In all the years that we’ve been exchanging and renting out our home, we’ve had only a handful of problem guests. There was the man with the crazy girlfriend who liked to scream in the middle of the night; the couple who lent the house to their daughter for a party during which a guest backed into a neighbor’s car; the woman who dripped red wine on our favorite duvet cover and didn’t bother to tell us about it; and the delightful couple from Amsterdam who used our car and left it filthy. But it’s a very short list. Nearly all our guests have been wonderful, respecting our property and often leaving the house in better shape than they found it. In fact, our neighbors usually remark on how pleasant and friendly they were.
But the possibility of a nightmare guest always looms. That’s why we always take steps to minimize the chance that a tenant or exchange partner will trash our home or alienate our neighbors. The most successful home exchanges and short-term rentals are built on trust, and building that trust takes time and attention.
Here’s what we’ve learned about avoiding problem guests
- Talk to potential guests before booking. Nothing beats a person-to-person conversation in which you can pick up the nuances and stray bits of information that are missing from email communications. Be friendly and polite. Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Probe for cues that your home might not be right for them or that they might not be the right guests for you.
- Ask for references. Even if the people seem ideal, ask for the names and contact information of people who know them, especially someone they’ve exchanged with or rented from before. Try to contact those people by phone or Skype, and listen carefully.
- Stay in touch. Before your guests’ arrival date, communicate often and clearly. Encourage their questions. Be open and honest about what they will find in your home and what you expect from them while they are there.
- Trust your intuition. If something seems wrong, something probably is. Pay close attention to “red flags,” such as late rent payments, no responses to messages you send, vague responses to your questions, or an ongoing barrage of trivial questions. It’s far better to cancel the exchange or rental before guests arrive than to have problems after the people are already in your home.
- Arrange for some eyes on the ground while you’re away. Ask a family member, friend, neighbor, or housecleaner to check in with guests from time to time and let you know right away if anything seems wrong.
Have you ever had problem guests? What happened? Looking back, was there any way you might have avoided the problems?