How to Deal with Difficult Guests, and Other Airbnb Hosting Tips

Everything you need to know before putting up your home on the rental site.

 light filled bedroom
Photography by Kabir Teja

If you’re a frequent traveler, there’s a pretty high chance you’ve had some sort of less-than-ideal Airbnb experience. The host cancelled on you while you were on the plane en route to your destination. You couldn’t find your host to get the keys to an apartment, and as a result had to spend an evening in a German kebab shop. You finally get to the home, only discover a faint but distinct odor of cat. Which is made all the more disconcerting by the fact that there is no such cat to be found. Am I projecting?

Given the unique state of Airbnb as somewhere between familiar and foreign—you are staying in someone’s home, after all—hosts have several considerations to keep in mind. And while they do have a certain responsibility to their guests, these considerations are equally important for them: Are they making their home the best it can possibly be so as to attract more visitors (and in turn, be more profitable)? Are they keeping privacy concerns in mind? What about potential legal issues? Becoming a host can seem overwhelming. It’s a business, but it’s also personal.

Which is why we tapped two experts to shed some light on how to best go about hosting on Airbnb. Brooklyn-based designer Paula Guzman has experience designing for both residential and hospitality spaces; most recently having completed this boutique-hotel inspired guest bedroom explicitly designed to be rented on Airbnb. And while we’re not suggesting you completely remodel your home to suit Airbnb, small design tweaks and updates can make a world of difference in making your place seem more inviting and attractive for potential guests.

Equally important as the design of your Airbnb are the logistical factors that come into play for hosting. Enter: Jim Jacoby, who began renting his stunning renovated church-turned-home in Chicago about a year ago. A frequent Airbnb-er himself before becoming a host, he can speak to both ends of the spectrum with plenty of tips to share—and whether you’re a first-time host or seasoned pro looking to update a few things, you’ll definitely want to pay attention.

“When you’re in a special place, you want to acclimate to it quickly so you feel a part of it,” explains Jacoby. “In a church home like ours, it can feel overwhelming at the outset. We try to provide our guests with the things we’d want to settle in with; anything to smooth the visit and make it feel like you’re already a local.”

Read on for a complete guide on all things Airbnb, from designing your space to logistical planning to what to do when you have a terrible houseguest.

 work station
Photography by Kabir Teja

DESIGN TIPS FOR HOSTING

How do you approach a project specifically designed for Airbnb?


Paula Guzman: Designing for Airbnb projects is very similar to designing for smaller, boutique hotels or bed & breakfast rentals. That’s why I approach these sorts of project with hospitality design in mind; unlike residential projects where you get to know your clients personally, in hospitality projects you are designing for hypothetical guests. These “guests” develop from researching who may book the space and for what purpose.

What factors are most important to keep in mind when designing a space for Airbnb?

PG: Sunny, spacious, cozy, and private—these are the same few descriptive words that I kept seeing in Airbnb listing titles when I first researched the concept. This signaled to me that these were the most attractive attributes for guests when considering whether or not to book a space, and therefore the most important factors to consider when designing a space for Airbnb. Guests want to feel like they’re staying in their own home, and often it’s an aspirational version of their own home that really catches their eye!

In terms of picking a color palette, what are some of your tips for settling on something that’s both “safe” and design-forward? How do you approach this?

PG: Neutrals, blues, and greens are best since these are universally pleasing colors. Neutrals because they are innocuous, and if executed properly will always look fresh and modern. Blues and greens because they are associated with nature and a calming atmosphere. I would recommend neutrals for the main furnishings and fabrics; blues and greens can be incorporated [in the] art, decor, and plants.

What are your thoughts on trend-based design versus more timeless pieces?

PG: I think locality, not trends or a specific design style, is most important when considering the design direction for an Airbnb space. For example, if I book an Airbnb in Paris, I want to feel like I’m staying in a Paris apartment. If the room is in Brooklyn, there should be lots of industrial and artistic elements in the design. Keep the atmosphere of the city or neighborhood in mind, and the rest will follow naturally.

What are the challenges people designing a space for Airbnb can expect?

PG: One of the biggest challenges is working with smaller budgets. Clients are less inclined to spend more money on furnishings that they will not use directly. For short-term rentals, this approach makes sense. However, if you plan on renting your space for a few years, it’s wise to think of these purchases as an investment, and source quality pieces that will last guest after guest.

What’s the biggest mistake someone can make when designing a room or home for Airbnb? Is there something they often forget to add?

PG: I think the biggest mistake someone can make is not considering comfort. Are there extra blankets in case it gets cold? Is there a desk and sufficient lighting if a guest plans to work from the room? Hosts often forget to add a cozy reading chair in room rentals, which is something you’ll find in almost every hotel room. Having the wifi information easily accessible is also something hosts commonly forget. This can be as simple as printing the details on nice cardstock and placing it on the desk or bedside table.

 double bed blue and white check wallpaper
Photography by Kabir Teja

If you could advise people decorating guest rooms for Airbnb to invest in one piece of furniture or item of decor, what would it be?

PG: Well-designed window treatments are worth every penny. Functionality-wise, because privacy is important for guests, and also because many people can only sleep comfortably in an almost pitch-dark room. Aesthetically, because window treatments really make the space feel complete and cozy.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR HOSTING

What are the main things to consider before you decide to list your apartment or home on Airbnb?

Jim Jacoby:
We don't hear a lot of people talk about it, but the planning process really should include a personal assessment of your own emotional ability to share your space with people you're just getting to know. The first few times doing it, especially if you're sharing your home, can require some getting used to. If you're vacating your home more frequently than you are living there, you can start to feel disconnected or even uncomfortable.  

For us, it became an opportunity to share a really unique space and continue seeing it with fresh eyes as people came through and booked with us. We became as excited as each guest was and wanted to help each unique situation however we could. Each visit becomes a unique little puzzle to unlock more joy from your own home.  

What would you warn first-time hosts about? Do you have any guest horror stories?

JJ: First-timers should know that they simply aren't going to know everything they need to until they've had a few guests come through. That could include simple things like helping to make the TV work, solving a wifi problem, or providing access to a closet or storage space you weren't planning on. Even if you don't have a full answer or complete solution, simply being responsive and showing that you care about their comfort is the bulk of your role as a host.  

We don't have any really difficult stories or experiences to share other than the obvious things that can typically be chalked up to misunderstanding. Some guests are just self-involved and will ignore boundaries like smoking on the property or whatever, but Airbnb has great fall-backs for problems like these and the financial fixes tend to solve or discourage bad behavior.

What logistical issues do hosts need to clear and have in order before opening their homes to guests? Any legal considerations to verify?

JJ: Every city (or even neighborhood) has its own rules for what you can and can't do with your home. Get to know what those things are before you start your listing. Also, be careful how much trust you put in third-party 'experts' who will help you get your place ready. We ended up working with a designer and friend who played fast and loose with the local rules and ended up getting us fined.

You'll find that when costs come down the pike, everyone's happy to stand back and let you cover those; but when the profits come in, they're all standing around with their hands out. We found we didn't need any outside support. We like our home, we like getting to know the people coming to stay in it, and we find that we can provide a better experience as a result of our hands-on relationship throughout the process.

 bookshelf
Photography by Kabir Teja

What are small things hosts can do to make a guest’s experience better?

JJ: You can really elevate a guest's experience just by seeing your home through their eyes for a moment. The things that are obvious to you probably aren't to them. Have a friend stay at your place for a day and a night and watch them make their way around. This simple test will help you find things you can smooth out for future guests and to also reveal opportunities to delight them as well.  

It's old-school, but a printed guide for the house is really appreciated and can add a lot to a guest's experience. You'd be surprised how many people peruse what you've printed out for them over googling things like the neighborhood. Your guests want personal recommendations that you'll stand behind.  

Also, if you can, set aside a set of towels and sheets. Having a consistent color for these makes it easy for you and helps your guests feel that everything they're interacting with is special for them. Even basic things like soaps and shampoos can be made to feel special. All easy stuff to have a small supply of from Amazon.

For people who might feel a little wary about having strangers in their homes, what would you say? Are there any steps they can take to feel a little more secure? 

JJ: First of all, it makes sense. You should feel wary. Your home is sacred space. Give yourself permission to feel the way you do.  

Set up systems that essentially separate your intimate relationship with your space from the temporary relationship your guests will have with it. [Defining] those boundaries (i.e. sheets, towels, consumables, closets, or even rooms that are off limits) will help in defining your relationship with the hosting experience. Obviously, you'll want to control the access that guests have to valuable or particularly special items in your home. But once you have a simple lock installed or written guidelines that your guests need to agree to follow, your confidence will increase and you'll begin to see the hosting experience as a celebration of everything you love about living there too. 

See more Airbnb stories:
Airbnb Is Developing Virtual Reality Technology
Airbnb Is Bigger Than the Top 5 Hotel Brands Combined
Airbnb Just Made Group Travel So Much Easier

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Published on March 08, 2018 - 8:00am EST

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