Five Steps to Get Your Home Vacation-Rental Ready
Updated: Nov 5, 2018
How often do you use Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway when you travel? If you’re anything like me, it’s almost exclusively. I will still check hotel prices through booking.com and other discount hotel sites, but it seems that 9 times out of 10, renting someone else’s home through one of the sites just mentioned, is always cheaper. It also generally gives you more space, amenities, and a more local vibe to whatever city you happen to be visiting. I’ve stayed at some amazing Airbnb’s that if I ever visit that city again, I will look to book the same spot.
But what about on the flip side of the coin – renting YOUR spot as a vacation rental? This is something that took me a bit to get used to, but as I continued to rent people’s homes when I traveled, I realized that it wasn’t as scary as it initially sounded.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people that say they could never do this – they can’t imagine having strangers sleep in their bed, shower in their tub or look through their belongings. But honestly, how much do you snoop through people’s belongings when you stay there? If snooping is something you’re legitimately worried about, then you’ll want to take advantage of Step #1: Get a lock.
Whether you have a spare room that you can put your belongings in, a shed outside, or even a few desk drawers that you can lock, having a place that you can put your valuables when other people are in your house allows you the peace of mind to rent to strangers. When we were living in our two bedroom condo in downtown Halifax, we used our second bedroom as an office and put all of our valuables in there, locked the door, and rented the condo as a 1-bedroom vacation accommodation. We liked renting it as a one-bedroom condo (versus a 2-bedroom) because that generally meant that only couples or solo travellers would use our spot, rather than groups of people. When you’re in a small condo complex and know your neighbours, renting to smaller groups might be a good strategy to avoid disrupting them when you’re away.
But what about strangers sleeping in your bed?
Well, you can’t avoid them sleeping in your bed entirely, but you can keep them out of your sheets. All you have to do is Step #2: Buy one or two backup sheet sets that you reserve for the use of your Airbnb guests exclusively. We do this, and it works out great. We know that our blue sheets are our sheets, and our brown sheets are guest sheets. We also have a third set just in case two different parties book back to back stays and we aren’t able to wash the ‘guest sheets’ in between visits.
Okay Chantele, but how do I let them inside when I’m not there?
Step #3: Get a second lock. Or rather, a keypad for your door. They cost about $80.00 at Home Depot and are easy to install. You can pre-set key codes and send them to your guests in advance to gain access. You can also change these codes after each guest leaves.
Another option that I’ve seen is ‘Sesame’, by Candy House. It’s a universal lock you can buy that fits over your existing deadbolt. You then download their app and it allows you to open your door from your phone whenever you need to. You can also pre-register your Airbnb guests’ email addresses so that once their phone is near your lock, they turn their Bluetooth on and they can unlock the door themselves to gain access. Ahhh, technology.
But wait, what about cleaning before and after your guests? That’s a lot of extra work.
If you like cleaning and can handle doing the before and after cleaning for your guests, go to town. But if you’re like me and don’t love cleaning, take advantage of Step #4: Hire a cleaner. No, this doesn’t have to come out of your bottom line. You can actually build a cleaning fee into the total fee you charge your guests. Honestly, it’s expected now that there will be a cleaning fee tacked on, so don’t be afraid to outsource this less-than-fun job to someone more skilled than you.
This seems too easy. What are the drawbacks?
Well, there is the off-chance that someone could severely damage your home. I think we’ve all heard those horror stories. However, Airbnb does have insurance to protect homeowners in those situations. I’ve never had to delve into this before because I’ve only ever had really respectful house guests. And that’s another thing – you can put a setting (on Airbnb at least) where you have to approve all of your guests before they book with you. If you only want to allow guests who have been pre-vetted by other hosts and given high ratings in order to feel completely comfortable, you can do that.
You neighbour might complain because they’re being too loud. Or even, your guest might complain that your neighbour is being too loud. Yes, this could happen. It has happened to us, but it was not the end of the world. We simply had a conversation with our guest and our neighbour and everyone went away happy and respectful.
You might make money ;) I ran out of drawbacks, so I had to switch to positives. And this one might be the best positive of them all. Because you’re charging by the night, you’re able to charge a premium for your space. Let’s do a quick comparison to a long-term renter. Our downstairs tenants pays $1,200/month for their one-bedroom suite. That ends up being $1,200/30 days = $40/night. You will likely charge more than $40/night for your one-bedroom suite to a short-term renter (maybe $80-$100/night?), so you’re in essence doubling your income. Whenever Dave and I travel, we throw our house up on Airbnb. Sometimes it gets rented, sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, the income from our guests covers our vacation expenses. When we did our two-week cross-Canada drive last summer we ended up making about $1,500 in rental income just having guests in our space while we were away. Hard to beat that!
You might make a new friend. I know, it sounds cheesy. But it’s TRUE! Especially if you're renting a room of your house rather than the whole thing. I have friends who have met some really cool people from different countries all over the world through renting their spare bedroom. And likewise, I’ve met some incredible hosts in foreign countries that made me feel just a bit more comfortable in a strange city.
Finally, Step #5: Get creative. I don’t know about you, but some of my favourite vacation rentals have been those with the extra little touches the hosts have added. This might look like a coffee table book of local nearby attractions (i.e., coffee shops, restaurants, fun activities), allowing you to indulge in their coffee or tea selection, or leaving you a bottle of wine or a couple of chocolates as a welcome gift. One thing I’m thinking about leaving for our guests is high quality dog treats for any one who bring their pooches with them (don’t tell Stella).
These little touches go a long way in securing you a positive “Vacation Rental” review, and after you’ve done this a couple times, you’ll become much more comfortable with the idea of strangers staying in your house. So, while it might take you a few extra steps to get your apartment/condo/house ready to be a vacation rental, I promise that the benefits are worth it!
To note: Different provinces have different regulations on advertising your space as a short-term rental, especially if it's a condo/apartment. If you're looking to buy a spot specifically for this reason, always inquire into the strata/condo boards' rules on rentals less than 30 days. Also, rental income is now taxed as income! So you'll have to report it to the CRA at the end of the year. Finally, some provinces (like BC) are changing the regulations to now require homeowners have a valid business license in order to rent as a short-term rental. So there are potential extra hoops to jump through depending on where you live and the rental regulations specific to you.