With the sharing economy booming, there are a lot of benefits and a lot of fears surrounding what is a commonly misunderstood marketplace.
Whether it’s ridesharing like Uber, free rooms like Couchsurfing, or renting an apartment through Airbnb — the peer-to-peer economy allow travelers to experience a place on a more local level for less money and often with more space and freedom. However, the idea of renting out one’s own home seems scary.
As an Airbnb host myself for over a year now, I’ve heard many surprised gasps when I say that I rent out my house. Those gasps are quickly followed by a few questions. Here are the top 10 questions I’ve heard and my personal thoughts on each.
If you have any questions that weren’t addressed, feel free to tweet them @latitudego.
DOES STUFF GET STOLEN?
At first, my husband and I wanted to hide everything. But now we have locked storage for small and valuable items or documents. When we get home, we always do a quick check around. There’s also a security deposit and insurance through Airbnb. Once, a guest accidentally packed up a board game, but they shipped it back immediately. Most of the time, guests actually leave stuff for us – drinks, little gifts, etc.
DO THEY MESS UP YOUR STUFF?
We have a security deposit of $100, which we have 48 hours to claim. If there’s anything small like a stain or broken glass, we can use part of the deposit. If there’s anything major, Airbnb insures hosts up to $1 million. There’s some regular wear and tear, but it makes us enough money to do regular upgrades anyway.
WHAT ABOUT CRAZY PARTIES, LIKE ON THE NEWS?
First off – we screen our renters. We don’t let people under 21 book, we ask why they’re coming into town, etc. As long as they don’t mess anything up or disturb the neighbors, we don’t mind the birthday parties, anniversary parties and engagement parties people have held in our house. That’s what Airbnb is great for – it lets you get a group of people in one place. And all the rest of the bizarre stuff on the news? Seriously…no.
WHY DO IT?
Essentially, we’re getting paid to go visit family for the weekend. Our house paid for itself while we were in Europe. We have home projects and upgrades paid for. We feel like we’re running our own little hospitality business. It’s fun and provides a great additional income.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
We use Airbnb instead of HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, etc. because Airbnb offers the most protection for guests and hosts. They’re the only name you see in the news but that’s because they’re more popular. Everyone’s watching them and they do more business. We got a license through the city and listed our place. Airbnb requires guests to have verifications like drivers license, Facebook, phone, etc. We screen our guests, book the house, clean it, go see family, go back home, clean up and take it to the bank. And pay hotel and income taxes. (Note: we rent our whole place, we don’t do the rent-a-room thing.)
DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT SOMEONE’S BEEN IN YOUR HOUSE?
It can be strange to think someone’s been there. But they’re there to sleep. I’ve stayed in Airbnb places myself and I love the experience – it doesn’t bother me to share my beautiful home with others. I love reading their compliments in our guest book afterwards.
(My personal favorite: “Thank y’all so much for opening your beautiful home to us! Words can’t describe how great it was to come back here after a long day and not only feel comfortable but feel welcomed. And seriously, your couch is from heaven…I’d love to know where you got it!”)
CAN I DO IT?
I don’t know. When we got our license (nearly $300) it took three months before we got one booking. It takes a while to get started without reviews. Now, we have more than 25 five-star reviews and bookings roll in. Are you willing to leave town every week? Clean your house top to bottom? Run a hotel? Deal with finding gum in your shower? And you have to live in a popular area.
WHAT DOES THE CITY SAY?
We pay hotel taxes and income taxes on it – a total of about 40% in taxes. Ouch.
Also, some cities don’t allow it. People are afraid of their neighborhoods becoming commercialized rental areas. Austin actually has a limit on rental licenses allowed in one area for this reason. Some renters buy houses and rent them out short-term because it’s much more lucrative than long-term rentals, and some residents fear this is driving up the cost of living. Austin has different types of licenses — one for people who live in their home, and one for people who are buying extra houses for short term rentals, this helps control the number fairly.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
It’s good for the environment. The peer-to-peer movement takes otherwise unused goods and uses them, meaning less hotel rooms have to be built. It’s good for the economy, too. It’s stimulated my and Scott’s spending dramatically — we have money for home improvements and vacations! Plus, anytime you’re bringing in visitors, you’re bringing in outside dollars and dropping them right into the city, a great bonus. It’s cheaper for visitors too, leaving them with more money to spend. Plus, the extra local experience is fun for everyone.
CAN I STAY IN ONE?
Totally! Fill out a profile, add verifications, and try not to be creepy. When you look for a place, check the reviews and ask questions. You can book an entire place or just a room. Don’t be afraid of the little guys with just 2-3 reviews, they’re the ones still trying really hard to impress. Feel free to ask for a discount (don’t ask to waive a refundable security deposit, that’s creepy). Message the host before booking, get a feel for them and their communication.