Making Money From Your Home

When I moved to Ramsgate last summer I knew I would end up with a different type of client base; Ramsgate is a coastal harbour town and it has a lively tourist trade. My current local clients are involved with tourism and have holiday lets as part of their business. One of the clients has a large rental property (which sleeps nine in the main house and four in the attached flat) listed on AirBnB and was really frustrated with the poor engagement he was getting from the listing, so I offered to review this for him.

AirBnB is something of a buzz word at the moment and seems to be a bit like marmite – you either love it or you hate it. As both a host and a guest, AirBnb works best if you consider it as a community that you contribute to and work at to uphold the values that are clearly stated in their terms and conditions. It’s about creating a home from home and welcoming guests to an area that you know well. It’s also about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and making sure that your property lives up to expectations because the photographs on the listing are the reason that guests decide to part with their cash. You have about 2.5 seconds before they scroll through to the next listing to convince them that this is the place they want to stay.

To give my client a good idea of the way AirBnB could work for him I analysed the listing and then I did the same thing to the house. Prior to the review I found that the pictures were dark and not descriptive of the rooms. The order of the images was jumbled and confusing. The lead picture was the view, so not of the house at all and the text didn’t offer any ideas to the type of guests that the property was suitable for, so in checklist form:

1 Define your Market In an area where there are many other short term let properties available, it’s vital to know what kind of guests your listing will attract. With big properties (anything with more than four double bedrooms and several ensuite bathrooms would fall into this category) you are likely to attract families – either extended multi-generation or friends away with their children. Groups of friends are also likely to look for larger properties for special weekends away. If there are several receptions rooms as well, then it’s safe to say that you can accommodate the needs of varied age groups.

2 Assess your Competition Scroll through the AirBnB listings for your local area and find out how many other properties there are that can accommodate the same number of guests as your house. Look at the pictures they feature on their listing, do they make you want to stay there? Read some of the reviews and decide if you can deliver comparable – or better – guest accommodation.

3 Review your Property Now that you have a feel for the type of guest your property is likely to attract and what other hosts locally have to offer, you need to do the hard work and decide if your property is up to scratch. It’s really important to be honest with yourself, would you want to stay there? Because if you don’t like what you see, why would a guest? It might be that a simple rearrangement of furniture makes the space more functional. You may need to freshen up some paintwork and remove some of your ornaments or photographs. The property needs character but not to be so personal that a guest might feel as if they’re intruding. This is a balancing act but it’s important to remember that it’s the photographs that will bring your guests to you, so appearance is everything!

4 Photographs You don’t need a professional to take your pictures – and an iPhone does do a pretty good job – but you do need a good eye for composition. It’s as simple as that. If you can’t see that the curtains aren’t hanging straight and that the bedlinen is crumpled or worse, dirty, then you need help because the images on your listing need to be aspirational. They need to suggest to your guests that they can linger over a meal or sit in front of the window and admire the view. They need to show comfort and function. This is the only chance you have to sell what makes your listing unique in your area.

5 Price Again you need to be honest with yourself. Is this listing a second income or is it just paying for the maintenance of the property? Do you want as many guests as possible or are you just thinking of hosting at times that are convenient to you or to bolster the local visitor economy? Being an AirBnB host is labour intensive, you work HARD on change over days (my flat in London is listed when I am between tenancies) and there are lots of email conversations with upcoming guests. If you want to make the best possible income from the property, then price it lower. Seriously. Your competition is not only AirBnB and holiday lettings but the local hotels; if they have a room rate that is lower than your imagined price per guest (ie a double room is £89 and you want to charge £50 per guest,) they will get the booking first and you will pick up the ‘no other options’ visitors – which means you have no idea until the week (or sometimes two days) before they arrive that you are going to be running around like a mad person.

6 Personal Contact Taking the time to meet your guests, introduce them to the property and to give them a bit of local knowledge is one of the main attractions of staying in an AirBnB property. It really adds to the excitement of a trip away and it’s this that always features in the reviews guests write. Their words do as much to sell your property as the photos do. If you don’t want to have that level of involvement with your guests, AirBnB might not be for you.

It pays to consider what you want the property to do for you. AirBnB really generates interest in a local area but you have to monitor the way your listing behaves and to make a business of it, you need to respond to the information you are given. The bottom line is that you get out what you put in – guests notice the effort you make and will certainly be critical if they feel something could be better. You must also make sure that AirBnB in your local area isn’t subject to restrictions. Some cities (London, for example) have a limit on the number of nights per year or the number of listings in an area, so it is possible that AirBnB might not be able to offer you the right type of listing platform for your goals; analysing the market you intend to host in is very important.

My clients ‘new’ listing has now been live for eight weeks. In that time he’s had an 80% increase in views per week; it’s generated twelve enquiries, eight of which have gone on to book the house for their holiday. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes makes all the difference.

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