big collective yawn from the greater Airbnb community. After two weeks, I’d had not a nibble. Then again, I was basically asking someone to cat-sit and pay me for the privilege, so I can’t say I was all that surprised.
What did surprise me was that I qualified for a free Airbnb photo shoot. The guy came by one Saturday, spent about an hour taking pictures (and suggesting I fold the throw that I’d thought was artfully draped over one chair). But by the time he’d edited them and they were approved by the Airbnb powers that be, I was back east already, so I figured I’d missed my chance. The cat went to stay with a kind friend.
Halfway through my stay in New England, though, I got a text, via Airbnb, that some guy wanted to book my place for a couple of nights. Too late, of course. Had I but known, there are companies that can act as substitute innkeepers: They’ll prep your place for you, do the key handoff, and clean up after your guests are gone. (In San Francisco, check out AirEnvy, Beyond Stays, Guesthop, and Urban Bellhop.)
Then, a few days after I arrived in Healdsburg, I received a second text, this one from a nice couple in San Diego who used to live in S.F., had friends in my neighborhood, and wanted to rent my place the next weekend. They seemed like the perfect way to test the waters: They knew the city and the neighborhood, plus they came with local references. They might actually not be ax murderers or meth cookers.
Which reminded me—I’d had vague plans for adding a lock to one big closet and stashing my valuables there in case of sudden rental. Hadn’t happened, of course. And, when I thought about it, what was I going to put in there? My road bike was with me in Healdsburg. My cat was with me in Healdsburg. My car was with me in Healdsburg. My laptop and iPad were, yes, with me in Healdsburg. Jewelry? Please. Clothing? Help me weed out my closets! My TV? Who’s going to carry a three-year-old Costco special down two flights of stairs?
So what preparations did I end up making? I drove down to the city, vacuumed like mad, put clean sheets on the bed and towels in the bathroom, tossed out anything in the fridge that looked questionable, and cleared out a shelf in the medicine cabinet. I thought about clearing out a drawer in a dresser, but no time. I thought about clearing some hangers in a closet, but no time. (I had a spare coat rack, which I dubbed their “closet.”) In the end, I decided to treat the whole situation, emotionally speaking, like I had friends of friends staying in my place rather than hotel guests. Which they seemed happy with. Ms. San Diego came to pick up the keys with her 2-year-old (my place is not particularly childproof, but she didn’t seem worried) and her local friend. I showed her around, printed out the directions I usually leave with cat-sitters—the peculiarities of the remote controls, the Wi-Fi password—and then we hugged, just as if she were a friend of a friend.
And the San Diegans were no trouble at all. They texted once, to ask if there was a space heater. (Yes, but I also said, “Hey, feel free to just crank up the thermostat.” Note to self: Add heating to directions sheet.) When I got back down to S.F., a couple of days after they left, the only signs anyone had been there were some organic baby food in the freezer, a pack of fancy marshmallows on the counter, which I took to be a house gift, and a few things out of place: mugs in the wrong cabinet, spoons in the wrong drawer. The kind of thing that can be ever so slightly annoying when a houseguest does it, but then, houseguests aren’t paying $140 a night.