Our Airbnb tips for newbies
We’re big Airbnb users. In 2015 we had 294 days of the year in Airbnb apartments. In 2016 it was 315 days. Last year we took a break (when we had Temporary residency in Croatia) but this year we are back at it and will be around the 300 day mark again.
There are a lot of ups and downs staying in different apartments. We’ve had great experiences, we’ve had lousy experiences. We’ve also learned a lot, so much so that we rented our own apartment in Split last year.
We hope this post helps people who are maybe not so experienced when it comes to Airbnb. I’ll cover our criteria in choosing an apartment, how we do our research, what we avoid, and how we sometimes negotiate on the pricing. I’ll also list the biggest mistakes hosts make, things that often ruin a stay. I’ll include a few tips on what really good hosts do (ie. the things that make them outstanding).
1. Our Checklist
We usually stay somewhere for a month at a time. That’s the way we travel. So we’re pretty careful about the apartment we rent. The most important thing is internet – Lissette (aka Spanky) still works and I blog. Our checklist.
– strong wifi
– a good working desk/table, primarily for Lissette to work at.
– 2 beds, in separate rooms (because I snore).
– a good kitchen with a stove and oven (we usually eat in).
– a fan, even if the apartment has AC (we prefer a fan. Too much AC makes you sick).
– a washing machine (having to go out to wash clothes is 1) a time drain, 2) costly).
– max price $1,500 Canadian/mo (that’s $1,150 USD these days). Of course you have to make allowances for your destination. You’ll pay a lot more in London than you’ll pay in Kiev.
Besides the apartment itself, location is important. We like:
– proximity to downtown
– proximity to shopping
– proximity to a gym
Compromises often have to be made because it’s rare that every single one of the above will line up perfectly. But the above is what we strive for.
2. Choosing an apartment on the Airbnb site
Photos are the first thing anyone looks at. It gives you a general idea of everything. Here are a few things you should look for and a few things that hosts do that drive us crazy (these do’s and don’ts are aimed primarily at Airbnb hosts).
– If there are 4 rooms, you should see photos of the 4 rooms and they should be labelled (ex. Bedroom 1, bedroom 2, kitchen, bathroom). Include maybe 2 or 3 photos of each and take it from a distance so that potential guests can see everything in the room.
– a photo looking out from the apartment. What will I be seeing? A street, a park…or will I be facing a neighbor’s window?
– a photo looking at the apartment from the outside. What kind of building is it? What surrounds it?
– sometimes a host will include a floor plan of the apartment. I always find that very useful. It helps me visualize the place.
– artsy fartsy photos of flower arrangements or your cups. That doesn’t help, it distracts.
– 10 photos of the same thing. You shouldn’t have 50 photos on your Airbnb profile, it makes it confusing.
– Bad quality photos. Doesn’t look professional.
Read the details
You should always read the description of the apartment and go over the list of Amenities. I’ve gotten lazy a few times seeing a really nice looking apartment and assuming that it has a washing machine or an oven. You should look at it carefully and make sure that it has everything on your checklist.
Reading reviews is essential before choosing an apartment. There’s a bit of an art to it because 1) people often don’t like to write negative reviews, 2) are overly generous when it comes to rating their host. Also make sure to read a lot of reviews especially if staying a long time. Don’t forget also that most people stay short-term and that they may say for example “the apartment is quiet” when it isn’t. They may have been there for the 2 days when the upstairs neighbor was away. So check a larger sampling of reviews.
Look for anything that sticks out in the reviews. If the word “bugs” comes up, go to the next apartment. You don’t want to be dealing with bugs of any kind. “Bad water pressure”, “weak internet”, “noisy”, “dirty” are all things we look out for.
I also look at the way hosts review a guest. If they’re overly defensive or combative in their comments I usually don’t want anything to do with the apartment. You don’t want to be dealing with someone who’s aggressive (might also be an indication that there are some problems with the apartment).
Superhosts. If a potential host is a superhost, that’s usually a good sign. It means they’re experienced hosts, have good reviews, and the quality of your accommodation should be good. Note though that it doesn’t assure that – we’ve stayed in places run by superhosts that were quite ordinary, even disappointing. But generally speaking you’ll be in good hands with a superhost.
For me the thing that really assures me of a great host and place are glowing reviews. It’s not often that guests write long, glowing reviews of their hosts. But when they do you almost know right away you’re going to have an exceptional stay. An example is Marina’s apartment in Rovinj. She is still the single best host we’ve ever had. I’ll write about the little things that a host like Marina does that makes her special a little further down.
3. Booking. And negotiating a price.
Ok, you’ve found an apartment you really like and want to book it.
Do you just go ahead and book it? (some homes have the “instant book” sign which confirms your booking right away. Otherwise you have to wait up to 24 hours for confirmation).
I prefer to write a host first (see where it says “contact host” in the apartment description).
I write them and tell them that I’m considering the apartment for my dates. I’ll ask if the apartment is available (sometimes it won’t be. You’d be surprised by the number of hosts who don’t update their calendar). I’ll also ask precise questions about some of the items on my checklist, specifically about wifi.
The reasons for this? 1) I want everything in writing in case there’s an issue (don’t forget, we stay places a month so we really want to get it right). 2) The reply I get and the tone that it’s written often say a lot about the host. I want someone who sounds eager and who says all the right things.
*If you only want to book for a few days then you probably can’t be bothered writing a host and will just book the apartment.
Negotiating a price is not something I will usually do. But if I see an apartment that I really like but have issues with the price then I’ll do it. Especially if it’s low season and the listed price is higher than it should be.
Note: when you book a place for a month (Airbnb considers 28 days or more a month), most apartments have a monthly discount. It can be anything a host choses, from 5% to 50%. We’ve seen it all. Sometimes you can get the same price booking a place for a month as you would if you entered 20 days into the search feature.
How do I negotiate a price? I’ll write the owner, tell him/her I really like the apartment and that I would be interested in renting it for a month. I’ll mention though that I find the apartment a little outside our price range and ask if there is room for negotiation.
If you’re staying a month there usually is room for negotiation and you may end up saving up to a quarter of the quoted price.
Negotiation is not something I usually like to do. I don’t like being a cheapskate. But if the price is clearly too high then why not? And if the host has the option between having an apartment sitting empty for a month versus getting a bit less they’ll give you a discount 9 times out of 10.
If the host is ok with giving you a discount, he’ll send you a special offer though Airbnb. Once you receive it you can then book the apartment.
So you’ve booked and paid (Airbnb acts like a bank. It makes you pay when you book, but the host doesn’t get paid until you check in). Now you can look forward to your stay.
4. Checking In
In the first year, when we were new to Airbnb, we had a lot of issues with checking in. Finding the apartment could be difficult, sometimes the apartment # (or buzzer or name) would not be indicated on the booking, sometimes there were misunderstandings with the owner about the check in time or sometimes there was a misunderstanding about them showing up at all.
Just recently for example, we had a misunderstanding in Krakow. We arrived at the apartment and buzzed the apartment. Nothing. We waited, thinking maybe the host was late. Buzzed again. Nothing. I had written down his telephone number and I had a SIM card so I called him. It turns out that he thought we were checking in ourselves because in the instructions he had written about a secret place where he kept the keys and the combination code to get access to those keys (never mind that I had told him we expected to be met in person).
It got all sorted out but not without some stress involved.
My Tips for preparing to go to an apartment for the first time/checking in:
– Write down all information that is given to you on the booking confirmation: the complete address, the person’s name, his/her telephone number.
– write that person directly the day before you get there, telling the host what time you expect to arrive and confirming that they will be there (you have to make allowances for language and have to be very clear that they will in fact be there). Ask for any additional information that might be lacking in the booking confirmation. Is there an apartment buzzer? Is it listed by name or by a buzzer number or an apartment number?
– when you go to the apartment for the first time, take a taxi so you don’t get lost.
– If you don’t have a SIM card (which has happened to us), ask the taxi driver to call the host when you arrive at the apartment. That way the host knows you’ve arrived and that you’re downstairs waiting. Ask the driver before you pay him and give him an extra tip for doing that for you.
5. Your stay and your obligations
I could write pages here detailing how you should act. Instead I’ll just summarize it quickly: keep the apartment clean, be respectful of neighbors (no loud music, no dragging around furniture, no slamming doors). Do as you should be doing at home except even more so because you’re in somebody else’s home.
When you check out, clean behind you. You should be leaving the apartment just as clean as when you arrived. We are super anal: we do a really deep clean the day before we leave, cleaning all surfaces with disinfectant. We sweep and mop the floors. On the day we leave we strip the beds of sheets and pillows and put them in a large plastic bag (along with dirty towels) for the owner. We clean, dry and put away any dishes that we used. We take out any garbage and recycling so that the host doesn’t have to do that.
Sometimes we’ll have a host write us a day or two after we leave. “The place is so clean! It’s like you were never here”. That makes us happy.
An Airbnb apartment is not like a hotel. You should always clean after yourself.
Above: If you’ve never used Airbnb, sign up using our link. You’ll save $45 on your first booking.
6. What hosts should do (and often don’t)
Hosts are people and like people anywhere you’ll find a huge spectrum in the level of quality they put into their work. Some will go overboard in their service to you, some will do the basics of what the job entails, and some will be lazy and cheap (that’s why I mentioned up top that it’s important to check reviews and why being a superhost is usually a good sign).
Here are things that hosts should do and often don’t:
– Show up at check in. For us that’s especially annoying because we book places for a month. If you’re a host and someone is staying at your apartment a month you should be showing up. Show your guests the around the apartment and tell them the basics: the wifi information, where extra sheets/blankets are, where to put garbage/recycling. Show them how the stove/oven works, where the water heater button is etc etc.
– Have a clean apartment. We had an apartment stay in Brno where we arrived and found spiders in the bathtub, spider webs in corners, and a dirty kitchen where there were crumbs in drawers and grease on the stove. We spent our first hour there cleaning it up to our standards. And killed 5 spiders in the process. Obviously the apartment had been empty a while. It was a beautiful apartment but the host was a lazy young guy. That leaves a very bad first impression.
– Be available for questions and information. And at least write down the wifi code somewhere. We arrived in Krakow where the guy didn’t even know his own wifi code. He had one of those small portable wifi machines and we had to open it up to see what the code was inside. That’s sloppy.
– Have some tourist information for the guest. A map, maybe some tourist brochures from the tourist information center.
– Have decent amenities in the kitchen: cups, glasses, pots, pans, a can opener, a corkscrew, a colander for pasta. Have the amenities that people would normally have at home. Sometimes we get somewhere and there’s 2 cups, 2 glasses, 2 forks…that’s not decent. That’s bare bones.
– Have soft sheets and towels. Too many hosts buy the cheapest sheets and towels possible: sheets that feel like plastic and hurt your skin and towels that are hard and don’t absorb. Don’t give your guests sheets and towels that you yourself would never use. Guest are not homeless people, they expect a basic level of quality. And provide real mattresses, not a crappy foam mattress.
The above are the very basics of what a host should provide.
7. What makes hosts outstanding
It’s the little things.
It can start before you even get to the apartment. A really great host might offer to pick you up at the airport, bus, or train station.
Assuming you don’t get picked up – you arrive at the apartment where your host is waiting for you with a smile. They’ll come downstairs, help you with your bags. They’ll show you around the apartment which is clean. There might be water in the fridge, maybe even a beer or two (or a bottle of wine as has happened a few times). Sometimes there will even be a loaf of bread, some cakes, cheese.
Wifi information will be clearly written out, emergency information is written. Some hosts will even give you a booklet that they’ve written for you giving you all the information you could ever need: what to see while you’re in the city, where to shop for groceries, what restaurants they recommend. They’ll have detailed instructions on using the transport system.
Everything in the apartment will be of quality. Beds are comfortable, sheets are soft, kitchen amenities are of quality and are plentiful. They’ll be some kitchen basics: cooking oil, spices. There will be instant coffee, sugar or – if you’re really lucky – a fancy coffee machine with some nice ground coffee.
They’ll give you two sets of keys if you are 2 people.
They’ll give you their personal email and will always be responsive to questions.
These are the things that make Airbnb hosts outstanding.
Some will even surpass that. Have a look at this post I wrote on Marina in Rovinj. She went overboard. But we will never forget her and her family.
I could write a lot more some of the Airbnb experiences we’ve had. Just this month, for example, we had a bat somehow enter our living room at night. It flew around the apartment, lost, for about 10 minutes before we were able to help him get out. Crazy. But that’ll be for another post.
For now I just wanted to cover some of the basics that both new users and hosts might find helpful.
Related: Bad Airbnb Experiences
Related: Airbnb or Hotel?
Do you have your own Airbnb Tips and Recommendations?
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Lots of good commentary, thanks.
Like you, I stay at Airbnb’s for a month or more at a time.
But, I will disagree with one point you make: deep cleaning and leaving the place as clean as when you arrive.
Generally, I’m perfectly happy to clean as well as I can (some hosts don’t keep many cleaning supplies in a flat).
However, it’s increasingly common to be charged an up-front “cleaning fee”. I’ve seen that run up to $400 for a month.
My feeling is, if a host is charging a cleaning fee to a guest…then aside from basic cleaning and not leaving the place a wreck…I’m not terribly interested in performing a “deep clean” as a guest.
I love Airbnb and most hosts are great. But there needs to be a bit of pushback on this issue, as it’s become an increasing point of contention amongst guests and hosts I speak with.
Want me to clean? I’m happy to. Leave me cleaning supplies and a broom, etc, and I will leave the place spotless.
But don’t charge me a weekly cleaning fee and also expect me to be the housekeeper as well.
Thanks for the comment Ike. Honestly, I’ve never ever seen a cleaning fee of $400 a month and if I did I would never book such an apartment. Our philosophy is to give it back the way we receive it and we’ll clean accordingly, one of the reasons being that until a year ago we were full-time travellers staying in Airbnbs over 300 days/year. We wanted to maintain a good reputation among hosts. A great point you made – if a host leaves cleaning supplies we’ll use them. But if they don’t leave supplies (and that goes for anything) we’re not going to stock him/her up. I don’t know how many apartments we go to where there’s a cm of detergent soap or laundry soap, just enough coffee pods or sugar for a night or two, etc etc. Hosts where everything is counted.
I think it’s all about value and the host which is basically what you’re saying. If they’re cheap and you’re paying through the nose, they’ll get basic cleaning. If they’re nice people and generous in the little things, we’ll go deep.
Super post Frank and great tips for new users of AirBnB and experienced users alike. I’ve shared this to my Pinterest. We booked a lot of time on AirBnB when we were traveling full-time and had a variety of experiences with the hosts. I use AirBnB less now but I still find contacting the host first to answer any questions and their response helps me make a pretty quick decision along with reading the reviews. And AirBnB came through with a full refund for us the one time we had a major gripe with a place we’d booked in Cartagena, Colombia for 6 weeks. That makes a good impression!
button first also to make a preliminary like you. When I would start looking for places to I definitely found it was worth paying more for a place with an experienced host and reading the reviews was worth it.
That’s good to hear about the refund Anita. We’ve never been in that position and it’s something we keep in mind because when you book a month or more there’s a strict cancellation policy (ie. you get nothing back). Means we’re more careful and like you will pay a little extra to stay in a well reviewed place with an experienced host.
These are all great tips. After passing 1,000 Airbnb nights, we recently submitted a story to one of our publications along these lines that will appear soon. I’ll share it with you when it appears.
Photos are so important. If I see an unmade bed and towels on the floor I pass. If the host can’t make the apartment look clean for a photo, what will it be like when you get there?
I’d be interested in seeing that Michael. Let me know when it’s done.
Hi Frank…..well written post and totally agree with all your tips. I’ve been doing AirBnB since 2010 and the vast majority have been good, even excellent stays. However last week in Bratislava i was the victim of the ol’ bait and switch. The host advertised with AC (it was hot weather) and full, normal bed in the apartment. Well, when I checked in, I noticed no AC and only a sofa bed…..I bloody hate sofa beds! Of course the host was out of town and i was already committed for a week. I requested a fan…it was promised but not delivered. Of course I gave a fairly negative review. One question I have is ….does anybody at AirBnB read the reviews? Do they “reprimand” a host that promises something and doesn’t deliver? I have no clue…..nobody from AirBnB has contacted me for follow-up. It pisses me off because you’re paying for those features/extras……if they’re not really included, shouldn’t we be compensated?
What’s your feeling on location vs. value? Of course everyone would like to stay in the center, old town etc. but it’s usually fake touristy, way more expensive and you often get a crap place. I have been in some great places on the edges of centers often in the communist era “panelak” apartments. Plus, I like to be among the locals, seeing how they live, etc rather than with scads of tourists…..cheers!
I’m going to write them Don and try to find out what the policy is to when a host doesn’t fulfill something promised.
A few years back we had a horrible stay in Trieste (only 1 night) and I could have sworn they had said they had wifi when I booked. He didn’t have wifi. When I left my review a few days later it was very negative, including a mention of no wifi. Funny enough I had noticed 2 days after we left that wifi was definitely listed on his profile at that time.
He complained to Airbnb and they sided with him, deleting my review. When I asked why they told me that at the time of booking he had listed as no wifi so my review was inaccurate and they had to take it down. I asked if they could edit it for that one line – because they were a whole bunch of other things wrong with that apartment. They said no. Still pisses me off because here was a perfect case of a host having good reviews when his apartment was a piece of shit. I wrote about it here.
And I can’t believe that 2 days after we left he suddenly had wifi. There was something wrong, or Airbnb wasn’t doing their job verifying facts.
Well written, Frank. And some useful comments too. My pet peeve- added cleaning fees when booking. I have been meaning to check if this is worldwide with Air bnb or just Australia. The lowest I’ve seen was$12.50 and the highest cleaning fee…drum roll… $300 au. ! I was looking to book a trip to the snow, set my price filter to about $180 and found a super room only to then have $300 added, it would have been over $500 for one night for 2 of us and not in luxury either. Geez.. Love you…love you not, Air BnB. Overall though, it’s great. We rent a 1959 vintage caravan out and love having guests stay.
Oh, that’s crazy!
Happened to us once in Germany. I said to the lady “I’m ok with your nightly fee, but can you do something about your cleaning fee?”. Like you it was more than the actual room.
She said she lived out of town and that’s what she paid her cleaning lady.
Didn’t book it. You make your arrangements but don’t ask me to pay absurd fees like that.
That sounds like a fun stay Jane! Would love to stay in a vintage caravan for a few days.
When you get to Australia… I’m sure you will one day… look up Bessie the Vintage caravan ? she’ll be here…unless we have packed up and gone travelling.
some great thoughts Frank. Agreed whole-heartedly. I’ve only done much shorter stays with Air Bnb, and to be honest, I havent been convinced. My best experiences have been with staying with locals, not so much with renting entire apartments (usually for at least a week). I think the most important thing when renting entire apartments is communication with your host. I had a TV that didnt work and power that ‘ran out’ in London, and a variety of issues including wifi that stopped working in Paris and not even a single fan in the apartment when it was in the high 30s, oh and no toilet seat which is not something you expect and not something that was shown in pictures. The wifi worked fine for half the stay and then it went down and no real response from the owners to fix it. Frustrating times. I would still use Air Bnb for longer stays I guess. but for anything a week or less I feel like hotels are a better bet in many regards – as pricewise I dont think i saved much if anything (certainly not in Paris) and it wasnt worth the extra hassle when there was an issue. Having said that – staying on Airbnb with a host is great!
I’ve never shared an apartment and I don’t know I could. Too old for that now. And it’s not really as we travel as a couple. Maybe if I was somewhere by myself a couple of days and things were really expensive then I would…
No toilet seat!! Really! Have to read those reviews Andy 🙂
Yes we’ve had wifi issues too is different places. In Budapest an electrical storm knocked it out. We were lucky to have brought a cable cord with us so got it to work (we always carry it around, plug it into the wifi box if wifi goes down).
Usually anything less than 3 days we book a hotel. Less stress, you can just stroll in when you want. But anything more we like our own kitchen and extra space.
Hi Frank, something I’ve have learned to pay attention to is the year the reviews are written. If you’re booking in 2018, there should be an adequate number for that year, unless stated as new. Not ones from 2017, 2016 or the last one was 2015. Of course, maybe they had it rented long-term, but perhaps not. I just wrote my first negative review in Trieste. Even though it didn’t have current reviews, I took the risk since I didn’t have time to research other options, booking during high season and last minute planning. It was about how I expected, renting only a room not full apartment, but they said the room had A/C. I don’t consider a A/C unit in the hall and having to leave the bedroom door open to cool it off as having A/C. It didn’t bother me too much, I’m easy going, but… there was another room being rented out too, so it was unsettling to me and my friend who flew over from the States who isn’t use to no privacy. Also, there was no lock on the bedroom door, this to me is a must when a host rents more than one room. Then, here’s the biggie, I found a peep-hole in the wall above my bed into hallway. I’m thinking it allowed wires to be fed through wall at one time, because of height and it was a circular cut out, with a hole the size of my pinky fingernail in the middle. I filled with tissue paper and didn’t worry about it, the couple seemed non-pervy, but it is on my review.
The one thing that I fully appreciate from a host is a couple bottles of water where the water is not drinkable. There’s nothing worse than arriving and having to figure out where to buy water/drinks when you’ve traveled all day or it’s late and there’s no store a minute walk away.
All great points Paula.
I didn’t consider the year thing but it’s true some hosts can become complacent. I’ve seen that 1st hand. Plus sometimes there’s normal wear and tear that hosts sometimes procrastinate with…the more guests, the more wear and tear.
Geez, what the hell is it with Trieste? We had one of our worst ever stays there.
No lock and a peep hole? That’s pretty bad. From your description – sounds like an Italian gloryhole. Ha, just kidding (You can smack me on the head for that one. that’s what Lissette does).
Water? Yes, for sure. And I always appreciate a bit of food – I would even pay for it if they offered to pick up a couple of frozen pizzas for our arrival. We usually seem to arrive somewhere on a Sunday and in some places in Europe everything is closed. Last month we arrived in Poland on a Sunday and had to order in Pizza…and water.
Great as usual
Thanks so much Ivana.
Great post Frank! As a nomad who extensively rents Airbnbs, I agree with everything you wrote. Here’s another tip. When I encounter a host who doesn’t offer a monthly discount or only a small discount, I shorten my stay to 27 days. If a booking is 28+ days, Airbnb considers it a long-term rental and the cancellation policy states you forfeit one months rent if you cancel. If I’m not getting a decent discount, why give up the ability to cancel and get a refund? This is especially important when you book 6+ months in advance like I do.
Very good point about 1 month rental and the strict cancellation policy. Yes – if they don’t give you a decent monthly discount then it’s not worth it price wise and you might as well shorten the stay to mitigate the risk that your plans change. Especially, as you say, if you’re booking 6 months in advance (which we never do. 2 months best I can do 🙂 )