Every short-term rental host’s nightmare are the Guests From Hell. You know who they are. They drive you crazy with nagging questions. They complain about everything. They leave the place filthy. They park in your neighbor’s driveway or hold rowdy parties.
We’ve had a few Guests From Hell ourselves: the man whose girlfriend liked to scream in the middle of the night; the couple whose party guest smashed into a neighbor’s car; the woman who dripped red wine on our favorite duvet cover; and the delightful couple from Amsterdam who used our car and left it filled with trash.
But those people were the exception, by far. The vast majority of our guests have been polite, friendly, and well-behaved, and they’ve taken good care of our home. Still, we never let ourselves forget that a thoughtless, careless guest could make our lives miserable, ruin our relationships with our neighbors, or leave us with a mess to clean up and or costly repairs to make.
How do we avoid problem guests? Before handing over the keys, we take several steps to make sure our guests are the kind of reliable, responsible people we want to welcome into our home. These steps can help you avoid Guests From Hell in your own short-term rental.
1. Talk to your guests
With very few exceptions, nearly all the problems hosts have with Guests from Hell can be traced back to a lack of direct communication.
Nothing beats a person-to-person phone or Skype conversation. Email exchanges are fine for conveying factual information and working out logistics. But we’ve found that talking directly with guests helps both us and them decide whether our home is a good fit, clarify expectations, and build trust. In a conversation, you can also pick up the nuances and stray bits of information that can alert you to possible problems.
Conversations help you clarify the rules, ensure that guests know what to expect in your home, and avoid misunderstandings. You can’t put everything in a short-term rental listing; in any event, many people don’t read listings carefully. Make sure guests know that there is no TV, the balcony isn’t safe for little children, or the pool in your complex will be closed during their stay.
For a conversation to be useful, listen carefully. A guest who asks, “Is the neighborhood busy at night” might mean, “Is it noisy?” or “Is it lively and fun?” One who asks, “Is it okay to have friends over?” might mean, “Can we have another couple or two over for dinner?” or “Can we have a party?”
Tip: If your home is listed on a site such as Airbnb or VRBO that blocks direct conversations before the guest has booked, get in touch with them as soon as you have their contact information. Most guests will be happy to talk with you.
2. Do some screening
Many short-term rental listing sites now let hosts review guests. I’m a little skeptical of reviews, but taken with other information, they can be helpful.
Even if you find laudatory reviews on the guests, it doesn’t hurt to do a little screening yourself. Look the guests up on social media to see whether what you find matches what they’ve said about themselves. If they are going to be in your home for an extended stay, ask for references from someone they’ve rented from before.
Tip: Be sure to read reviews carefully, and try to read between the lines. “Ann and Filipe are nice people” doesn’t tell you much about whether they were good guests. “Ann and Felipe took excellent care of our home” or “Ann and Filipe are nice people but they didn’t bother to clean up after themselves” tells you a lot more.
3. Stay in touch
Keep the direct and email communication going. Most of our guests book several weeks or even months ahead of time. We encourage them to get in touch whenever they have questions. A week or so before their arrival date, we send them our “user guide,” confirm the arrival details, and wish them a smooth trip.
Tip: Answer guests’ questions openly and honestly. They’ll be much happier with your home if what they find matches their expectations.
4. Trust your intuition
All through the rental process, we try to keep our “Guest from Hell” detector honed so we can quickly spot possible problems.
We worry if a guest can’t seem to find time for a direct conversation, doesn’t respond to email messages, gives only vague responses to our questions, or subjects us to an ongoing barrage of questions and concerns. Those things rarely happen, but when they do, they usually indicate that we’re going to have trouble with that guest.
Tip: If something seems wrong, something probably is. It’s far better to cancel before guests arrive than to have problems after they are already in your home.
5. Arrange for eyes on the ground while you’re away
Even with lots of communication and careful screening, it’s always impossible to know for sure whether a guest is taking care of your home and following your rules. That’s why we usually ask a family member, friend, or neighbor to check in with our guests from time to time and let us know right away if anything seems wrong.
Tip: Sometimes the best way to have eyes on the ground is to arrange for a trusted housecleaner to come in while guests are there. Guests will appreciate the service. The cost will be well worth it if the cleaner spots problems you need to know about.
Have you ever had Guests from Hell? Was there any way you might have spotted problems ahead of time? Please share your story in the Comments or on our Facebook page.