Tracey Wong travels lot for work, so earlier this year she decided to rent out her Vancouver condo via Airbnb during all that time away. It’s worked out so well that she’s already booked her place for her two-week-long Christmas vacation.
“I feel like I’m spending all this money on my holiday, so this kind of evens it out and helps cover the cost of my accommodation,” Wong says. “A friend of mine rents her house out all summer, and she and her husband and her kids go away, using the money they make to travel.”
Having rented her two-bedroom home for $140 a night (plus a $30 cleaning fee) more than a dozen times so far, Wong says she hasn’t had any problems and has enjoyed meeting people from as far away as Germany and New Zealand.
There are a few things to know, though, before opening up your place to strangers. Whether it’s through Airbnb, HomeAway (which also operates Vacation Rental by Owner, aka VRBO), or other online vacation rental services, you need to do some groundwork to make sure the concept suits you.
And if you decide you’re OK with others making themselves at home in your home, there are ways to make your listing stand out from the rest.
Ask what protection, if any, the service offers home owners
Part of what reassured Wong about Airbnb is that it provides up to $900,000 coverage for property damage at no extra cost to hosts. It doesn’t replace owners’ or renters’ insurance and it doesn’t cover cash and securities, pets or personal liability.
HomeAway, meanwhile, provides up to $5,000 coverage for accidental damage to the vacation rental, with plans starting at $49 for $1,500 in coverage.
Wong still makes a point of removing all of her valuables and storing them elsewhere.
It’s also commonplace to ask guests for a damage deposit.
Check in with your strata council first
Strata dwellers from Sydney, Australia, to New York, New York, are grappling with the issue of owners renting out their homes on a short-term basis.
If you live in a condo, you’ll want to scrutinize the bylaws and discuss your intentions with your strata council to avoid headaches down the road.
“You want to make sure your strata council and your neighbours are onboard,” Wong says.
Catch people’s attention with a strong listing
High-quality photos go a long way. Airbnb has a service where it will send out a professional photographer to snap photos of your place for free.
You’ll also want an accurate, compelling description of the property itself, the neighbourhood, and nearby attractions and amenities.
“One of the best host tips is that they need to have a great story about their place,” says Aaron Zifkin, Airbnb’s country manager for Canada.
“People traveling on Airbnb want a local, authentic travel experience; they want to be part of a community. They don’t want a commoditized experience.
“Give the person who’ve viewing your listing a real sense of what it’s all about,” he says. “They want to know what your favourite restaurant is, what they can see out the window, what makes your home cool: all the things you would be excited to tell your friends about.”
Be a good host
Simple things go a long way in making the rental work. If you’re meeting someone to give them keys or show them around, be on time, Zifkin says. (If you can’t meet in person, Wong suggests using the services of Keycafe, through which owners can safely leave a set of keys for someone to pick up in coffee shops across the country.)
Make sure the place is spotless, Zifkin says, and communicate clearly.
Wong has made up a whole book — kind of like what you’d find in a hotel — explaining how to access WiFi, how to turn on the DVD player, where the fuse box is, what grocery stores and restaurants are nearby, and so on.
Then there are additional touches to consider.
“I put out a bowl of fruit and cream for coffee in the fridge; little details to make it really nice,” Wong says. “I think about what I would want if I were staying somewhere.”
Remember the power of online reviews
Most vacation rentals end up reviewed online, either on the agency site itself or other websites.
For those using airbnb, both hosts and guests are reviewed by each other. So if, as a homeowner, your house is a dump, potential renters will read about it and likely give your place a pass. If you’re a guest who leaves the home in a state of disarray, you’ll get a rotten write-up too.
“It’s really the community that polices things,” Zifkin says. “We have a company that provides an offline experience but what we’ve created online is really a platform of trust.”