Let's be real: nobody's that crazy about tourists. Packed into those open top vans, they invite our pity if not outright derision. But out-of-towners are vital to the LA economy, and could be vital to yours, too, if you choose to rent out all or part of your home on Airbnb. Turning a spare bedroom into a vacation rental isn't a particularly new idea, but sites like Airbnb have made finding and vetting short-term tenants much simpler. Think you'd like to steal some business from your local motel? Airbnb landlord Stefanie has been renting out her house in Venice since July (she says it's been occupied almost the entire time) and is about to start renting another unit nearby; we talked to her to find out what you need to know before listing your couch, spare room, or whole house:
It can be lucrative. Stefanie used to lease her Venice house as a traditional rental, but a bad experience with a tenant who didn't pay rent for five months convinced her to switch to the tourist market. Turning the house into a vacation rental means she can charge way more than she could a long-term tenant, and doesn't have to worry about deadbeat renters.
Startup costs. If you've ever hosted visiting friends, you probably have all of the basics covered. Stefanie stressed an ancient piece of wisdom that novice 'bnb'ers would do well to remember: buy extra sheets and towels. "It's a lot easier to do the cleaning if we have a few spare sets of linens there ready to go." And remember to budget for more than the usual quantity of standard household goods like toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags and soap.
You're a host, not a landlord. Remember that the folks Airbnb send your way are guests, not tenants. Stefanie says she follows "the Golden Rule, and no, I'm not religious. Do unto others ... I try to anticipate our guests' needs. I think about what would I want and need to enjoy my stay. What parts of the house would I expect to be clean and spotless? We always leave a bottle of wine for our guests and ... the bikes we provide each have a lock, we leave extra clean towels, coffee and tea, and a 'cheat sheet' of things to do around Venice."
Manage your listing. Good reviews are crucial, but before you've hosted your first guest you need good pictures. "Airbnb sends out a professional photographer for free to take pictures of the rentals. Guests really have very little to go on except for the pictures and the reviews. We were able to get guests to book without having any reviews at first because our pictures looked great."
Get cleaning. Yes, guests will notice if your bathroom isn't spotless, if the sheets don't smell freshly laundered, or that you never really learned how to mop. They will give you bad reviews and nip your dreams of Airbnb domination in the bud. A good vacation rental is a clean vacation rental, and that takes work. Says Stefanie: "We are constantly worrying about cleaning the house."
When things go wrong. Though Stefanie's had a largely positive experience, nothing in life is perfect. After a Westsider rented Stefanie's Venice house for her nephew to throw a party, she had a reason to read the fine print on Airbnb's insurance policy--the raging teens destroyed or stole $500 worth of stuff. Stefanie didn't want to file a police report, but Airbnb required one to process the claim. Several difficult phone calls and the threat of police involvement finally got the renter to pay up. "The whole situation is just very perplexing. I don't understand why she would have rented the house for young kids to have a party, and why she wouldn't just pay us for the bikes, table, and towels. I guess she doesn't follow the Golden Rule." --Eve Bachrach
· Renters Week 2012 [Curbed LA]