There I was - thinking that my wife, Christina, and I were both active duty Marines, part-time real estate investors, and new Airbnb hosts, but apparently, we were also exterminators! Saddle up for a few lessons that I learned when we started using Air BnB to house-hack our way one step closer to financial freedom.
I am a huge fan of Airbnb. I have been a host for a year and a half now and love the business model. It takes the money out of the wealthy hotel owners’ pockets and puts it into the pockets of normal people wanting to earn some extra cash. As much as I would encourage anyone to try it out (if you have an extra room or unit), I must stress the fact that there is nothing passive about it.
When you first start as a host on Airbnb, you are a slave to the reviews. For the first few guests you host, a 5-star review is more important than the money. You need to build a good reputation so that you can earn Superhost status as quickly as possible. Once you earn Superhost, your listing gets bumped up to the top of the search page and you get a sweet little Superhost designator next to your name. Trust me, it’s good for business. Airbnb's SuperHost requirements outline the process.
In summer 2018, we had just listed our guest suite which is a studio apartment attached to our house. It is a quaint space with a personal full bathroom and private entrance. We had a few stays at this point and had received all 5-star reviews so far! I was still active duty and was standing duty Friday night. We had just welcomed a nice woman and her six-year-old daughter the previous night. That night, while I was sitting there in my unit’s duty hut, hating my life at 2200 and wondering why I had to watch a phone for 16 hours, when my cell phone dings. I see a message from our Air BnB guest. I was a little perplexed when I opened the message and all it said was “Mouse”. I wait a minute, thinking it might be an autocorrected “Thanks” or something when I see the second message pop up: “HELP!!!”. As I was unable to be a first responder to this life or death emergency, I call my poor pregnant wife, who was probably asleep. Thankfully, she was already awake and went down to the guest suite armed with an assault broom. When she arrived, the 40 something-year-old woman and her daughter were both sitting cross-legged on the bed, hiding from the dangerous field mouse. A bit mystified, Christina kindly asks if they are okay and the current location of the perpetrator. The woman frantically describes the events that had transpired and guides Christina to the mouse’s location under the couch. Calm, cool, and collected - like she had trained all her life for this situation, Christina opens the door to our yard, moves the couch, and gently sweeps the mouse outside. Everyone was relieved. Our guests slept comfortably. We emerged with a funny story and a 5-star review. Winning.
As I dive into our second Air BnB exterminator story and you start thinking that we live in disgusting squalor, I would like to highlight the fact that our home is in the middle of the woods in North Carolina. Those of you from the southern coast can sympathize with the fact that no matter what you do to rid your home of nasty bugs during the hot summer months, they will find a way in.
Fast forward a few months and we are thoroughly enjoying hosting on Airbnb. We had met some very interesting and fun people from all over the world and our guest suite was starting to book out a few months in advance. The revenue from our little studio guest suite covered our monthly mortgage payment, which was an awesome feeling. Our hard work was paying off and the reviews showed. We had (and still have) a 4.9-star average when a few recent college grads checked in for a long beach weekend. This time, the roles were reversed, and Christina was standing duty on a Saturday morning. I had just gotten home from surfing and had plans to play golf with a friend when I got a call from a duty phone. Christina asked me if I saw that Airbnb message about the bug and I laughingly told her to stop joking with me. She reassured me that we had another priority 1 emergency, so I signed off and went into Superhost mode. The guests had messaged us that there was a bug on the ceiling of our guest suite. I mentally prepared for the worst and grabbed our trusty assault broom. I thought about putting on my FLAK jacket, but decided that’s probably not great for business - and headed down to meet what I imagined was a gigantic hairy, creature. When I got to our guest suite, the two ladies met me outside and described the bug's whereabouts. They did not want to witness what was about to happen and they left to start a beach day. I stepped into the arena and struggled to spot my nemesis, as he appeared no larger than a pinky toenail. After I took a picture to send to my wife, I neutralized the threat and disposed of the body. I anticipate this will be a picture of me and my son in 10 years:
Walking out of the Airbnb that morning, I remember thinking how they should implement a “Hero-Host” status because I would argue that my wife and I had both earned it.
You never know what problems are going to come up when you are managing a short-term vacation rental. You must be flexible and willing to go the extra mile for your guests. People who are on vacation expect a higher level of service and responsiveness than long term tenants. Remember that they also pay more and the profit is worth it. Over the past 10 months, our Air BnB has earned an average of $1,493 per month. Our mortgage payment is $1,390. It is work, but if you implement good systems and treat it like a business, Air BnB can be very fruitful. Begin with the expectation that you too might have to put on your “exterminator” hat, or several other hats to make your business successful. But most importantly, have fun along the way and don’t take things too seriously. If you want to connect or talk more about Air BnB, please message me over ADPI or email me at [email protected]
Sean McDonnell is a former Marine Corps Infantry Officer and has recently transitioned to the reserves and started his full time career in real estate. He is happily married to his wife Christina and they just welcomed their first son into the world. The three of them currently reside in Woodbridge, Virginia with their German Shepherd pup, Laila.