What’s the difference between a good short-term rental host and a great short-term rental host? The best way to find out is to be a guest yourself. We’ve stayed in many short-term rentals over the years, and here are some of the lessons we’ve learned.
Lesson #1. Make sure guests know what to expect
Sounds easy, right? But few listing descriptions and photos tell the whole story, and too often there’s a big gap between what guests expect and what they find when they arrive. Are there stairs? How many? How steep? What does “cozy,” “ocean view,” “good bed,” or “lively neighborhood” really mean? The more specific you are in your listing and your communications with guests, the more realistic their expectations are likely to be.
Lesson #2. Tell guests how things work
This spring we spent a week in an apartment that came with no instructions whatsoever, leaving us to puzzle over the unfamiliar appliances. We even went out and bought new bulbs for a couple of lamps before learning that they were controlled by a remote.
In other short-term rentals, we’ve shivered through chilly nights when we couldn’t figure out how to turn the heat on or been left in the dark when the lights went out with no idea where to find the circuit breakers. In one place, we kept scalding ourselves until we realized that the shower handle turned the wrong way.
Think about what guests need to know about your home. Write up clear instructions for how things work. Not only will they be more comfortable, you’ll be less likely to be bothered with frantic questions.
Lesson #3. Give guests complete, accurate information
There are certain essentials guests need to know. In the same apartment this spring, the internet access code the host gave us didn’t work because she’d left out one of the letters. We’ve searched and searched for the entrance to a building because the host neglected to tell us that it was around the corner and down an alley.
Those kinds of things leave guests feeling frustrated and annoyed. Check and double-check the information you give them to make sure that it’s accurate and you’ve included everything essential.
Lesson #4. If you can’t greet guests yourself, consider arranging for a greeter
When you stay in a hotel, you will be greeted and perhaps shown to your room by real live human beings who do their best to make you feel welcome. But short-term rental hosts often send keys ahead of time or use a lockbox, leaving guests pretty much on their own.
If your place is easy to find and get into, and everything is pretty self-explanatory, your guests might not mind. But even experienced guests like ourselves find it stressful to arrive in a strange place after a long trip. We appreciate hosts who make us feel welcome by greeting us, making sure we know how the keys work, and showing us around.
Lesson #5. Set up your home so guests will be comfortable
Many of the short-term rentals we’ve stayed in have been the host’s private residence. That’s fine with us. We feel more at home in those places than in a carefully staged corporate apartment. It’s also fun to see the way other people live. But to be perfectly honest, we don’t always like living the way they do.
That was the case in the rental this spring. The host had simply left the apartment and turned over the keys. Every inch was crammed with her stuff. Tchotchkes everywhere. Closets and drawers full of clothes. Bathroom shelves covered with baskets of brushes, combs, lotions, toothbrushes, and other personal items. We had no place to put anything down or put any of our clothes away, so we had to live out of our suitcases for the week.
The real problem was the bed. It was a good firm mattress, for which we were glad. But the host had left only one heavy winter blanket, with no alternative when the weather turned warm. The two bed pillows were huge and square, which we found very uncomfortable.
If you want to be a great host, think about what your guests might want and need. At a minimum, give them a choice of pillows and blankets, extra towels (especially if there are no laundry facilities), closet and shelf or drawer space for their clothes and room in the bathroom for their toiletries, an empty shelf or two in the refrigerator and cupboards for their food, and space on nightstands, end tables, dresser tops, and shelves so they can put things down without shoving yours aside.
Lesson #6. Make sure things are in working order
“Oh, I forgot to tell you that the [washer/dishwasher/living room lamp/garbage disposal/DVD player/window….] doesn’t work.” We’ve heard a version of that statement more than once. Why, we wonder, didn’t the host bother to tell us before we arrived!
Renting out your home is a terrific opportunity to fix things that you never seem to get around to fixing. Replace light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries. Do something about that window that sticks when you try to close it. Get rid of the throw rug that trips you at least once a week. Fix the dripping faucet and tighten up loose door handles. Replace the broken TV or take it off your list of amenities. If you can’t fix or replace something, at least warn your guests ahead of time.
Lesson #7. Arrange for someone to be around in case of problems
Things happen. The hot water heater goes out. Guests accidentally lock themselves out. A tree falls on the house during a storm. What are guests to do? If you’re not going to be available yourself, give guests the name and contact information for someone who can answer important questions and deal with serious problems.
Lesson #8. Share tips and suggestions about the area
One of the perks of renting someone’s home is getting inside information from the host. Your guests will appreciate your suggestions for finding grocery stores, open markets, pharmacies, cafes and restaurants, parks and recreation facilities, hiking trails, and more.
Gather some menus, brochures, transit schedules, and maps (even in the age of Google, printed maps help people see where they are), and other helpful information into a folder or a binder. Include suggestions for out-of-the way museums, hidden walks and places to visit that only you, a local, will know about.
What other lessons have your guest experiences taught you about being a great short-term rental host? Please share them in the Comments or on our Facebook page.