There’s a lot to do and a lot to learn when you become a short-term rental host. A great way to learn is by analyzing the errors of others before you. Avoiding these 11 mistakes that hosts commonly make will help you put your feet firmly on the path to vacation rental success.
1. Not knowing about the laws, rules, and regulations that apply to short-term rentals
One of the first questions a would-be host needs to ask is, “Am I allowed to rent out my home?”. You might be surprised to discover that the answer is, “No,” or “only under XXX circumstances.” That’s because many homeowners’ associations and cooperatives have firm rules against subletting (as do most landlords). It’s essential to check the rules before signing up with Airbnb or another short-term rental listing site.
You also need to check with your local government agencies. As short-term rentals have become more popular, many local and even state governments have enacted regulations to limit them – or in some cases, to ban them entirely –often imposing hefty fines against people who flaunt the rules. To keep your rental legal, find out whether you’ll need a permit or license and, if so, how to apply.
2. Assuming your homeowner’s insurance covers short-term rentals
It can be a very costly mistake to assume that your homeowners’ insurance will cover you if a guest slips on the stairs or there’s a fire while guests are staying in your home. Many policies specifically exclude short-term rentals. Even if you don’t have an exclusion in your policy, it’s a good idea to check with your insurance company to be 100% sure. You might need to purchase specific vacation rental insurance or find a company that will cover you when you rent your home to others.
3. Keeping sloppy records (or keeping no records at all)
Short-term rental income is taxable, unless you have guests for 14 or fewer days a year. You might be able to deduct some of the costs related to the rental, such as advertising fees, cleaning and some pro-rated home expenses. To take those deductions, however, you must keep very careful records that detail the dates the home is rented, the amount of rent you receive and all of your expenses.
4. Not bothering to screen guests
As a long-time short-term rental host, I know that the vast majority of people are honest and responsible. They are who they say they are, and they do what they say they will do. But if you’re a realist like me, you know there are exceptions. The more you know about the people you welcome into your home, the less the chance that you’ll encounter problems.
Screening guests is essential. Ask lots of questions. Look people up on the internet. Ask guests for documents, such as drivers’ licenses or passports to prove their identities. When possible, talk to potential guests before they book – otherwise, set up a phone conversation right after. When it comes to getting to know someone and building confidence that they are the right guests for your home, there’s no substitute for the back-and-forth of a polite, friendly phone or Skype conversation. Communicate with real people and you get a much better sense of who they are.
5. Not bothering with a written rental agreement
The purpose of writing up a formal agreement and having guests sign it is to make sure they understand the terms and rules of the rental. Write the agreement in plain English, not “legalese.” If you use a pre-prepared rental form, be sure to adapt it to the specific situation instead of simply filling in the blanks.
Your agreement should clearly spell out such details as the dates of the rental, amounts of rent and deposit, payment due dates and methods, cleaning fees, cancellation policies and the maximum number of guests. Include your house rules such as no smoking, no loud music and no parking in neighbors’ spaces!
6. Leaving guests completely on their own
Things happen while you’re away: the washer breaks down or a huge tree limb lands on the driveway during a storm. Those kinds of problems can have serious consequences if you’re on safari in Africa or in a remote hilltop cottage in Portugal with erratic cell service and no internet access. Even losing internet access or house keys can be very upsetting for guests when you’re not readily available.
Make sure guests have someone to call for help if something goes wrong. Otherwise, they are likely to attempt repairs on their own or call the first repair person who comes up on Yelp, perhaps leaving you with a costly bill.
7. Not alerting neighbors
People are nervous these days – watchful even. They often feel uncomfortable or even suspicious when they notice strangers in the building or on the street. Protect your relationships with your neighbors by letting them know that people will be staying in your home. Give close neighbors your contact information and ask them to get in touch if there are any problems. It’s also a good idea to give neighbors your guests’ names and phone numbers in case of an emergency.
8. Not fixing things that could be dangerous
Maybe you know to be very careful when you step on the third tread of the back stairs because it’s been loose for years. But your guests don’t know about it, and everyone will be unhappy if they get hurt.
Take a tour around your home, inside and out, and look for home safety issues that must be fixed before your guests arrive. Replace smoke alarm batteries, tack down floppy carpets, repair broken window frames. You and your guests – and your insurance company – will be glad you did.
9. Neglecting to protect valuables and privacy
Even though you screen guests carefully and collect a damage deposit, it’s not fair to expect guests to treat every delicate object in your home as if it were their own. You also can’t assume that all your guests will resist the temptation to peek at personal papers you’ve left lying around. For everyone’s peace of mind, leave your grandmother’s quilt at your sister’s house. Buy inexpensive replacements for your good china. Store your tax returns and other private papers where they will be out of the guests’ way.
10. Forgetting to leave clear instructions
New hosts are often unhappily surprised to find that guests didn’t put out the garbage on garbage day or used an abrasive cleaner on a soft surface. Guests get upset when they can’t figure out how to adjust the air conditioning or buzz visitors into the building.
Leave your guests with a “user guide” that explains how to do important things. Include clear instructions for adjusting the heat or air conditioner, handling the garbage, using the TV, finding the circuit breakers, and resetting the modem if the Internet goes out. Mention important “quirks,” such as a toilet that easily overflows or a faucet on which “hot” and “cold” are reversed. Your guests will have a more comfortable stay and you’ll be less bothered by texts and calls asking how something works.
11. Not checking in with guests after they arrive
Your guests will appreciate a quick text or email a day or two after they’ve arrived to see whether they have questions. It won’t take you much time, and it shows guests that you want them to enjoy their stay.
About the Author
A published author and passionate traveler, Janis Fisher Chan recently launched Travel on the House, an informational website with tips and advice for people who want to make travel affordable by swapping or rent out their homes.