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Jason R. Rich’s new book, Start Your Own Airbnb Business, details the money-making possibilities of short-term rentals. In this excerpt, he interviews Airbnb Superhosts Chris and Joan Christiansen, a married couple who rent out rooms in their home via Airbnb—mostly to business professionals and students. They’ve been doing this successfully for more than seven years, and share their best practices.
How did you get started with Airbnb?
Chris Christiansen: What started it was that our kids grew up and moved out, so our home had several empty bedrooms. A friend of mine is a travel writer who spent more than six months staying at various Airbnb properties, so he gave us some guidance and encouragement. In our home, we currently have up to four separate bedrooms available for short-term rental.
Joan Christiansen: We removed all reminiscences of our kids’ belongings from each bedroom and replaced the décor and furnishings, so the bedrooms appeal to our guests. All our kids are grown and have their own homes, so they understand that their childhood bedroom is no longer their space anymore.
What makes your property unique?
Chris Christiansen: Our home is located just a few blocks from one of the Google shuttles, so we’ve hosted Google interns for summers when they found us by determining where the shuttle stops are and then comparing that to where Airbnb properties are located. Outside of Airbnb, we’ve never done any marketing or advertising to promote the property.
Joan Christiansen: I think the photos of our property that are featured within our Airbnb listing really do a good job of highlighting the space. We’ve taken all the photos ourselves. We would probably benefit from showcasing professionally taken photos because we’ve had guests arrive to check in and say the house is much nicer than they thought it would be based on the photos. In addition, I think our location plays a huge role in the popularity of our property. Another thing we do is stay on top of all the changes constantly being made to the Airbnb platform. So when they expand the list of amenities we can highlight them within the listing. We always update our listing to reflect the new options that apply once Airbnb updates its master amenities list. If a host offers those amenities but they don’t update their listing, it will look like the host does not offer them.
Before you started with Airbnb, what research did you do regarding local laws?
Chris Christiansen: We did a lot of research on nightly pricing options and what the competition was doing, but we did not do any formal research about local laws. Airbnb, however, does have relationships with various municipalities in the San Jose area, so the service automatically collects and pays local taxes that are required, which makes our bookkeeping job a lot easier.
What would you say is the absolute best reason to become an Airbnb host?
Joan Christiansen: We welcome a lot of international travelers. Our property appeals to a lot of business travelers, as well as temporary Google employees and interns who are in town for work for a three-month stretch. One of the most fun things is getting to know people from different parts of the world. It does vary a lot from guest to guest about how much they’ll interact with us. Some guests are just looking for a place to sleep and we might say 100 words to each other over a three-month period. There are, however, plenty of guests we’ve become friendly with. In fact, we were recently invited to the wedding of one of our earlier guests.
Chris Christiansen: Being able to cover our entire mortgage payment from the money earned from Airbnb is also a nice perk, especially since hosting is something we both really enjoy doing. We don’t provide any meals for our guests, but they do have full access to our kitchen. Most people, however, don’t eat here. Again, because of our location, we rarely have a vacationing guest stay for just a weekend, for example. Most are long-term bookings for one or two weeks, or up to three months. We’ve had some bookings from international guests, like a college student from Brazil, who started out with a weeklong booking as she was looking for long-term accommodations in the area, but they wound up staying with us for many months, instead of renting her own apartment. We currently don’t offer one-night stays.
Do you think it’s easier to accommodate long-term guests as a host, as opposed to accepting shorter bookings?
Joan Christiansen: I think it’s much easier to manage long-term guests in our home. Through Airbnb, this gives us a lot of flexibility, because we can schedule periods when we don’t want guests in our home—when our own family comes to visit, for example. In between long-term guests, this gives us a chance to handle upkeep and maintenance issues and do a deep cleaning of the property without inconveniencing any guests.
Chris Christiansen: As soon as we started hosting guests in our home, we hired a professional cleaning service to come in on a regular basis. A professional cleaner will do a much better job than we could do and it’s more convenient for us.
How do you set your nightly pricing?
Joan Christiansen: At first, I just did research on Airbnb to determine what similar properties in our geographic area were charging. I did not even know that dynamic pricing applications, like AirDNA, even existed. One thing we no longer do is accept the Airbnb recommended pricing because I have found that it’s very low and far less than people are willing to pay. We may lose a few bookings by avoiding the use of Airbnb’s smart pricing tool, but over time, we’ve made more money. While we do not use Airbnb’s smart pricing tool, we have purposely underpriced at various times, especially if someone we like has been staying with us and they want to extend their stay.
Chris Christiansen: We also do not accept instant bookings. Because we’re offering a shared space, we want to know in advance who will be staying with us and be able to refuse a booking. That said, we’ve never had a bad experience with a guest staying in our home. We have, however, had to tweak our House Rules for long-term guests to make it clear that they’re responsible for cleaning their own dishes in the kitchen, for example. We also had a problem with people taking dishes into their bedroom to eat a meal, but not returning their dirty dishes to the kitchen when they were done. They were leaving dirty and smelly dishes in their bedroom until the cleaner removed them.
With multiple unrelated guests staying with you in your four bedrooms at any given time, do you ever have scheduling issues for them using the bathrooms or kitchen?
Joan Christiansen: We have found that Google feeds its employees three times a day, so when we have one of their employees or interns staying with us, they rarely eat in our home, and they never cook for themselves. As for the bathrooms, two of them have their own full bath, while two bedrooms share a bathroom. I will never rent those two rooms that share a bathroom to guests who are not related or who are not traveling together. If I rent just one of those rooms to a single person or couple, I will automatically block that other room during their stay. That’s my own policy. We have our own private bathroom, and there is a shared bathroom downstairs.
Since you do not accept instant bookings, are there specific types of guests you don’t accept bookings from?
Joan Christiansen: We do not allow families traveling with kids, because our home is not set up to accommodate them. We are also not pet-friendly. We have these policies clearly spelled out in our property listing on Airbnb.
What do you do on an ongoing basis to help ensure very positive reviews from guests?
Joan Christiansen: We are very nice and accommodating people. In addition to that, I stay on top of cleaning responsibilities and replace anything, like towels, pillows, or linens, that start to look too worn.
On a day-to-day or weekly basis, how much time do you spend doing host-related duties?
Chris Christiansen: Joan does most of the work related to being an Airbnb host. For her, it’s a part-time job, especially since we have a cleaning service. Joan, however, does all the laundry in between a guest’s stay, so how much work she has depends on how often people are coming and going. Even with the cleaning service, she always does extra cleaning when needed, to make sure there are never any candy wrappers or dust under the bed, for example.
Are there any other tips or pieces of advice you think new Airbnb hosts will find useful?
Joan Christiansen: I think we’re a bit unique in that we cater mostly to businesspeople. One thing we don’t offer in any of the bedrooms is a TV, but nobody has ever asked for one. We found that our guests tend to stream their TV shows and movies from their laptop computer or tablet. We do have a large-screen TV in the living room, which is a common area, but people rarely use it. However, if we were catering more to vacationers, for example, I think having TVs with cable and streaming service access would be much more important. We do provide good Wi-Fi throughout the home, including within all of the bedrooms.