A direct booking site with no fees, gimmicks, or surprises

I talk a lot in my paid courses about how important it is to have a direct booking site that you can send to people. Something that cuts out the middle-man of Airbnb, Booking.com, VRBO, or any other channel that you choose to list with. 

If you’re using Your Porter, they already have a built-in direct booking site. It’s clean, looks good, and is VERY easy to set up and use. So if you’re already a Your Porter customer, their direct booking site is definitely the way to go. 

But what if you stop using Your Porter? Or never use them in the first place? That’s where Houfy comes in. 

Houfy is a platform that allows you to directly list your space to customers without paying any third-party commission fees. Best of all, the platform itself is absolutely free! So both you and the guest literally pay nothing more than the price that’s listed (plus credit card processing fees). 

That’s it. No hidden fees, gimmicks, or surprises. 

I’ve been using Houfy for a little while now and I have to say I’m very pleased so far. 

It’s super easy to import your existing listings from other major channels, so you don’t have to go through the headache of re-creating all of your listings from scratch. You can create guidebooks that can be easily shared with other people. It’s a clean and easy user interface. And of course, it’s free – always a plus :). 

Houfy isn’t perfect and doesn’t pretend to be.

It looks like it’s mostly run at this point by a single person, who is honest about the presence of bugs and other issues on the platform. However, as it reaches critical mass (it recently hit over 50,000 listings), I suspect that it will rapidly improve to meet the demand. And frankly, it’s already pretty good as is. 

So I encourage you to hop on the Houfy bandwagon today – or at least give it a try. You can always back out later if you decide it’s not for you. 

But the market is changing. Laws are getting tighter around Airbnb, restrictions are getting tougher, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the air. Hopefully I don’t need to remind you that if you’re relying solely on third-party booking sites, you’re in a precarious position. A single change could really devastate your business. Don’t be caught unaware. Prepare now before it becomes a crisis.

Where has the compassion gone?

The coronavirus scare has swept across Asia and indeed, the entire globe. As of the date of writing, there have been tens of thousands of reported cases with hundreds upon hundreds deaths.

It’s also been affecting a lot of hosts in my industry.

With the epicenter of the coronavirus being in China, and causing all sorts of travel bans and advisories, you can imagine that quite a few travelers from that part of the world have been forced to change or cancel their plans. These unexpected and last-minute cancellations have inevitably cut into many hosts’ bottom lines.

This is understandably frustrating. But many of the comments I’ve seen from hosts online have infuriated me.

“Strict cancellation policy means no refund – ever!”

“Oh come on, the coronavirus? They’re just looking for an excuse to get out of paying.”

“Airbnb is saying I have to refund because this falls under their ‘extenuating circumstances’ policy…do I have to comply??”

And my personal favorite, “guests these days are all so whiny and demanding.”

People. Come on.

Where is our humanity?

The coronavirus is rapidly becoming a worldwide epidemic. This is not something any of these Chinese guests could have predicted when they booked their travel plans. In fact, many of them still want to travel but aren’t being allowed to leave the country.

And even if they could, would you really want them to? That’s the equivalent of bringing your kid with the flu to their regular nursery to infect all the other kids….except a thousand times worse.

Many hosts complain these days that they don’t love hosting like they used to. They say that bad guests have sucked all of the joy out of it. Well, I often feel the same way…except my problem is with the hosts, not the guests. Bad hosts can suck the joy out of this industry faster than I’d ever dreamed possible.

Many Airbnb hosts have developed this really weird perspective.

They want to treat hosting like a business, making as much money as possible from their guests. But they also don’t want to accept that their business, like every other business in the world, has a cost of doing business.

Stained towels are a cost of doing business. So are last-minute cancellations because of unforeseen circumstances.

So the next time you want to complain about lost income because of a situation like a coronavirus outbreak, I challenge you to do 2 things.

First, remember your humanity. Of course, don’t be hoodwinked by every sob story that comes your way. But compassion is an important part of this business. Don’t forget that.

And second, remember that your business has costs. This is one of them. Plan for these kinds of costs and make sure you build in reserves to your budget so you can deal with bumps in the road. And remember,there will be other bookings. At least you don’t have someone with a potentially life-threatening virus coming to sleep in your house.

Supply and demand is great…until it makes you greedy

A year ago, Atlanta was in the throes of Super Bowl madness. They hosted the Superbowl in 2019, and no one could have predicted what that would do to the short-term rental market.

All the experts said that the influx of people coming into the city was supposed to be enormous, on a scale rarely if ever seen in recent memory. In anticipation of this, thousands of new hosts put their space up on Airbnb, hoping to get a piece of the pie. Existing hosts jacked their prices up to exorbitant levels. They created all sorts of special packages and deals to entice fans to pay thousands of dollars to stay with them. It was going to be the biggest moneymaking weekend of the year for every host in the city. 

But then the wrong teams made it to the Super Bowl.

Rather than the teams with the rabid fan base and relatively close home town, the actual teams that made it to the Superbowl were either coming from very far away, or they had made it to the Superbowl so many times that it wasn’t that exciting for the fans anymore. 

As a result, the number of people who converged on the city was wayyyyy less than expected. 

Between the glut of new listings and the huge hike in many people’s rates, many, many homes were vacant that weekend. Hosts lost out on thousands of dollars of potential revenue that weekend. And in fact, the damage continued well past that weekend, as the market took many months to recover from the onslaught of new listings in such a short amount of time. 

So what’s my point?

My point is to not be greedy when it comes to making extra money on popular weekends. 

Yes, you should increase your prices according to demand. That’s one of the reasons I recommend using a dynamic pricing tool like Wheelhouse – it adjusts everything for you so that you don’t have to.

But if you’re greedy, there’s a high probability that you’re going to miss out. 

These days there is too much supply, too many other alternatives. People simply aren’t going to book with you if you increase your rates 10x what they normally are, no matter how many people are expected to come into the city that weekend. 

Plus it’s just plain unethical.

Would you rather make a lot more money than you normally would, or try to scalp some poor guest by charging exorbitant rates that no one should ever have to pay? Even if someone does book, there’s just something unethical about that to me. 

Plus I’m very risk-averse, and I’d much rather a guaranteed payout that’s larger than normal, than the possibility of an even bigger one that also has a chance of no payout at all. 

For most people hosting on Airbnb these days, it is a business for them (or at the very least a lucrative side hustle).

I’m not suggesting that you ignore that and just give your space away for pennies on the dollar of what it’s worth. 

But I am asking you to be reasonable. Charge what you would reasonably expect to pay if the tables were turned. Don’t charge an arm and a leg for someone to have the privilege of not sleeping in their car for the weekend. In the end, it’s better for both of you – they’re charged reasonable fees, and you actually get booked!

How to save time and energy dealing with bad guests

I’d like to start this article by prefacing it with this statement: I love Airbnb. I love hosting guests and cohosting for owners. It’s a wonderful tool that has opened up doors I could never dream of. 

That being said…sometimes Airbnb really sucks. 

One of the biggest issues that a host can deal with is retaliatory reviews by unhappy guests. As guests are becoming both more cunning and more picky, it’s unfortunately becoming a bigger and bigger issue. 

Often, Airbnb doesn’t do a whole lot to stop this. They say that they will remove a review that violates their terms of service (TOS), but in practice, it’s incredibly difficult to get a review removed once it’s been posted. The few times I’ve had to ask that a review be removed, I’ve had to go through multiple agents over the course of several weeks. Eventually I have to actually tell them word-for-word what part of their own TOS was actually violated. 

I won’t lie. It’s a huge pain. But with Airbnb bookings being so reliant on reviews, it’s worth the effort to get fraudulent or retaliatory reviews removed. 

I’ve learned something important about this process that’s making the whole thing infinitely easier. 

Be the first person they hear from. 

Airbnb reps are, at the end of the day, people just like you and me. And just like you and me, they are going to tend to believe the first person they hear from. 

Most guests who are going to cause you problems in the review have already caused you problems during their stay. A bad review should almost always be something you see coming. So after they check out, if they’ve done things that have legitimately been cause for worry, concern, or stress, call Airbnb and let them know.

This is ESPECIALLY true if you have evidence that they’ve actually threatened you with a bad review if you don’t give them what they want (usually a refund). 

You’re not reporting the guest. They’re not going to get in trouble. You’re simply making a paper trail that Airbnb reps can follow later on. This paper trail is what they’re going to use to make their decision on whether a review should be removed or not. And like most human beings, they’re probably going to side with the person they heard from first. 

I had a guest a few weeks ago who did this. Said they were going to cancel but never did. Several days after their reservation ended, they reached out to me asking where their refund was. When I told them that it wasn’t coming because they never actually canceled, they got all sorts of angry at me. Accused me of fraud, and theft, and told me point blank that they’d leave me a bad review if they didn’t get their money back. 

At this point, I called Airbnb. Told them the story, got the rep to review the thread, and he agreed that the messages were totally against Airbnb’s TOS. He assured me that if the guest did leave a retaliatory review, they would remove it. After our conversation ended, I got him to recap what he’d said in writing. 

And lo and behold, when the guest left a bad review (no surprise there), I was able to have it removed relatively easily. 

Now, I’m no psychologist. I could be totally off-base here. But I’m pretty sure it was so easy because I had gotten my story in first. 

I don’t like playing mind games. I wish as a host you never had to learn these sorts of tricks. But the fact is that they’re a part of the game if you want to be successful. So learn the rules of the game and play by them! Be proactive with Airbnb when you have unpleasant guests. You’ll get much better results in far less time. 

I promise you, in the long run, it’s going to save you so much stress and energy!

How to get good reviews without asking for them

To ask for a review or not to ask? That is the question.

Reviews are the absolute lifeblood of this industry. A host with lots of good reviews has the potential to make a lot more money than a host with few reviews or bad reviews.

So how do you ensure you get plenty of positive reviews? Here are your 4 main options:

1. Ask for a good review in exchange for a discount.

I wish this wasn’t even an option. It’s sleazy and dishonest and totally against Airbnb’s terms of service.

You can try to push your luck and do it anyway, but if a guest reports you, you’re in big trouble.

I had a host make this offer to me when I traveled to New York: $15 off my stay in exchange for a 5-star review. Well frankly, I reported her. It made me uncomfortable and I really didn’t like it at all. She ended up getting kicked off of Airbnb because she violated their terms of use.

So option #1 should really not be an option at all. It’s just bad business practice to bribe people for a good review. Just please, I beg you, don’t do it. It is unethical and we have seen time and again that while playing loose with ethics might bring profits in the short run your business will always suffer in the long run. Instead, focus your energy instead on creating a good experience for your guests so you don’t have to bribe them for a good review.

2. Ask for a good review in exchange for nothing.

This is a legitimate option. Lots of hosts do this. They’ll say something along the lines of this: “Hi <<guest>>! You’ve been a great guest, thanks for staying, yada yada yada. We’re going to give you a 5 star review and I hope you do the same for us!”

The problem I have with this approach is that while it may not be outright bribery, it still feels like coercion, or at the very least manipulation. What guest is going to want to give an honest negative review if they know they’re going to get a positive review in exchange? The tit-for-tat mentality is very strong in the Airbnb world, as I’ve written about before.

It’s just not totally above-board, and I don’t think honest and good hosts should employ this tactic.

3. Say nothing.

Another option you have is to say nothing and hope that guests will leave you a good review.

The problem with this approach is that many guests don’t understand how Airbnb’s rating system is different from hotel rating systems. With a hotel, the stars indicate the level of luxury. A 3-star hotel is a perfectly adequate hotel, but nothing particularly fancy. Based on hotel ratings, most Airbnbs would probably fall in the 2- or 3-star range.

But Airbnb’s rating system is completely different. The stars on Airbnb indicate the level of service, not luxury. A tiny private room in a shared home could easily garner 5 stars if the host was attentive to the guest during their stay. In fact, if you consistently get reviews of 4 stars or less, you could be in danger of your entire host account being disabled because of inadequate service.

So if you say nothing at all, it’s likely that you’ll get guests who rave about the quality of the service and attentiveness they received during their stay…and then give you 3 stars. This is no good. Guests need to be educated on how the rating system is different than most hotels.

That’s why I advocate for the fourth option:

4. Remind guests that a bad review will hurt you as a host, but don’t actually ask for a good review

This is the tactic I have employed in all of my listings for several years now, with really astonishing results.

I say something like, “Hey, <<guest>>, I hope you’ve had a great stay! Many guests don’t know this, but on Airbnb anything less than a 5-star review – even 4 stars – will hurt hosts. If you’ve had any issues during your stay that would cause you to have anything less than a 5-star experience, please let me know before you write a review so that I can do my best to rectify them.”

It’s amazing what this simple little message has done! I’ve had guests who have told me they didn’t have a 5-star experience, so they just wouldn’t leave a review so it wouldn’t hurt me. I’ve had guests say they didn’t realize that, so they would adjust their review from the 4 stars that they were planning on giving up to 5. I’ve even had guests who had legitimately awful experiences with me give good reviews!

I continue to be amazed at how effective this little message is.

I’ve had hundreds of guests leave reviews since I started using it. I can count on one hand the number of them that were less than 5 stars. It really does work! Who says you can’t be both ethical and successful? Give this tactic a try today! 

The tragic snowball effect of retaliatory reviews

I’m in a lot of Facebook groups for hosts only. In many of them, there’s this disturbing theme I’ve noticed going around lately.

Basically, it goes something like this.

Something negative happens during the guest’s stay. Either an obvious issue, or the guest seems to be complaining a lot, overly needy, etc. So the host assumes that if the guest writes a review after their stay ends, it will be negative and “retaliatory.” The host, therefore, simply hopes that a review is not left. If, however, they see that the guest did leave a review, the host then goes ahead and leaves a negative review for the guest to “get back” at them for the negative review they’re sure to have left.

There’s a few obvious problems with this approach.

One of the biggest of them being that reviews on Airbnb are a double-blind system. You don’t know what the other party has written about you until you’ve both filled out the review (or the review window has closed). So it’s really not fair to write a negative review simply because you think that the other party also wrote a negative review.

Another really big problem with this approach is that reviews are supposed to be honest. If your guest had a bad experience, but you had a good one (or vice-versa), those should both be legitimate reviews. This whole tit-for-assumed-tat thing is really harming the system of trust and peer review that the entire Airbnb platform is built on.

Here’s a personal example to prove my point.

I recently had one of the worst guest experiences ever. Actually, the guest herself was fine, but a minor misunderstanding snowballed to the point where the homeowner whose home she was in was no longer comfortable with the reservation, and asked me to cancel it. I really didn’t want to, but at the end of the day it wasn’t my house, so I proceeded with initiating the cancellation.

But then the homeowners changed their minds. And all hell broke loose.

I was already 3 hours into the cancellation (had to talk to multiple Airbnb reps to get it done). So we had 6 different voices (mine, the guest’s, the homeowner’s, and the 3 Airbnb reps) all telling different stories. It was chaos. So confusing.

Obviously, frustrations and tensions were extremely high. We all said some things we regretted. Eventually, we got through it, but it was an awful day.

I fully acknowledge the part I played in the confusion. If I had been the guest, I would have ripped the host apart in the review. So obviously, as a host, I sat back quietly hoping she would not leave a review.

I almost made it.

But then, 2 hours before the deadline, I got an email from Airbnb. “Your guest has left you a review! Write a review for them to see what they said.”

There is was. The dreaded retaliatory review.

I have to admit, I was so tempted to respond in kind.

It was such an awful experience all around…how could she possibly have said anything expect horrible things? Right??

But I finally realized that, as tempting as it was to do the whole “quid pro quo” thing, it wasn’t right. She had been a perfectly fine guest. Honestly, she had been overly nice and understanding. She’d been a great guest and I would have welcomed her back at any of my properties. So that’s what I had to write in the review.

After my review posted, I got to read hers.

And it was…really nice. Shockingly so.

“The place was clean, Lauren was a good and communicative host,” it said. That was it. No rants, no accusations, not even telling the whole ugly truth of the mess that had gone down. Just simple, kind, and to the point.

Can you imagine how I would have felt if I had written a bad review for her just because I assumed she had written a bad one for me? Oh my word, I would have felt like absolute scum.

But more so than that. If I had written a bad review for her when it wasn’t warranted, I would have made Airbnb a little less safe for everyone. I would have tarnished a good guest and made it harder for her to book elsewhere, harder for good hosts to be able to see that they have nothing to worry about in renting to her. Maybe she would also have changed, perhaps being less kind and understanding than she was with me because my treatment of her had jaded her.

This is the tragic snowball effect that happens when you write a review based on assumptions as to what the other review contains.

Listen, we all want to “get even.” That’s human nature. But you can’t get even if someone hasn’t done something yet. And until you’ve read the review, you don’t know what they have or haven’t done.

But beyond that…you are in the hospitality industry. That’s a service industry. That means it’s your job to put up with all sorts of crap with a smile. (That really is part of your job.) So please, can we all just act like grown-ups and stop lashing out like petulant children? Can we just learn to treat people with respect and dignity? Can we just be honest about our experience, without worrying if it jives with the experience of the other party?

It seems to me that if hosts could get that right it would fix a lot of our Airbnb platform woes.

2020: the year of kindness

If you’re in this business for any length of time, you’ll end up talking with Airbnb support a lot.

I recently got an email from an Airbnb agent closing a thread we’d had going back and forth for a few days. Her message said simply, “Thank you for your response. I really appreciate you being so kind.”

This one hit me right in the gut. I kinda felt like I’d been sucker-punched.

Because the thing is, I had not been “so kind.” I hadn’t even been marginally kind. This was one of the interactions with Airbnb that I can’t say I was particularly proud of how I’d handled.

That’s why her message hit me so hard. Even though I had been rude and reacted in the heat of the moment, she continued to be kind. Isn’t that the definition of the hospitality industry?

As hosts, that’s what we need to do with our guests every day. Be kind…period. Even if they’re rude to us. Even if they make unreasonable requests. It’s easy to assume they’re trying to be rude, but that’s rarely if ever the case. They may just be having a bad day, like I was. It’s our job to be kind, anyway.

(We should do that with everyone we interact with, but obviously sometimes we’re going to blow it, like I did with the Airbnb rep)

This is the start of a new year – a new decade, even. A perfect time for new beginnings. If this is something you’ve struggled with in the past – whether it be with guests, friends and family, strangers, or all of the above – I encourage you to make 2020 the year you turn over a new leaf.

Give yourself grace, of course, because you will mess up…but make this the year you focus on treating all people you interact with with grace, dignity, and kindness…regardless of whether you feel that they deserve it or not.

I just made my cleaner cry – and I’m so happy about it

Yesterday I made my primary cleaner cry. And I’m delighted about it.

No, I’m not a monster. They were tears of joy, and I was simply happy to be able to be the bearer of good news.

What did I do to cause such emotion?

I gave her a Christmas bonus for all of the hard work she’s done for me over the past year.

No, she’s not been perfect. I’ve found plenty of issues that needed to be addressed over the last year. But she is a willing learner and receptive to feedback, and that has made all the difference.

Some people expect perfection from their cleaners every…single…time. That is simply unreasonable. Those people forget that cleaners are humans, too. They are juggling family, health challenges, other responsibilities, and more – just like the rest of us. And no one – no one – is perfect.

So if you’re the type of person who will fire your cleaner after a single transgression, perhaps you need to rethink your strategy. Try talking to them respectfully about the problem, and make your expectations clear for next time.

Here are 3 tips I have for creating healthy and long-lasting relationships with your cleaners.

  1. Be honest about your needs – but kind. I like to employ the sandwich method – sandwich the constructive criticism in between 2 compliments. It becomes much easier to take that way.
  2. Use checklists for every property. This will make it much easier to have those hard conversations mentioned in #1. Either the items on the checklist are getting done, or they aren’t. Plain and simple.

    Need a good checklist? Click here to get mine!
  3. Finally, I try to make sure my cleaner knows I appreciate her in more tangible ways – like generous Christmas bonuses.

If you’re paying someone to work for you, and you say you appreciate them, but their paycheck doesn’t reflect that, eventually they’re going to look for work elsewhere. It’s worth it to me to shell out a little more to create those long-term, lasting relationships.

At the end of the day, this is a people-centered business. And if you’re not treating your own people right, how can you expect them to do their best for your guests?

EDIT:

I’ve had some people ask why I didn’t treat every cleaner I’ve worked with this year the same. Well, the short answer is that all of our relationships are different. Some have done hundreds of cleanings for me this year and put up with a lot of challenges. Some have done just one or two and been difficult to work with. Many fall somewhere in the middle. The bonuses I give are commensurate with the work that’s been done and the relationship that’s already been created. It’s up to you if you want to do things differently :). But for me, I’ve worked with over a dozen cleaners this year and sadly, it just wouldn’t be financially feasible to do the same thing with them all :(.

What you might have in common with artists

When I was in college, I had a lot of artists in my life. They all had their own challenges, but there was one complaint that seemed like a pretty common theme – why do so many people want my services but don’t want to pay me for them?

There seems to be a fairly universal theme here.

People will pay full price without question for tangible, solid things like groceries and car repair; but when your product or service includes a cost for that intangible, ever-elusive quality – time – people think it isn’t worth paying for.

Because, of course, that is really what you’re paying for when you pay for art – the cost of the time that it took the artist to make it.

The irony here is unmistakable. Time is the only asset we can never produce more of, and thus it should be the most valuable thing on the planet…yet it’s one of the only things that many people will balk at paying for.

It doesn’t just happen with art. Most people who offer a product or service that requires a lot of time to produce have similar struggles. People seem to think that your time isn’t really an expense they should have to pay for.

Short term rental management is no exception – especially if you’ve also started coaching others.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people reach out to me “just for a few tips,” but they don’t want to pay for them. They think it’s just a simple question, it should be easy for me to answer, so why should it cost them anything to get an answer from me?

What they don’t realize is that, while it might take me just a few minutes to answer their question, that’s only because I’ve had years of experience in the business. I’ve learned the answers to their questions the hard way.

They’re not paying me for the 5 minutes it’s going to take me to answer their “quick” question. They’re paying me for the years of trial and error I had to slog through in order to be able to know the “quick” answer to their question. If it was really a quick and simple question they’d be able to answer it themselves.

And of course, they don’t have to pay me if they don’t want to – there’s always the option of learning the hard and long way like I did.

There’s such a strong disconnect here, it boggles my mind. People just don’t see serviced-based businesses this way.

Regardless of whether most people are willing to pay you for your services and knowledge or not, you have to learn to shift your mindset so that you don’t give away your knowledge for free, but rather charge for it.

In order to succeed in this business, you have to shift your mindset. You have to be able to see the value that you offer, and be willing to ask people to pay for it.

And if they’re not willing to pay, you have to be willing to walk away without helping them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for heartless and greedy extortion. Of course there are times when it’s appropriate to help people just because they need help.

But if that’s all you ever do you’ll never make any money. No one is going to pay for something that they can get for free – even if it’s worth paying for.

You’ve gotta be willing to charge what you’re worth. And you’ve got to realize that experience is worth something. Isn’t it time you got paid what you’re worth?

Your Porter just announced some exciting news!

Yesterday morning I woke up to great news in my inbox.

If you’ve read much of anything I’ve written over the last few years, you know that I’m a big fan girl of Your Porter.

Your Porter is my recommended messaging management tool for all of my Airbnb listings. They are constantly evolving and adding new features, and I just think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. At this point they do much more than simple message management, and they have quickly become the only tool in my business that I simply could not do without.

Well apparently I’m not the only person who loves the Your Porter / Airbnb marriage.

Yesterday morning Your Porter just announced that they’ve become an official software partner of Airbnb.

This means an even tighter connection than they’ve had before, ensuring faster calendar and pricing syncing and even fewer double bookings across platforms. (Although I’ve actually never had a double booking before, even with the old connection. One of the many reasons I love Your Porter….it’s just so reliable!)

According to Your Porter, this new integration with Airbnb will ensure:

  • No more unlinked Airbnb accounts, even if you change your password
  • No interruptions of syncing reservations and sending automated messages
  • Real-time push notifications for incoming messages
  • Faster onboarding process of the newly added listings
  • More stable calendar relying on the native connection

Now I know that much of this might be press conference hype. And I’m sure there will be some bugs and kinks to work out. But I still believe that this announcement will pave the way for an even better Your Porter product and smoother integration with Airbnb in the future. This, of course, will translate into easier management and happier guests and clients. Wins all around!

To check out Your Porter for yourself, follow this link. New accounts get $20 off of their first bill!

Almost done!Just tell me where to send all your goodies 🙂