We Got Married and Bought a House in the Same Month │Creating a Short-Term Rental Worth Bragging About!

Welcome to the fifth and final segment of a very candid series I’ve written on how me and my husband were able to get married and buy a house in the same month – without significant financial help – and with money still in the bank. I’m sharing this with the world in hopes that others can take a page out of our book and also pursue this path if they choose to do so.  This week I’m sharing a few ways to maximize your earning potential in your home.

So, maybe you have decided you’d like to earn additional income from having a short-term rental (STR), or you’re just curious about the process! Either way, I’ve put together a few practical tips for how to get your STR started on the right foot. It may feel overwhelming when considering all the moving parts associated with putting an STR together – it’s definitely important to make sure you have everything you need before hosting your first guests!

Appearance DOES Matter! You may not initially think that looks are as important for a STR and that guests are primarily looking for practicality and comfort, however statistics seem to say otherwise. Not only is it incredibly valuable to decorate the space tastefully and with new(er) furniture, taking professional photos of the listing is also instrumental.  So much so that Airbnb reported that hosts who used their in-house professional photography service were booked 2.5 times more than hosts that didn’t use the service. Something else to consider: according to an article put out by the Orlando Sentinel, a staggering 90% of Airbnb stays are booked by females.  Certainly, catering to women’s tastes can mean a lot of things, but this knowledge could still be useful as you begin to put your space together.

Safety First: Not only do you want your guests to feel safe, but it’s important for you to feel safe too! And to cover your butt from potential liability. It’s important to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and make sure you remember to test them regularly.  Airbnb will prompt you to confirm whether you have other safety-related essentials such as a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit, so it’s also valuable to have these readily accessible for guests. Airbnb will also prompt you to have a fire evacuation plan in place for guests, so be prepared and know what you’re working with!

Get Your Supplies: It’s absolutely crucial that you have all basic necessities for guests before your listing goes live.  This resource provides an extremely useful checklist that can help you get started (Spoiler alert: you’ll definitely need lots of sheets and towels!). Still, consider needs for your specific space.  Are you allowing children? Dogs? Parties? These factors and more will affect what you need to provide for guests upon check-in.

Transparency is Important: I will get more into this later in the article, but getting positive reviews is instrumental when first getting started with a STR, assuming you are using a platform such as Airbnb or VRBO. One of the best ways to do that is to be completely transparent with guests on what they can expect when staying in your space.  One of the WORST things to encounter as a guest is getting to a place that was advertised totally different and feels like a major letdown! Take Carson and I’s STR for instance.  We make sure our listing is abundantly clear that our STR is in our basement and that noise isn’t just a possibility, it’s a definite reality. We also make sure guests are aware that they only have access to a kitchenette and not a full-service kitchen, and that part of our sleeping arrangements include a pull-out couch. It’s better to be clear from the beginning then to have a guest be disappointed when expectations aren’t met.

Small Touches go a Long Way: One big difference that STR’s offer as opposed to hotel rooms are the unique accommodations and small touches that you don’t encounter with traditional vacation rentals. Guests notice them too; 97% to be exact, according to a research study done by Airbnb. In our STR, we provide earplugs for guests to mitigate the noise I mentioned above. We also created a handmade city guide complete with local magazines and brochures so that guests have a tangible reference to all things near them while they stay with us. Whether it’s locally-made toiletries or your town’s favorite whole-bean coffee, providing sweet extras is a simple way to create an experience your guests remember! Need help with ideas? Later, I get into how you can learn your target STR market and choose things the majority of your guests will enjoy.

Make Sure You’re Covered: Yes, Airbnb provides a protection policy for its hosts (as I’m sure all similar entities do), however it’s still important to make sure you and your home are protected in the event that unexpected circumstances occur. Many homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover damage incurred from STR guests, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with your policy and take any and all precautions necessary to ensure you are protected. It’s also important to remember that while you value and cherish your home, your guests won’t feel the same way. You need to protect your space from folks that will often treat your biggest investment like a by-the-hour motel.

Reviews are Everything (At Least in the Beginning): The biggest piece of advice we received when first getting our STR on the ground was to get people in the door and make a great first impression.  This means you may need to set your nightly rate lower than average for the first few bookings.  You may also want to go a little more out of your way than you usually would to ensure a great guest experience (e.g., setting out a bottle of wine for the guests). Once you’ve given your first few guests an experience worthy of praise and get some positive reviews, you should have no problems getting people to book your space.  It’s also important to remember that once you’ve amassed dozens of reviews, a couple of critical ones shouldn’t hurt your potential for future guests!

Know your Target Market: Do you live near a sports stadium or popular concert venue? Is your place near a well-known park or beach? It’s important to have a general idea of what kind of guests your STR will bring in beforehand so that you can better cater to those crowds.  For example, Carson and I know that our Airbnb will accommodate visitors in town for concerts at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, so we furnished the bedroom with posters from some of our favorite shows!  Once you’ve had more guests, you can take this a step further. So far, we’ve noticed that the majority of our guests stay with us either for a wedding or to spend time with family that live in the area. The Airbnb app prompts travelers to share the reason for their stay with the host, so many are forthcoming with this information.

Know the Competition: Another helpful tool to get started with your STR is to take the time to research other STR’s in your area.  It’s even more helpful if you can narrow your search to spaces that are similar to yours (e.g., is your STR a room in your house or a totally separate space?). Look to see what they charge, what amenities they offer, and what people have to say about the space. Reading a negative review from another STR can provide valuable insight on what (or what not) to do and can save you from making the same mistake.

If you’ve stuck with me through all five parts of this series, I want to sincerely thank you.  I believe in the power of others’ stories, and I hope that mine was (at the very least) entertaining to follow.  At most, I hope you gained valuable insight into eloping and cash-flowing your home, which I think are appropriately, very millennial things.

Until Next Time, Keep Slacking,

Lauren Geber

Before shot of the kitchenette in our STR. Credit: MLS listing for our home

Before shot of the kitchenette in our STR. Credit: MLS listing for our home

After shot of the kitchenette. Credit: Dylan Nash

After shot of the kitchenette. Credit: Dylan Nash

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