Life as an Airbnb host: ‘A stag party had a huge egg fight in our kitchen’
What does it take to succeed as an Airbnb host? Four homeowners share their experiences
Maureen McEvilly: 'I hoped to make enough extra income to supplement the costs and improvements of the house.'
Who ever would have thought that an air mattress would have the power to change the world? Airbnb was born in San Francisco when two of its founders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, created an ad hoc B&B in their loft during a design conference.
Short on funds, the pair accommodated three guests on air mattresses and provided homemade breakfast. With actor Ashton Kutcher on board as a notable investor, Airbnb was launched in March 2009 and with it, an entirely new way of travelling.
Nowadays, the site has more than five million listings; more than the top five hotel brands in the world combined. It operates in over 191 countries; recent statistics estimate that there are around 8,500 active listings in the Irish market for rooms and entire homes, with the typical Irish host earning about €3,500 a year.
But what’s it like to open your home to visitors? We asked four people what they’ve learned from their time as Airbnb hosts.
Roisin Matthews, based in Drogheda, teaches cookery classes through her business, Mess Chef. She had been an Airbnb host for 18 months, and ceased when new short-term letting regulations concerning rent pressure zones came into action in July.
“We moved to a new house and rented out our old one,” said the mother-of-two. “We decided that if we did Airbnb, it would be my ‘job’ and I could run my cookery classes and could still be at home with the kids and it would get us by.”
Matthews and her husband Rob soon found that they were filling a niche in the area in that many of their guests were families.
“Often, we got a lot of repeat business from people who were living abroad and coming home to Drogheda with their families for mid-term breaks or summer holidays or Christmas. They’d be visiting family but wanted their own space and wifi,” Matthews observes.
Ten years in, and Airbnb guests have arguably become much more exacting, expecting what was once framed as an informal homestay experience to something more resembling a professional hotel set-up. For Matthews, the trick to successful hosting was to meet visitors’ standards from the outset.
“If these are met, people become a lot more easygoing,” she notes. “I invested in lovely furnishings and nice photography and provided links to local tourism on my listing.
The rights of the property owner and their ability to manage the property have been eroded continually
“I think a lot of other Irish people can be a bit ‘here’s the keys’, and they’re not into the original Airbnb ethos of a cultural exchange.”
As to negative experiences: “Some people were a little rowdy, or some people were just asking loads of questions about everything, like, ‘do you have a pan?’ or ‘how does the hot water work?’ and I’d think, ‘yes, just look in the press!’. It can be very intensive on your time as a host. You need to keep an eye on your phone for correspondence pretty much constantly.
“It’s very labour intensive and you are working all the time,” she adds. “It was worth it for me, as it was flexible and part-time, but I knew that if I were doing it full-time, it would probably not be worth the effort.”
Yet in the main, Matthews noted that visitors often appreciated the attention to detail.
“It’s really simple – make sure all is exactly as you would want to see if you were on holiday,” she says. “Get a book of information laminated and keep it in the house, and make sure all the information is correct. Tell people about where there is free parking nearby, or the nearest shop or tourism site. The more information you can give them, the more work it saves you in the long run.”
Mother-of-two Lisa Wilkinson has rented rooms in her Dublin 7 home, and uses Airbnb to rent out her Donard-based lodge, The Elbowroom Escape. She started using the platform in 2016, and finds it one of the easier booking channels for her Wicklow property.
“One of the nicest things about hosting is that you get to hang out with the United Nations,” she explains. “People come to our part of Ireland from all over the world – Korea, Australia, Canada – and we get to be the tour guides.
“Around 99 per cent of the experiences are positive,” she adds. “We had a couple of German guys arrive and they were pretty po-faced. We could do nothing right – there were too many cushions on the bed and they didn’t like to share the kitchen, then complained that there wasn’t a cooked breakfast, even though the listing mentioned a continental breakfast. I was delighted to see the back of them. They put up a negative review on Airbnb; one to which I was only too happy to reply. A stag party we had staying in Donard had a huge egg fight in the kitchen. Now, we make sure someone is always on site if a group like that is coming.”
Wilkinson contracts out the cleaning for her Airbnb listings: “I did it once, and it was enough to make me realise that my time was more valuable,” she says.
In order to manage the expectations of visitors, Wilkinson notes that it’s better to ‘undersell slightly’ in the listing, and then provide the bells and whistles on site.
“I don’t go on for those stylised shots of the coffee table that some people like, because people need to know what they’re walking into,” she explains. “When you say you’re 10 minutes to the beach, that shouldn’t mean 10 minutes to the beach in a Ferrari. Often, we surprise guests with a platter of sharing food that they’re not expecting, which means they’re delighted from the outset.
“When guests arrive, give them a cup of tea and a biscuit, especially if they’ve been travelling, and offer them a drive to the nearest shop. Something like that goes a really long way.”
Michael Reynolds (not his real name) has been an Airbnb host for five years, and rents out a show-stopping period home in Dublin’s city centre. He enjoyed living in the property for over a decade until family circumstances saw him move home.
“I didn’t want to rent it out in the private rental market. I’d heard funny stories about people wrecking your house, and I didn’t want to hand the rights of the house over to anyone for a longer period of time. You have no idea how it’s being maintained, and when you Airbnb your place, you don’t need to worry too much about how to get someone out of the place.”
Airbnb hosting, he notes, involves a lot more spadework: “It’s more income compared to long-term renting, but not a huge amount.” You have an awful lot to do all the time. I used to contract out the work, but when there’s no set times for guests to come or go, it was getting hard to arrange someone to do the cleaning.”
If the Government want to encourage people to rent their properties in the private rental sphere, they should incentivise them to do so
Yet the property, which is replete with charming period features, does quite a lot of the dazzle-work for him. He has priced it at the higher end of the market, and offers guests advice on where to eat, drink and visit.
“As an historic townhouse, it really appeals to the American and Canadian market, to them it’s like staying in a castle,” he explains. “They love the old floorboards and high ceilings and the roll-top bath. The Europeans would complain about it not being modern enough.
“The best thing about Airbnb is when people who have wanted to come to Dublin for 20 years arrive, as they’re so excited about exploring their Irish connection.
“The guests usually have big budgets for restaurants and love to explore old neighbourhoods,” he adds. “They want to go to real pubs, without tourists. Some do end up shopping through the town, leaving three of four black bags of packaging.”
He has had no issues with guests, usually because the property is pitched at a certain clientele and his listing specifically forbids parties. “I did have one family with an arachnophobic son, and given that it’s an old house, the whole family ended up running out of the place,” he recalls. “I just gave them a refund. I didn’t want the hassle of having to deal with them.”
Of the criticism that Airbnb properties have resulted in low stock in the private rental market, he adds: “Someone with 10 apartments in a block churning them out should definitely be encouraged to put them in the private rental sector, but a more unusual house like mine only adds to the selection of tourism experiences in Dublin.
“I do personally think that the Government and the regulations it has put in place have pushed people down the road of short-term lets over the years,” he adds. “The rights of the property owner and their ability to manage the property have been eroded continually. If the Government want to encourage people to rent their properties in the private rental sphere, they should incentivise them to do so, as opposed to with the way things are now.”
Maureen McEvilly first listed the guest suite in her Dingle cottage on Airbnb in 2014. “I hoped to make enough extra income to supplement the costs and improvements of the house,” she explains. “I had just moved in and made improvements after my husband had asked for a divorce. My future had suddenly changed and I was trying to rewrite my story. I didn’t realise the lovely adventure and people that were going to be part of all this.”
Airbnb visitors who end up in Kerry, McEvilly observes, are hoping for a singular experience, and a seaside cottage certainly feeds into that.
“Some are searching for their historic roots while others have a romantic version of touring a quaint country with the images of castles, fairies and leprechauns flitting through their minds,” she says.
Yet in the main, she has found that Airbnb hosting has the added boon of enlivening her social life.
“The memories that stick out usually involve sitting around the table sharing tea or a glass of wine and talking about life. I have played board games and gone out for dinner and out to hear music with my guests.
“Of course a few unusual situations always stick out from the rest,” she adds. “ I have had Christians participate in my Bible study group and people explain their atheism. It’s been an eye-opening journey.”
With over 55 listings in Dingle alone, it was up to McEvilly to carve out her own niche in a busy, but very small market.
“When I was figuring out what my special draw might be I realised I didn’t have anything of architectural interest and the space was not huge. I decided the best I could do was focus on the sea view and my beautiful location as well as make sure it’s sparkling clean,” she recalls. “I then tried to make the accommodation warm and cosy and have enough thoughtful touches to make someone’s stay extra comfortable.
“My best advice to other hosts is to offer your best self and pay attention to detail,” she adds. “Good linens with clean sparkling bathrooms and plenty of fluffy towels go a long way in making your guests remember your place as comfortable and providing good value. Being on hand to offer local advice is what Airbnb is really about. And don’t forget to enjoy the people you meet.”