In 2014, we scoured Ireland in search of a place to buy. Boy, did we find it. A derelict Georgian pile on Kerry's wild coast may not sound like everyone's idea of a dream fixer-upper but we were never ones to shirk a challenge. And a challenge it was.
Cast off those images of a young couple splashing paint testers on the wall while the Dulux dog lingers in the background. There were no “distressed” kitchen tables strewn with fabric swatches or celebrity architects popping in to suggest flat-roofed extensions. We were just pleased to finally get to a point where we could walk around in our socks.
Throw a year without hot water and leaking windows into the mix, not to mention the expanding budget, and insanity was closing in. But a supportive community and a few bottles of wine got us through, and so with central heating and hot baths ready to go we had a room or two to spare.
Sunny August days do funny things to people and before we knew it, we’d listed a spare room on Airbnb. The whole process took less than 30 minutes and our first booking came through within a few hours. We turned our back for a moment and our calendar was full.
We were hoping to dip our toe into the water but found ourselves right in at the deep end. Suddenly strangers wanted to sleep in our home, and they were prepared to pay for it. Mayhem ensued: new sheets, fluffy towels , little pillow chocolates at the ready.
Close on its heels came the worry: Will our paying guests be happy? What if they pilfer our paperbacks? Can we leave them the run of the wood stove or will they burn their eyebrows off, or worse?
The big day came. Check-in was 2pm. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. Cancelled plans to go out. Looked out the window.
At 8pm our guests arrived: a German couple touring the Ring of Kerry. Ice was broken, chats were had. It was great. They wanted to stay another two nights but we were fully booked. On a crisp Kerry morning we waved goodbye and turned to each other and said, “that was fun”.
Including the 15 per cent Airbnb service fee, our guests paid €195 for a two-night stay. We’d listed at €85 so our payout was €164 after a 3 per cent commission charge.
Even if we squinted at the figures (and tried not to think about our outlay for breakfast), we still couldn’t bear to think about the per-hour rate. Still, with bookings locked in, the show had to go on.
Bedding was washed. Breakfast cleared. The house vacuumed. Bathrooms scrubbed. Tea and coffee replaced. We cleaned and baked and assured ourselves that next time the changeover would be quicker and the consumables cheaper.
Our second guests checked us out on Street View. They got a bit of a shock when they looked at the four-year-old image: a derelict house obscured by Kerry jungle. They decided to give it a go anyway; Airbnb guests are pretty good at leaping into the unknown. They stayed three nights and gave us a rave review. When they returned to France they sent us a thank you package of wine.
It was a brilliant feeling.
We bought several sets of bedding (no more same-day laundry blitz), streamlined the breakfast (fresh hollandaise had to go) and took a firm line on check-in times. The next changeovers were slicker, the margins improved and the process became easier.
There are 16,000 private residences listed on Airbnb. If you’d like to add your home to this number then consider the process as you would any business. The initial outlay will be high but great reviews will bring more business. More business brings more money.
The average listing in Ireland hosted 37 nights in 2017 and made €3,500 before tax. Depending on your margins (and your tax bracket), this gives you an idea of the amount of nights you need to allocate to Airbnb in order to make the kind of money you’re envisaging.
For us, Airbnb turned out to be an interesting way to capitalise on our spare room, but we won’t be retiring on the profits any time soon. The real value was in the interactions we had with new people from all over the world, the positivity they injected into our home and the chance to try something new.
With such slim profit margins, I can’t guarantee we will list on Airbnb again this year. Then again we do like a challenge and maybe making Airbnb work for us will be our Next Big Thing in 2018.
11 ways to make an Airbnb listing work for you
Understand the tax implications
Airbnb income is real income. You need to pay tax on it and the rate will vary depending on your personal tax bracket. Check what deductions you can claim and keep receipts.
Capital Gains Tax may be affected
Use of your principal private residence may affect your CGT obligations when you sell your home. Talk with an adviser now rather than later.
Check your insurance cover
Airbnb provides basic insurance and limited liability cover when guests are staying but having people pay to stay in your home may affect your personal home insurance: get advice before you open your door.
Make your listing crystal clear
We don’t have a TV and we like it that way. We also have a crazy dog. Some people love TVs and hate dogs. That’s great: because we made it clear in our listing, our guests know what to expect and relish the atmosphere we provide.
A picture paints a thousand words
Furnish your listing with plenty of great photos: declutter spaces, display flowers, showcase the breakfast. When you get the bookings, just make sure you deliver on what the images promise.
Under-promise and over-deliver
Maybe offer a little complimentary something for afternoon tea? Provide sparkling water in the room? Keep something up your sleeve for that five-star factor.
Set a minimum stay
If changeovers are costing you too much time and money, insist on a two-night minimum stay. We’ve found that guests have a better experience and your time commitments are more than halved.
Check your guests’ profiles
It might seem stalker-ish but you’re opening up your home to strangers. Most guests will have reviews from other hosts on their profiles, read them.
Be prepared for a negative experience
Some people treat Airbnb like staying in a friend’s home; others expect you to run a hotel. There are guests who flood the bathroom and guests who steal all the coffee pods. It will happen.
Fees aren’t just for hosts
Airbnb charge hosts a 3 per cent commission and guests pay a 12-15 per cent service fee on top of your price. Keep this in mind when doing your market research on comparable accommodation locally.
Block off days for yourself
Your calendar is totally flexible. You will burn out if you don’t take a night off every so often. A grumpy host equals bad reviews equals less bookings and, ultimately, less income.