Airbnb Hosting Mistakes

As an Airbnb Ask A Superhost Ambassador, an Airbnb Volunteer Community Leader, a seasoned Superhost, and an Accountant specializing in real estate investors who have short-term rentals as part of their portfolio, I’ve seen many hosts make these Airbnb hosting mistakes. I hope this list will help you avoid them. Happy Hosting!

Photo by Inga Seliverstova

Table of Contents

Hosts that do not comply with the legal Vacation Rental rules for their city

One of the most costly mistakes a host can make is Ignorance of the law; ignorance isn’t a reason for breaking it. Not knowing the laws and regulations in your area is crucial when starting as a host. Being compliant with regulations will help you avoid fees and penalties and could even prevent you from an involuntary shutdown. Hosts not complying with local short-term rental (STR) housing requirements could be very costly and ultimately end your hospitality business. Cities and counties are typically in charge of short-term rental ordinances. Violating listing regulations is especially risky in this business because the start-up costs can be thousands of dollars. There’s a reason this is the number one Airbnb hosting mistake on our list; investors need to do their due diligence and investigate the rules before sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into a property.

With the popularity of STRs, many communities have enacted restrictions. Every host should check their city’s municipal code restrictions. Also, check with the housing association if you live in a gated community and are subject to homeowners’ association (HOA) rules and regulations.

Photos that don’t show off the property

The best cover photo for your Airbnb listing accurately represents your place’s reality. A photo mistake is when a host creates a listing that is not 100% honest, it may have long-lasting implications. You may receive negative reviews when photos and words don’t represent the guest experience. Not only are you creating a listing page for guests, but for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Within the first SEVEN SECONDS of viewing your listing (photos, layout, and text), people will have a solid impression of who you are and what it is like to stay with you.

The best cover photo looks professional. Avoid bad pictures or poor-quality images and unattractive or duplicate photos. Guests don’t want to see photos of closets and hallways.

A lack of a pricing strategy

Most people choose Airbnb hosting to earn money and the other benefits. Hosts often make the mistake of not having a pricing strategy. The lack of a pricing strategy before you begin can be very costly.

A pricing strategy defines how you set your nightly rate if you choose a short-term rental (STR) or a monthly rate if you choose a long-term (LTR). LTRs have more regulations, including a lease and fixed pricing, requiring a host to be a landlord and comply with landlord regulations.

To optimize STRs, hosts should adopt pro-active pricing strategies that consider many factors. For example:

  • What does the competition charge?
  • Adjusting nightly rates for weekends vs. weekdays
  • Holiday pricing
  • Special events and
  • Seasonal demands. 

STRs require more work and more vigilance but have much greater revenue potential.

Not optimizing the use of Airbnb’s messaging app

In the hospitality industry, host-to-guest communication is critical to hosting success. Do not make the communication mistake of failing to use the Airbnb app to capture all communications. As a rule of thumb, if it didn’t happen on the app, it didn’t happen. When it comes time to put in a claim to AirCover or to ask a guest to reimburse you for damages, you’ll be happy that you listened to this critical advice; you’re welcome.

“Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough. If you really want a booming business, you have to create raving fans.”

Ken Blanchard – Mollie Beck

Airbnb provides a mobile app for hosts, guests, and support to communicate with each other. Airbnb’s communication policy states that all communication should occur on the app in text messages. This policy ensures there is a digital record for dispute management.

All hosts are encouraged to have a communications policy of when and what to communicate. Examples of messages are:

  • When a guest has questions before booking
  • When a guest hits the Request to Book button
  • Conveying house rules before booking and ensuring guest reads the rules before accepting the reservation
  • After the guest book greeting
  • Any other time during hosting
  • Before departure, remind guests of departure time and
  • To request a good review
  • Writing the guest review
  • Any additional time for anything
  • In response to guest requests

For all the times mentioned above to communicate, Airbnb makes it easy for hosts to create memorized messages saving hosts time. Furthermore, hosts can program message-sending times.

Timely, friendly communication with guests is the essential quality a host can provide. It is the difference between an okay stay and a great stay. Therefore, communication is the first review question for both hosts and guests.

Guests evaluate your communications from when they have a booking question to when they leave. Therefore, many opportunities differentiate you from all the other guest experiences.

Hosts don’t realize that Airbnb provides a Government ID Verification service for free

Airbnb, nor anyone else in the hospitality industry, can survive for long without prioritizing safety. It is a colossal mistake for a host not to use Airbnb’s free Government ID verification service. A host increases their personal safety and the safety of other guests when they have every guest, not just the booking guest, go through the Government Identification process.

The downfall with the Airbnb app is that when using Instant Book only the booking guest is required to be government id verified, but this is your listing and your rules. You must insist that every guest undergoes the government identification verification process.

Background checks for guests and hosts

For the background check, Airbnb uses the first name, last name, and date of birth from government-issued IDs and then checks the public state and county criminal records databases and state and national sex offender registrations for their investigations with a photo ID. 

Hosts allow unregistered, non-paying visitors

By allowing unregistered, non-paying visitors onto the property the host is just asking for trouble. Hosts are overgenerous with their visitation policies and then guests take advantage. On some level, you probably got into this business because you want to share your space. Maybe you envision yourself as a party planner or an event planner. Whether you are literally sharing your space or you are sharing your entire property, you are opening your doors to strangers and that can be very rewarding! Ultimately, the host approves who is allowed on the property.

“My house my rules”
~ Said by every parent ever ~

We have all heard about parties at Airbnb listings. Contrary to popular belief, parties are not the fault of Airbnb but of the host for allowing guests on the property who are not registered on the reservation. Did you know that on August 20, 2020, Airbnb announced a global ban on all parties and events at Airbnb listings, including a cap on occupancy at 16. Knowing the rules and enforcing the rules ensures that you will have a pleasant and profitable hosting experience.

Underestimating the demands of the hospitality business.

Another hosting mistake is not realizing how much time it takes. Running a vacation rental is the equivalent of running a mini hotel. Don’t be fooled by the new landing page of Airbnb with amazing pictures of beautiful vacation rentals. Undoubtedly those listings have hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars behind them. Hosts don’t just wake up one day and create their listing. After all the setup’s blood, sweat, and tears come the reality of running your short-term vacation rental.

Where does all my time go? Cleaning, guest relations, repairs, and maintenance are just the beginning. Hosts also need to consider the bookkeeping, marketing, and pricing strategies. Some elements can be handled via a channel manager like OwnerRez, or a free accounting system like Stessa, but even the software set ups can be an unexpected challenge.

The time commitment, attention to detail, organization, and effort required should not be taken lightly. Not being fully prepared for the demands of hosting before you start could lead to poor reviews and overwhelm. Short-term rental hosting is NOT the real estate business; it is the hospitality business. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it business. Things like seasonality, events, and even keeping up on local regulations take time and effort.

Taking reviews personally, instead of seeing a review as a gift to be acted upon for continuous improvement

As humans, we often take feedback as a personal attack. Hosts are humans too and after receiving less than a 5-star public review is when we most go into attack mode. Reviews are a gift of the sharing community! Use reviews to improve or to do more of what you are doing right! By the time you get your first review, you’re probably deeply invested in your Airbnb, but unless you are a mind reader, you need reviews to understand what’s working and what isn’t! Even better than public reviews is live feedback during the guest stay.

We’ll talk about the importance of guest communications in another post. While it is nearly impossible for a review to be removed, and sometimes guest reviews won’t be accurate or honest, a host always has the opportunity to respond to a review. Future potential guests will read the guest review and the host’s response. New hosts may be hesitant to respond to negative remarks. Negative or dishonest reviews can and should be responded to fairly and openly. When hosts do not read and act on every review, hosts miss out on an invaluable resource for continuous improvement.

Inaccurate or misleading listings

When a host has finished setting up their vacation rental, it’s practically their baby. All parents are proud of their babies, and the same goes for hosts; hosts are proud of their space even if it’s not perfect. But even a non-perfect space can be a profitable space. Think back to how Airbnb started. Brian Chesky rented out his couch! The significant part about being a host on the Airbnb platform is that anything goes. But where mistakes are made is hosts misrepresent their listing.

For example, hosts can inadvertently set up the wrong guest expectations by over-selling their listing or omitting certain aspects of their listing. One example is not disclosing that there are pets on the premises. If a guest is afraid of animals or has a pet allergy, a straightforward omission can be the difference between a 5-star review and a 1-star review. Granted, not all guests will take the time to read the entire listing, but that’s on them! Your responsibility as a host is to accurately represent your space.

Missing keywords in the listing

We just talked about having an accurate listing, but listings are much more. The words you use to describe your listing are what Google interprets and displays for the world. The MISTAKE to avoid is not writing for Google! If Google gets your intent wrong, the world will get your intent wrong when searching for the perfect place to stay. Your success depends on being found in queries. This is what optimizing your listing for SEO (Search Engine Optimizing) means.

Another way to consider why guests picked your place is to ask them! Ask them why they came to your state, town, and neighborhood. And, think of all the amenities they desire. Describe your listing with ample keywords in inviting, flowing sentences. Is writing not your thing? Just complete Airbnb’s menu-driven background field menu. Need inspiration? Look at the listings of your competition.

Your Airbnb Guidebook is another listing feature to help you connect with your guests and boost your SEO. What is an Airbnb guidebook? Airbnb guidebooks are a native feature for hosts, allowing them to provide guests with information about the local area within their vacation rental listing. Think of it as what you would tell a friend coming to town. It includes your favorite restaurants and sites to see and is personalized to make guests feel at home.

Building a listing without keeping the search filters in mind

Another hosting mistake is not taking advantage of Airbnb filters. Airbnb guests can use filters to find the perfect listing based on their preferences. Design your listing with filters in mind and you’ll get more bookings. Here are the primary filters:

  • Price range
  • Type of place
  • Rooms and beds
  • Property type
  • Amenities
  • Booking options
  • Accessibility features
  • Top tier stays
  • Host language

Design your listing knowing that these critical filters exist. Some of the key elements you need to know are your average booking lead time, the difference between an entire place, a private room, and a shared room, and what it means to be an Airbnb Suphost. Knowing the details about what guests look for when they are making a decision to stay at your place or someone else can be the difference between an empty bed and money in your bank account.

Beyond these filters are many more to consider. Don’t forget to list the number of rooms and beds and the property type (e.g., apartments, villas). A popular filter is amenities such as a working kitchen, TV, free parking, and a quiet neighborhood. Most guests have essential reasons for their destination, so give them perspectives such as 20 minutes to the beach, convenient bus and trolley stops within a 5-minute walk; International Airbnb travelers speak many languages. Let them know what languages you speak.

House rules are essential for avoiding misunderstandings

Every host has their preferences for the type of guests they want to host. It is a colossal mistake not to list these guest requirements in a House Rules document. This is your chance to say that no one not on the reservation is allowed on the premises, parties, and events are not allowed, no smoking on the property, no pets, no eating or drinking in the bedrooms, and the noise curfew begins at 8:00 PM, and do not adjust the automatic thermostat. Let guests know about your policy for electricity and water use. Be sure to list your laundry rules (e.g., time available and use of soap). Time for check-in and time for checkout.

Before you think this is a negative document, there are plenty of inviting things to say. Such as complimentary coffee at the coffee and tea bar in the kitchen. Throughout the house, labels help you navigate what is in the closet and drawers. Let them know the areas that are off-limits and are posted with a sign. Let them know you have beach towels, mats, beach umbrellas, and sunscreen in the hall closet.

Security devices

Be sure to list your guest security procedures. Tell guests if you have outdoor security cameras and remote lock entry with a camera. Let them know about your indoor noise monitors.

Be sure to inform guests that your security policy is to keep guests safe, protect the property and the city’s goodwill, and have good relationships with neighbors.

Ensure all guests read the rules and acknowledge they will follow them by requesting in the last line of the house rules that they are to copy the code and send it back to you via the Airbnb app.

Not leaving enough time between guests

As we said earlier, hosts often underestimate the demands of the hospitality business. A big contributor to this mistake is not leaving enough time between guests. House rules are one place to inform guests of checkout time, a sign in the room is an additional reminder, and the best is using the Airbnb app through automated messaging to remind guests the night before and the day of along with instructions on how to leave the room, not to leave anything behind and to leave a review.

Your listing and house rules should state the times as well. The objective is to leave enough time between guests checking out, regular linen changing time, cleaning and disinfecting time, and a brief time to relax.

Think about all the things that could go wrong! What if something is broken (e.g., laundry machines, dryers, loss of electricity, flooding, sewer backup, roof leak, and weather)? These are not to scare you but to get you to think of continuity plans. Have what you need on-site and contracts with local repair services. The show must go on, and for your peace of mind, having a continuity plan reduces the stress.

Communicating effectively with guests is EVERYTHING!

Short-term rentals (Airbnb) are the HOSPITALITY BUSINESS. Everything you do is guest communication. Not constantly communicating effectively with guests is one of the biggest mistakes a host can make. Guest have many choices. Remember what we said toward the beginning about the pictures and words (i.e. communication) in your listing? A guest decides to get off your listing or stay and investigate further in the first seven seconds of landing there. Each second is a communications moment. A host does not have much time to impress a guest to stay at their place.

Once you’ve figured out the listing and booking challenge, all the rest is guest communications to thrill and enhance the guest experience. If a host can master all that, your reward is a 5.0 review full of guest exuberance, a third-party, unbiased guest recommendation telling the public how great your place is. And then, we start all over again and again and again. That is how successful Superhosts run their business, with high occupancy, high nightly rates, and good PROFITS.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” — Peter Drucker

What do excellent communications look like?

  • Communicating clearly with guests whenever they reach out on the Airbnb app.
  • Communicating precisely and accurately every time.
  • Communicating quickly
    • When guests submit a request to book
    • Ask questions about your listing
    • Have questions about checking in late, dropping off luggage early,
    • Asking about directions from your place to the reason for the trip
    • Anything and everything!
  • Follow the 2-minute rule. When the app vibrates, answer it.

Communications summary:

  • Don’t Keep Guests Waiting!
  • Don’t assume that guests will be forgiving of poor or late communications.
  • Don’t ever invade a guest’s privacy.

Unprofessional Behavior

When the sharing community began, creating a world where anyone can belong based on a foundation of trust grounded in consistent host and guest expectations of behavior was necessary. In the Airbnb community, there are people from different backgrounds where variations in acceptable behavior exist. Within this world, there are basic rules of safety and behavior. It is a monumental mistake not to embrace professional behavior.

Safety is only possible if you trust the sharing community and feel safe.

Guests and hosts should behave to avoid harming themselves or others.

  • Not committing physical or sexual assault, harassment, violence, robbery, and other acts of violence against anyone.
  • Threatening anyone by words or actions is not tolerated.
  • Creating hazardous situations that include weapons, disease risks, or dangerous animals in your listing.

Whenever we open homes, neighborhoods, and experiences, we should all feel secure, including others’ property, information, and personal belongings. This includes the following:

  • Theft, vandalism, or extortion,
  • Spam, phishing, fraud, and
  • Violating others’ privacy or intellectual property rights.

Fairness and trust are what hold us together as a global sharing community.

This means that we avoid:

  • Discriminatory behavior or hate speech,
  • Bullying or harassing others, and
  • Disturbing the surrounding community

Our sharing community is built on authenticity

The dynamics between hosts and guests require a balance of shared expectations, honest interactions, and accurate details for it to work.

This means we should uphold the following:

  • Not misrepresenting ourselves, and
  • Not misrepresenting your spaces, and
  • Believing that sharing our home is not just a transaction but a place for others to belong.

Reliability is the glue that holds every unique Airbnb experience together.

There are specific universal standards that the host and the guest agree to meet. For example:

  • Every listing should have habitable spaces, and
  • Every guest and host should not break commitments except for extenuating circumstances (e.g., cancelation, check-in times, failure to pay, or breaking house rules), and
  • Being responsive to communications throughout the stay.

Going way over the top with decorations or themes

Theming your space is a good practice but don’t overdo it!

Theming is applied to an environment to create a memorable and meaningful experience for individuals or groups and can be expressed through architecture, decor, or colors. It is an expensive mistake when hosts overuse themes. There are millions of Airbnb listings worldwide and the competition is fierce to make listings stand out on the Airbnb platform. Does Airbnb encourage themes? Sure they do. Just look at the Airbnb landing page. It is full of fantastic themes. And, did you know that Airbnb is awarding $10M to fund the 100 craziest ideas for new listings?

However, most of us want a place within our budget and available time that Incorporates our styling through subtle, inexpensive props. For example, paint the front door a bright yellow for a yellow theme, plant yellow flowers on the approach, and place matching yellow coffee mugs in your complimentary coffee bar. This is an example of a subtle color theme for a few dollars.

Sorry, but your family photos do not enhance any theme. Guests are looking for an experience with them at the center, not sharing it with people they do not even know.

Avoid unattractive interior decor.

Add local flavor to your walls. Why do travelers come to your area? Is it the beach and surfing? Feature surfboards, sand, and sun. Avoid the mistake of excessively featuring photos from neighborhoods. Use your experiences book for that.

Design to have broad appeal

Decorate with the types of customers you want to attract in mind. Do you want business people, students, or families? Each of these may call for a different theme. By decorating with broad appeal in mind but still unique, you may satisfy your budget and garner the reviews you want.

Avoid clutter. It is not your friend. When living there, your eyes ignore the clutter, but guests’ eyes don’t. Don’t overlook the minimalism look. When taking photos for your listing space, use two-thirds of the furnishings you typically have. Guests prefer spaciousness to clutter.

An easy way to refresh your Airbnb space instantly is by adding live plants. In a day, using social media like Nextdoor, you could fill every room with plants neighbors are happy to get rid of – for free! Keep in mind the maintenance, however. Succulents may be the way to go.

When you have a theme, show it off with photos.

We have talked about choosing fun and exciting themes for your listing. Don’t miss the opportunity to show it off in the listing photos. Embrace the theme, but don’t let it overwhelm the place. You never want to mislead guests about your amenities. But do show off the amenities that make your space complete. Play up the natural light if you have it. Do not do photos at night. Stage rooms and augment with pure light sources. If guests have access to the outdoors, don’t forget to add amenities and fun lighting outside. Avoid pictures of outlets, cords, closets, and hallways. Hire a professional photographer.

Not running your Airbnb’s back office with great efficiency

In the hospitality industry, hosts must split their time between guest demands and back office activities. Back office mistakes have a way of interfering with guest experiences. We have extensively covered taking care of guests and now we devote time to running the back office.

When do you need dwelling property insurance?

A standard homeowners insurance policy usually doesn’t cover rental situations. Why? Because your property becomes a business asset when you rent it out. The reasoning is simple, more risk because tenants typically don’t care for a rented home the way a homeowner does.

Once you turn over your property for rental and vacate the dwelling, you need more protection when:

  • You don’t reside at the property.
  • You rent the property out.
  • You use the property for short-term rentals like Airbnb, Vrbo, etc.
  • Your home has unique insurance needs (e.g., an older roof).

Check with your insurance carrier and find the policy that is right for you. Remember, you are a business that generates regular income. If you are shut down because of an insurance coverage mistake, not only will you have more significant expenses but the loss of income, a double whammy.

Do miss the opportunity of staying at other Airbnbs

This market research is the best way to learn what other hosts do. Stay with Superhosts and find what they do that you don’t. Start a conversation with them and learn from the best. Every time we stay at other Airbnbs, our senses are acutely tuned to learning from others.

Not paying attention to what your immediate competition is up to.

Depending on your location, you will likely have many listings with the same profile as yours within a few miles of you. Memorize your Airbnb competition query and check it often to see what your competition is charging and what new amenities they have added. You are now acting just like a guest would, seeing what a guest sees. How do you stack up? Can you charge more? Should you charge less? Do you find amenities they are featuring that you have but did not put into your listing? Are they starting months in advance and advertising for local tourist draws at special rates? To be successful, a host must be proactive.

Not protecting my assets with an Airbnb business structure

Protect your assets!!! 

When running a single Airbnb listing, whether in your home or a separate structure, you may not be considering protecting your investment other than property insurance. However, it would be a significant financial mistake to think insurance alone will protect you, your family, and your assets. If this is you, you might consider forming an Airbnb business structure.

The primary reason for creating an Airbnb business structure is to protect your assets. On the positive side, short-term renting has excellent cash flow. On the negative side is the risk of a guest getting injured while staying at your Airbnb. If they file a claim for personal injury and negligence, your assets could be wiped out without the protection of an Airbnb business structure. Your home, bank accounts, car, and retirement savings could be at risk.

Choose from several business models

Check with your attorney or tax accountant before you make a decision about which business model is best for you. There are trade-offs between, protection, tax flexibility, and setup costs. 

Zero protection If you do nothing, you have zero protection

A personal business income hobby, sole proprietorship, and partnership provide ZERO asset protection or tax flexibility. If you have a loss of property and an interruption of business, you are on your own. 

If you have one or two listings, use a Living Trust to protect your assets

Advantages of a living trust

In many instances, placing your investment property in a living trust is more beneficial than using your personal name. For example:

In many instances, placing your investment property in a living trust is more beneficial than using your personal name. For example:

  • It can help avoid probate and minimize estate taxes.
  • It can separate your personal assets from your business assets.
  • If there is a claim by a guest, they are unable to go after your personal assets, income, and wages to pay off debts.
  • If the rental property is under your personal name, the claimant can go after your personal assets and income.

Real estate investors have other options

When you create an Airbnb business structure as a legal entity, you create a personal liability shield with taxation options. Two of the most popular structures for rental investors are LLC and S Corp.

Which is right for your situation? Check with your accountant and attorney to determine what is best for you.

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