Of Mice and Molecules...
My Experience as an AirBnB Host
Last year, Susan and I decided to finally take the plunge and rent out our spare bedroom on AirBnB. This move was something we'd discussed on several occasions. On paper, it set up well for us. We live in a high floor of a lakefront high-rise building in a nice neighborhood in Chicago, with easy access to downtown and all the touristy things in the city. Chicago also has really high hotel prices, which only go higher as demand surges in the summer months. After a busy summer, I thought I'd write about our experiences.
This October will mark the three month mark of hosting for us. We've had about 30 guest bookings and have booked well over 50 nights in our place. Overall, it's gone really well.
It's easy money. Not crazy amounts, but easy. We set our rates at $100 a night, slightly little less than half a decent hotel would charge. Demand has been crazy. We know from experience (we booked a few people last year) that demand will taper off in October and November, and winter is dead. We have put very little effort into it. In terms of income, we're probably on track to do about $6-7K before things go dormant. Not career-replacing money, but enough to pay for a vacation or two or a nice new bike. I don't know if it would be worth doing for $50 a night, but we all work with the location and situation we have.
There's a lot of free stuff. This surprised me. Our guests would bring back leftovers and would either forget or abandon them in our fridge (I have eaten SO MANY untouched slices of Chicago deep dish that have been left behind). We've also had guests bring us gifts (especially Asian guests), offer to take us out to meals and/or baseball games. Today I brought a six-pack of ginger beer a guest left behind to work. I hadn't anticipated this fringe benefit when we got started.
The main effort is cleaning. We had to keep our place a notch or two cleaner than usual during hosting. It was generally easier to keep the place clean all the time. I think this might have been harder on Susan than me. We provide coffee, but no breakfast. Other than an occasional request for Q-tips, guests are pretty self-sufficient. The biggest demand is needing to clean the guest room and bathroom, maybe 30 minutes total. Often, it's not the time involved, but the inconvenience of back-to-back guests on days where both Susan and I are working.
Interestingly, we don't charge a cleaning fee. We also only accept stays of two-plus nights. Next year I would change that to three night minimum (at last in the summer), so as to make cleaning less frequent.
People book on Fridays a lot. No idea why. We typically start seeing bookings about two months in advance.
We are now Superhosts. There are basically no benefits to this, other than a little badge identifying us as such. Maybe we have some preferred position in the search algorithm AirBnB uses, I don't know.
People are trustworthy. We've had zero problems with sketchy people. I've enjoyed meeting new people, but I do get tired of telling the same old information over and over. The winter break will be a nice time to rejuvenate myself. I find I've grown really comfortable having people in my house.
Everyone on the planet uses AirBnB. We've had guests from France, Australia, Japan, China, Israel, and a few other countries I can't recall. People come for every possible reason - conferences, baseball tours (Cubs, Brewers, Sox, usually back-to-back).
I was worried about fighting with guests over the TV. This never materialized. Almost everyone is out all day. Occasionally, we'll have a guest stay for two or three days and I'll never speak to them. When we do make contact, 60% of guests are the straight-into-their-room types, while the rest are more social.
The mid-week booking is gold. Friday through Monday is easy to fill. But when a guy comes in on Tuesday and leaves on Friday, you're getting an opportunity to really fill your place and make some money. These people are the most desirable customers. Over time, I developed a mid-week booking celebratory dance (imagine flipping your hands from an 'M' to a 'W' and add some gyrations - that's the gist of it).
We don't accept everyone. No one likes to admit this, but I'm pretty certain most (if not all) AirBnB hosts profile guests. The only non-perfect review we've received was from a woman who made a last-minute booking with us. Based on her lack of AirBnB feedback, her very basic inquiry message (and, if we're really being honest, her profile pic was fairly ghetto), Susan and I were a little hesitant to accept her. But we set aside our concerns and gave the OK.
Well, fuck if she didn't deliver on letting us down. Although the visit was perfectly fine in terms of interactions, etc., the real trouble came later, when she evaluated us. As with Ebay, feedback is critical when getting started on AirBnB. It's a strong motivator to providing good service and creating a nice system of accountability. Because she was an early-on guest, I bent over backwards to accomodate this lady. When she left, for example, I asked if there was anything she could suggest to make future guests more comfortable (which is a roundabout way of asking for criticism, yes?)
The woman in question said nothing, that she'd enjoyed her stay, then absolutely torpedoed us in her subsequent review. She mentioned she was unaware we had animals and implied we hid it from her. To be clear, we mention this prominently in our listing, and have no less than four pics of our cats in the property description. If you miss it, you're an idiot. I was particularly pissed about this - there's an unwritten rule in AirBnB that you do not give a less-than-perfect rating unless there's a serious issue. In the end, her average review knocked us down from perfect to 4.5 stars for a couple of weeks until we recovered. No damage, really, but you can be damn sure we remember, and that the next guest may have problems.
We've turned down other requests for different reasons. AirBnB's standing in Chicago remains unsettled. Currently, our building can amend the building rules to block us from hosting. The best way to have that happen are complaints about guests. If you are punk-looking and are coming in for RiotFest, I'm probably saying 'no' because I am playing a long game here.
On a very different "profiling" note, Arab guys all shed like motherfuckers. The shower is covered with these little pubey-ish hairs when we clean up after. We're looking the other way on this one, though, because every one of these guys has been absolutely tremendous - the last one left us a bottle of wine.
The Missing Soap
There have only been a couple. We had two Indian girls stay for two nights. When they left, we discovered that 90% of the brand new, full-size bottle of body wash was gone. The girls had checked in late and left early. Each of them had maybe one shower. Is it possible to use that much soap? Even if they'd left the bottle on its side, only about half of the contents could have escaped. Did they steal it in their own containers? I find that hard to believe - this was average, nothing-special body wash. It is a mystery that will never likely be solved.
Late Night Guest Encounters
I had to learn to dress up when leaving our bedroom for midnight snack runs. About a month ago, I fell asleep on the couch while eating spicy cheetos. I awoke to Hamlet (our cat) licking the Cheeto residue off my fingers. As I came to, I realized I was not alone. Our current guest (fiftyish hippy woman) was sitting across from me, watching synchronized diving on late-night olympics coverage. I was wearing underwear and crumbs, and had no idea just how long I'd been sitting there sleeping. We had a surreal 10-minute conversation, where I provided advice on where she might buy marijuana in Chicago. After that, I started wearing pants on runs to the fridge.
Romantic Comedy Guest
On a more serious note, I had another guest where I kind of got involved in her life. This girl was Japanese, but had fallen in love with an American. She'd gone so far as to come to the US to study at his university. Upon graduation, things had mysteriously deteriorated and she'd returned home. Now, confused and heartbroken, she was on a mission to see her former lover and get closure. I got sucked into the story and was fortunate to stay in contact with her as she confronted him over what was happening. It was riveting stuff.
The Pee Stain
About a month ago, we were cleaning the bedroom, changing the sheets, when I suddenly stopped and pointed to the mattress*.
"Is that a pee stain?"
"Oh my god," Susan replied. "I think it is."
After losing a paper-scissors-rock contest, I put my nose down and confirmed that it was indeed a pee stain. One of our guests had peed the bed. This was a harsh introduction to the true nature of people.
After a desperate cleaning session**, we tried doing some detective work to identify the culprit. Our current guest was a sort of rough-and-tumble dude from LA. I suspected him the most, but then we checked the sheets (which we hadn't washed just yet) and discovered no evidence of urine. Either he'd washed the sheets himself or we'd had him lying in a pool of someone else's dried excrement. The guest before him was a 60-year-old Japanese lady. Very prim, but an aging bladder nonetheless. Before her was a dad and 13-year-old son. Could a child that old still pee the bed? Could dad really say nothing?
In the end, we were unable to assign blame without revealing to future guests that we had (OK, fine, have) a pee-stained mattress. Rest assured, this mystery eats at me more than any of the scientific quandries I face at work.
*Mom/Dad/Anyone else who might consider visiting us should stop reading RIGHT NOW.
*We cleaned the shit out of that fucker - disinfectant, bleach, febreze, dryer sheets, the works. Although the stain has been removed, let's be honest: there's no way we got everything that was vented into our mattress. Although I will never again lie upon that mattress, I am comfortable charging strangers a hundred bucks for the privilege, up to and including this very evening. Does this make me a bad person? Possibly, but in my defense, if we're averaging a 2% risk of bed pissing here, that means a hotel with 90% occupany is, on average, being soiled 6 times a year. At least I'm only making you sleep in a bed containing but a single defilement.
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Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.