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10 Super-Important Things You Must Know Before Renting Your Home on Airbnb

So you want to make some extra cash and host travelers from all over the globe? Before you lay out the welcome mat, here are a few things you need to know.

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Is it legal?

The most important detail is to determine if you can legally be an Airbnb host. Local zoning and registration laws differ from state to state. In addition to your state laws, some areas have legal restrictions on short-term rentals. If you rent an apartment, own a condo, or belong to a HOA, there may be more hoops to jump through as you’ll need to get permission before laying out the welcome mat. Here are other ways you can make money fast.

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Keeping peace with the Joneses

All systems are go on the legal front, but what do your neighbors think of you being an Airbnb host? Superhosts (a Superhost must have at least 80 percent of their reviews be five stars) Kerith Henderson and her husband of Los Angeles, California, approached their neighbors with their plans to rent out their guest house and met no resistance. Unfortunately, your neighbors may not share your enthusiasm for hosting people from all over the world. “There are people out there with the wrong idea about Airbnb guests. They think that they are transients, with no respect of a neighborhood or its elements,” says Hendersen. The Hendersen’s haven’t had any negative experiences. Their guests have been very respectful of their property and neighborhood. “Airbnb guests are people who want to travel the world and learn about the area they are visiting in a way you can’t do when you stay at a hotel. They want to benefit the neighborhoods they visit!”

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The tax man cometh

So you’ve jumped through the legal hoops, now it’s time to explore the daunting world of taxes. Fortunately, Airbnb has a user-friendly section all about taxes, but it’s prudent to enlist the help of an accountant. Generally speaking, taxes and how they’re collected will vary by country, state, county, and city. Airbnb does collect and remit taxes on behalf of hosts, but currently only in specific locations. Tammi Sims, an Airbnb Superhost who rents her primary residence in Seattle says, “Airbnb collects and remits state taxes on our behalf so it makes it an easy process and the State of Washington Department of Revenue has been fantastic assisting hosts with knowing how to file in this circumstance.”

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Setting rates for your market

A villa in California wine country may cost $200 a night but a lakeside cottage in Minnesota with the same square footage and amenities rents for $100 a night. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market or charge too low. Compare similar properties in your area to see what they are charging. As a new Airbnb host you may consider pricing your rental a few dollars less than your competition to get bookings and reviews. This strategy worked for Sims but now her rates are higher but reasonable. “I like offering a quality place to stay in an inexpensive city at a rate that isn’t exorbitant,”says Sims. However, if your rate is too low, people may think it’s “too good to be true” and shy away from booking. Pricing tools are available, but there not always locally specific. “The algorithms on the listing services are not attuned to the local seasonal concepts of a particular area,” says Cari Shane, an Airbnb Superhost who rents the lower level (and sometimes her whole row house) in Washington, D.C. “Cherry blossom season for D.C. is akin to Christmas vacation season on the ski slopes, so rates are doubled. It’s what the hotels do, so it’s what short term rental owners do,” notes Shane. As a host, you’ll want to stay abreast of local events and high tourism times to adjust your rates accordingly. Check out these other beautiful destinations for spring travels.

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Setting up shop

Travel hosting runs the gamut of renting a room in your home, renting your entire house, or even a separate guest cottage on your property. For Sims, it is her primary home that she rents when she is out of town. “I don’t ‘live’ with guests as many of my host colleagues do,” says Sims. “I make space in closets and dressers for guests and they see very little of my personal items. She hasn’t pared down on furniture or knick-knacks though. “My home still feels very much like my home, but previous guests have shared that I have managed to strike a balance that results in guests feeling like it is very much their space when they are there,” notes Sims. Initially, Airbnb was more about traditional home-sharing, in the sense that a guest would be wrapped up in the flavor of the hosts home, whether it be family photos, a book collection, or a treasured Snoopy collection in the guest room. Some rentals show no sign of a host at all. “I personally think something valuable is being lost and the difference between a hotel and vacation rental gets very narrow,” says Sims.

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Hostess with the mostest

“Hospitality is shown in many ways, and the amenities a host provides is just one way,” says Sims. She provides a welcome basket with coffee and tea and light breakfast items so guests don’t have to be concerned with looking for food or finding a place to eat on their first morning. Amenities that are typically found at a hotel are important for some guests. Shane provides similar goodies to her guests, but early reviews from guests that stayed at her flat suggested she have hair dryers, toys and games for children, and an iron and ironing board. That feedback was quite helpful. “Make sure that everything you do has that great review as a goal,” suggests Shane. In addition to those items, she offers a basket of travel-size toiletries in each bathroom. Social interaction is another form of hospitality. One of the original appeals of Airbnb was more that of true home-sharing, including the interaction between guests and hosts. It’s not uncommon for some hosts to sip a glass of wine or eat in the same kitchen with their guest, especially if the guest is in the same home where the host resides. Other hosts are more hands-off and provide an experience more like that of a hotel. Travelers are looking for both styles. Just make sure you convey your hosting style in your listing so they won’t be disappointed.

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House rules

It’s especially important to stay on good terms with your neighbors when you’re a travel host. Getting a call from your neighbors at 2 a.m. complaining your guests are having a kegger and playing loud music can easily be avoided by establishing house rules. Common courtesies like a no smoking policy, no pets, quiet time hours, and no unregistered guests are a few examples of smart rules. Of course, you can change or add to them as needed. “With each ‘difficult’ experience we have had with guests, we add another rule,” says Henderson. “I may have too many now, but that’s OK. I want to make sure my guests are safe and my neighbors are happy!” House rules are part of your listing but having an extra set next to a welcome basket or entry table is a good idea as well.

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Cleanliness is next to…a great review

Although some travelers are attracted to the homey feeling of a rental, guests still want a clean place to relax and sleep. Grimy counter tops, dirty socks on the floor, and stray hairs in the tub will generate bad reviews quickly. If you don’t have time or the desire for housekeeping, you’ll have to enlist outside help. What shocked Sims most was the copious amounts of laundry. “I have very high standards for my guest’s experience so finding experienced service providers and entrusting those details to someone else was challenging and nerve-racking,” recalls Sims. Now she has a staff she trusts who understand how important providing exceptional guest service is to her. Since she is out of town often, it was critical she found providers who were familiar with the intricacies of Airbnb turnovers. They work from her checklist that includes all the key details and staging for her home. Here are all the particular items your house guests notice about your home.

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Where do I put the good silver?

“I store valuables and private information elsewhere, but I do have things in my home that have great sentimental value to me,” says Sims. “I have consciously chosen to leave those things as they are part of the soul and character of my home.” She likes the idea of guests using kitchenware that belonged to her grandmother. It falls into the home-sharing character she values as a host. “Those pieces are very valuable to me, but I choose to err on the side of trusting that people are good and will treat my space with respect.” The situation is a bit different in Shane’s row house flat. “I set up and designed the flat as a short term rental property; so, there is nothing valuable in the basement. However, a few times a year I rent out the entire house,” says Shane. She has her own property insurance in addition to the insurance offered by Airbnb.

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Guests who are going for the more traditional home-sharing option will appreciate your transparency concerning your lifestyle. “If your family lives upstairs, say that in your listing description,” says Shane. She recommends mentioning kids and pets (they can be noisy or a guest could be allergic to animals) so there are no surprises. Guests will also appreciate knowing details like the rental being on the top floor or if there are steep stairs. Shane also makes an effort to let her guests know if she will be hosting a party, leaving early, or arriving home really late, so they are not taken off guard. By the same token she is mindful of her guest’s schedule and is tries to work around their quiet time or even a child’s nap time. “If you know the nap schedule, you and your family and pets can make an extra effort to be quiet or not be home at that time,” says Shane.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, Family Handyman and Taste of Home, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.