The short-term rental market is pretty packed these days. We rarely had any trouble attracting guests when we were planning a trip and wanted to rent out our home. But once Airbnb entered the market, the number of available homes skyrocketed. Today’s travelers can choose from hundreds of homes like ours.
The implications are clear. Whether you live in a popular city, a resort area, a small town, or an ordinary suburb, or whether you’re renting out your primary residence or a vacation home, you need to do everything you can to make your short-term rental more competitive in a very crowded market.
Tip #1. Target the right people
Experts know that the first rule of marketing is to identify your customers and tailor what you offer to them.
The type of home and its location – things you cannot change – have a lot to do with the type of people your home will attract. So start by thinking about who might want to stay in your home. Young couples who want to be in the middle of things and don’t mind a 4th floor walkup? People with kids who need room to spread out? Seniors who want their own place to stay while visiting family? Tourists coming to your area to visit popular sites? Skiers, surfers, or hikers? Business travelers?
Tip #2. Pick the right listing site or sites
It might surprise you to know that not every traveler turns first to Airbnb. There are lots of listing sites, and your target guest might prefer one of the others.
Airbnb and other very popular sites such as VRBO might not be best for your home for another reason: the competition on those sites is fierce. While your listing will reach more potential guests, those guests will have a much larger array of choices. On the other hand, specialty sites, such as Sabbatical Homes, have fewer visitors but reach a more targeted audience.
With your target guest in mind, browse a number of listing sites. Which site or sites seems most likely to attract guests who are a good fit for your home?
Tip #3. Spruce up your home
Travelers who choose homes over hotels typically value comfort and convenience over hotel-room perfect. That doesn’t mean they want to stay in places with saggy beds, stuffing poking out of the sofa, or cracks in the windows.
Take a walk around your home trying to look at it with stranger’s eyes. Maybe it’s time to replace the broken light fixture in the master bath or buy a nice throw to cover the stains on the sofa. Or spend a weekend painting the guest room. Ask yourself what you could do to fix the place up without breaking your budget. Have your home be the place that people want to come back to.
Tip #4. Offer great amenities
Amenities are often what makes one short-term rental more desirable than another. High speed wireless Internet is a must. Guests typically expect a flat screen TV with satellite or cable service and at least a few premium channels. Most guests will plan to cook at least some of their meals “at home,” so a well-stocked kitchen with dishwasher, microwave, toaster or toaster oven, and coffeemaker is a plus. Families are far more likely to choose a home that has a washer and dryer readily available. A hair dryer, an outdoor grill, a desk, an expandable dining table, toys, books and games all make your home more attractive to potential guests.
Depending on the type of home and where it’s located, there are lots of other amenities that can set your home apart from the pack and make it more competitive. Examples include a streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu; a “cook’s kitchen”; bikes; easy access to a gym; a landline in case cell service is poor; air conditioning if you’re in a warm-weather area; outdoor furniture if you have a patio or deck; a rowboat or kayak if you’re on a lake; and a pool or hot tub.
Tip #5. Set up a Smart Home
A smart home system includes a number of devices such as thermostats, door locks, light switches, appliance modules, video management devices, and water leak detectors that “talk” to each other. Lights and temperature can be switched on automatically so guests arrive at a warm (or cool), well-lit home and use a unique code to get in. During their stay, they can use voice-activated devices such as Alexa or Google Home to raise or lower the temperature, turn lights on or off, play music, get information about the home and the area, and more.
According to Dana Young of the Virtual Concierge Service, an increasing number of today’s guests are choosing short-term rentals that have “Smart Home” features. If you plan to rent out your home often, a smart home system might be worth the investment.
Tip #6. Get the price right
Remember the Goldilocks rule? Ask too little for your short-term rental, and you might not make enough to cover your costs. Too much, and guests might choose something less expensive.
There’s a lot of advice about pricing on many short-term rental listing sites and forums. Airbnb and some other sites have pricing tools that might or might not work for you. But figuring out what rent to charge is not rocket science. With a little research, you can do it yourself.
First, find out what hotels in your area are charging. Then browse a couple of short-term rental sites to see what other hosts are charging for homes similar to yours. Think about the time of year. In some places, you can ask more in certain seasons than in others. Also think about whether your home offers something special that similar homes do not. Then come up with a rental amount that seems reasonable and in line with your competition.
Tip #7. Grab attention with great photos
Once people find homes that meet their basic criteria (location, price, size, and availability), they check out the photos to see what the home is like.
It doesn’t much matter how well you extol your home in the narrative descriptions or even how many wonderful amenities it has. Guests are likely to pass up listings with dark, fuzzy photos showing a cluttered, unattractive home.
Plan your photo-taking session carefully. Avoid taking photos at night; if possible, choose a bright, sunny day. Straighten everything up beforehand so the place looks clean, neat, and welcoming. Take enough photos to give guests a good sense of what they’ll find when they walk into your home. And please….do not use a fisheye lens that distorts the space!
Tip #8. Write a description that helps guests imagine themselves living in your home
A great narrative description gives potential guests the “story” of your home so they can get a sense of what it’s like to live there. Use to tell people why they will enjoy and be comfortable in your home.
Start your description with an at-a-glance headline that will grab attention and convey key information. Instead of “Lovely home in great location,” say something like, “Lovely 2+ bedroom home a 20 minute walk from museum row.”
Then think about what’s special about your home. What do you have that others might not have? What is it about the home and its location that makes it the perfect place for your target guests to stay? Write a quick first draft. Before putting the description up on the listing site, read it over and make any necessary changes so it’s clear, concise, and accurate.
Tip #9. Respond to inquiries right away
To stay competitive, get back to prospective guests quickly – if you delay, they might have already booked another short-term rental. Respond with a polite, friendly message that answer their questions and encourages them to continue the conversation.
Respond promptly to every inquiry, even when it’s clear that your home isn’t right for the guest. Explain why it’s not right and encourage the guest to get in touch if they plan another trip to your area. Even if you never hear from them again, there’s always a chance they’ll tell a friend about your place.
For more, see the earlier version of this post, “Help Your Home Stand Out from the Competition.”
Do you search for short-term rentals when you travel? Are you a short-term rental host? Please add a comment or visit our Facebook page to share your tips for helping hosts make their short-term rentals more competitive.