Have you ever thought about joining the community of Airbnb hosts? Does the idea of welcoming paying visitors to your home or property sound like a fun way to help pay the bills? You aren't alone.
"In the past eight months or so, it seems like everyone I know is in the process of opening an Airbnb somewhere — in the garage or in the basement. It seems like there's Airbnb fever," says Jennifer Carman, who in 2018 opened a two-bedroom Airbnb on the second floor of the historic Mills-Davis house in downtown Little Rock that also houses her art appraisal business.
To learn more about the business side of Airbnb hosting, The Work Wife reached out to Carman and to Stacy Hamilton, a real estate agent who with husband Nathan owns and operates two Airbnb properties, as well as The Baker bed and breakfast in the Argenta district of North Little Rock. Here's what they say you should consider before taking the leap:
1. Who would want to stay with you?
This question is the basis of your business plan. "It's a lot easier to have a smashing success as an Airbnb if you have thought out what kind of guests you'll be likely to attract," Carman says.
According to Hamilton, location is fundamental in determining what kind of guest is likely to book your space.
"If you have an Airbnb close to UAMS, more than likely you'll be seeing guests who are patients or families of hospital patients," Hamilton says. "In Argenta, they are either coming from Nashville to Austin or Austin to Nashville — young, artistic people, and they almost always have a pet. That's why they use Airbnb."
Carman says her Airbnb space in downtown Little Rock stays "very, very booked." Her guests are looking for a larger space in the downtown area — business colleagues who need separate rooms and cast members for productions at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre or Robinson Center are frequent guests.
"I would say the majority of people who book my Airbnb want to be downtown and want to be able to walk to the attractions," Carman says. "And they want to be able to cook and do laundry."
Kitchen and laundry are big attractions, Hamilton agrees. And while Carman rarely accepts pets in the Mills-Davis house — "I don't want my historic floors scratched up." — Hamilton says a fenced yard for dogs can command a premium price.
Identifying your market will help you determine if your property is actually suitable and, if so, what amenities your guests will likely need or expect.
"If you have a house in Cabot and just offer a bedroom, you probably won't be very successful. But if you have a house near Cabot on five acres and are offering an out-in-the-country experience, you might be very successful," Hamilton says.
2. Do you have the time and energy for the work involved?
Both Carman and Hamilton stress that hosting is demanding work because Airbnb customers are demanding. Guests have no front desk to call if they have a question or a problem or can't figure out how to use the shower.
"They want you to be the concierge," Hamilton says. "There's a lot of guest contact and questions that you have to be ready to answer."
Success, she says, requires "flexibility, to be able to answer communications, to meet if they want to meet."
Hamilton says her parents will soon be moving from Hot Springs to North Little Rock, and the house they are leaving could be wildly successful as an Airbnb. But instead they plan to sell it because no one would be near enough to provide the service guests expect.
Carman says hosting means being in constant contact by cellphone.
And the biggest issue of all may be housekeeping since Airbnb guests are persnickety and can be harsh in the reviews that future guests rely on.
"That's probably the number one thing that keeps people from doing this, is trying to figure out the housekeeping piece. Because it's really complicated," Hamilton says.
Professional housekeepers generally have a set client list and aren't interested in interrupting their schedule for occasional Airbnbs that have to be ready at a set time.
"If you have a good eye for detail and time to do it, you can do it yourself… But everything, top to bottom, has to be clean."
Hamilton uses employees of The Baker to clean and prepare the Airbnb properties, while Carman doesn't trust anyone else to clean up before and after her guests. That means more work, but also more income, she says.
3. Does the income justify the expenses?
If you think Airbnb income is all gravy, think again. Obviously, Airbnb — or other similar platform — takes a small cut (typically 3%). Hiring someone else to clean or even to manage the entire operation are optional expenses.
But there are other expenses that are less obvious.
"Airbnb can be very lucrative, but I replace sheets and towels constantly," Carman says.
But even that pales beside another invisible expense: "What it has done to my insurance is incredible. Insurance companies consider Airbnb to be very risky."
And local ordinances can and do change, which can throw even a carefully crafted business plan for a loop.
But for now, Carman says, Airbnb is making it possible for her to locate her business in the kind of historic structure she loves, and she hopes to do it "for a lot of years to come."
"Anyone who is a host has had an unpleasant experience with a guest whose behavior disappointed them or who was careless. … But for the most part, my guests are just the most wonderful people.
"[Hosting] is definitely a lot of work," Carman says. "I have found it to be a great joy. It is satisfying to me to welcome people to my city."