5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Renting My House on Airbnb

updated Jul 1, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Hayley Lawrence

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of letting strangers sleep in your house was bizarre. The first time my husband and I rented out our house here in our home of Louisville — for the Kentucky Derby for a ridiculous sum — an appalled friend asked what we’d do if the people renting it licked our dishes and put them back. Leaving aside the direction her mind went, I told her that for what they were paying, I’d just wash everything once our guests left.

More than 10 years later, we’re old hands at Airbnb, welcoming hundreds of travelers to three different homes now. In fact we owe our ability to live in an amazing 1887 Victorian to the income we earn by opening up this home. We rent our third floor full-time on Airbnb, are officially launching our carriage house Airbnb any day now, and have rented all three spaces a few times (like for the Derby, which pays our mortgage for months!).

And barring the occasional issue or mishap, I absolutely love it. Hospitality is a passion right up there with writing, and we’ve met some amazing people and made wonderful friends. But are there things I wish I’d known before we started? Um, yeah, a few.  

1. The house can never be allowed to get dirty.

For most people, those who don’t have strangers literally rating and reviewing them on cleanliness, if they get too busy or just don’t feel like keeping things clean, well, they can let things slide. But when you could potentially have someone “checking in” at basically any time, you have to keep your house in a constant state of readiness. The house is mammoth, and it’s much better to keep it clean than try to get it clean. So cleaning is really a part-time job for both my husband and me. We’ve tried off and on to get help, but at the end of the day, nobody gets it as clean as I think it needs to be.

2. You start to look at everything with a critical eye.

And on that note, I constantly have a very critical eye on the house. If it were just us, I’d just live and let live with its many imperfections. But if you think the comments on online stories can be brutal, try having people turned loose to describe your actual home for other potential guests to read. It’s pretty terrifying, let me tell you. One person’s shabby chic is another’s “rickety and unkempt” (a guest once described our vintage — and yes, puppy-chewed — furnishings at our first house that way). So while I absolutely love our house, I’ve trained myself to see all possible faults someone could find in it, and you can’t turn that off.

3. Your priorities are whatever your guests might care about.

When you buy a fixer upper, you start building a list that never ends of everything you’d like to do. For most people, that list gets prioritized by budget and just their own preference. For me, it’s based on what guests want. We had a group rent the whole house a while back and they left a less-than-nice review. One of their complaints was the sole downstairs bedroom didn’t have a door. (Hey, it’s an old house, things are weird — there’s a door to nowhere on the second floor!) There was a curtain for privacy, but that didn’t suit their needs. So a bedroom door went to the top of my list and we re-purposed a door we took off the pantry to fit there (which, naturally, was about a two-day job, because: old house). I’d love to refinish and repair the pocket doors one day, but they’re not affecting reviews, so I can’t justify the expense.

4. You can’t take a digital detox.

I’m always so envious when I hear of people taking a break from their phone. I’d love to do that! But, at least when we have guests, the phone stays on. I set my guests’ phone number to a favorite so that it will ring through even in the middle of the night. The ONE time I somehow didn’t have it on (I blame being sick) was the time the heat went out in December and my guests tried — and failed — to reach me. Ugh. Even if we don’t have anyone currently booked in, the relentless Airbnb algorithm times how quickly we respond to inquiries, so unless I de-activate my listings temporarily, there’s no turning off my phone.

5. You’ll pay a lot more attention to your neighborhood.

Not to say I only care because I’m a host, because that’s not the case at all. But I do pay particular attention to how clean our block is, how trimmed the grass is, what the alleys are looking like. These things can all affect guests’ perception of our place — especially the dreaded “location” score. My husband goes out just about every day with a pick-up tool and a bucket to collect litter (seriously, what is wrong with people who just toss their fast-food bags out on our intersection?). We’re super involved with our community, and again, it’s not just because I’m a host, but I think that gives us a lot of added incentive to constantly improve the neighborhood!

Have you ever rented your home on Airbnb? What are some things you wish you’d known ahead of time?