Hosting on Airbnb: 8 secrets to success from a Superhost in Norwich

Have you considered hosting on Airbnb to make some handy extra income from your spare room?

That’s exactly what I started doing a year ago. And here I am, 20 bookings later, over £3000 better off, lots of stories to tell, and certainly lots of lessons learned.

So what advice would I give aspiring Airbnb hosts?

1. Get the practicalities sorted

There are some important legal, insurance, security and tax considerations to address before you start hosting on Airbnb.

The first thing to say is that it may not be permitted at all under the terms of your mortgage. If that’s the case, you need to decide whether you’re willing to take the risk.

Other, rather more easily surmountable hurdles include:

Insurance

Does your home and contents insurer allow Airbnb guests? Mine didn’t, so I switched to an Airbnb-friendly policy from Admiral – which ended up being cheaper anyway. Result.

Locks on bedroom doors

Maybe this is just me being overly cautious, but I knew that I’d feel safer with a lock on my bedroom door. While I was at it, I got one put on the Airbnb room, because I think it’s important for some guests. This hasn’t altered how I feel about my home; it’s just a personal safety precaution.

Go for the approved landlord type that don’t need a key from the inside, so you could get out quickly in an emergency (see pic).

Within my blog about renting out a room on Airbnb, this is a picture of an internal lock on a bedroom door that is approved for landlords.

Fire safety

Familiarise yourself with fire safety rules that apply to anyone with paying guests. Also get a landlord gas safety certificate, and mention this in your Airbnb listing.

Tax

Check the tax implications and reporting requirements. If your earnings from renting out a room won’t exceed £7500 annually then it’s likely to be tax-free under the Rent a Room scheme but it still needs to be declared.

Spare keys

I give guests a spare set of keys when they check-in, and I’m pleased to say that I haven’t had any security problems at all.

Broadband

Every guest’s first question is “What’s the wifi code?” so it’s worth checking your broadband can cope with another (potentially heavy) wifi user. Wobbly internet connections won’t please guests, plus you don’t want an unexpected bill for exceeding your limit.

2. Tell it like it is – at least twice

When writing your listing, certainly highlight the plus points of your place, but describe it accurately. The most important thing is that it lives up to its billing. Be upfront about location, transport options, bathroom, kitchen, etc – and upload plenty of good pictures with helpful captions. Airbnb can arrange a professional photography service too.

Having said that, don’t expect guests to read your listing properly (sorry guests!) When I get booking requests now, I reiterate some important points (in my case, needing a car to drive to the UEA) because I’ve learnt that when people say “It’ll be fine, I’ll walk”, it won’t be fine, it’ll rain, they’ll get fed up, and I’ll end up driving them so that they don’t have a horrid time.

3. Look at your space through guests’ eyes  

Cleanliness

Before hosting, I under-estimated just how spotless the guest spaces have to be. “It’s my home”, I thought. “People won’t expect a hotel”. Wrong. People are paying, and expect hotel-standard cleanliness, at least in their bedroom and bathroom.

It can be hard to see your own house from a stranger’s perspective – but you’ll soon find out if there’s a problem! One of my first guests wrote to me afterwards and said the cutlery was dirty (it wasn’t – it was a tad discoloured) so I embarked on a little spending spree in the kitchen section on Amazon* to future-proof my ratings. And with the sales upon us, what better time to upgrade a few items?

Comfort

When it comes to the guest bedroom, get a decent mattress. Nearly every one of my guests has commented that the bed is really comfy. It’s a John Lewis* own brand one and was definitely worth the investment.

Furniture and equipment

Think about your target audience and furnish the room accordingly. I host business travellers and they’ve appreciated having a desk with a lamp, a wardrobe with hangers, plus an iron, hairdryer and TV.  I find Dunhelm useful for household items, and Ryman is always a good option for desks – although you might be able to find a decent one on your local Freecycle.

And which kitchen item is most used by Airbnb guests? A microwave!

4. Define your criteria….

The great thing about renting out a room on Airbnb is that you can screen bookings according to set criteria such as having previous reviews or verified ID.

Beyond these basic security filters, use the settings to define the type and length of bookings you are willing to accept.

I quickly stopped accepting one nighters because the amount of cleaning and washing involved just didn’t justify them.

Personally I choose not to host couples because it would create a whole different vibe, probably with a whole lot more noise. This has led to my guests being mainly business people or students, which is absolutely ideal in my view. What’s more, they tend to say what they do professionally and I find this reassuring. A Google search usually confirms their identity within seconds.

Be specific about your house rules so that guests know where they stand. My first guest took showers in the middle of the night, which woke me up, so I promptly added a polite request that guests don’t shower after 11pm!

5. ….and don’t budge on them

You will get all sorts of booking requests that diverge wildly from your criteria.

For instance, I’ve had people ask for big discounts, try to book in extra guests, or enquire for someone else (which I really dislike because the reviews on their profile are not linked to the prospective guest). It’s easy to think of Airbnb as very short-term but you’d be surprised how many guests have actually been seeking longer-term accommodation and wanted to stay on as lodgers.

Regarding pricing – you’ll quickly work out what brings in the bookings. You could lower your prices (Airbnb will remind you of this every time you log in) but I would suggest ignoring the ‘smart pricing’ feature if you’re happy with your occupancy rate. On average I host for 7 nights per month, which fits my lifestyle perfectly.

My advice is to politely stick to your guns and keep in mind why you are doing this. Don’t feel you should accept bookings that you aren’t comfortable with. It’s your house. Trust your instincts.

6. Keep responsive and organised 

Communication is a biggie when it comes to ratings, your listing prominence (SEO) and generally being a successful host.

This means responding as quickly as possible to booking requests. If you’ve not got Instant Book activated, you could miss out on opportunities if you don’t reply within a few hours. Once the booking has been confirmed, keep in touch, and send them directions (even if you’ve included these in the ‘guest information’ part of the app, because people don’t tend to notice them – refer to Point 2!) Make sure to ask for their time of arrival and any breakfast preferences (if you are offering B&B).

It’s important to keep your calendar up to date, especially if you accept instant bookings. If you haven’t hosted for a while it’s really easy to let this slide; arranging a weekend away, for instance, and forgetting to block out the dates. But if you get a booking and have to cancel it, you get penalised – and bang go your chances of becoming a Superhost!

Airbnb calendar

7. Be welcoming and friendly!

It can be quite intimidating arriving on the doorstep of a stranger’s home, so remember to smile and put people at ease! Help them with their bags, ask them a few things about their stay, and then get straight into check-in. I keep it as short as possible, giving them a quick tour, before handing over the keys and showing them the all-important matter of how to lock the front door.

You can also ask if they need storage space in the kitchen. All of my guests have used the fridge.

Unless you provide tea-making facilities in the guest room, offer to put the kettle on – always a good ice-breaker if they have the time. I’ve chatted to many of my guests over a cuppa in the kitchen once they’ve settled in; it helps to make them feel at home.

Within my blog about renting out a room on Airbnb, this is a picture of the giant world map on my kitchen wall
A great talking point with guests – the giant world map in my kitchen!

From that point, take cues from your guest about the level of interaction they prefer. People appreciate a friendly environment, of course, but equally they want space. The majority of my guests, being business travellers, make (or heat up) their dinner, eat in the kitchen and then relax in their room.

8. Go the extra mile

Airbnb describes its hosts as “ambassadors for their local area” and this is no exaggeration.

As a host I feel a responsibility to make guests’ stays as smooth, convenient and pleasant as possible, as well as promoting our fine city and its surrounds. This involves providing a concierge-style service, such as helping with transport arrangements or giving restaurant recommendations. Solo guests, on their own in an unfamiliar city, tend to rely more on their host (understandably).

I’ve picked people up from the station, taken them to the supermarket, introduced several overseas guests to my favourite British breakfast option – porridge! – and devised a walking tour of Norwich for a businessman who found himself with a free afternoon.

Overall, I really enjoy meeting all the different people who come to stay. One thing’s for sure – if you are going to rent out a room on Airbnb, it’s vital to have a friendly, open and service-orientated approach.

I hope these tips based on my experiences are useful!

Good luck – and if you want to ask me any questions, please go ahead in the Comments below.

If you intend hosting on Airbnb, please consider using my referral link– thank you. Or, join Airbnb with my referral code here and get £25 towards your first trip as a guest (if you spend £55 or more).

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*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, marked by an asterisk, to brands or products and services that I recommend. This means that if you click on the link and decide to make a purchase, I will earn a small commission (at no cost to you). This is to help fund writing my blog. Thank you! 

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