AIRBNB hosting: is it worth it?

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“Samantha and I built this home with our own hands, start to finish and are now sharing it with you. It is not a flawless experience but it is a memorable one.”

That is what I wrote on our Airbnb listing in anticipation of our three month trial period in which we would be sharing our personal space with strangers from all over the country. We had no idea whether it would be a complete flop, sure fire success or total disaster. We hoped to have it occupied for a minimum of eight nights a month and considered the experiment a financial success if we hit fifteen nights per month; something we considered a long shot.

To our surprise, over the last three months we hosted 35 reservations for a combined 74 nights resulting in a 4.9 star rating and a super host designation. Not bad for a tiny accommodation where you essentially poop in a bucket :).

But it was not without hard work and stress that seemed much more prevalent at the time than it does in hindsight. In the first couple of weeks we amended the ‘house manual & rules’ again, and again…and then again; both the result of great feedback as well as lack of common courtesy that we learned must be explicitly stated for some people to do.

We had the kindest guests leave notes and gifts that made us tear up as well as a guest that literally almost blew SHED to pieces by leaving the propane stove burner on high (un-ignited) before departing at the end of their stay. We had a local who lives just a few miles away call SHED home for a night as well as many people from the other side of the country and even from a town twenty hours north in Canada.

Even now, with all of these faces and experiences in the past I can scroll down the reservation list and have a range of emotions as a see each and every guests face and name, the result of an extremely intimate experience in the sharing economy in which we dismissed the traditional hands-off approach where a property manager and caretaker/cleaner is hired and instead tried our best to put a human face to an experience that we sought to personalize as best as we could despite being overwhelmingly busy in our personal lives at times.

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PUTTING THE FINISHING TOUCH WITH A GUESTS WELCOME NOTE.

If you stayed at SHED this summer, you corresponded with me personally, typo’s and all. I carefully made the bed, including that mediocre hospital corner, positioned those pillows and tried my best to pick that random piece of lint off of the comforter. I cleaned that bird poop streak off the window and got the freshest coffee possible refilled into the airscape container, all while Aubrin Sage simultaneously helped and hindered, perhaps leaving a hand print on one of the windows or moving the silverware around in the drawer. You saw Samantha’s hand writing (and sometimes artistic doodles) on that piece of hexagonal cardboard and that flower was often times from the garden at our new house, sometimes from SHED’s backyard and occasionally from the roadside between our two homes.

Too many times I lay awake wondering if everything was going well for you. We traveled much less than usual this summer and I kept my cell phone off of silent mode in case there was an issue. Being a hands-on Airbnb host meant being on call nearly every day, just in case. I had anxiety each time I approached the front door after a guest stayed, not knowing what I would find inside.

This was my reality. I don’t think I am complaining but the highs were matched by the lows and I am looking forward to a near future that does not include being an Airbnb host.

A BREAK DURING CLEANING

A BREAK DURING CLEANING

The most frequently asked question has been “Is it worth it?” and it is not an easily answered inquiry because there are a lot of variables between individual Airbnb situations. This summers limited release was our way of testing the waters while having a clear exit date and strategy (a long term renter that moves in this month). It was a great experience that I am thankful we committed to but SHED’s future on Airbnb is still questionable, hinting towards our indecision as to whether this experience was ‘worth it’.

COST BREAKDOWN

Financially speaking , SHED’s tenure was a success. We made $7,743.00 in just over three months of renting our tiny house. Here is how the cost broke down after renting our home for an average price of around $100.00 per night plus $40.00 cleaning fee:

  • The first $450.00 per month went to our friend who owns the land for rent (and internet, water, electricity).
  • The second $450.00 went to us as tiny house owners and Airbnb managers.
  • The next $600.00 also went to Samantha and I to slowly reimburse us for our Airbnb specific cost’s (three sets of linens, towels/washcloths, extra blankets, kitchen wares, propane, biodegradable toiletries, wear and tear, $500 per year pest control cost for an on going ant issue that the professionals were able to put an end to)… and to cover airbnb’s 3% cut and the 22% that this income will be taxed at.

At this point, if SHED was rented for 15 nights a month all of these expenses were covered and both parties would consider it a success. Before SHED went live, we did not think we would be able to obtain a steady 50% occupancy rate and were both surprised and delighted to have achieved an 80%+ occupancy rate.

All income above $1,500.00  (+/- 15 nights a month) was split between us and the land owner 2/3 – 1/3 as a monthly ‘bonus’ and the the $40.00 cleaning fee went to whoever cleaned it, which ended up being Samantha and I 100% of the time.

The result was a +/- $1500.00 paycheck each month for Samantha and I. That means our entire mortgage payment and some of my student loans were paid for every month.  It was far from ‘passive’ income for the reasons listed above but to have our beloved tiny house continue to contribute to our future goals in such a large way is amazing.

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But there are a lot more things than money that determine the ‘worth of a physical object or experience and the aforementioned items (stress, being on-call, having to clean the tiny house multiple times a week with a toddler in tow, etc…) weigh heavily on our minds when contemplating SHED’s future on Airbnb.

The ideal scenario would be a long term parking spot with adequate water pressure and a septic that would allow for a flush toilet. With those two items and a contract with a professional cleaner we could probably hit a good compromise that would allow us to still share SHED with the world while not being tied down locally and constantly on call. With that said, not achieving all of those upgrades doesn’t automatically nix the chance of us sharing SHED again because reading those reviews, and messages, and notes in our guest book has been so incredible. Hearing people not only express their appreciation for the design and construction of the space but also describe how their time in SHED had a profound impact on their perspective about what tiny living could be was truly moving.  It is the entire reason we have shared this journey with such detail and allowing others to physically enjoy SHED really was the highest level of that goal.

 

We had two types of people stay in SHED.

The first type of guest was what we expected; those interested in tiny house living or our tiny house in particular after following our journey for many years. This type of guest was great because they knew what they were getting into when renting a tiny house; it’s the reason they chose our accommodation over others and in some instances, the sole reason they traveled from far away places to our little valley in Washington State. This type of guest was likely excited to try out the Separette composting toilet and appreciated the note near the shower with an in-depth explanation about why the combination of low water pressure and a single lever mixing valve can lead to water temperature regulation issues.

Then there was a second type of guest that we did not anticipate as much traffic from but  this group single single-handedly made this experiment financially successful. About sixty percent of our guests were simply coming to Yakima for their own reasons (work, conferences, wine) and then discovered SHED in their Airbnb search and chose to book it for different reasons including, location, cost, aesthetic and of course some for the novelty of the experience.

This group wasn’t any less great but if there was any displeasure in a person’s stay or small complaint it was likely to happen with this type of guest. I believe the reason for this is that this group would often times be just as content in a hotel as in an Airbnb but the difference between the two is night and day, especially with SHED which is much less conventional than renting a traditional home.

Hotels are machines of efficiency with a full time staff and professional cleaners. The impersonal nature of a hotel stay is their strong point, aiming to replicate the same, perfected and never changing experience regardless of what city you are in. Airbnb on the other hand offers a sense of place and the personal nature of the stay is integrated right into the fact that you are literally staying in an individual’s home, unique to that person, that piece of property in that city in that region of the country. Unfortunately, the disassociation between host and guest found in the hotel industry can cultivate a particular type of etiquette that lacks the sensitivity and courtesy necessary when using Airbnb.

One way we tried to start each business transaction off on the right foot (because at its core, that’s all this is) was to make the introduction friendly and if possible, personalized in response to the guests reason for visiting SHED and the Yakima Valley;  which we considered inseparable terms. The accommodations are only a part of a person’s experience when traveling so it was important that our guests also enjoyed their time in the Yakima Valley. If we could ensure that each guest had the knowledge needed to make the most of their stay then the odds that they would have a highly positive perspective on their experience were much higher.

We did this by trying to learn a bit about why each guest was coming and then provide tailored suggestions based on their particular interests. It was clear that people really appreciated this type of personalized locals perspective but it was also one of the most time consuming portions of managing our Airbnb. While life made it difficult to do this for every single guest and we often times slipped up on a long list of suggestions for guests only staying one night, other times I invested hours into asking and then answering questions and providing suggestions for a guest. While I really do think this is a crucial part of being a good host and to our success, I would try to find a way to streamline it in some way if we were to do it again.

The other most important thing in our eyes was the arrival experience.  The first 10-20 minutes of a guests experience set the tone for a great stay. We focused on clear directions (with map) and entry access info to make it as easy as possible for a guest to get to, unlock and enter the house. We then left a minimum of a hand written welcome note and flower and if we know the guests are coming late we left some lights on for them. If we learned enough about a guest and felt inspired (and had the time) we tried to track down and leave a little seasonally appropriate gift or local product. One time it was Copperpot Caramels, a few times it was cherries during their harvest, once in a while it was a couple hoppy craft beers or a bottle of wine or cider. My favorite was the time we left all the ingredients for dark chocolate peanut butter cup s’mores with vegan marshmallows and gluten free graham crackers to satisfy the guests dietary restrictions.

This is what made the whole experience fun. We enjoy hosting and tried our best to treat it more like staying at a friend’s place rather than a strangers Airbnb.

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A guest rents a color matched TESLA for their stay at SHED.

CLEANING

You would think that cleaning a tiny house wouldn’t take long but cleaning SHED for ourselves while living in it and cleaning SHED in-between guests are completly different experiences. Missing a hair in the shower or a streak on a wine glass while we were living in the house wasn’t a big deal but doing the same before a guest arrives could set a negative tone for their entire stay.

At the beginning it was taking be about 2.5 hours to clean the house which made for a very tight window with a guest check-out time of 11:00am and Aubrin’s nap at 1:30pm. After a month or so I was able to get that time down to around 1.5 hours as I honed in on the optimum strategy and muscle memory added to the efficiency.

And then there would be days when a guest decides to cook fish/fish sauce on the stove top before leaving the other ½ in the fridge and checking out late, resulting in an extremely pungent odor that was impossible to get rid of after four straight hours of trying to air out the house (and multiple ‘air freshening’ methods’). In this instance I had to notify that evening’s guest and explain the circumstances with an apology and pre-emptive invitation to discuss reimbursement if the situation ruined their stay. Despite sleeping with all the windows open that evening to continue to air out the odor, they were very gracious guests and declined any additional remediation.

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No composting toilet complaints here!

An Airbnb with a composting toilet!?

I know you want to know because there have been a lot of questions about all aspects of hosting an Airbnb with a composting toilet so I’ll elaborate for a bit below.

If you read our listing it was not a secret that you would be staying in a home with a non-traditional toilet. The feedback on the toilet ranged from a couple mild mentions of odor, to silence (a majority of the guests never spoke of it) to excitement at the novelty of it or the value in trying it out before purchasing one for a future tiny house.

While the couple of guests who mentioned odor didn’t have an unacceptable experience it was still frustrating to hear because Samantha and I used that exact toilet for three years without issue and contend that if used properly it will not smell (keep lid down when not in use, ensure a window is cracked when using exhaust fans in the house so they don’t overpower the small/silent toilet exhaust fan and most importantly ensure that urine is deposited in the front half of the toilet at which point it drains away; a task that requires ALL uses to sit during use, regardless of gender.)

It was important for us to diagnose what was the cause of odor after a guest complaint and every time it was caused by urine in the solids receptacle. The reason for this is that separating liquids and solids is the first and most important step in reducing odor and beginning the composting process. If you mix urine and feces you simply have sewage in a bucket and yea, that is going to smell.

One of the many reasons we decided to clean the tiny house ourselves rather than hire a professional is because of the composting toilet. We had no idea (and still don’t know) if a professional cleaner would clean the tiny house if it included having to empty and clean the composting toilet so we took things into our own hands this summer and thought the process of cleaning a composting toilet after guests was not as bad as most people may think. In fact, a majority of the time I considered it my third least favorite task behind scrubbing the entire shower and making the bed in the loft.

With that said, I think context is important and know that everyone’s tolerance and comfort level for this type of thing varies. Not only have I personally used, emptied and cleaned the toilet for three years but we come from a background of backpacking and mountaineering in which you are often times expected and required to pack out your solid waste so I have both the experience and probably a learned tolerance for such an activity although I think a majority of Americans have been conditioned into a state of over-sensitivity pertaining to the waste products that every single one of us produce.

To get a feel for how involved people were willing to get with the composting toilet we worded our listing in the following way:

“If you would like to get the ‘full’ composting toilet experience (or just want to help us out) you’re welcome to lift the top ½ of the toilet seat up, tie up the composting bag and place it in the black garbage can on the side of the house. Our caretaker will do this if you’re uncomfortable doing so.”

About 20% of the guests did this task themselves which informed me that requiring it of every guest in the future was probably not a good idea and would likely result in reduced bookings.

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An adorable mini-separette toddler seat.

So you want to put your tiny house on Airbnb? Do THESE 8 things:

  1. Put a human personality to your listing using cordial communication immediately. This will start a friendly conversation and separate you’re space from a hotel and subconsciously remind your guest that they are staying at an individuals home which requires more courtesy than a hotel.
  2. Provide local suggestions or other information to enhance your guests stay in the area. Your accommodations are only a portion of their experience and the more enjoyable their time is while eating meals, doing hikes, etc… the more favorably they will look upon their entire stay including their time in your home.
  3. Don’t assume anything. Be overly explicit in your listing and in your house manual. And funny enough, don’t assume people read your entire listing before booking, or at all for that matter. While as far as we know no one was surprised by the composting toilet, there was the occasional feedback essentially saying that we should explicitly state in the listing things like ‘limited counter space’; something that we thought would be expected when looking through our detailed photos and booking a 204 square foot tiny house on wheels…
  4. Leave a review. It is one of the most important aspects of Airbnb. More important than adding to a great guests 5 star resume is leaving honest feedback about less than stellar guests. It will help the guest understand how to be better and provide valuable information for other hosts when that guest books.
  5. Always be willing to make it right. If you care about your guests and your business reputation (because that is what running an Airbnb is) do whatever it takes to satisfy your guests including offering a partial or full refund. While we never had to refund a guest, there was piece of mind knowing that if someone had a terrible experience (due in part because of us or the space in some way) we were 100% willing to discuss partial or full reimbursement to remedy the situation.
  6. Nail the first 15 minutes of the guest experience. As mentioned previously in this post, clear directions and a positive first impression, potentially aided by a note or small gift can set the right tone for the rest of their experience.
  7. Don’t do it for the money. This may sound crazy, but if you are only putting your space on Airbnb for the money, you will likely come to the conclusion that it isn’t worth the ‘time and hassle’ and eventually move away from sharing your space. It is important that you value the experience beyond additional income and find joy in hosting, sharing a space you’re proud of and potentially inspiring others
  8. Tip us off that your house is available, we love staying in other small unique spaces while traveling! 🙂

If you have any specific questions about our experience being an Airbnb host we are happy to answer them and invite you over to our SHED TINY HOUSE INSTAGRAM where you can ask us on our most recent post as it is the best way to contact us.

Lastly and most importantly, Thank you to everyone who traveled to from near and far to spend time in our little home. Thank you for taking such great care of our home and for leaving so many loving sentiments in our guest book that will continue to reside on the shelf of SHED. Regardless of what we decide about SHED’s future on Airbnb, you have made us thankful for the experience.

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4 replies »

  1. Thanks for the detailed post about being an AirBnB renter. We have stayed in many AirBnBs in Europe – some host’s own properties (which are always more personal and appealing) and some that are rentals through a company pretending to be personal. The personal approach and a gift/flower/note are always so much nicer. Lots of information about the area is also always appreciated. Sounds like you did a great job. Thanks for the info on what it is like on the other side – it is something we have often thought about doing. Best wishes.

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  2. Thanks so much for such a truly personal and honest STORY/ look into your life of your tiny home airbnb hosting experience. I will share this with our community group as many hosts can learn from your approach – I agree with your very balanced approach to being a host. Esp. the first 10 mins experience – its often probably a deal breaker and we don’t even know it. Thanks also for the financial breakdown as many hosts jump in and host blindly as its a side hobby with not much extra anticipated thought and it proves very difficult and very stressful for them. Your combination of personal and business is the blend that I believe personally work best. And I tip my hat, how you juggled all that with a toddler in tow, WOW. Had to be some intensely tiring, no exhausting nights sleep or lack of for you both. This is really valuable because so many folks just give the over the top best info about the experience and brush the less than perfect under the rug, mat or out the door. The entire picture is what hosting with Heart is about and I’m sorry you aren’t still doing it because me need more awesome Heartful Host in our community. Thanks again and many blessings to you and your sweet family. clara

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  3. It’s great to read this. It’s so familiar to me, because I ran a full-service bed and breakfast for 7 years on the coast of Rhode Island. There was no internet in those days, so everything was done by phone. I learned a lot of people skills, and never said yes to the question, “Do you have a room available…?” until I asked a few questions, mostly pertaining to why they were coming, and how they had found me, since I didn’t advertise, and used a referral agency.

    I found that if I couldn’t get a laugh or a smile from them in the first five minutes, I didn’t want them. I’d be very sorry that I had no vacancies that night. After all, they were sleeping 8 feet away from me, and I was a single mom of a 4 year old daughter at the time. (I started it when she was 2, and I was married.) People who weren’t happy on the phone were not better when they arrived. And, no smoking in the house includes the bathroom, people!

    When my daughter was asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she said, “Fix toilets like my mom.” Was I proud?

    I met amazing people from all over, and we often had our meals together. If folks stayed for more than 5 days, well, you’d better feel comfortable with them before they show up at your door. I had a few come back every summer I was open. It paid my mortgage, taxes, and all the improvements I made to the house for it.

    But it was hard work, physically, expecially after I fell out of the tree I was trimming, and ended up in a wheelchair for a month. Emotionally, it takes a toll, too. You usually never see them again, and yes, I still remember lots of them, 30 years later. I treated every single person as my personal guest, and it was wonderful, until it wasn’t. The best thing was being able to just say no when I was busy, and going full steam for the summer. And then, I took mostly business people looking to relocate to Providence in the winter. I’m really enjoying not working on holidays now!

    I thought about renting out my tiny on airb&b for the summer, and living in a tent nearby. An extended camping trip in the back yard!
    Not sure I want to do that much laundry ever again, though, even if I had an electric washer. I like doing one load a week, by WonderWasher and a spin dryer, and I’m not prepared to put up with odors from others. I have multiple chemical sensitivity, which is why I live in a tiny, in the first place. If I ever find land that I can live and build on, I’ll build a pole barn, and build a tinier tiny or two. Just for guests. Very rustic.

    Best of luck in your endeavors, and if you are ever near Seattle, drop me an email. There are quite a few of us here. I keep meaning to have a meet-up, but where would we all sit? lol
    It’s best to come our way in summer. When the rain lets up, and we actually see the sun. I don’t get out your way except to see the palouse in springtime. That’s worth the drive.

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