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Seven Setup Secrets For a Successful Short Term Rental

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

This blog is written by Jen Josey, Real Estate Investor, and REIGN Coach. She is not a professional writer and writes like she talks so put your red pen away.  Jen is extremely opinionated but reserves the right to change her opinion at any time because, well, that's the way she rolls.  She may also use colorful language so don't be offended.  Jen does not claim to be an expert, she is just sharing her personal thoughts and adding a perspective on investor topics that may benefit her readers.  Jen also finds it strange to write in the third person.  Enjoy!

Who would have thought renting an air mattress on the floor of a San Francisco loft 13 years ago would evolve into the multi-billion dollar business we know today as AirBnB? It was created to allow homeowners the ability to rent rooms or whole houses to strangers while earning a little extra cash. Years ago, this would have sounded crazy but AirBnB has protections set in place for both the homeowner and the guest including reviews of both parties. When you reach a certain number of 5-star reviews, you earn what's called "Super Host" status, which also makes your listing more appealing to travelers.

My husband, Vance, and I currently only have one AirBnB but as soon as we can afford it, we'd love to buy ten more. The money we make from our short-term rental is just plain silly for very little on-going effort on our end. Once you are set up, it's (mostly) smooth sailing from there. Our AirBnB is a tiny cabin just outside of Boone, NC. When I say tiny, it's 486 square feet of happiness nestled in the serene woods on the side of a mountain. It's located on a full acre so we call our cute little cabin, Acorn Acre.

Most people have stayed in some type of short-term rental so you know the gist of how they work. We have stayed in several, some great and some gross, so we knew exactly how we wanted to run our AirBnB. The following are some of our setup secrets that have allowed our AirBnB business to be a success.

Supply Closet

Pick a closet in your AirBnB that can be locked with a key. This is where you will keep all your supplies. There are some caffeine cuckoos out there that will take every one of your Keurig cups if you give them access to your stash. Only put out enough items that guests will use during their stay. That includes garbage bags, paper towels, hand soap, detergent, etc. People can be weird and feel they have the right to use anything and everything there. You also want to keep an extra set of sheets for every bed and a whole set of towels in there. My cleaning team only has three hours in between check out and check in so for check out instructions, I have my guests throw all their sheets and towels in the washer and start it before they leave, just to save time. If there is ever an issue where the guests forgot, my cleaning team is late, or if the washer is acting up (and it will) you have spare sheets and towels ready to go.

In the locked supply closet should be a checklist for the cleaning team. This is just a simple reminder of exactly what is expected of them every time they clean. It's also a great tool if you need a backup cleaning team once in a while. The more details, the better. As silly as it sounds, I like a triangle folded at the end of my toilet paper roll. It lets guests know that the bathroom has been prepared for them...down to the toilet paper.

White Sheets and White Towels heard me. White! Haven't you seen that news special where they took the black light to the hotel room sheets? (Insert vomit emoji here) Some inexperienced hosts think they should use darker sheets or towels so it hides any stains. You always want to use white so they can be bleached. This is the best way to kill germs and any DNA left by guests. This goes for that stupid black washcloth that someone thought was a great idea to provide for ladies to remove eye makeup. Invest in some individual packets of eye makeup remover wipes. Ladies appreciate the extra effort and I've never had to toss out a white washcloth because of some mascara. And besides...what lady doesn't want to try out a different product once in a while?

Programmable WiFi Door Lock

This is a huge time saver and worth every penny of the average $250 price tag. There are several different options out there that will integrate with the AirBnB app. How it works is, once you set it up, every time a guest reserves your AirBnB, a unique 4 digit code will be programmed for that guest and it won't activate until their stay. The lock monitoring company will send an email directly to your guests a day before they arrive with instructions so you don't even have to think about it. One nugget I learned is to "BCC" yourself on that email (one-time set up) so you have a copy in your inbox in case their email goes to spam. If they reach out looking for their code, you can simply forward it to them with documentation that it was sent when you said it would be sent. (Remember, you want those 5 stars for communication!)

Since you are providing a key-less entry for the deadbolt, you should not have a lockable door handle or knob. Many people are used to locking their own front door by pushing the lock mechanism on the handle as they leave. This will lock them out...ask me how I know.

Another great feature of the programmable locks is that you can get notifications when guests arrive. Even better is you have a little more control over your cleaning team. I can see if my cleaning team is running late or if they are entering a day they shouldn't be there. It also helps to remind me when to send payment. As soon as I get that notification, I Venmo their cleaning fee so I don't forget.

Lastly, it's a feature that provides an added sense of security for the guests. If you use a lockbox and a key, who knows if a guest is making a copy of that key? There's also a possibility of the guests losing that key. Plus it's a pain in the rear to change that code manually each time, remember what code you just programmed, email that code to guests...bleh, way too much effort...hard pass.

Go Above and Beyond For Special Guests

If your AirBnB allows young children, you may want to consider providing a crib, high chair, pack & play, etc. You will get more bookings, just for providing convenience. Vance and I love to travel with our dogs so we wanted to provide the same experience for our guests. We have a welcome board where our cleaning team welcomes everyone by name, including the pets. They set out dog beds and dog bowls for our Very Important Pets (VIPs) staying there. We even have a doggie drawer in the kitchen with dog treats, poop bags (hint hint), and a towel used for muddy paws. Our guests always appreciate the extra attention we give to their furry children.

Many times we have people celebrating birthdays or anniversaries so we may present them with a bottle of wine from a local winery. We keep a few bottles of wine in the supply closet and let our cleaning team know when to put one out for guests. Please note that with wine, you should make sure your guests are over the age of 21 (you can be 18 in the US to book an AirBnB). If you are not comfortable providing alcohol, a safe alternative would be some sweets from a local bakery.

When you go out of your way to make a guest feel special, you increase the chances they will book your AirBnB again in addition to referring all of their friends.

Social Media Savvy

To help build an online presence for your AirBnB, ask guests to add a hashtag to all their social media posts. On the cover of our cabin manual, we wrote, "Please add #acornacre to all your social media posts." Not everyone will do it but once in a while, I will see pictures of random happy people at our place, it's very fun. Other times, I'll Google #acornacre and see it come up on social media sites for surrounding attractions. There may be a hyper hash-tagger staying at the cabin and while they're visiting the state park up the road, they include #acornacre to the picture at #statepark and #travelwithmydog and the super annoying and overused #blessed. Now, when others are searching hashtags for that state park, they know Acorn Acre must be nearby.

Smart TV

Just do it. If you are looking through listings to book an AirBnB and see an 80 lb box TV from the last millennium, there's a good chance the rest of the place will be outdated. Smart TVs allow you to have just one remote and typically come pre-loaded with Netflix and Hulu. This saves on having to provide a cable box since Netflix and Hulu are so affordable. Smart TVs also typically come with some type of music channel which can also replace a stereo or wifi speakers of some sort.

You can also purchase an HD digital antenna (one-time fee) for local channels. Unfortunately, for us, we have zero antenna coverage at our cabin in the mountains. Most of our travelers are happy to simply Netflix and chill while on vacation. If that's the case for you, just make sure your guests are aware that there are no local/live stations...especially Superbowl weekend...again...ask me how I know.

Charging Station

This is a very simple addition that will go a long way with guests. Think about all the times you have forgotten to pack a charger for your smartphone or tablet. We have a drawer of charging cords for several different types of devices. We also provide a surge protector on a shelf with additional USB ports for those charging cords. Yes, some of them disappear from time to time, but you will also find chargers are the #1 item guests accidentally leave behind so you can add them to your stash.

I hope some of these setup secrets will increase the success of your short-term rental. Happy hosting!

*Read more blogs by Jen Josey at

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