I have a pet peeve – actually I have several of them but let’s just take one at a time. My pet peeve as relates to many of those who sign up to do Airbnb hosting, is that they approach starting their own small business, as though they were somebody’s baby. Airbnb’s baby. Maybe they watched This dreamy Airbnb video too many times. Or maybe they have never run a small business. Maybe they had no idea they were opening a small business, but thought they were clicking a button to get Santa Claus to send perfect guests automatically to their home, delivering them on a sleigh, one after another, all wrapped up nice and pretty with a red bow on top.
That isn’t how being a host on Airbnb works. I think Airbnb actually doesn’t help as much as it could, to clarify that those who sign up as hosts are starting a small business. So, some Airbnb Babies jump into opening up a small business, with little understanding of market forces. We see many of these new hosts coming into the host community, proudly telling other hosts that they have now opened up their listing and hung their shingle up in Nowheresville, AnyCountry, 60 miles from the nearest city, 10 miles down an unmarked dirt road, and are complaining that they haven’t had any inquiries. “Why am I not getting any guests?!?!” They fail to understand that listing a place on Airbnb doesn’t magically make it into a tourist destination. There has to be a reason why people want to come to your area, because it’s unlikely that the host’s home itself is the vacation destination — unless you happen to have a home with a national park in your backyard, or you own a hunting ranch, or a private zoo, or you offer kayak or float trips on your local river, or something else very special that is going to make guests want to come to your area just to visit you. So as you contemplate becoming a host, it pays to do some research into the demand for short term rentals in your area.
Many find the process of becoming a host and getting their first guest, to be so easy and straightforward, that they are led to believe that they don’t need to be careful who they accept as a guest in their home, or have good house rules that help ensure appropriate guest behavior, and delineate necessary boundaries.
I have noticed that a lot of relatively new hosts, come to the host community, with questions, complaints or stories, which indicate that they did not adequately understand all the implications of starting a small business as an Airbnb host or short term rental operator. To begin with, many hosts don’t understand that it is they, rather than Airbnb, who need to do the screening for people who will be staying in their home. Hosts have one, then two, then 6 or 8 good experiences with guests, and get lulled into the illusion that Airbnb is somehow “vetting” all their guests for them. They have heard that there is a thing called Verified ID, they have heard that there are requirements for people to sign up on Airbnb, and so they figure, quite irrationally, that if a guest has verified ID, this must be a fine person, right?
No, actually, not quite so. Stop for a moment and think how Verified ID, which basically guarantees that someone’s name is what they say it is, or that their phone number is really their phone number, is going to ensure that your guest doesn’t leave the sink full of dirty dishes, or talk back and argue with you, or go into your bedroom and look through your private things while you are gone. Verified ID does nothing to prevent any of that. Verified ID can help to prevent serious crimes, because serious criminals dont’ tend to want to give you their name in advance (but some know how to provide “fake” Verified ID) but it won’t ensure that your guest doesn’t smoke in your non-smoking unit, doesn’t get stains all over your furniture or carpets, or doesn’t have a party in your house where you have house rules that clearly prohibit parties.
So what would-be hosts need to learn, is that when you sign up to be an AIrbnb host, you are actually in the property rental business, and hence, you need to learn the skills of managing rental property, such as how to screen potential guests. Screening guests is not simple, because it requires imagination. The less developed your capacity for imagination, the more trouble you will have in imagining what might possibly go wrong, and hence, the less likely you will be able to set up house rules, policies and procedures, questions and other measures by which to try to reduce the likelihood of having problems. So, give your imaginal skills some practice, and sit down and start thinking of how you want things to go right, and what might go wrong, and how to draw lines to separate these two outcomes, one from the other. And then, depend on your own skills to get good guests, dont’ depend on getting sent guests in packages from Airbnb, all neat and pretty and tied up with a bow on top.
There’s another aspect of the Airbnb Baby. This is the Baby we see who doesn’t screen their guests, doesn’t have adequate house rules, doesn’t realize that renting out a beautiful home to 8 young guys who are in town for spring break might not be the best idea…and who comes out to the host community and cries when they have a bad experience with a guest, who damages their property. This Baby host then doesn’t realize that they have to document the damage and produce evidence, assuming quite irrationally that simply because they phone up Airbnb and say something happened, their word will be considered gold and the guest’s will be mud. They may fail to get the required evidence, or have unrealistic expectations of reimbursement. They then end up whining , crying and screaming, because they didn’t get compensated by Airbnb for all of their damage.
Hosts need to realize that there are two sides to every story, and if any issue gets taken to Airbnb for mediation, this is somewhat like a landlord tenant dispute being taken to small claims court. A judge in court can’t start out being partial to either side — the point is that the judge is supposed to look at the evidence presented, and if you don’t have a good case, if you don’t have good evidence, you can lose, even if you are entirely in the right. Because it is quite possible to lose in court when you are in the right, is one reason why it is best to stay out of court — meaning, run your business in such a way, that you are unlikely to end up with guests doing hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of damage, which you then have to approach Airbnb to try to get reimbursed for.
So, I’m advising — dont’ be an Airbnb Baby. Airbnb isn’t your Daddy or Mommy, or Santa Claus. Dont’ expect that you can just click buttons on the computer and get sent great guests every time and not have to have the skillset to run a small business. Be in control of what is happening at your own property. I think hosting is ideally for those who actually live at the property where they are having guests. It is more difficult when you aren’t there to see what is going on.
If you are far away from the place where you have guests, you really need someone close by who can pay attention to what is going on there, and intervene quickly if needed — like a property manager, friend or neighbor. I have been surprised by the number of stories of hosts who come to clean up after the guests depart, and arrive to a trashed home. They lament and whine that they had no idea about what was happening. Their neighbors will later be interviewed by the local news station, and say that they saw 50 people arrive to that house the day before, or 3 days before, and were bothered by people partying there all night, and I have to wonder — while the host’s neighbors were being bothered by noise and partiers, where was this Airbnb Baby? Did this Baby think someone else would magically run their property and control it for them? Why was this Airbnb Baby 50 or 100, or even 1000 miles away, with no property manger or not even a neighbor in communication with them? Why are their relationships with their neighbors so undeveloped? Why didn’t their neighbors have their phone number, to call and notify them of problems they witnessed?
Given the number of people who are hostile to Airbnb, who like to scapegoat Airbnb, who think that Airbnb rentals in neighborhoods invariably will bring problems, it does not take many out of control parties at an Airbnb, or trashed Airbnb homes, to have a huge effect on the regulatory landscape of short term rentals in any given area. Consequently, it is better for all of us if Airbnb Babies grow up and start developing some skills in regards to hosting, so that they dont’ ruin other’s opportunities to do hosting in their region, and so that they dont’ come and cry to us over spilled milk.