When I read about an Airbnb guest trashing a short-term rental, I feel a sharp stab of anxiety. Could that happen to us? Sure it could. When we first started exchanging and renting out our home, a friend of a friend told us about a set of tenants that had completely destroyed their very expensive front door (maybe they couldn’t get in??). That story brought up a memory of my favorite university professors’ experience: their last-minute summer tenant turned out to be a drunk who spilled red wine on their antique carpets and destroyed some valuable artwork.
Even though we don’t have an expensive front door, antiques, or valuable artwork, those kinds of stories prompted us to be very, very careful when choosing our short-term tenants and exchange partners. That’s why we have always gone the extra mile when it comes to screening to learn whether our guests are who they say they are and to communicate with guests early and often to confirm that they are the kind of people we trust to stay in our home while we’re away. Careful screening and ongoing communication are the only ways we know to stay safe by choosing the right guests.
Make sure guests are who they say they are
Here are some steps you can take to make sure guests are who they say they are. Be alert for inconsistencies between what you find in these resources and what guests have told you about themselves.
- Look guests’ names up on the Internet. LinkedIn profiles and Facebook pages can tell you a lot about who someone is and what kind of person they are.
- Check your listing website for any reviews guests have received.
- Ask for references, and contact them, preferably by phone so you can ask questions and hear nuances that might indicate potential problems in otherwise positive comments.
- Confirm guests’ home addresses and places of employment.
- Ask for copies of guests’ driver’s licenses or passports.
Ask lots of questions!
These days, many hosts and exchange partners rely on email conversations to gather information about their guests. But we’d much rather have one-on-one conversations on the phone or via Skype (or face-to-face, if they are local). We ask questions (politely) and listen carefully to the responses. If something isn’t clear or doesn’t seem right, we ask follow-up questions. Most people welcome these conversations; it worries us when people do not.
These are some of the questions we ask:
- What brings you to our area? Have you been here before?
- Have you stayed in a short-term rental or done a home exchange before? Can I talk to a previous host?
- What are you looking for in a short-term rental or exchange home?
- How long do you plan to stay?
- How many adults and how many children will be in your party? Ages of the children?
- Do you plan to bring pets?
- Does anyone in your party smoke?
- Where do you live permanently (or now, if guests are relocating to your area)?
A note of caution: Be sure not to ask any of the questions prohibited by the Federal Fair Housing Laws and any state or local laws that govern discrimination in housing.
How do you make sure guests are the kinds of people who will take good care of your home? What advice do you have to help first-time hosts choose the right guests?