You’ll Want to Read This Before Becoming an Airbnb Host

The interior of a studio apartment in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The hideaway is a studio apartment listed on Airbnb in St. Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder


If you’re tapped into today’s society in any capacity, you’ve heard of Airbnb.

If you’re not and need a refresher, Airbnb is an online marketplace that allows folks to list their space for short-term rentals. Airbnb, after all, is short for Air Bed and Breakfast, which refers to the co-founders’ initial idea of charging guests to stay on air mattresses to help pay their San Francisco rent.

Today, Airbnb hosts lists guest houses, apartments and single rooms. But we’ve also discovered you can list just about anything through the platform, including backyard tents, hammocks, couches, boats and even… bubbles.

If you’re looking to make extra money, listing your space through Airbnb is an option.

Before you begin the process, read through this beginner’s guide. It includes the most basic — and important — information you need to know before you list your space.

Airbnb Host Checklist: What to Consider Before Hosting

Signing up to become an Airbnb host is a fairly simple and straightforward process. Before you dive in, ask yourself four key questions.

1. Is Becoming an Airbnb Host Worth It?

A woman washes the dishes inside an Airbnb apartment.
Before becoming an Airbnb host, consider the cleaning costs and the cost of restocking common household items. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Before you start sinking time and resources into your space, make sure it’ll pay off.

The best first step is to enter your information into Airbnb’s calculator to receive a free income estimate. It doesn’t need any super private information — just your city, the type of space (entire place, private room or shared room) and the number of guests it can accommodate.

Out spits your monthly earning potential, which is based on your space being occupied for 50% of the month and the prices of similar spaces in your area.

Next, we suggest you poke around those similar spaces. How does your space compare? What will you need to do to compete with these other listings?

How Much Will It Cost to Become an Airbnb Host?

Listing your space on Airbnb is free, but you’ll want to consider any extra costs you might incur as a host.

We chatted with Terence Michael, a Los Angeles-based Airbnb “superhost,” which means, in part, that he’s been highly rated by guests. He co-hosts properties in Palm Springs, California, and Nashville, Tennessee, with his college buddy. He broke down some of the most important Airbnb host fees and costs he’s faced.

  • Airbnb hosting fees: Each time a booking is completed, Airbnb charges hosts (typically) 3% of the income. Michael suggests building this into your listing price. “There’s no reason you can’t build this $15 or $25 into the nightly stay,” he says, encouraging hosts to think about their business strategies. For him, the Airbnb hosting fee is worth it. “You’ll almost never find a more optimized way to list your place with dynamic pricing and protection.”
  • Airbnb tax form: Michael explains that most cities have a Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), which can range from 9% to 18% of your income, depending on where you’re located.He also builds this extra expense into his listing price. He compares it to hotel guests who have to pay taxes. “It’s not fun having to explain to every guest, but it’s clear this isn’t extra money for me,” Michael says. “It goes straight to the city with a monthly return that needs to be filed.”
  • Airbnb host protection insurance: Does your home insurance cover short-term rentals? Note that Airbnb provides U.S. hosts with host protection insurance, which covers guest accidents, but you’ll still want to do some research. You might have to purchase a business policy — the kind that’d cover a hotel or bed and breakfast. Michael pays for an entirely separate liability policy on his property in Palm Springs because it has a pool. “It just depends on your comfort level,” he says.
  • Cleaning costs: Airbnb hosts can tack on cleaning fees to their listings, though the service fees will still apply.
  • Supplies and goods: Take into account that you’ll need to restock the space — think toiletries, paper towels, etc. — after each stay, too.

You’ll also want to consider how much money you’ll need to invest in the space before you list. The room might need a fresh coat of paint or a new sheet set. Maybe you want to buy a few decorations or houseplants. (Everyone loves houseplants, right?)

Sure, these details might seem silly now, but making your space cozy and visually appealing can pay off down the road.

2. Is Your Landlord, Neighborhood and/or City OK With It?

The exterior of an Airbnb in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Be sure to check your city’s website and its short-term rental laws before becoming an Airbnb host. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

You don’t want to be breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law…

“In many cities, you must register, get a permit or obtain a license before you list your property or accept guests,” Airbnb states. “Certain types of short-term bookings may be prohibited altogether. Local governments vary greatly in how they enforce these laws.”

Unfortunately, Airbnb doesn’t parse out the rules and regulations for each city. (Yeah, that’s a big task.)

To find out whether it’s legal to list your space on Airbnb, search your city’s website and its short-term rental laws. For example, it took me about a minute to find Orlando’s regulations. The city explicitly addresses its Airbnb policy.

In addition to checking with your city, you’ll also want to check with your neighborhood association, neighbors — and landlord, if you’re a renter. Airbnb shares a few tips on how to pitch Airbnb to your landlord.

If you’re allowed to list on Airbnb, make sure you kindly remind your guests to be respectful of your neighbors.

Can You Meet Airbnb Host Requirements?

Airbnb notes five basic Airbnb host obligations that must be met. These include:

  • You must be able to provide the essentials, including toilet paper, soap, linens, and at least one towel and pillow per guest.
  • You must be responsive to your potential guests, responding to booking requests and inquiries within 24 hours.
  • You should accept reservation requests when you’re available.
  • You should avoid cancellations. In fact, the Airbnb cancellation policy is pretty strict — you’ll find it outlined in more detail below.
  • You should be able to keep a high overall rating from guests.

Airbnb Hosting Guide: How to List Your Space

If you think becoming an Airbnb host is a solid way for you to earn some quasi-passive income, great!

Let us walk you through the sign-up process.

1. Create Your Listing

A person signs up to be an Airbnb host.
Once you sign-up to be an Airbnb host, you'll need to take photos of the place, describe the scene, name your place and add basic information like how many bedrooms and bathrooms it has. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

 

Listing your space on Airbnb is totally free. First, navigate over to the Airbnb host login page.

Second, be sure you’re armed with the information you need.

Follow this Airbnb host checklist:

  • It starts with the basics: the type of listing (home, hotel or something else) and the type of property (e.g. apartment). You’ll also need to answer whether this is a dedicated guest space, meaning it’s set up for guests, or whether you keep your personal belongings here.
  • Continue on to answer questions about sleeping arrangements, the bathroom situation, your address (which is only shared with guests after they’ve been confirmed), amenities (think Wi-Fi, shampoo, TV, fireplace…) and spaces guests have access to (parking, pool, laundry).
  • Now it’s time to set the scene, which is when you’ll add photos. Photos are a super important part of the listing. Airbnb offers tips on how to take and post the best listing photos. It even offers a photography service, which allows you to hire a professional photographer through the platform.
  • After the photos are up, provide a brief summary. “Your summary description is meant to be a brief overview of your place that guests read before they get into the details,” Airbnb states. You’ve got 500 characters, so make ’em count. If you’re struggling, this is a good time to see what others in your area have written in their summaries as an example.
  • Next, name your listing. Again, this is an important part of it. The Learn Airbnb website (not affiliated with Airbnb) offers some tips on crafting a listing title.
  • The final step is to review Airbnb’s guest requirements. Here, you can set the house rules. You can also opt to review every request, so you can hand-pick guests.

In this step Airbnb lets you know you’re covered with a $1,000,000 host guarantee. It also outlines the Airbnb host cancellation policy, which includes penalty-free cancellations if you’re uncomfortable with a potential guest reservation.

  • Almost done! Set up your calendar. Let Airbnb users know how often you want to have guests (part time? as often as possible?). You’ll also select how long guests can stay — a minimum or maximum number of nights.

Airbnb reminds hosts that short trips can mean more reservations, but it’ll also likely mean you have to clean and reset your space more often. Based on your answers, Airbnb suggests your calendar availability, though you can customize it.

  • Finally, set your price. You can ask Airbnb to adjust your price based on demand. If a large music festival is coming up, for example, and demand increases, Airbnb will increase the price to reflect that.

If you opt for the “Smart Pricing” feature, you’ll set a minimum and maximum price as well as “best price,” which is your default. If you have trouble nailing a dollar amount down, check out other listings in your area.

OK! You’re done! Once you hit submit, it could take up to six hours for the listing to appear in search results, so hold tight.

2. Wait for Guests to Bite (But Be Mindful of the Cancellation Policy)

It’s time to wait it out now. If it seems like guests aren’t interested, you might need to tweak your listing a bit. Airbnb also recommends giving your first few guests a discount. This will help you garner some (hopefully) positive reviews, which will encourage other guests to book in the future.

Once a guest books, Airbnb prompts you through the next steps.

It’s worth noting if you, as a host, need to cancel a reservation, you are able to do so, but it might result in penalties — unless it’s an extenuating circumstance.

The Airbnb host cancellation policy notes it has the right to deduct cancellation fees from your payout. It’s $50 if you cancel more than seven days before check-in or $100 if you cancel on shorter notice.

Additionally, if it’s on the day before check-in, an automated review will be posted to your listing stating you canceled your reservation.

If it’s the day of check-in, potential guests can leave a (likely negative) review and you’ll be ineligible for the superhost title for a year.

If you cancel more than three reservations in a year, Airbnb has the right to deactivate your listing.

3. Be the Hostess With the Mostest

A fully stocked kitchen inside an Airbnb.
The kitchen at the Hideaway, a St. Petersburg, Fla., studio apartment space listed on Airbnb, has a fully stocked kitchen and small perks like granola bars, candy, a first aid kit and everyday grooming necessities like razors and soap. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Now that your space has been booked, it’s time to carry out your hosting duties.

You can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want while your guests are in town.

If you prefer to be more hands-off and treat Airbnb as a true form of passive income, third-party host management services can help with key exchanges, cleanings and even listing management. MetroButler is one example.

Either way, keep tabs on your Airbnb inbox. Issues could arise during a guest’s stay, and you’ll want to be accomodating.

Michael shared nine creative Airbnb host tips and tricks that helped him become an Airbnb superhost.

4. Get Paid

Typically, within 24 hours of your guest’s scheduled check-in time, you’ll receive compensation. If the guest is staying for more than 28 days, you’ll get paid each month.

You can choose payment through direct deposit, international wire or PayPal, among other options.

Once your guests leave, it’s time to reset your space.

More Questions About Becoming an Airbnb Host?

The exterior of a studio apartment in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Hideaway also has a front door patio equipped with lawn chairs and flowers. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

New hosts, how are you feeling?

If you have more questions, Airbnb offers a 24/7 service line for hosts, so don’t hesitate to reach out if any issues pop up.

You can also search its extensive help articles online, which includes a base of top host questions.

There are also a number of Airbnb host forums, including Airbnb Professional Hosts and Super Hosts – Professional Airbnb hosts.

You can also find hosts in your area on Facebook. For example, I found AirBnB Hosts – Tampa Bay! in a quick search. In many of these groups, hosts offer advice and best practices. Feel free to pose a question. Chances are, another host in your area will have an answer.

If you want to earn extra money as an Airbnb host, sign up here.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. While traveling, she loves getting to know her Airbnb hosts.

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