A Drink On My Patio: 10 Prep Tips for First-Time AirBnB Hosts

I don’t know exactly when what I did for a living, my title and the amount of my salary (as well as how easily I could spend it without worrying much about what I was spending it on) became such an important part of my identity. It’s only now, when I have neither a title nor a salary for the first time in 16 years, that I’m noticing the absence of both.

It’s also hard not to notice how closely financial decisions are intertwined with emotions. This feels especially ironic because a large part of my previous role was managing the finances of the organization I was a part of: specifically forecasting and recognizing revenue. I had an intimate understanding of the details, data and decisions involved in ensuring a successful outcome. The goal was to forecast accurately and deliver financial results. I did this effectively, but dispassionately. There was no point in getting emotional about whether or not we were going to hit our monthly or quarterly numbers. My job was to ensure the processes we had in place were running smoothly, the people on the team were executing reliably and our clients were happy and ready to sign-off on the work that was delivered.

Yet, in my personal life (at least until I decided to stop working), I only had a high-level view of my personal finances. Unless I was making a major, life-changing purchase (like buying a house), there was little emotion involved in what I spent or saved. Money came in and money went out, and as long as there weren’t any surprises, that was that. Now that I’m living off my savings, every financial decision I make seems to have an emotional component to it.

Even though not working is an intentional choice and part of my midlife-awakening career “pause,” the fact remains that I need to generate some income. Luckily, we live in a world where it’s easier than ever to use your assets, your skills, and your time to participate in the “sharing economy.” I’ve decided to do just that by becoming a first-time AirBnB host. Tomorrow, I have two couples from Kansas City staying at my house for five days.

I’ve used AirBnb plenty of times as a guest, but never as a host. Given that I can make $225 per night and up (based on the research I’ve done of similar AirBnB properties in my neighborhood and AirBnB’s pricing recommendations for my house), I’d be crazy not to try it in my current situation. That being said, it’s a ton of work to get your place ready as a host for the first time. If you’re considering trying it, be forewarned: it’s a significant up-front investment of money and time, and you’ll likely lose money the first time you host (see the two separate shopping lists below if you don’t believe me); however, once you’ve gotten everything organized and ready for your guests, each subsequent time you host will get easier to prepare for and will generate a profit.

The way I’m looking at it, my first hosting experience is really about getting a great review, which will increase the likelihood of getting more bookings in the future. I’ve learned a lot in the process of getting my house ready for hosting, so I thought I would share my top 10 tips for anyone preparing to be an AirBnB host for the first time. Keep in mind that my experience is based on owning a home in the Denver area, so if you’re living in another city or state, rent, or own an apartment or condo with an HOA, your experience will likely vary.

  1. Learn the rules: In Denver county, you can only legally host through AirBnB if you are using your primary residence. In addition, you’ll need to apply for a short-term rental license from the City of Denver for $25 and then display your license number with your AirBnB listing (once you receive it). You will also need to apply for the Occupational Privilege Tax and the Lodgers Tax, which need to be filed regardless of how much revenue you bring in. You can find detailed information about these taxes here and AirBnB provides a good overview of the process for Denver residents here.
  2. Shop for your guests: You’re going to have to buy more than you think to ensure your guests have what they need, and you’ll likely also need to buy things for yourself to reorganize and store your personal items. I used this checklist as a guide for shopping for my guests, and then created a Google spreadsheet with a checklist of what I needed to do to get ready and what I needed to buy. My overall hosting philosophy, especially as someone who’s been an AirBnB guest numerous times, is that you should invest in the bedroom and the bathroom. If guests get a great night’s sleep and have a clean, relaxing and comfortable place to shower, everything else is secondary. I definitely recommend buying separate bedding and towels just for guests to use. I have two beds (a king in the master bedroom and a queen in the guest bedroom), so this meant new pillows, pillowcases, sheet sets, comforters and mattress pads for both. That adds up pretty fast regardless of where you shop. I had a bunch of rewards and coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond, so that’s where I went. I also bought two sets of bath towels, hand towels and washcloths per guest, along with new bath mats for both bathrooms. In addition, the upstairs guest bedroom needed a fan (an essential bedroom item in my opinion, regardless of whether or not you have AC), a chest of drawers that could also act as a nightstand and a bedside lamp. Thank you Target and IKEA for those! I also bought two fire extinguishers (which I should have had anyway)—one per floor is recommended— and a first aid kit.
  3. Shop for yourself: As a host, you’ll need to create a secure space within your house for storing your personal items whenever you have guests. My basement isn’t an option in case guests need to turn off the water or access the furnace in an emergency, and my garage isn’t heated or air-conditioned, so I turned two of my sliding closets into owner’s closets by installing these sliding door locks from Amazon (all credit for finding and installing these goes to my boyfriend). Everything that I don’t want guests to use or have access to went in there. I also opened a safe deposit box at my bank for important documents like my birth certificate, a couple of family heirlooms and some jewelry. To help with the organization, I bought large plastic bins from the Container Store to keep clothing from my chest of drawers, toiletries, documents and my bedding in.
  4. Get in the right headspace: I’m mostly a “glass half full” kind of person, but with a healthy dose of city-bred neuroticism, skepticism and a side of paranoia. This means that I generally think people are good and mean well, and that I have faith my guests will treat my house and belongings with respect. That being said, I removed or locked up anything I didn’t want guests to have access to or that was valuable. I also decided not to use the “instant book” feature on AirBnB which allows guests to book your place immediately without any messaging, personal vetting or communication beforehand. I added a $500 security deposit to the listing, which I’ll receive if anything is damaged or goes missing, and I won’t rent to anyone that doesn’t have at least one positive recommendation/reference as an AirBnB guest. I also decided not to rent to anyone with a pet (I’ve seen what dog pee and cat hair did to my boyfriend’s house after he hosted guests with pets) or anyone with children under 12—my house definitely isn’t child-friendly or baby-proofed, and I don’t want to take on the liability. While AirBnB provides hosts with $1M in coverage for any property damage, it’s still a big leap to get comfortable with strangers staying in your house, sleeping in your bed, showering in your bathroom and using your things. I realize that when you stay at a hotel, that’s exactly what’s happened in the room you’re staying in and the bed you’re sleeping hundreds or thousands of times over, but when it’s your house it takes some getting used to. I still have some anxiety about hosting, but it’s also mixed with a desire for my first guests (and any subsequent ones) to love my house and the city of Denver as much as I do. I’ve always been a respectful guest, so I’m going into it with the belief that my guests will behave in the same way. I’ll be blogging about what happens, so stay tuned!
  5. Create a detailed house manual: This was a surprising amount of work. The house manual basically acts as a guide for everything your guests need to know about your house, including check-in instructions, check-out instructions, emergency information and house rules. The quirkier your house is, the more you’ll need to include. I searched the internet for a template I could use, but all I found were companies offering to sell you one and, in my opinion, that’s not worth the money. Below are the categories I included in my house manual. I created it in Google Docs and emailed it to my primary guest. I also printed out two copies to have in the house and used plastic sheets to insert the pages into a ring-binder. Overkill? Maybe, but I want guests to have the information they need to relax and enjoy themselves, and also have detailed instructions for things like how to use my alarm system and outdoor grill. I also want to ensure my guests take care of my house, so my philosophy was the more info I could provide in the manual, the better. Here are the categories I included: 
    • A welcome note
    • My contact info
    • Check-in instructions
    • Check-out instructions
    • House rules
    • Local emergency info
    • Local hospitals and urgent care centers
    • Wifi details
    • Alarm system instructions
    • Entertainment system instructions
    • Thermostat instructions
    • Dishwasher instructions
    • Washer/dryer instructions
    • Gas grill instructions
    • Kitchen appliances and pantry item info
    • Parking info
    • Transportation info
    • Location of both fire extinguishers and the first aid kit
    • Trash removal info
    • Location of cleaning supplies
    • Location of extra towels and blankets
  6. Provide local recommendations: Since I want my guests to have a great time and enjoy my neighborhood and the city of Denver as much as I do, I included a list of recommendations with my house manual. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do this, but my recommendations, unsurprisingly, focused on my favorite places to eat and drink. I also included a list of cultural activities and more touristy things to do in Denver, and I provided a Top 10 list of my favorite restaurants in the city, as well as other restaurants and bars that I like divided up into categories like “coffee shops,” “breakfast places,” “best Mexican,” “best Italian,” etc.
  7. Leave a welcome gift: This definitely isn’t a requirement, but given that I’m aiming for a great review, I figured it wouldn’t hurt. Every time an AirBnB host has left me a welcome gift, I’ve remembered it, used it and appreciated it. A gift also makes you think twice about leaving a bad review. I decided on a bottle of Colorado wine, some local coffee and a six-pack of local beer because, you know, I write a blog called Drinks on the Patio! I also wanted to make sure the welcome gift was something my guests could use during their stay and would enhance their overall experience.
  8. Clean beyond your standards: Whether you pay someone to do it or do it yourself, it’s obviously important to make sure everything is as clean as possible. In my case, this involved cleaning in a way that I wouldn’t if it was just for myself. For example, cleaning the refrigerator, sweeping the outdoor patio, sweeping the front porch, organizing the pantry, cleaning all cabinet drawers, emptying the trash bins outside of all garbage and dusting the blinds. While you probably don’t need to try and match hotel standards, no one wants to find someone else’s hair in the shower or on the sheets, even if everything else is spotless. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you shouldn’t plan to stay at your house after you’ve cleaned, otherwise you’ll just have to do it all over again. As a regular AirBnB guest, I don’t remember how clean the clean places I’ve stayed at were, but I remember some pretty awful details about the dirty places.
  9. Be responsive: AirBnB will penalize you if you don’t respond to requests to book your place within 24 hours. Ideally, you should respond as soon as they come in, especially if you’re not using the “instant book” feature. Once I published my listing, it took about 7-10 days before the requests started coming through. I turned down a number of people that didn’t match my hosting criteria (one person didn’t have any AirBnB reviews, one man was bringing three children all under the age of 3) or my timeline to get my house ready, since I knew it would take me longer than I thought (and it did). It’s also important to pay close attention to your listing calendar: in one case I had forgotten to block off a weekend where I had a friend coming to stay with me and someone requested that same weekend. What I didn’t realize was that AirBnB will penalize you if they think you’re declining too many requests. I wasn’t aware of this requirement, and I don’t love feeling pressured to accept booking requests, especially since I indicated in the section that AirBnB provides for you that I’m only planning to rent my house on a part-time basis. That being said, this can be managed by ensuring your listing calendar accurately reflects when your house is available and when you’re willing to actually have guests stay.
  10. Try and enjoy the hosting experience: I’d be lying if I said getting ready to be a first-time host wasn’t stressful (and more money than I expected to spend), but I tried to remind myself that I currently have plenty of free time (it’s hard to imagine hosting with a full-time job) and I could use the money. I’m also appreciative of the fact that hosting is an option I have. I really want my guests to enjoy my home and their time in Denver. Fingers crossed that they do!

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