About six months ago, I started Airbnbing a room in my apartment. I should clarify, I started Airbnbing my room in the three bedroom apartment I share with two roommates. At the time I was spending six nights a week at my girlfriend’s place and thought paying +1k a month for four nights in an apartment was silly. Those with more foresight than me—or even those that read the title of this post—probably know where this is going.
Begin hilarious, downwardly spiraling experiment.
My first guest was someone I sort of knew. She was a How To Be Black street team member and needed a cheap place to stay while attending our NY book launch party. Coincidentally, I needed a favorable first Airbnb review. Done. I gave her the room for what it cost me (rent/31), and we were in business.
My second guests were the first real Airbnb test. They stayed for a long weekend and with the profits, I paid off most of my startup costs, i.e. sheets, towels and cleaning supplies.
I waited a few weeks before having more guests; I wanted to be respectful of my roommates and hadn’t really had a taste for blood yet. Oh god, that’s totally the worst possible word choice. Now I’m the Airbnb killer. What I meant was that I hadn’t yet made the profits that would inspire the all out Airbnbing to come. Please don’t arrest me.
Anyway, the third group stayed longer and subsidized roughly 1/3 of that month’s rent. This is when the psychological shift happened from Airbnb as an experiment to Airbnb as a business. Rent-free NYC life was on the horizon. Combine this with a third positive review and the reservations streamed in. Some days I had 15 inbound requests—these were seriously lucrative push updates and are probably the reason why I feel phantom vibrations.
Around this time, one of my roommates also started Airbnbing his room when he was away from the apartment. In a matter of weeks we were earning double the cost of our individual rent per month—it was awesome. So awesome in fact, that when he told me he was moving out, I took over renting his room. Great idea!
Having recently graduated with an English degree, I should have recalled Greek mythology and Icarus, but I didn’t. I’d gone way too far and would now suffer the consequences.
After work two or three times a week I’d be back at my apartment cleaning. I’d constantly be coordinating schedules with incoming and outgoing guests. And when guests finally did arrive, I’d have to field messages like: “I left my iPod in a cab”, “I’ve locked myself out of the bathroom”, and “Craig, this is your girlfriend, stop the Airbnb shit.”
Of equal importance is that like the mafia, you have to pay people off for their inconvenience. That’s to say, a sizable percentage of the profits I worked for would go to my girlfriend or roommate.
As you might expect, I’m hanging up my Airbnb boots in search of a new racket. I’ve found that Airbnb is too time-intensive and led to me losing focus on side projects and just enjoying the city. Though, if you’re still considering your own Airbnb operation, here are some tips and hacks. (Having only hosted in NYC, most of my knowledge is city and maybe NYC-specific.)
1. Set the minimum night stay to at least four nights, but really as high as possible, until you stop getting requests. Frequent turnover is the most annoying part of Airbnb.
2. Push your rate up until you stop getting requests. Though the market might look like it’s full of cheaper places, you’d be surprised at just how many people are reserving through Airbnb and the psychological effect of price in relation to perceived quality.
3. Reply to messages ASAP, preferably within six hours. Potential guests message a bunch of people and are usually trying to lock something down in a hurry.
4. Your energy bills are going to go up. During the work day you’re normally not at your apartment. Guests are. I had a 25% increase in utilities.
1. Don’t waste your time doing this. Instead of imposing arbitrary check-in/out times, just find a hack.
2. A lockbox or key hiding place is an option for some,
3. Wine shop key drop. My personal preference. There’s a wine shop near my apartment where I would buy a bottle and then leave the keys in an envelope in the bag, at the wine shop. The envelope would have the guest’s name and expected pickup time as well as my name and my phone number, but not my address so the keys would only be useful for the guest and not a curious wine shop employee. The process worked flawlessly and my guests assumed I was being thoughtful by giving them a bottle of wine. I was just being lazy.
4. I used a hiding place for checkout, though if you have a good relationship with a shop, guests could just drop the keys off there.
1. I would advise that you clean the apartment yourself. Unless you’re making a killer profit, professional cleaning costs are too high.
2. Buy lots of sheets, towels, etc. so you don’t have to frequently worry about laundry. Maybe 3-5 sets per room.
If you think Airbnb is cool and are looking for an apartment, here’s what I’d advise.
1. A two bedroom apartment: one room for you, one for your guests. One room is plenty of work, trust me.
2. A popular, accessible neighborhood. Sure, your apartment in Red Hook might be really cool, but finding high-paying guests is going to be tough.
3. No roommates. Like I said before, you’ll start hemorrhaging profits from your mob dues.
4. A deadbeat landlord. So they’re not in your hair.
5. A superintendent that doesn’t live in the building. Ditto #4.
6. An apartment building that’s full of young people who don’t pay attention and wouldn’t really care if they knew. I.e. Upper East Side co-ops are a terrible choice.
If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email.
My girlfriend is much happier with me now.