After one Airbnb host rented her home to a young man, she found Jello shots painting the walls, windows broken, the dining room table smashed, and shattered glass everywhere. The Texas host claimed the guest threw a party that resulted in over $18,000 in damages.
Stories like that send chills down my spine. In fact, I’ve been down in the dumps ever since our long-time listing site, VRBO, opted to follow Airbnb’s lead and block direct host-guest conversations before booking.
What the Texas host experienced is rare, but it happens. Less dramatic (and destructive) problems are far more common. But most of them can be avoided or easily resolved during phone or Skype conversations. That’s why you need to talk with your short-term rental guests.
Reason #1. Talk with guests to develop a relationship
Wouldn’t you feel better about letting a stranger stay in your home if you could get to know them first? The host and guest “validation” promoted by sites such as Airbnb and VRBO is no substitute for the personal contact you make through direct person-to-person conversations.
Talking with guests by phone or Skype helps to build a relationship that increases confidence and trust. If problems do come up, you’ll find it much easier to address them.
Reason #2. Talk with guests to make sure your home is a good “fit”
Most of our potential guests appreciate the chance to ask detailed questions about our home: What are the beds like? Can we walk to cafes and restaurants? How long will it take us to get to the wine country? Is it quiet? How steep are the stairs? Knowing more about the home makes it easier to decide whether it’s what they’re looking for.
A conversation also helps us see whether our home is right for the guests. Do they need public transportation? There isn’t any where we live. Do they have small children? Our home isn’t toddler-friendly. Do they have trouble with stairs? There’s a short flight up from the garage.
Finally, talking with guests helps us compete with similar short-term rentals in our area by giving us a chance to “sell” the advantages of our home over the others.
But what if your listing site blocks phone numbers before booking? Get in touch right afterwards. If it turns out that something’s not right, it’s worth paying a cancellation fee to avoid disappointing guests or risking possible trouble.
Reason #3. Talk with guests to help avoid misunderstandings
Many of the complaints in negative short-term rental reviews stem from misunderstandings based assumptions that turned out to be wrong. Guests assumed the “beachfront house” was right on the beach, not across a busy highway. They assumed the bedroom was a separate room, not a curtained alcove. They assumed they could use the building’s gym as part of the rental, only to find that they had to pay a fee.
But all that information is in the listing, you think. Sure, but not all guests read listings closely. Besides, you can’t include every detail.
But can’t you use email to tell guests everything you think they should know? Not really. It takes a lot of emails to do what a single direct conversation can do. For one thing, you can clarify to be sure you understand what the guest is asking: “You’re looking for a place that’s within walking distance of…. Is that right?”
Talking with guests also lets you share your expectations and check to make sure guests understand them: “This is a very quiet building, so we’d have to ask you to keep noise to a minimum after 10 p.m. Would that be okay?”
Reason #4. Talk with guests to spot potential problems
Direct conversations are excellent screening tools. If you listen carefully and give people space to talk, they sometimes mention things they would never put into an email.
Towards the end of one friendly conversation, one of our guests offhandedly said, “By the way, we’re letting my 17-year-old niece and a group of friends stay here for a birthday party while we spend a couple of days in Carmel.” She must have noticed my hesitation. “I hope that’s okay. They’re really nice kids.”
I’d had two really nice teenagers of my own, so I did myself and my neighbors a favor. I politely reminded the guest that the maximum number of guests was 4. “We’re sorry,” I said, “but we can’t let unsupervised teenagers have a party in our home.”
You can learn from more than what the guests say. Hesitations, tone of voice, and vague responses to your questions can give tip you off possible problems. You won’t get those clues in an email exchange.
Reason #5. Talk with guests to increase their satisfaction with their stay
The personal contact you make when you talk with guests can help guests feel more satisfied with the rental.
For example: we spent a week in a spacious apartment in a wonderful area of Berlin. We had lots of questions about the apartment and the area before we booked. Afterwards, we had more questions, particularly about how we’d get in (the host wouldn’t be here to greet us) and how things worked (there were no instructions or manuals).
A couple of quick phone calls would have been the most efficient way for us to get answers to our questions. But our host was unwilling to talk, so email and text were our only forms of communication. We were frustrated by the ongoing back-and-forth; by the end of our stay that our host made it clear that she felt annoyed as well. We loved the apartment, but we left left feeling that our host didn’t care whether we enjoyed stay.
The bottom line: Polite, friendly phone or Skype conversations can help guests feel welcome before they arrive and throughout their stay.
Do you talk with your short-term rental guests? Why or why not? Please leave us a Comment or tell us on our Facebook page.