For the past couple of years, my wife and I have rented a room in our house on Airbnb year-round, and generally it’s been a great experience. With relatively little maintenance and hassle, we’ve turned a spare bedroom into an asset, and created a significant revenue stream for ourselves.
When our Airbnb room comes up in conversation, we get lots of questions about it. Even if people are familiar with Airbnb, they don’t know much about hosting, and even less about how hosting works when the rental space is part of the host’s own home.
Here are the questions I get most often, and the answers based on my experience. If you’re considering renting part of your home on Airbnb, these are probably the things you’re wondering about.
Do guests share any space with you?
No, our Airbnb guests don’t share any of our living space, and in fact they don’t even walk through it. Our rental room is essentially an in-law suite, and it has its own entrance so guests can go in and out without entering the main part of the house. We installed deadbolts on the two internal doors that connect the rental bedroom to the main living space, so when we have renters we can lock the room off.
Most houses don’t have an in-law suite, but if yours does it’s a particularly good option for Airbnb. If not, you can also rent a room that shares living space with the rest of the house. However, having the separate entrance definitely provides greater privacy and sense of security for everyone involved. I suspect that many people renting on Airbnb would feel awkward walking through someone else’s living space, just as much as you might feel awkward about having them there.
Did you have to do any updates to the rental space?
We made several updates to the room to make it a better rental. Many of them aren’t essential, but you’ll get more rentals if you can offer a nicer, more comfortable space, so we were motivated to make some improvements.
- A PIN-pad lock for the exterior door. I definitely wouldn’t want to bother passing a copy of a key back and forth to each renter, so we invested in a simple PIN-pad deadbolt. We set a unique code for each guest, ensuring that each renter only has access to the room until they check out. There are lots of good locks like these on the market, but we use this basic Schlage model.
- Extra sheets and towels. It’s common for us to have one guest check out and another check in on the same day, which means we usually don’t have time to wash everything. So we keep two sets of bed sheets on hand, and enough towels, hand towels, and wash clothes to handle several rentals.
- A fire extinguisher. We definitely want anyone in that space to have easy access to one, just in case.
Non-essential Updates (but still good ideas!)
- Food and Drink — Since our rental space has no kitchen, we bought several things to cover the basic traveler necessities: mini-fridge, microwave, coffee maker, electric kettle, plates, bowls, silverware, glasses, and coffee mugs. We also keep the room stocked with coffee grounds, tea bags, a few assorted cans of soda, and a couple of water bottles. None of these things cost all that much, but they make the space much more enjoyable for the guests. The sodas and bottles of water have proven to be the most popular thing we provide, and we hear about it on our reviews regularly. Guests love coming back to the room and having a free cold drink waiting for them.
- Entertainment — We placed an old flat screen TV in the room, and bought a Roku Streaming Stick so guests can sign into their own Netflix/Amazon accounts.
- Decor — We’ve done some basic maintenance to the room over time: repainted the walls, replaced an aging ceiling fan, hung some art, put up a full length mirror, and added a desk and desk chair. All of these make the room more like a rental space, and less like crashing someone’s spare bedroom that they don’t really think about.
- Basic Traveler Needs — We provide an ironing board and iron, hair dryer, soap and shampoo. All of these are little touches that people might not think about until they need them. As with many other amenities we provide, they cost us very little, but are a big benefit to renters.
Do guests ever trash the place/hassle and nitpick you/become a problem?
Generally our guests have been very respectful of the space and easy to deal with. Even though they’re paying a fee, it seems as though most people are still keenly aware that they’re in part of someone’s home, and treat the space gently. Most of the time, our guests come and go without needing anything, follow the instructions we send them, and leave positive reviews.
Of the small minority of guests we’ve had an issue with, the problems we’ve had are:
1. The renter didn’t read the check-in information — This is the most common issue. A few people simply didn’t read the detailed information we send through the Airbnb app, and came to the front door asking how to get in, how to access the wifi, how to work the Roku, etc. This was particularly an issue with people who are using Airbnb for the first time, or who weren’t as comfortable with technology and using mobile apps.
2. The renter didn’t realize that there was no cable television — This is easily the most common complaint we’ve gotten, even though cable television is not listed as one of our amenities, and we specify in the description that there is no cable. People who aren’t as used to getting entertainment through streaming services, or who are more used to hotels, tend to assume that cable will be included anywhere there’s a TV.
3. The renter didn’t leave by check-out time — Sometimes people overslept, or were slow packing up, and weren’t out of the room by check-out time. Generally we just let this go, unless it was going to impact us having the room ready for the next guest. When it was an issue, usually a gentle reminder message sent through the Airbnb app was enough to get them moving. But if you’re going to rent a space, definitely leave a good gap between check-out and check-in times, so you can have time to flip the room if a guest is slow to exit.
How much trouble is it to clean between guests?
After each guest we “flip” the room, which means changing the door code, changing the sheets, putting out fresh towels, cleaning the shower/toilet/bathroom counter, vacuuming the floor, taking out the trash, and checking to make sure the kitchenette appliances are clean. If I’m doing all this on my own, it usually takes about an hour. Working with my wife, we can flip it in about 30 minutes.
That’s not an insignificant time investment, and if we get a string of one-night rentals it can get tiresome. But we also charge a $20 cleaning fee per stay, which compensates us for that time.
With experience we’ve found ways to make flipping the room less hassle. One big key was making sure we had everything we need as close to the Airbnb room as possible, so we don’t have to walk back and forth through the house repeatedly. The vacuum and spare sheets/towels are stored right outside the door to the room. We keep an extra set of cleaning supplies and trash bags under the Airbnb room’s bathroom sink. Everything is right there when we need it, so we can clean as efficiently as possible.
Do you let them use your wifi?
Yes, and that’s definitely an important amenity for many people. Our wireless router, and like many others on the market, has an option for a “Guest” network, and that’s what our Airbnb renters use. The Guest network has its own password, and can’t see any of the wifi speakers, media streaming devices, or home automation devices that we use.
Do you control the rental price, and when the space is available?
Absolutely. Airbnb provides lots of good tools for managing the rental on a fairly granular level. We can increase the rental price during weekends, or when we know major events are happening locally. If we wanted to, we could have Airbnb set the price based on the local market. But generally it’s a better idea to set the prices manually, since we know more about when demand will be high.
We can also block off certain dates any time we need to use the room for family and friends, or when we’ll be be out of town and unavailable to flip the room. If we had to, we could even cancel a booking, but this lowers your status on Airbnb unless there’s an unavoidable excuse, so we try to block off any needed dates well ahead of time.
Do you mostly get renters from football games?
We live in a college town, so many people assume that our main rental market is people coming for football games. We definitely do get that market, and they’ll pay more since demand is so high at those times, but overall they’re a small percentage of our renters. One thing we’ve been really surprised by is how frequently our room is rented, and how many different needs bring us business.
Graduations, visiting family, general tourism, professional conferences, work travel (travel nurses, temporary construction jobs, etc.) all bring people to our area for short periods of time. We also get plenty of rentals from local people who are renovating their homes, are between leases, or are making space in their homes for visiting relatives.
We’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the demand for long-term rental — people who want to rent the room for several weeks or even months at a time. Since we’re in a college town, it’s common for people to come for short academic programs and professional residencies. New local businesses often require short-term construction projects, which means paying crews to come work for 1–2 months on a single job. In all these cases, there are people who need a place to stay for a longer period of time, and would much rather be in a quiet neighborhood than a sketchy long-term stay hotel.
Guests who book long-term stays get a flat percentage discount, which we set based on Airbnb’s suggestions. This usually means slightly less money for us, but it’s also guaranteed income for that period, and a nice long break from flipping the room.
I know a good bit about running a small Airbnb, and these were just a few of the things I know most people are interested in. If this post is popular, I’d be happy to write more posts about being an Airbnb host. Feel free to use my referral link if you decide to sign up as a host — I get a monetary incentive when you use the link and rent your space for the first time: Become an Airbnb host.