On my first epic European road trip, which took three friends and I a couple weeks to drive through eleven countries from Denmark to Greece, there was no Airbnb. In Sarajevo, we pulled up to the local tourist hut and a friendly guy behind the counter pulled out a binder, stuffed with papers inside plastic sleeves. Each paper contained photos, a map and contact information of a local willing to rent out their home for a night or two. For the price of a large pizza in the United States, we selected a home a few blocks up the hill from the river. The guy at the tourist bureau picked up the telephone and called to see if the grandma, whose home we had selected, could make her house available. She could. He gave us the key and, in the short while it took us to drive up the narrow alley, the grandma had tidied up the place and moved in with her family in the apartment downstairs.
A week or so later found us in Ohrid, Macedonia, with no place to stay. I’m sure hotels were to be found, but, driving down the main street, the man on the bicycle got to us first. Sobe? Room? Yes, please! He motioned us to follow as we drove a few blocks into a residential area and up to a new construction home, paid for, we later learned, by the man’s son who had immigrated to the United States. Guestrooms were on the bottom floor with a shared bathroom. It was perfect.
This was the land of ‘no chain hotels.’ Where there were hotels, the quality, cultural exposure, cleanliness and price did not even compare to the comfort of a local’s guest room. A decade later, and frequently accompanied by our small children, arriving late in the afternoon with no plans or leads for a place to stay would be laughably absurd. We need to plan ahead for accommodations, beyond a single hotel room if possible. It’s not fun to share a single room with a snoring preschooler and a toddler who grinds her teeth in the middle of the night. A separate sleeping room is ideal. In fact, a working kitchen, a couch and two bedrooms are ideal. This type of family-friendly accommodation is what we find frequently on Airbnb– often at a fraction of the cost of the hotel room down the street. For example, on a recent work trip to Bucharest, Romania, my husband booked an Airbnb apartment for one night. Some apartments were listed in the residential building adjacent to our favorite chain hotel, but for one eighth the price.
For those reasons, we have become Airbnb regulars.
But, we’ve taken it one step further. We listed our house on Airbnb.
For two weekends last month we vacated our house and let near perfect strangers sleep in our beds. And my friends keep asking: How was it? How did it go? Why Airbnb? Everyone’s curious to hear about our experience. Here’s my answer.
1. I became highly motivated to clean my house.
If you are a visiting family member or friend, I will gladly give you clean linens, likely vacuum the floor of the guest room and perhaps even wipe down the toilet. But if you’re an Airbnb guest, my reputation is on the line! The last thing I want is for you to leave a public comment that says the shower drain was covered in hair. Ew! I will declutter the closet shelves and leave extra hangers for your use. I will dust under the piano, right where the dust looks a mile high when the low afternoon sun highlights everything on the floor. My stovetop will be pristine, because clumps of dried oatmeal are disgusting. And all three of my toilets will most certainly be spotless. It’s a lot of work, but it has an upside I did not originally consider – my spring cleaning is done.
Spring cleaning isn’t usually on my agenda, but for the sake of my guest/strangers, it absolutely had to be done. When they vacated, all I had to do was clean the linens. One guest commented that my house was her dream home. When I returned to my clean, comfortable home after a weekend away, I was reminded that this house, still in pristine condition, is my dream home too.
2. The website makes it as painless as possible.
I set my price. I can approve or disapprove any requests. By checking boxes, the amenities we offer (free parking, wifi, washer/dryer/etc.) are visible to any prospective guest. I block out any dates my house is not available, so I am not bothered with requests when I don’t want someone to stay. I can review people’s profile information and, if I don’t think they have shared enough information about themselves, I tell them so. Hey, it looks like you’re new to Airbnb and no one has reviewed you before. Tell me about yourself. Without fail, they have responded with too much information (TMI), but in a good way. They set me at ease. If they didn’t, I could simply press the ‘disapprove’ button.
All the financial dealings are online. As soon as a guest books a room, Airbnb takes the money from the guest’s credit card and holds it. The day after the guest checks in, the money moves to my account. If the guest cancels (in accordance with a cancellation policy that I choose), Airbnb takes care of the money moving. And to make sure it’s all above board and legal, Airbnb sends me a tax form at the end of the year accounting for the money I’ve made.
Read Part II here.