Personal Finance

The Complete Guide to Airbnb Vacation Rentals

vacation rental stampAirbnb is one of the innovative companies that has helped usher in the dawn of the new sharing economy in which ordinary people just like you and me are renting everything from rooms to entire apartments out to travelers who are looking for an alternative to lodging at a traditional hotel. This business model benefits both parties involved in an Airbnb transaction as hosts are able to generate revenue from rental fees and renters can usually find a great place to stay at lower prices than a hotel chain with better accommodations than a hostel or run-down motel.

The Airbnb arrangement doesn’t just include rooms or apartments, either.  There are listings for suites, houses, even yachts and houseboats. It all really depends on where you’re traveling in the world and where you want to sleep when you get there. Just visit the Airbnb website; there is a wealth of options available in hundreds of cities worldwide.

For many consumers, the Airbnb phenomenon is still a foreign concept to potential hosts and travelers alike. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide that will walk you through everything you need to know and what to look out for on both sides of the Airbnb experience. We offer helpful hints and warnings for travelers considering an Airbnb property for their next trip and some do’s and don’ts for owners (referred to as “hosts”) thinking about listing their property on the site. There is some useful advice to heed for both parties looking to get the most out of an Airbnb encounter.

The Travelers Section

If you’re planning on traveling to any of the over 190 countries that Airbnb serves, you may be considering booking a reservation with one of the listings on their site. This part of our guide is directed to you, the guest, who is looking for a place to stay but wants something other than the typical hotel or motel experience.

This is the very first thing you need to keep in mind when you book through Airbnb – you are not checking into a hotel and you shouldn’t anticipate your time there to resemble a hotel stay. Obviously, you can and should expect the property to be clean and safe. The bed or beds should have fresh linens, there should be clean towels in the bathroom, and the property should offer total privacy. However, there is no room service unless you order delivery from a local restaurant or grocery service and you won’t have a concierge to assist you in getting into local attractions.

The appeal of Airbnb is that you’re not staying in a certain city, you’re living there. Most travelers who book an Airbnb property do so for three main reasons; the prices can often be much more affordable than those at hotels, motels, even bed and breakfast, the accommodations are typically nicer and more private than staying in a hotel or hostel; and perhaps the most important reason, an Airbnb property offers travelers the closest thing to living at home in a new city.

You can cook, relax, and sleep in as you would in your own home yet, when you look out the window you might see the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. The Airbnb alternative offers guests a more personal experience that many find preferable to staying in a hotel room devoid of any charm or personality.

The prices have also begun to attract more than just vacationers looking to get away for a week or two. Business travelers have started picking up the Airbnb model as a way to save the company some money on the travel budget. This is particularly true for businessmen and women who find themselves living in airports more than in their own homes. An Airbnb property can make being on the road for months at a time feel a little less foreign and impersonal.

Whatever your reasons are for staying at an Airbnb property, here are some tips to make sure your stay is as enjoyable as can be and memorable for the right reasons.

In order for travelers to book a reservation with a host, they must create an account and a profile which gives hosts some information about the people they may rent their property out to. When a potential guest finds a place they would like to stay, he or she fills out the online form to contact the host of that property and enters payment information into Airbnb’s secure payment processing system. Airbnb accepts many different forms of payment including credit cards, Paypal, and so on, but the guest isn’t charged until the reservation is confirmed by the host.

Once confirmed, funds are not released to the host but are held by Airbnb for up to 24 hours after you check in to the property. In addition to the rental cost of the property, Airbnb charges a guest service fee of 6-12% and charges each host a 3% service fee on every transaction. No matter whether you’re renting or hosting, Airbnb makes money off of your transaction.

The company provides a service to both travelers and hosts not only in helping arrange the rental of properties but in providing certain protections geared towards safety and transparency. It can be a scary world out there filled with strange and dangerous people.  While most stays are free of incident, there are definite safety concerns that come with this type of lodging arrangement. Airbnb has worked hard to minimize these dangers through the company’s stringent verification procedures.

With two million listings on the Airbnb site, the trust and safety factor is a crucial component of the company’s ongoing success. The company relies on a combination of identification verification techniques geared towards confirming a user’s true background, using social media accounts such as Facebook alongside Google searches to confirm a host is really who he or she says they are.

Every profile also lists the phone number and email address of each user. Reviews of every user, host and traveler alike, can also be viewed whether they’re positive or negative. These measures help make Airbnb a safe community for everyone. They don’t perform background checks like you may expect with Uber or Lyft drivers but Airbnb feels that the information provided and verified through their site is more than sufficient to ensure the trust and safety of their users.

Know Before You Show

Airbnb boasts 2 million listings in nearly 200 countries, so you’re bound to find something amazing in the destination to which you are headed. The website’s search filters can be as general or specific as you wish so be sure to make full use of that filter criteria when you’re searching for a place to stay. If you’ve traveled to a city for a specific reason, you’re there to see a concert, attend a film festival, you’ve come to town for a conference, then be sure to enter that information into the search criteria so you can find a property near that attraction.

You’ll find some cities have thousands of listings and, unless you are specific about where you want to stay and in what type of property, be it a room to a full condo to a houseboat, you may not get the best property for your visit. The great thing about Airbnb is that you can be quite particular about exactly where you want to stay and likely find that very listing or some place awfully close to it.

Once you find some listings you like, be sure to read every detail carefully and check out all of the photos that accompany it. You don’t want any surprises when you show up to the property, so be sure you like the way the kitchen looks, if there are enough windows, the bathroom is big enough…or that it has one at all. In some cases, a listing is just for one room – you don’t want to arrive thinking you’re staying in a house all by yourself when there will be other people living there at the same time.

Know exactly what you are getting for your money before you submit your reservation request. The listings should be extremely helpful, but if you come across any that are light on details and display a minimum of photos you may want to keep looking.

When in Doubt, Ask

The Airbnb website has a messaging service which allows you to communicate with the host of any property listed for rent. When you find a listing or a few that appeal to you, feel free to contact the host with any and all questions you might have about staying in that property. Ask how close the property is to certain attractions or inquire about details you might see in the photos, like if the couch folds out into a bed or if the balcony is large enough for more than two people.

This goes for special requests as well, such as if you can bring a pet into the property and if so, if it costs extra. Many of the guidelines and ground rules are usually included in each listing, but anything that hasn’t been covered can be discussed by directly communicating with the host. Make a list of all of your questions and requirements and cover everything before you hit the road. Whenever in doubt, ask first.

rules rules rules chalkboardThe Ground Rules

Booking through Airbnb comes with explicit regulations that you must follow in order to reserve a property. These rules are in place to protect travelers from getting scammed.  This not only makes guests feel safe about the process, but also helps Airbnb uphold their reputation as a safe and secure alternative. That’s why the company acts as a middle-man between travelers and hosts when it comes to securing payments.

They are very clear about warning you against giving money directly to a host, although some properties do provide direct payment options much like you would expect from a hotel or other commercial property. The listing will usually disclose that to you upfront and this “Instant Book” option doesn’t require host approval to reserve a property. You just confirm your travel dates and the host will get in touch with you about check-in. Unless this direct transaction is explained from the start, don’t go outside of the Airbnb payment method to secure your reservation.

Horror Stories

Unfortunately, not every stay at an Airbnb property has been a dream. There have been a few horror stories, with guests showing up to properties that weren’t clean, looked nothing like the description or photos had claimed, and, in one instance, a guest had rented an apartment from a host only to have the apartment’s real owner come home wondering why there was a stranger living in his flat!

The best way to protect yourself is to make full use of Airbnb’s safety features for verifying ID’s and read all reviews and profiles associated with the property where you want to stay. If you find yourself in a problematic situation, Airbnb has a helpful customer service support staff that is ready to assist you at any time.

The Hosts Section

This is the part of the guide dedicated to property owners who want to make some extra money by renting out a room, an apartment, or any other living space that you are authorized to rent to prospective travelers. Hosts place their property on the Airbnb site and travelers can browse through listings located in the city where they are headed.

In your listing you will want to include all relevant information about your property, from the size to the location to the price per night. Upload photographs so the potential renter can view the property before they show up. If you wish to list your property on the site, you must first create a profile containing your available listing(s) and personal information. This way travelers can get to know a little bit about the person from whom they will be renting.

Potential renters can filter their search criteria to be as wide-ranging or minutely specific as possible when it comes to factors like room size, price per night, amenities, the type of property, even languages that the host can speak. Typing in particular keywords can also refine the search even more with indicators like “mountain view” or “close proximity to subway station” narrowing the results further. If you want your home to be included in these search results, then you’ll need to carefully complete your profile to highlight your property’s value.

Airbnb wouldn’t exist without your participation because it wouldn’t have much of a service to provide otherwise. Such being the case, these are some of the most important things to know before you decide to create a listing to advertise your space for potential guests. Just as they do for travelers, Airbnb has protections in place to make the renting experience pleasant and lucrative for hosts. But you need to know the rules first and you may want to adhere to a few additional safety measures that you can take on your own so you’re even better protected.

Setting the House Rules

Every host is expected to complete a set of house rules and provide renters a house manual that lays out the basics of staying in the property. You will want to make each of these items as specific as possible and explain every facet of what guests are expected to do and not to do while staying on your property. You can include things like how to use the TV, the Wi-Fi password, ask them to refrain from smoking or direct them to areas where smoking is permitted.

These basic rules are going to make guests feel more at ease in your property and give you peace of mind knowing that your property is being taken care of in the manner you expect. You will also want to have clear and concise contact information ready in the event there is a problem of any kind, whether your guests are unhappy with something in the property or there’s an emergency that needs your immediate attention.

The rules, manual, and safety card for emergency contact information can all be filled out and included in the listing for the property on the Airbnb website. Some hosts require guests to submit a security deposit which can cover any minor damage in or to the property itself. It’s an additional form of peace of mind that some hosts rely upon to make sure nothing is broken or ruined.

Purchase Insurance

Airbnb provides every host with the company’s Host Insurance Protection Insurance which carries liability coverage for up to $1,000,000 in the event of any property damage or bodily injury that occurs during an Airbnb transaction. This is the biggest concern for most hosts who list a property with the company as they don’t want their place trashed and their belongings ruined or stolen.

While Airbnb offers this coverage, and it might sound like one million dollars is sufficient, you need to be read the fine print. Certain things aren’t covered, mainly expensive and valuable things like jewelry, artwork, and cash (which you shouldn’t be keeping in an Airbnb property anyway). Their guarantee does protect the payment you receive for the reservation, however, and ensure you get paid.

For complete peace of mind, be sure you have homeowners or renters insurance in place and talk to your insurer to see if you need an additional policy while renting your property on Airbnb.

stack rules regulations booksKnow Your Rights

This is the most important aspect to any host’s involvement on Airbnb – you must be certain you have the right to rent your property out to guests. If you don’t and find yourself in violation of a signed agreement you could open yourself up to significant legal and civil penalties.

Certain state and local laws have explicit restrictions on renting out a property for temporary arrangements. It is critical that you refer to the laws in your area and remain in compliance regarding the rental of your property. Failing to do so can become very costly.

Renters who don’t own their apartment, condominium, or house will also need to refer to the rental agreement with their landlord before they list a property on Airbnb. The lease may prevent from renting or subletting the property for any length of time and, if the landlord discovers that you are violating the terms of your agreement, you could be subject to penalties and possible eviction from the property altogether.

Trust But Verify

Much like we’ve told travelers, it’s important to read up on the people with whom you are doing business on Airbnb. That means reading the profile and using the verification features on the site to know exactly who is coming to stay at your property.

For the most part, they are all probably very kind, respectful, and trustworthy individuals. But there have been horror stories about guests trashing properties, having loud and crazy parties, and causing general mayhem in an Airbnb listed property. It can happen if you’re not careful about knowing who’s renting from you first.

Another good rule of thumb is to keep doors and closets locked. You can tell a guest not to go into a certain room or stay out of a closet, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to comply. It may not even be malicious, just curiosity getting the best of them. Locks on doors eliminate that threat.

Some hosts have had problems with guests raiding supply closets for items like shampoo and toothpaste, stuffing these items in their bags and walking off with them without a care for the next guest or the host’s supply budget. Keeping it all behind locked doors will keep those items in your possession. Put out only what is needed for each guest and then restock again for the next traveler once they arrive.

Our Final Thoughts

Airbnb can be a valuable resource for travelers and hosts alike and we hope this guide has given you some indication of how to get the most out of this service. Hosts can make a pretty sizable income from renting out properties and guests will be thrilled at how much they can save by going with Airbnb over a hotel chain in the area.

Airbnb has all of its rules, regulations, and safety features laid out in full at the Airbnb website: Visiting the site will get hosts started on everything they need to know about creating a profile and preparing their first listing while travelers can begin browsing for their next vacation getaway.

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