We love being short-term rental hosts. The extra income helps us afford to travel, and someone is there to watch over our home while we’re away. We’ve also met some wonderful people. But it’s not as easy as it seems. Getting started can be tricky, and there are some serious pitfalls along the way. For a successful experience, avoid these short-term rental mistakes that new hosts commonly make.
1. Not learning about the laws, rules, and regulations that impact short-term rentals
The first question to ask when you’re thinking about renting out your home is, “Am I allowed to do it?” Many condo and coop buildings have firm rules against subletting. An increasing number of local and even state governments around the country are enacting regulations to limit short-term rentals and often imposing hefty fines against people who flaunt the rules. Renting out your home is too much work to take on if you are only going to run into obstacles.
2. Not checking with your insurance company
You might assume that your homeowners insurance will cover you if a guest slips on the stairs or there’s a fire while you’re away. That might not be the case, especially if you’re renting out a second home. Many homeowners’ policies have clauses that exclude short-term rentals, and a policy that does can be hard to find. To avoid unpleasant and costly surprises, check with your insurance company before listing your home for rent.
3. Not keeping keep detailed records of income and expenditures
If you rent out your home for more than 14 days a year, you have to pay taxes on the income. You might also be able to take certain deductions, such as the cost of advertising the rental and a pro-rated portion of some home expenses. But you can take those deductions only if you keep very careful records of the rent you receive and all the related expenses.
4. Not screening guests carefully
Have you read stories about Airbnb guests who trashed their host’s house? The ones who use hosts’ apartments as party pads?
As a long-time short-term rental host, those stories send a chill up my spine. I know that most people are honest and responsible. They are who they say they are, and they do what they say they will do. But if you’re a realist like me, you know there are exceptions. The more you know about the people you welcome into your home, the less the chance that you’ll encounter problems.
Ask lots of questions. Look people up on the Internet. Ask for documents, such as drivers’ licenses or passports, to prove their identities. And try to talk to potential guests before they book. When it comes to getting to know someone, there’s no substitute for the back-and-forth of a a polite, friendly phone or Skype conversation.
5. Not having a written rental agreement
A short-term rental is a business transaction. To avoid potentially serious misunderstandings, put all the details in writing and have your guests sign to indicate that they understand the terms. Use plain English, and be very specific about key terms such as the amounts of rent and deposit, payment due dates and methods, cleaning fees, cancellation policies, maximum number of people, and beginning and ending dates of the short-term lease. Include rules such as no smoking, no loud music, and no parking in neighbors’ spaces.
6. Not arranging for a local contact person
Things happen while you’re away: the washer overflows, the Internet stops working, guests lose their keys. Problems like that can be very difficult to deal with if you’re on safari in Africa or in a remote hilltop cottage in Portugal. Make sure guests have someone to call if something goes wrong.
7. Not alerting neighbors
People are nervous these days. Watchful. It’s understandable that your neighbors might feel uncomfortable or even suspicious if they notice strangers in the building or on the street. It’s good practice to let neighbors know that people will be staying in your home while you’re away. Give them your contact information and ask them to get in touch if there are any problems. It’s also a good idea to give close neighbors your guests’ names and phone number in case of an emergency.
8. Not fixing things that could be dangerous
Maybe you know to be very careful when you step on the third tread of the back stairs because it’s been loose for years. But your guests don’t know about it, and everyone will be unhappy if they get hurt. Take a tour around your home, inside and out, and look for things that must be fixed before your guests arrive. Replace smoke alarm batteries, tack down floppy carpets, repair broken window frames. You and your guests – and your insurance company – will be glad you did.
9. Not protecting valuables and privacy
Most of us have things we want to keep safe from damage and information we want to keep to ourselves. It’s not fair to expect guests to treat every delicate object in your home as if it were their own, and some people can’t resist the temptation to peek at personal papers left lying around. For everyone’s peace of mind, put away your grandmother’s quilt, your tax returns, and anything else you really care about.
10. Not leaving clear instructions
First-time short-term hosts are often unhappily surprised to find the guests have been parking in a neighbor’s spot or didn’t put out the garbage on garbage day. Guests get upset if they can’t figure out how to reset the modem or adjust the air conditioning. Leave your guests with a “user guide” that explains how to do important things and specifies your house rules.
Include clear instructions for adjusting the heat or air conditioner, handling the garbage, using the TV, finding the circuit breakers, and resetting the modem if the Internet goes out. Mention important “quirks,” such as a toilet that easily overflows. Include your home’s rules, such as no smoking, shoes off at the door, no parking in other residents’ spaces, or no loud music. Tell guests what you want them to do when they leave: strip the beds, empty the wet garbage, leave a role or two of toilet paper. Your guests will have a more comfortable stay and you’ll be happier with the way they cared for your home.
11. Not checking in with guests after they arrive
It’s considerate to drop guests a quick text or email a day or two after they’ve arrived to see whether they have questions and say you hope they enjoy their stay. It won’t take you much time and your guests will appreciate it, especially if they can’t find the extra blankets or figure out how to light the stove.
Can you think of other short-term rental mistakes that hosts commonly make? Please share them with us in the Comments or on our Facebook page.