This summer we agreed to help out my mum and house/dog sit for her whilst she was away for nearly three weeks. She only lives down the road in south west London and our dog, Otto, loves her dog, Phoebe, and there’s a lovely garden there so it seemed to make sense rather than packing us all into our flat.
The other incentive to stay at my mum’s house was that we could try our hand at being airbnb hosts for the three weeks and potentially make a nice bit of money. If you haven’t heard of airbnb, it is a great network or accommodation across the world and you can either rent someone’s spare room or the entire house for one night or on a longer term basis. It’s a great way to explore parts of a country or city that you wouldn’t normally have access to with the added bonus of a host with all the insider knowledge you could need.
So, we put our flat on the site in July and within a few days the three weeks were fully booked by five sets of guests. I couldn’t believe it was that easy. All that was left to do was prepare the flat and I would like to share with you some helpful tips that I picked up during our first experience of playing hosts and perhaps you might give it a try yourself.
It is a bit unclear what guests expect from airbnb: a hotel experience or the experience of staying at a friend’s house? Therefore, to ensure that you don’t get complaints and the best possible reviews (especially important if you want to continue to play host and charge a decent amount) I would advise to try to ensure that you provide what a decent hotel would provide (not a five star hotel, so no need for fluffy bath robes but a mid-range hotel i.e. a hairdryer, good quality linen, full length mirror, towels, tea and coffee etc.)
Choose your guests carefully
First and foremost, to try to ensure you have a good experience, I would say to choose your guests carefully. All five sets of guests we accepted were couples from either America, Canada or another city within the UK. You can assume that if a couple are paying to stay in London from a far off place they are not going to slob around your home all day making a horrible amount of mess or having crazy parties (obviously, my number one concern!). However, when someone who lived in London asked if they could stay for a couple of days before getting married, alarm bells immediately went off in my mind (I envisioned a big hen party) and someone else requested it for two day’s filming – errr, just a big fat no.
Get on with some of those niggling DIY jobs around the house before your guests arrive. Our ceramic hob has been cracked and two of the large rings haven’t worked for months and like many things we had just got used to the kettle taking about ten hours to boil (!). I finally got round to buying a new hob and Jules figured out how to install it on Youtube just because we knew we had guests arriving who obviously would not appreciate a broken oven.
I know this is easier for some than for others but I hope it made a real difference to our guests. I spent a couple of days clearing out the kitchen cupboards and our wardrobe and drawers in the bedroom knowing that they would need to be used by our guests. A lot of impetus for those changes came from preparing for this airbnb experience but it has also benefited me a huge amount.
All of our guests raved in their reviews about the information pack that Jules put together for them. The biggest benefit of using airbnb is you get to experience a place beyond the tourist trail therefore you should tell your guests as much as you can about where is best to go in your particular area. Jules listed in detail our favourite restaurants and bars, where’s best to get good coffee, our local market and even our favourite stalls, our favourite walks, the best attractions, all within walking distance of our flat. Mark everything on a map for them, as well as giving them basic knowledge like how to get to and from local transport.
We left our guests a list of instructions and a guide to our flat e.g. how to use the oven, coffee machine, dishwasher, wifi code, door locks, keys, emergency numbers, even where the light switches for the kitchen are as they are a bit hidden. This will help make them feel more at home but also prevent you being pestered by constant questions.
There is no requirement to leave food or drinks for your guests but we wanted to make them feel at home, whilst not having to spend a fortune. We left a bottle of milk, bread, eggs, butter, tea and coffee and a cream tea (I filled small pots with jam and cream so I didn’t have to buy a fresh jar of jam and cream for every set of guests). We also invited our guests to use any of our dried foods and condiments from the cupboard and fridge. All of our guests were really respectful of this and actually ended up leaving us food at the end of their stays. Also, if you are lacking any kitchen essentials it is probably worth picking them up for example, I had to buy a toaster as although we never have toast (I can not be trusted with it!) I knew this would be well used by guests.
I decided it would be best to have a new set of bedlinen for our guests so that it was fresh, lovely quality and didn’t have any traces of Otto! It made the changeover process between guests really simple and it will make it easy in the future when we airbnb our flat for the odd weekend because I won’t need to fuss around finding a matching set of good quality linen. I chose the Dove Grey Tiny Stripe set (it’s in the sale – quick!) from Secret Linen Store as it feels so beautifully smooth and won’t wear as quickly as a white set will. We also left our lovely Christy blanket for the guests just in case they got cold.
Although tempted, I didn’t buy flowers for each set of guests as the whole point is to make as much money as possible. However, you can’t deny that fresh flowers are a lovely touch and make a difference to your overall experience of a home so I added just a sprig or a single bloom next to the bed, in the bathroom and on the hallway table cut from my balcony. Even a bit of foliage would do the trick, which doesn’t have to cost you anything.
As with the bedlinen, I decided to have a new set of guest towels that I can keep solely for this purpose. I think good quality towels when you are staying away from home is really important so invest in a plush set that won’t wear too quickly with washing, and again I chose not to go with white so they won’t get mixed up with my own towels. I chose Duck Egg blue towels from Christy, which are so soft and hotel-like.
We cleared out two drawers and space in our wardrobe for our guests’ clothes but I think hooks are the most useful thing when you are staying away from home. We have sooooo many hooks in our bedroom so I popped a few hangers on them, which seemed to be appreciated.
Dealing with changeovers well was really important in our experience because we had back to back bookings with only about two hours between guests leaving and arriving (make sure you communicate well with your guests to coordinate these times – we organised for some guests who were arriving early to drop their luggage off with neighbours and gave them advice on where to go whilst they were waiting to check-in). Obviously you need to clean and change the bedlinen, towels and tea towels, but make sure to check the fridge, freezer, oven, microwave, dishwasher, re-fill ice trays etc. Also, don’t forget to water your plants as you can’t expect your guests to do that unless you agree that with them. Make sure the guests have not left anything behind in the drawers or wardrobe.
I know it may seem like a lot of work and hassle but for the amount of money we made it was well worth it. We got such great reviews and so we can easily airbnb the flat again when we go away for the odd weekend away so the extra effort definitely paid off. We had such a great experience with all five sets of guest and I would not hesitate to recommend to others to give it a go.
Have you given airbnb a go or hosted guests? What was your experience?