Inns and Outs of Airbnb – Part 2: Success Is in the Details
When I caught up with Adrienne Biggs by phone, she had just come in from shopping for a collapsible highchair, and sounded out of breath. “I went to three stores,” she said.
“Did you find one?” I asked.
“Yes, at a thrift store for $10. It perfectly fits the design of the home.”
Of course it does.
Biggs, an Airbnb concierge in Marin County, Calif., prides herself on coming through. In the increasingly competitive short-term rental market, attention to such details can make the difference between getting a booking and not.
Got a dog? One pet bed coming up. Bringing your bike? Here’s a map of trails.
“My clients own more than one home, and often live out of state much of the year,” said Biggs, who manages, maintains and markets homes for owners who use them as short-term rentals. “They can’t be bothered to deal with the water heater going out, let alone know how many rolls of toilet paper are in the house.”
But Biggs makes that her business, literally. After Airbnb takes its cut (about 3 percent), she gets 20 percent of the income. The owners get the rest.
The idea of becoming an Airbnb concierge came to her in 2014 when she noticed that the trend of renting out a guest room – which we talked about last week – had evolved to renting out a whole house.
“Whether they rent a room for $45 a night or a house $450, travelers are looking for a great experience and that Wow! factor,” she said.
The Netflix series “Stay Here,” which features turning short-term rental properties into moneymaking showstoppers, has also capitalized on the craze.
“Everyone's doing it, or wanting to,” Biggs said, “but not everyone's doing it right.”
Leslie Sophia Lindell clearly did something right. When her son went off to college, the single mom transformed his bedroom in the Mill Valley, Calif., home into an Airbnb guest suite. “I wanted some energy in the house,” said Lindell, a commercial photographer. “The best part was connecting with people. The money was a bonus.” And connect she did.
“One day this guy inquired about my Airbnb three days before he planned to arrive on business,” Lindell recalled. However, the guest came with baggage. He had two online reviews from hosts, and one wasn’t good. The host said this guest “showed up early and had a lot of demands.” The black mark had cost the traveler a couple rejections. But Lindell dug deeper. “I looked into reviews about the host, and realized he was the one who seemed unhinged.”
So she took a chance.
John McDowell arrived on a Thursday night, and “we completely hit it off,” Lindell said.
“The whole time I kept thinking, ‘Now what?’”
Seven months later, she left her home in California to be with him in Austin, that’s what. They married in October 2018. (If you don’t love this story, there’s something wrong with you.) Today the couple, she’s 51 and he’s 58, divide their time between homes in Austin and Santa Fe, and Airbnb the home they’re not it. “We know the system works,” she said.
Though you may not find love in the Airbnb world, you may find money. To give those venturing into the wild, weird and whacky world of sharing their homes with strangers a competitive edge, here are Biggs top tips for hosts:
Have online appeal. Come up with an inviting name for your place: The Woodland Cottage, Creekside Getaway. Write a compelling description and feature great photos. Make sure your write up appeals to women, who make 90 percent of the bookings, Biggs said.
Don’t skimp. Little touches set you apart. Go all in for bath amenities, fresh flowers, extra blankets, slippers, robes, chocolates, and, if it’s a romantic getaway, perhaps a bottle of champagne. “Don’t be good enough,” Biggs said, “be above; provide a service people don’t even know they want.”
Have a welcome sign. Biggs puts a chalkboard at the front door and writes a welcome message to the guests with everyone’s name, even the dog’s.
Be available. Engage with guests, but don’t creep on them. Let them know how to reach you, yes, 24/7. Be sure they’re finding all they need. As their local resource, help them know where to eat, shop and play, and where to find the best sushi, happy hour or hiking.
Know your competition. Airbnb will tell you whom you lost a booking to. See what they offer that you don’t. Call them and ask them to send you guests they can’t accommodate, and offer to do the same.
Brace for bad apples. Four out of five times, guests will seem as if they were never there, but some leave a larger footprint. In five years, Biggs has had only two bad actors; one young woman impersonated her father, threw a big party and used a fake credit card. Fortunately, Biggs found proof of her folly on Instagram, and had her arrested.
Be neighborly. For reasons above, and others, not everyone loves Airbnb, and many communities don’t allow it. Consider your neighbors. Here are two comments I received from readers of last week’s column worth noting: “I'm not happy having people I don’t recognize come and go at all hours. Perhaps to the neighbors, money is king. I would prefer having our bucolic street back.” And this one: “You’ve discounted the value of neighborhoods and what it means to be a neighbor. Increased traffic, on-street parking and a transient population take away from the quality many of us bought into.” Which leads me to say, just because you can run an Airbnb in your home, doesn’t mean you should. Check in with your neighbors, and be considerate.
CAPTION: Matched set -- Leslie Sophia Lindell and John McDowell met when he rented a room in her home through Airbnb. Here they are on their wedding day in October 2018. Photo courtesy of Andrea Corrona Jenkins Photography.