Katie Dailey shares the reality of an Air BnB side hustle…
Last year, after toying with the idea for ages, we put our family home up on Airbnb. Not a spare home we happen to have, but the one we live in and make a mess of. We had a couple of trips planned which would otherwise leave the house empty, and plenty of ways we could imagine spending the cash.
As anyone who does this will tell you, hosting on Airbnb is both the best and worst thing in the world – nightmarish to prepare, joyous to get paid for. This isn’t so much a how-to – it’s easy enough to list your place on the site, although I’d recommend getting someone with a decent camera to take the pics – but a how-to-make-it-a-bit-easier-to. Interested in having your hols paid for by strangers? Read on.
Settings are everything
Airbnb seems to be obsessed with signing everyone up to autobook – that means if your house is marked available on certain calendar dates, guests can book without checking with you first. Well, I turned that right off and I suggest you do the same – I like to check people out really carefully first (see next point) and then approve them if I trust them and their configuration works for me (i.e. I never want an adult sleeping in my kids’ bunk beds. I don’t know why but that’s my line in the sand). Remember to always keep your calendar updated. An annoying Airbnb setting means that everything is marked available until you mark it unavailable. So DO go through and block out all but your chosen dates, up to six months (or whenever you set the maximum booking window for). And set a minimum booking – mine is for seven days – who can be bothered to sort out the whole house for a one night rental?
Be picky about your guests – you’re allowed to be
This is probably obvious but think about the way your house will be used and approve bookings you’re comfortable with. I only take bookings from people with little kids. Being in one myself, I know that families with young children are likely to play with your toys, but they’re not likely to have thirty mates round and host a Boiler Room session. You may have pristine white carpets and choose to not rent to people with kids. I also only choose people with existing reviews, and I often cross check them with LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook – just to check that they look like good people and that they’re who they say they are. This sounds like a lot of work but I only have about three weeks of the year that are open to booking so really, it isn’t. Airbnb definitely prefers hosts who accept all bookings, and prioritises those listings, but I’d rather lose out on host of the year and have people in the house that I’m comfortable with.
It turns out you DO have time to fix the broken floorboard/clean the cutlery drawer/touch up the paintwork
Anyone who owns a house has got a little mental checklist of maintenance jobs on the go: deep cleaning the fridge, changing that lightbulb on the porch, fixing that floorboard. Writing the list is about as far as we normally get. But it’s amazing what the imminent arrival of someone who doesn’t know the quirks of the house does for your time management – we found ourselves painting floorboards after the kids had gone to bed, sorting out kitchen drawers while on an interminable phone call to BT. All of this is very annoying – no one wants to do those jobs. But an Airbnb booking forces you to. And then, well, they’re done! That’s a great thing to come home to.
People don’t expect a hotel (if they did, they’d book one)
At Christmas, I didn’t have the time/energy/heart to do the great clean up when I had a million other things on the go. So I turned down any enquiries on Airbnb and got ready for Christmas instead. We left the house clean and tidy – but not hotel tidy. There were some bits in the washing basket, our clothes were in the wardrobes, our spaghetti and tinned tomatoes were in the food cupboard. On Christmas Eve, in the countryside and getting ready for Christmas, I had a message from a family whose accommodation in London had fallen through. They seemed really trustworthy and nice, and promised they wouldn’t open our wardrobes or touch our stuff. I believed them, and we got a week’s rental income having done NO preparation. They loved the house, gave us a great review and when we came back our pants were still where we left them, in the laundry basket.
The more info you leave out, the less likely you are to get called on the beach. I’ve now got a big info sheet on my desktop that I print out when we Airbnb. It has a section on appliances, bins (people always ask about the bins), local transport and good-to-know stuff like restaurants and parks. Because I always rent to families, I include things like local soft play and recommended kids’ museums.
Organise your drawers so you can easily lift and store the contents
The major Airbnb workload is clearing and finding somewhere to put your stuff. We don’t have a loft, a shed or any little lockable study to stuff things in – that would make it miles easier. Instead, I clear the top drawers and one wardrobe in every room. Our stuff remains in the rest. Since I started Airbnb, all of my kids’ drawers are separated with these from Ikea. When prepping for Airbnb I lift them all straight into one of these (make sure you get one in a compatible size), and then put them on top of the wardrobes. That takes five minutes. Any drawers that I don’t empty I cover with a plain pillow case and tuck them in, just as a sign that they’re out of bounds. It’s nothing a curious person couldn’t undo in a second, but in my experience people don’t come to nose through your stuff, they come to explore your city. And if they do want to look at some babygrows, well, I’ll never know. In my room, I somehow manage to squeeze all my stuff into my husband’s wardrobe, leaving one free, and do the same thing with the drawers – clear the top two drawers into a storage box and stick it on top of a wardrobe. These zip up containers are great too – they can be hidden under a bed, then folded down to nothing when you don’t need them.
Invest in a spare set of cheapo bedsheets
Most people I know that host have a box of Airbnb towels and sheets. It just means there are always bright white, mystery splodge-free towels to leave out, and that guests are never using the same bed sheets as us. Plain white ones from H&M or Ikea cost little and it’s nice just to have them in a drawer ready to go.
Smart devices come into their own with Airbnb
We have NEST installed which means I can put the heating on remotely if someone’s arrival time changes, and the house needs to be warmed up for them. It also means no one can turn the heating up to 30 and then just go out for the day – NEST is pretty good at sensing when there’s no one in the house and clocking off. We had it anyway – I wouldn’t bother installing just for Airbnb as we do it rarely – but if you have a Smart system then it’s a real Airbnb plus.
It’s a risk but it also removes some risk
We live in east London, and there’s a lot of burglary around. While the way I do things on Airbnb (keeping our stuff in the house and often in view) leaves us vulnerable in some ways, I actually feel a lot better leaving our home in the hands of a really nice seeming young family than obviously empty.
7 grand don’t come for free
Unless you do this seriously or frequently, you won’t reach the £7500 threshold for being taxed on income from the home you live in – but you might still have to declare the income. Have a look at the information on the government’s website – I haven’t got to the end of the relevant tax year yet so can’t speak for how complicated it is to do. But basically if you earn above £7500 as your annual income, you’ll have to fill out a tax return for your airbnb income. If you share the income with a partner, that allowance is split between you (i.e. you can’t make £7500 on Airbnb and then have your partner declare £7500 on theirs).
Don’t think about it
The number one reason people seem to have for not renting out their home to others is the idea of another family sitting in your chairs, eating your porridge and sleeping in your beds. There’s no getting around it – that’s going to happen. But it’s surprisingly easy not to think about it – as soon as you’re on your way to whatever it is that’s taking you out of the house (with us, it’s always a holiday), you don’t give your houseguests much more than a thought. Until you get a lovely paycheck notification from PayPal. That Brazilian family who requested use of a highchair just paid for your trip to Spain!
I love this idea but also about swapping! I live in the outer Hebrides and often think of a trip to London for the children and visiting galleries etc. that they just don’t see up here. Equally I know people love the part of world I live in. Hmm thinking now!
Catherine Mottram says
I have a flat in london and have done Airbnb a few times plus house swaps, and I have had a hankering to go to the outer Hebrides (if you want to check out my place its on this home swap site: https://www.homeexchange.com/homes/view/286584)