We’ve updated this post in response to changes in short-term rental listing sites. Please see the most current post, “Where to List Your Home for Short-Term Rent.”
You’ve decided to list your home for short-term rental. You’d love to earn extra money to offset some of your travel costs, and you’d feel more secure with someone in your home while you’re away. Now – where to advertise your short-term rental? Airbnb? This company’s constantly in the news, and its aggressive advertising has made its name synonymous with “short-term rental” in many people’s minds.
But Airbnb is not the only game in town, and you might want to consider other sites before you sign up. Here’s a quick guide to a selection of sites that frequently come up when travelers search for short-term rentals or vacation rentals. Keep in mind that these are only a few of the many listing sites. Also, listing sites are in a constant state of flux, so some costs and other details might have changed by the time you read this post.
Is there anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard about Airbnb? At its inception in 2008, Airbnb was primarily a room-sharing site, catering to younger audiences. Today, it’s the best-known short-term rental site in the world, boasting “more than 25,000,000 guests and 1,000,000 listings in 34,000 cities” worldwide (2016 figures).
Airbnb is a commission-only site, a business model that is rapidly becoming the norm. You can list your home for free and pay only when guests make a booking. The last time I looked, the site charged hosts a 3% fee and guests a fee of 6% – 12%. There may be a cancellation penalty if one of you cancels. The site handles all bookings and payments.
Airbnb is an attractive, easy-to-navigate site with lots of search filters for visitors. There are clear, step-by-step instructions for listing your home, tools that help verify both hosts and guests, and a Host Guarantee that purports to reimburse you for up to $1 million for damage to your property. The Help and Community sections provide useful tips and advice. Both you and travelers can contact Airbnb directly or access certain areas of the site only after you’ve signed up.
For us, the big downside of Airbnb and its copycat sites is that we’re blocked from communicating directly with prospective guests via phone, Skype, or personal email until after they’ve booked. If you’ve read some of the other articles and posts on this site, you’ll know how vital we think that direct communication is to building confidence and avoiding problems. Somewhere in the FAQs I saw a mention of a way to talk with prospective guests by phone through the site, but I wasn’t able to do that when I was searching for a place to stay in Montreal.
Your Airbnb listing will also be competing with an increasing number of commercial rentals: property managers and others with multiple short-term rental properties, especially in popular tourist areas and big cities. This focus on profit has caused a myriad of problems in many localities, often resulting in regulations that may limit your ability to rent out your home, no matter which listing site you use.
Part of the HomeAway “family,” VRBO has been around since 1995 and claims to have more than 1 million listings worldwide. It often comes up close to the top of searches. The site is very attractive and easy to navigate, with a payment system (somewhat complicated) and excellent resources, including “toolkits” and a community forum. Once upon a time there was good telephone support, but that’s no longer the case.
VRBO has been our go-to site ever since we began renting out our home. Originally founded as “Vacation Rentals by Owner,” its focus was on people like us, homeowners who rent out their primary residence or second home, rather than commercial property owners. We stayed with VRBO because our annual subscription let us communicate directly with prospective guests before accepting a booking. (For the same reason, we’ve always used VRBO to find places to stay when we travel because we could contact hosts directly before we book.)
But things change. In November 2015, HomeAway was bought by Expedia. The site now has and aggressively promotes a pay-per-booking option (hosts pay 10% per booking), added a “service fee” for guests, and raised the annual subscription fee from $299 to a hefty $549.
In June 2017, VRBO announced that it will no longer renew annual subscriptions, thus removing the last significant distinction between itself and Airbnb. That means all VRBO/Home Away hosts will have to accept online booking – no more pre-booking contact with guests. As a result, we and many other loyal VRBO subscribers who value that direct contact have been left scrambling for alternatives.
For a good discussion of this issue, see “Have Vacation Rental Sites Changed for Good” on the Evolve Vacation Rental blog.
FlipKey is one of TripAdvisor’s vacation rental sites, boasting 260 million visitors per month on 20+ TripAdvisor sites, which also include Vacation Home Rentals. It’s an attractive, easy-to-navigate site with a good search engine and a lot of filters.
There’s a helpful set of FAQs, an interesting blog, and a community forum. “Contact us” leads you only to the articles on the help center. It’s difficult (or impossible) to send a direct message to anyone in customer service, not to mention to find a phone number.
FlipKey is one of the few (perhaps the only) popular listing sites that still offer the choice of paying an annual listing fee ($599 per property) so you can communicate directly with guests before they book. Signing up is not easy, however. The subscription option doesn’t show up on the site, and you can’t sign up for it online. You have to complete a signup form to create an account and then call Trip Advisor Rentals, using a phone number (1-877-354-7539) found only on the signup form. A pay-per-booking listing is free, but you’ll pay a 3% “processing fee,” and your guests will pay a 8%-14% booking fee.
When guests book, you have a choice of asking for a refundable security deposit or purchasing up to $5000 damage insurance through the site. You get paid for the rental 24 hours or more after guests arrive, and it’s not clear whether FlipKey keeps the 3% processing fee if there’s a cancellation.
UPDATE: As of February 2018, Trip Advisor is no longer offering a subscription option.
This European-based site, founded in 2010, advertises “300,000+ homes in 20,000+ destinations.” It’s an attractive and easy-to-navigate site that uses the pay-per-booking model. Hosts pay a 10% – 20% “service fee,” and there’s a 3.3% nonrefundable fee for guests.
Guests can search by location, price (quoted in pounds!), type of home, size of home, and more. There’s a fairly complete set of FAQs, although they’re not easy to find, and a blog with a few tips and resources. You can contact customer service only by email – I couldn’t find a phone number. This site might be useful if you’re interested in attracting guests from Europe.
onefinestay, which was founded in 2009 and joined the AccorHotels family in 2016, currently lists more than 2500 homes in New York, Los Angeles, Rome, Paris, and Miami. This listing site is not for every homeowner. First of all, onefinestay operates only in a few major cities. Second, the focus is on luxury. In fact, it’s more of a rental agency than an online booking site: onefinestay takes the booking and provides “services” during the stay.
According to the site, however, the properties listed are actually people’s homes instead of corporate apartments (although some listings might be corporate short-term rentals as well). If you have the right kind of home in the right kind of place and want someone else to do all the work, this site might be good for you. A representative works with you in person to set up your listing and take photos. Before guests arrive, the company cleans your home and brings in “luxury” linens and towels, and then cleans it again and remove the linens and towels after guests leave. A representative meets guests in person when they arrive.
The site is attractive and easy-to-navigate, but I couldn’t find any information about costs. The representatives’ contact information is prominently displayed.
Although anyone may list their home for short-term rental or inquire about listings, Sabbatical Homes (as the name implies) targets people who are associated with an academic or educational institution: university professors, schoolteachers, researchers, medical professionals, and others. Founded in 2000, the site lists both rentals and home exchanges, as well as house sitting and home sharing.
Many, perhaps most, of the site’s visitors are seeking longer places for a longer stay, typically 1-6 months. The cost – currently $45 for a 14-month membership for academics, $65 for others – is low enough so that if you live near a college, university, medical center, or research center and want to attract people for longer stays, you might want to list your home here as well as on one of the more popular sites.
The Sabbatical Homes site is simple, clean, and easy-to-navigate site with few distracting bells and whistles. The listings are easy to search, with lots of filters to narrow the results. It’s subscription-only, and you communicate with potential guests directly: When you receive notification of an inquiry, you respond directly to the guest’s email address. Sabbatical Homes does not handle rent payments – you’ll collect them yourself.
As befits a site that focuses on researchers and writers, there is an excellent set of FAQs, great resources, a newsletter, and a blog. You can contact customer support by email via a form on the site.
Other Listing Sites Worth Watching
Several new listing sites offer alternatives to pay-per-booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Two of them are TripZ and HomeEscape. Both are attractive, easy-to-navigate sites that offer annual subscriptions for about $350, allow direct contact between owners and hosts, and are easy to contact by phone.
At this point, those sites are just getting off the ground and do not yet have the reach of the more well established sites. But we’re watching closely. Both sites seem to be well funded and well managed, and by this time next year, perhaps they will be giving Airbnb and VRBO a run for their money.
This popular classified advertising site is the riskiest place to list your home. You’re completely on your own. There is no vetting or verification process at all, and like other online classified ad sites, it’s a favorite of scammers. You can set up your listing so travelers can reach you only through the site, but at some point in the process you will need to exchange personal email addresses and telephone numbers or Skype addresses.
That being said, we’ve used Craigslist successfully for years to advertise the short-term rental of our primary residence and our second home. But we’re very, very careful. We never share our direct email address, telephone number, property address, or other personal information in our listing. We read inquiries carefully to determine whether and how to respond. Occasionally, an inquiry is obviously scam so we ignore it. We respond via Craigslist’s anonymous email address to the others. If the inquiry seems legitimate we ask for a phone number “so we can call to tell you more about our place.”
Craigslist sites (there’s a different site for each city or area of the country) are very bare bones. But they are pretty easy to navigate, it’s not difficult to put up a listing, and they reach a lot of people. Your listing expires after a week or so, which means you’ll need to keep renewing it until you’ve found the right guests.
What short-term rental listing sites do you use? Please share the pros and cons in the comments below or on our Facebook page.