Airbnb can be a great way to earn extra income and meet a diverse community of travellers. But there are important things to know when setting up your home as a first-time host.

In July 2015, Bonnie Vanasse and her partner Denis decided to build a tiny house. Bonnie, now 28-years-old, wanted a second property to rent out and Denis had experience building tiny dwellings. The couple owns a rustic furniture store in Wakefield, Quebec and live in a tiny houseboat on the Gatineau River – a half hour drive north of Ottawa. Today, their ambitious project has transformed into their primary source of income through renting on Airbnb. Dubbed “The River Den,” this tiny four-season houseboat is in high demand. It is docked down the river from Bonnie and Denis, awaiting new summer visitors.

“It’s all kinds of people who are interested in alternative living spaces,” says Bonnie. “People come from all over the world to stay in the River Den.”

Airbnb can be a great way to earn extra income and meet a diverse community of travellers. But there are important things to know when setting up your home as a first-time host. Below are steps to consider before you rent out your home sweet home.

Know Your Local Laws

Some cities have special laws or restrictions when it comes to offering short-term rentals so it’s important to understand how these rules will affect you. Bonnie was required to get a license from the Tourism Industry Corporation of Quebec (CITQ) to rent the River Den as a bed and breakfast. In Ontario, according to the Residential Tenancies Act, tenants are not allowed to rent out their room without consent from the landlord, nor are they permitted to sublet for a higher profit than the landlord. The Airbnb website includes a Responsible Hosting page with information and links to external resources pertaining to the laws in your city or region.

Clean Like You Mean It

This may seem like a no-brainer, but cleanliness can be the most important thing about renting your space. Because renters submit reviews, treat your home like a five-star hotel with an impossibly picky guest. Fresh sheets, clean towels and a spotless countertop make all the difference and your hard work can pay off in positive reviews.

Honesty is Still the Best Policy

It’s important to provide clear and accurate photos of your space — use a high-quality camera and take plenty of shots from different angles. Be upfront about any challenges with the space (ie. slow Wifi, no parking, poor accessibility, etc.)

Airbnb hosts are also rated on response rate and time, so the more frequently and faster you can answer your guests’ questions, the better. Many people will be viewing multiple properties at the same time so you want to make sure yours stands out above the rest. You need to promote to get guests, but the best support is referrals or consumer ratings.

Get Verified

You can verify your host profile through your phone number, email address, Facebook account or Twitter handle. Verified hosts appear higher on the search list so your property can be viewed more often, which can result in more bookings. Verification also can establish a feeling of trust and legitimacy between your guests and you, so it’s best to include as many verifications as you can offer.

Give Reviews to Get Reviews

What goes around comes around, particularly in the online travellers’ community. Review your guests immediately after their visit and they’ll be more likely to leave you one as well.

Don’t Underestimate the Little Things

Whether it’s fresh flowers on the table, bottled water in the fridge or a list of recommended local bars and restaurants — guests notice. Take pride in your home and go beyond your guests’ expectations — it can leave them happily satisfied and more likely to leave positive 5-star reviews.

Price Appropriately

Upon signing up to host, Airbnb will show you how to price your unit based on the average price in your area. Bonnie suggests starting out low to attract your first few guests and establish positive reviews. You can begin to increase your price by adding value to the property. For example, you can offer breakfast and light snacks, include beach gear, bikes, games or extra amenities.

Be Flexible

Travelling is stressful and can be unpredictable. Try to be as flexible as you can with cancellation policies and check-in and checkout times. If possible, offer to meet your guest at the airport or train station, give them a tour of the space and help them with their luggage. In doing all of this, you are well on your way to becoming a Superhost. This badge of honour is a reward for frequent bookings and high ratings. Plus, you’ll enjoy extra perks from Airbnb like travel coupons and priority support.

Consider Hiring Help

Depending how frequently you book and how busy you are, it may be in your best interest to hire a property manager, friend or relative to help you with cleaning and maintenance of the property. This person can help take the stress off while still ensuring your guests have the best possible experience.

“For the first year I hired someone to help me look after [the property] when I was out of town,” says Bonnie. “You have to really be available for the clients if you want to have a successful Airbnb.”

Get Insurance

Airbnb offers two types of protection for hosts. The first is the Host Protection Insurance, which will cover up to $1 million USD for damage to a guest’s property or belongings during a stay. The second is the Host Guarantee Program, which isn’t insurance and doesn’t replace your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, but will cover you from property damage incurred during a stay.

“I don’t rent my property any other way,” says Bonnie. “I exclusively use Airbnb because of the insurance they have in place for the host and the convenience of the payment system is really great.”

Remember that insurance policies are different for condos and homes and Airbnb’s policies have limitations. Be sure to do plenty of research in advance to ensure you have the best coverage.

A Growing Community…

Airbnb is by no means the only site responsible for the growing popularity of short-term rentals. Other options include Homestay, HomeAway and Couchsurfing. Whichever site you choose, short-term rental has many benefits that can pay off in the short and long term.

Bonnie says it’s all about sharing unique properties that wouldn’t otherwise be available to the public.

“If people have something different to offer, it’s really nice to share with the world.”

Make sure you’re protected with the right home insurance.

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