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7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Launching My Airbnb

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Maybe it was the high school algebra teacher who evangelized the pros of investing in real estate. Maybe it was the low interest rates. Or maybe just the fervent desire to take control of something in those unmooring early days of the pandemic. Whatever the reason (most likely a cocktail of all three), I found myself in late 2020 planning on buying—and launching—a short-term rental, or Airbnb.

I analyzed the market, I researched city and state laws, I budgeted and created decorating mood boards, and I spent my commutes listening to podcasts from real estate investors. But still, there are some things you really only learn from experience—at least in my case. A year and a half into hosting, here’s what I wish I knew before launching an Airbnb, in case you’re considering doing the same.

1. Whatever Your Maintenance Fund Is, Double It

In your own home, you know you have to jiggle the lock on the patio door to get it to open, or that the outlet next to your fridge can’t be used without tripping the circuit breaker. In a vacation rental, you’ve got to take care of those things ASAP. Real estate pros often recommend setting aside 1 percent of the home’s value a year for maintenance—so a $250,000 house would amount to keeping $2,500 in the bank—but I’d suggest doubling it, just because there are fewer things you can let slide in an Airbnb.

As for my personal experience—in my first year of owning a rental, I needed to dip into that fund and then some to cover repairs to our air ducts, water heater, electrical system and refrigerator water line, which amounted to a whopping $2,920.

2. Splurge on the Bed, Save on the Bedding

A comfy bed can make or break a guest’s stay. Knowing this, I went all out on the beds and bedding, only to quickly learn that linen sheets rumple easily—and those wrinkles look sexy on Instagram, sloppy IRL—and get stained even faster. Brushed microfiber sheets, like these fan-favorite Mellanni ones, are silky soft and don’t break the bank.

Your money is better spent on a pricier (though not top-of-the-line) mattress and bed frame. I’ve found that a medium-firm bed tends to be the Goldilocks of mattresses (I’ve liked Allswell’s lineup), though it’s worth keeping a cushy mattress topper in the closet, in case it’s too stiff for a guest. And in terms of bed frames, it doesn’t have to be fancy; just sturdy. Look for a queen size that can hold at least 600 pounds.

3. Sort Out Your Laundry Services

One of the biggest ongoing challenges I’ve had is move-out cleanings—particularly when it comes to washing the bedding. Many cleaning services will offer to do this, but unless you own a speedy, high-capacity washer and dryer (mine is standard issue), washing sheets and comforters for two or more bedrooms takes longer than the deep clean itself. (Understandably, the cleaning service can’t wait around for your sheets to dry and be ready to make the bed.)

At first, I tried keeping extra sets of bedding in the linen closet, and I told the cleaners they could use those sheets, take the dirty ones off-site for cleaning, and return them when they’re done. The problem? Some guests would use all eight sets of sheets and six comforters in the two-bedroom home, leaving nothing clean and ready to go.

Our latest fix: Keeping a spare set of sheets and comforters in a locked box in the garage that the cleaning service only has access to, and using a drop-off laundry service to clean guests’ linens between stays.

4. Keep an Eye on Your Pricing—And Discounts

Eager to get bookings, we offered discounted stays for the first three people who booked, as well as longer-term stay discounts and discounts for traveling nurses and medical professionals (given the pandemic and all). I miscalculated my offers, however, and didn’t realize guests could stack them…resulting in a great deal for them that barely covered my operating expenses during their stay.

5. Be Wary of Aggressive Discount-Seekers

Time and again, I heard seasoned hosts tell me that if someone starts a booking inquiry asking for a discount, deny them. I thought that was curmudgeonly; there’s no harm in asking for a deal, right? I could understand where the guest was coming from. Now, I’m starting to see it more as a red flag—often, if someone starts asking for all kinds of discounts before they even book, they’ll ask for even more discounts, credits and refunds throughout their stay, and the fear of a negative review (which can destroy a host’s bookings and earning potential), can put pressure on hosts to bend to their will—no matter how much it costs them. I’ve only dealt with this scenario once, but I’ve spoken to several hosts who have cited it as a major regret.

luggage in a neutral room next to a tufted beige sofa
Mikel Taboada/Getty Images

6. Join a Host Community, Then Turn Off Notifications for It

It’s so good to have a group of fellow hosts you can turn to when “how do I deal with…?” questions arise. However, obsessively reading every post from these groups can make you anxious—or triggered. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of horror stories and want to shut down your Airbnb. Or get into comment wars with people about how to handle different issues (or non-issues) with guests.

Turn off notifications, so they’re not being pushed to your phone and don’t appear in your feed. That way, you can pop in when you want to and ask and answer questions within the community—without it taking over your life.

7. Choose Nonstick Cookware

I love cooking, and I stay at my Airbnb a few times a year when it isn’t booked, so I wanted to have a fully stocked kitchen. But let’s be real: As much as I enjoy the latest carbon steel pans and the chef-iest of chef’s knives, most people are vacationing. They’re going to throw everything in the dishwasher, and it took me too long (and too many a destroyed pan) to accept that. Arm them with affordable, nonstick cookware and silicone serving utensils and call it a day. (As for me, I’ll keep my fancy stuff in the aforementioned locked cabinet in the garage, so I can use it when I’m back in town.)