In 2016-2017, Rob and I made $7,556 USD from renting out our New York City apartment while we travelled.
Nope, I’m not joking. We didn’t like the idea that our apartment was sitting empty and unoccupied every time we went away. Instead of paying premium NYC rent for a place that we weren’t even using, we listed it on Airbnb and managed to extend our travel budget significantly.
We plan to do it again during our upcoming trip around the UK and Portugal next month. Our Sydney apartment has been listed on Airbnb for only a few weeks, and we’ve already got a handful of bookings covering around half the days of our month-long trip.
It might seem intimidating, but renting out your place isn’t as hard as you might think. Here’s my step-by-step guide on how to rent out your place on Airbnb while you travel!
The bedroom of our New York City apartment
1. Check the rules
The laws around Airbnb can be tricky, and they will vary depending on your living situation.
If you’re renting a room, an apartment, or a house, you may be able to list your space on Airbnb. If you live in a share house, the first thing you should do is check whether your housemates are ok with you renting out your room. You don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by allowing strangers into their space.
Next, check your lease agreement as it may state rules around subletting your apartment. Here in Sydney, real estate agents often don’t allow tenants to use Airbnb. The lease on our previous apartment strictly said that we could be evicted if we were discovered using it. This is part of the reason why we ended up buying an apartment of our own!
Both renters and property owners should also check local city/council laws around short-term rentals. When we first started living in New York, subletting an apartment on Airbnb was ok, but a few months before we moved away, the laws changed so that short-term rentals were pretty much illegal. Unfortunately, this meant we had to stop renting out our place. Luckily, it’s entirely legal to rent out our home here in Sydney as long as it’s for less than 6 months of the year.
2. Decide how to manage it
Listing your space on Airbnb isn’t as simple as taking a few pics and letting the bookings roll in. There are responsibilities involved, and you’ll have to decide whether to take care of it yourself or let a host management company do it for you.
You can find a company by searching ‘Airbnb management [insert your city]’ in Google. They will often create the listing for you, organise a photographer to come in (at your expense), manage your calendar, take bookings on your behalf, do the key exchange with guests, and organise a cleaner to turn over your space in between guests. This all sounds fine and dandy, but there are costs involved – they usually take 15-20% of each booking value as their service fee, and there may also be upfront costs in getting your place set up.
I looked into using a host management company, but ultimately decided that I’d prefer to save the extra fees and manage it myself. There are a few things you will need to consider if you decide to self-manage, such how guests will check-in (we ended up installing a lockable key box on our front door), how to clean the place between bookings, and possible time zone differences for communication between you and your guests.
A location shot I took of our neighbourhood in Lower East Side, NYC
3. Create your listing
Your listing is what people using Airbnb will see when they look for a place to stay. First impressions are important, so you’ll need to make sure your listing looks professional and enticing.
First of all, give your place a tidy/clean and take some nice photos of every room, and include a few shots from outside and around the neighbourhood as well. You can take photos with your smartphone, but it’s better to use a good camera or a recruit a friend who knows photography if possible. You’re more likely to get bookings if you have great photos.
When writing out your description, include plenty of detail. People will want to know all the best things about staying at your place. Are you near to public transport? Does your neighbourhood have some good restaurants and cafes? Are there any famous landmarks or attractions nearby? Try to paint a picture of your living space so that your guests can visualise themselves staying there!
Make sure you point out anything really special that makes your place unique. With our New York City apartment, I wrote that we had a genuine NYC fire escape that guests could access by climbing out the bedroom window. Outside, they could see the Empire State Building and watch people on the street below. Pretty neat, huh!
4. Manage your calendar
Your calendar settings will depend on your preferences for how you want your space listed. My calendar is set to ‘dates unavailable by default’, and then I manually open up the days that I will be travelling so that the apartment shows up as available if someone searches those dates.
Choosing a price is tricky. The best way to do it is to do a search for other Airbnbs in your area, find a few listings that are similar to yours, and then average out the price.
Once you’ve set your price, you can also do clever tricks in the calendar like set weekend pricing (I usually set this to $10-$20 more per night over Friday/Saturday nights) or use Airbnb’s new ‘smart pricing’ which determines your price according to demand.
Airbnb also give you the option to set up a discount offer. As you need 3 reviews before a star rating shows up on your profile, it’s a good idea to offer a cheap price for your first 3 bookings. This discount will encourage more people to book even though you don’t have any reviews yet.
Also remember to leave enough time between bookings to turn over your place before for the next guest checks in. I have my calendar set up so that it automatically blocks out the night before and after each booking, meaning I have plenty of time for a cleaner to come in (and it also allows my guests to have an early check in or a late check out!).
The welcome sheet we used for our NYC apartment
5. Get your home ready
- Do a thorough clean. If you’re cleaning it yourself, be sure to put fresh sheets on the bed as well as change all dish cloths, hand towels, and other linens. Vacuum and mop the floors, give every surface a wipe down, and get rid of any mold or stains.
- Stock up on supplies. You don’t want your guests running out of toilet paper or soap! Buy extra, just in case.
- Store your valuables somewhere secure. We bought a lockable cabinet from IKEA for our apartment, which we filled with items that we don’t want our guests to access.
- Provide a few extras. Little details like setting out some tea and coffee, leaving a small gift (like chocolates or cookies), or writing a welcome note for your guests will make a big difference to their experience.
- Leave instructions if necessary. A welcome sheet with notes on how to use the TV remote, your WiFi login details, and where to take out the trash might be handy for your guests.
One of our Airbnb listing photos
Other things to note:
Seasonality – When we were living in New York, we listed our apartment for 3 weeks in early-mid February (the coldest part of winter) while we visited our families in sunny Australia. We waited patiently for bookings, but none came. Eventually, we got one short booking for a few days, but for most of the trip, our apartment sat empty. It’s inevitable that if you’re renting out your place in the off-season, it will be quieter.
Cancellations – Occasionally, guests will cancel their bookings. It happened only once or twice to us, and I tried to be understanding (one poor guest had to cancel her trip to New York because a hurricane had grounded flights in Florida. Luckily, we were able to get another guest booking at the last minute in this situation).
Risks – There are risks with renting out your place on Airbnb, and unfortunately there was one time that we had things taken from our apartment. Luckily, it wasn’t much that was taken (some earrings, a half full bottle of perfume, and a power cable) but it made me realise that theft is a possibility. Make sure you lock up any valuables that you don’t want stolen, and look into getting insurance for the rest of your belongings.
Are you planning on renting out your place on Airbnb while you travel? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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