The Ins And Outs Of Airbnbing Your Own Place

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Part of the magic of traveling comes from feeling like you belong. Getting to explore a local culture is not something that money — or a mileage club membership — can buy. And, there's hardly a more immersive way to experience a destination than living in someone's actual home.

In the aughts, finding a stay like that required some thorough trolling of newspapers and obscure discussion boards. (Remember The Holiday?) Nowadays, these types of journeys are just one tap away, thanks to lodging marketplaces like Airbnb. More and more people are using it as a means to make ends meet — and much more than that, in some cases. If you're thinking of testing the waters, we've gathered the wisdom from three experienced hosts to bring you everything you need to know about listing your own home. Becoming an all-star host is just six steps away.

Note: Some names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Like any business venture, figuring out how much your space is worth should be your first priority. Airbnb offers a handy tool that gives you a ballpark of the monthly revenue people in your neighborhood earn through the site. If you live in a major city, it wouldn't hurt to peek at how much hotels near you are charging. You'll want to make your offer seem like a bargain: Compared to hotels, guests save 21.5% on cost when they book an entire apartment on Airbnb and almost 50% when they are just renting a private room.

One thing you should also keep in mind is the opportunity cost of being a host: Managing a listing is an investment of your time that can otherwise be spent on work. Depending on your level of commitment, you should factor in the hours you will spend on accommodation upkeep, responding to requests and answering any questions your guests may have. If you're simply looking at this as a means to help with rent, 1 to 2 hours per day is the typical requirement. But, this goes up considerably when you're doing Airbnb as a full-time gig.

Other odds and ends to consider are the additional water, gas, and electricity usage that having guests will add to your monthly bill. If you want to leave tidying up to the professionals, consider charging a one-time cleaning fee. Not having to lug used bedding to the laundromat might just be worth the extra cost.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The site charges you a 3% host fee to list your space, and you are required to fill out a W-9 for income tax purposes. Some cities also require you to obtain a business license before putting your place up for rent, and the company is working with a number of them on remitting local tax. If you live in NYC, the situation is a bit more complicated: City laws dictate that unless you're also residing in the apartment, it's illegal to rent it out for less than 30 days. Digging through the NY State Attorney General's report on the subject will be your first step toward being informed.

As for your landlord, it's up to you to investigate whether you'll be violating the terms of your lease. Holly, a graduate student and Airbnb host based in Austin, said that she didn't notify her landlord about her activity — but didn't exactly attempt to hide it either. "In my building, people have friends crashing at their apartments all the time, I'm not going to be upfront about it unless my building starts banning overnight guests."
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The best way to get the skinny on being an Airbnb host is to talk to one. From the most convenient way to leave your keys to the type of bookers to avoid, you'll get the most honest answers from a local Airbnber who's been there, done that. "I usually only accept verified guests with no negative reviews and more than five positive reviews," says Lora Brudniak, a realtor who rents out her extra bedroom in Los Angeles. "If they are new to the site, I try to suss them out by connecting with them on social media before making a decision."

Turning off the "Instant Book" option is a good idea, especially if you're the sole occupant of the apartment. "When I briefly enabled it, the volume of requests I got was off the charts," said Holly. "It became too overwhelming and prevented me from filtering out the people who didn't have a legitimate reason to be in town." Another insider tip: Charge less in the beginning to get more action on your profile. "It's true that people are all about the price, but once you accumulate a solid number of reviews, you can shift the focus and ask for more." said Holly. If you don't have any experienced hosts on your radar, your local Airbnb group is a fantastic resource for hosts.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Your guests are obviously not expecting an accommodation on par with the Four Seasons, but you should still try your best to deliver a five-star stay. Fresh linens and plenty of storage space are par for the course. Here's a useful cleaning checklist before your guests arrive.

Tourists love unique design touches, so don't be afraid to add some regional flair to your place. A blown-up map of your city not only renders itself as a quirky wall hanging, it will come in handy when your vacationers plan their sightseeing routes. Melissa, a host in New Orleans, says that she features a gallery wall of works from her local artists friends. "It's a win-win, since people feel like they're staying in a cool gallery, and my buddies get many business inquiries from out-of-towners, too." When in doubt, decorate for the sophisticated traveler you want.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Setting up an Airbnb profile is not unlike navigating your online dating life: Flattering photos go a long way. You may think that people won't care how their crash pads look, but appearances totally matter. This before-and-after photo series shows just how much difference lighting and angles can make. If you live in an eligible city, you can apply through Airbnb to have a professional photographer take pictures of your space for free. Having that "verified" watermark on the corner of your images adds an extra layer of credibility to your post. Plus, those swanky pictures are made for a humblebrag Facebook album.

For Airbnbers, it's all about the location, so it helps to include as much information about the neighborhood, public transit, and nearby points of interest as possible. When you're writing the house rules, be super upfront about your living situation. "I live with three cats, so I deliberately put 'MUST LOVE CATS' in the headline so people know what they are getting themselves into," said Holly. "And, that usually works out — my guests all end up to be cat lovers. Some of them have even offered to petsit for me when I'm away!"
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Popularity on Airbnb does't just happen overnight. To gain maximum traction on your listing, you'll need to work the search ranking system and the Superhost program to your advantage. Responding promptly and maintaining a low number of cancelled requests will significantly boost your standing in search results.

We live in an age where 90% of customers are influenced by online reviews. Building up a body of positive ratings will take some time, but the more you give, the more you'll receive. Leaving diplomatic (yet honest) feedback for your guests in a timely manner will typically be reciprocated, getting you that much closer to the 80% of five-star reviews you need to qualify for a Superhost badge. Should you need further convincing about the perks of having a seal of approval from Airbnb, users who maintain their Superhost statuses for a year receive a $100 travel coupon. That's a pretty sweet reward for being hospitable!
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