The best direct booking property management tool

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has thrown an enormous wrench into the short-term rental market. Consequently, a lot of hosts are looking for opportunities to diversify and pivot their listings.

One of the most obvious ways to pivot is to start accepting direct bookings.

These are simply reservations that are booked directly through you, rather than through a booking channel like Airbnb or VRBO.

Direct bookings hold a lot of appeal. Especially because the policies of Airbnb and other large booking sites seem to be a moving target right now. Hosts are eager to get their eggs out of the single basket that they really have no control over.

But opening yourself up to direct bookings opens the possibility for a whole new slew of problems.

One of the most obvious – and important – problems that needs to be addressed is that of guest vetting and payment management.

Normally, if a guest books through a booking channel like Airbnb, the channel has already done that work. They have their own guest vetting procedures (admittedly some more stringent than others). Things like ID and background checks can give hosts confidence that the guest is indeed who they say they are. Booking channels also generally have payment processors built in, so you don’t have to worry about failed credit card payments or chargebacks.

In exchange for these services, they of course get a cut of the booking fees, and hosts don’t have a lot of input regarding system and policy changes. But it’s a price that most are willing to pay for the ease of mind that it brings.

If you decide to start accepting direct bookings, the first thing you’re going to have to is figure out a way to handle these problems on your own.

The best tool that I’ve found to do that is Cozy.co.

Cozy is a nearly 1-stop shop for everything you need to efficiently manage your direct bookings. Here are a few of the many features it has:

  • Rental application portal that includes credit reports and background checks of potential renters.
  • A payment portal that can take rent payments, as well as other incidental charges such as security deposits, cleaning fees, etc.
  • Listing links that you can share with prospective renters, including space for both photos and a video walk-through. I’ve found this to be particularly helpful, as many people want to see more than just photos of the place before they book.
  • You can also track expenses, keep a record of maintenance requests, and store important documents like lease agreements, all directly within the app.

The only downside I’ve been able to find of Cozy is that it does not have a mobile phone app; however their website is mobile-friendly, so even that really isn’t a big deal.

If you’re looking for help collecting more direct bookings safely and securely, definitely consider checking out Cozy.co. I promise you it will save you lots of headache and stress!

How to increase your Airbnb listing search rankings

If you’ve been hosting for any amount of time, you know that the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is your search ranking. 

Your search ranking is going to affect your bookings in a major way.

If you consistently show up on the first page of Airbnb search results, you’re going to be consistently booked. If you’re buried in the back, you won’t be. It’s that simple. 

There are all sorts of tips and tricks out there about how to increase your search rankings. Change your prices daily. Make 1-day price much lower than the rest. Professional photos. Bullet point descriptions in the listings. Mentioning local hot spots by name. Respond to inquiries ASAP. Get and maintain superhost status.

These are all good and important things to maintaining your listing in good standing. But if you’ve already dropped lower than you want to be, they’re not going to pull you back up to the top of the listings. 

There is, however, something I’ve found that consistently does do that. 

Paid advertising. 

Doesn’t have to be a lot of money. In fact, it really shouldn’t be too much money – just a dollar or two a day. Any more than that and you’ll screw up the algorithms. But it’s really incredible how just a few dollars every month can help improve your listing ranking. 

Now, of course, there’s a bit of science to this. You can’t just throw money at it and hope it’ll stick. You need to either figure out how to do it properly or hire someone who already knows. (And let’s be real, we both know you don’t have the time to figure it out yourself). 

That’s where my friend Renee comes in. 

Renee is the founder of Bnb The Smart Way, a company that specializes in marketing Airbnbs and increasing search ranking results for existing listings. They are incredible at what they do, and truly care about their clients and their success. 

I suppose at this point I should clarify. This is not just my old college buddy’s business I’m trying to get you to buy into. Nothing like that. I was Renee’s client before I was her friend. I hired her to boost some of my listings, and she’s done such a good job that we’ve also become friends over time. 

Anyway, I digress. 

I asked Renee for a discount code for my students and readers, and she happily obliged. 

So head on over to https://www.bnbthesmartway.com/adevaluation to schedule your free evaluation. And use the promo code bnbmadesimple for 10% off her setup costs!

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.

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! 

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!

How to ensure consistent cleanings every time

As I’ve written about before, one of the hardest things about running a short-term rental is standardizing the cleanings. 

Of course it helps to have a good cleaner – and if you’ve found one, make sure you do everything you can to hold onto her! But the nature of this business is that sometimes you’re going to have to use alternate or backup cleaners. 

So how do you ensure that you get the same level of cleaning every time, no matter who is doing the work?

Two words: cleaning checklists. 

There are many ways to do this. 

You can print out a stack of paper checklists and have the cleaner leave it behind when she leaves, so the guest also knows what’s been done. Many guests like this extra touch that reassures them the house has been properly cleaned before their arrival. 

You could share a Trello board or Wunderlist list. These are both free and very simple. However, the old adage you get what you pay for is very true, so they both come with their own limitations. Make sure you test these tools out before you commit to them. 

Both of the main paid turnover management systems out there, Properly and TurnoverBnB, also support cleaning lists. Properly’s interface is very slick, allowing you to basically do a full photo walkthrough of everything you want done in your property. 

However, I personally find Properly a little too flashy. I prefer Turnover. Turnover also allows you to attach a photo to a checklist item if need be, although it’s not quite as slick as Properly. 

But what I really like about Turnover is that you can highlight certain items on your checklist. This is great because most properties will be mostly the same, but they’ll also all have their own unique quirks. Turnover allows you to highlight those little differences in your checklists. That way your cleaner can know exactly what’s special about this particular property and not miss it while they’re cleaning. 

It’s a marvelous tool that has saved me a lot of headaches over the course of my hosting career!

Whatever tool you choose to go with, just make sure of 2 things. First, that your cleaners all sign off on being willing to use it. And second, that you actually use it! Set up a checklist, update it as needed, and send it to every single cleaner you work with. 

It will make you, your cleaners, and your guests all so much happier. 

What tips do you have for making your cleanings go smoothly every time? Let me know in the comments! 

4 tips to help you hold onto good cleaners

I recently had a bit of a blow up with one of my cleaners. She was chronically late and unreliable, so when I finally made the hard decision to stop working with her, she did not take it well at all. Lots of ugly and unprofessional name-calling ensued, leaving me rattled but also more confident than ever that I’d made the right choice.

But something about this experience really got me thinking. When I started working with her she wasn’t like this at all. She was friendly and professional, and always got the work done in a timely manner. What had changed to sour our relationship so drastically?

She would say I didn’t appreciate her. I would say she had gotten complacent and overcommitted. Perhaps the best answer lies somewhere in the middle.

So how do you help your cleaners avoid getting to that place of overcommitment and burnout?

Here are 4 tips to help you keep a long-term, healthy relationship with your short-term rental cleaner.

  1. Set clear expectations. Have a checklist (preferably with photos of how you want certain things to look, if you’re picky). Walk her through the checklist to make sure she understands. If you see her slipping on quality, say something. Don’t let her believe that she can get away with a half-done job.
  2. Speak kindly and be understanding of her situation. Your cleaner probably has a family and other clients to juggle. She may be trying to get to your cleanings without reliable transportation or some other similar challenge. So don’t assume that her world revolves around you. Speak to her kindly and respectfully, with plenty of “pleases” and “thank yous.” Give her as much notice as possible for the cleanings you’ll need. And be understanding if she goofs up once or twice – she is, after all, human just like you are.
  3. Express your gratefulness often. If your cleaner is doing a good job – tell her! Bring it up if you’re communicating about work. Text her out of the blue just to say you appreciate her work. Give her a bonus at the end of the year, or even mid-year if she’s done a really bang-up job. It’s worth it to invest in a good relationship with a cleaner who will be with you for a long time.
  4. Pay her fairly. Don’t jump on the cheapest cleaner you can find. In fact, when I find a cleaner who’s good at what she does AND cheap, I insist she raises her rates with me. Cheap cleaners are forced to overcommit themselves to pay their bills, which will eventually lead to poor work and cleaner burnout. Plus, insisting on paying more than what the cleaner is asking will go a long way towards making them feel like a valued and important member of your team (which they are).

What other suggestions do you have to help you hold onto those amazing cleaners? Let me know in the comments!

7 tips to help you deal with unauthorized smoking in your Short-Term Rental

One of the most common problems you’ll deal with as a host of short-term rentals is smoking. If you’ve been hosting for any amount of time, I’m certain you’ve dealt with some version of this problem before. And if you’re brand new, I can promise you it’s coming.

Of course, there are plenty of variations on this problem.

What if you live in the home and have allergies? What if guests are smoking weed and it’s illegal in your state? Maybe they’re vaping and don’t consider that smoking? How do you successfully collect a smoking fine? How do you avoid a retaliatory review if you’ve tried to collect a smoking fine?

I could go on, but I think you get my point.

And while no one could ever fully address every potential problem that could arise because of guests smoking on the property, I’ve learned enough in my years as a host that I can probably address most of them.

Here are 7 tips to follow to avoid fighting with smoking guests (or the resolution center after they check out).

  1. Make sure your house rules are CRYSTAL CLEAR. If you don’t allow smoking inside, or vaping, or smoking of any kind, make sure all of that is explicitly spelled out in your house rules. Also make sure to specify what the smoking / vaping fee is, if any. This is the only way you’ll have a chance at Airbnb backing you up in the resolution center if a problem happens.
  2. Make lots of scary warnings – even if they can’t be enforced. The reality is that most requests for smoking fees won’t be approved if there isn’t other damage. However, the guests don’t usually know that! In my listings I say several times that smoking of any kind will incur a $300 penalty and immediate eviction from the property. I’ve never actually kicked anyone out for smoking, and only rarely ever even try to get paid the smoking fee…but don’t tell my guests that! The threat of those consequences tends to keep most people in line.
  3. Get cameras. Smoking is notoriously difficult to prove, because if all that’s left is a smell you can’t send that through the internet as proof. If you can get video of your guests smoking your case will be so much easier to prove. (**NOTE** If you install cameras, make sure to disclose them on your listing!)
  4. Take pictures. Along the same lines as the camera, make sure your cleaners are instructed to take pictures of any ash residue or smoking-related damage they see so that you can include that in your claim.
  5. Get a smoke remediation quote in advance. Smoke remediation quotes by licensed companies can be EXTREMELY helpful in collecting smoking fines. However, they take time to get and often the clock is ticking when you’re trying to collect a resolution claim, so I always recommend getting one in advance to have on hand.
  6. Invest in an ozone machine. Ozone machines are great for getting out that nasty smoke smell in a hurry. The only thing is that they can’t be run when people are around, so make sure you have enough time to clean the place AND run the machine before the next guest checks in!
  7. Choose between the fine and the review. Many people ask me how they can collect their $200 smoking penalty, AND avoid getting a retaliatory review after the guest checks out. I say, for the most part, the answer is you can’t. You need to decide whether it’s more important to you to go after the money, or try to keep your ratings high. It’s very unlikely that you’ll get both.

Over the last few years, as I’ve implemented all of these changes, I’ve seen the number of guests smoking on premises where they shouldn’t be steadily going down. Now what used to be a major, almost weekly headache is simply a minor occasional annoyance. It’s made a world of difference!

What are some tips you have? Share them with me in the comments!

Why short-term renting isn’t always better than long-term renting

Short-term rentals are all the rage right now. They’ve taken the world by storm, and many people find themselves being seduced by the allure of “easy” money – and a whole lot more of it than you’d find in traditional renting.

But it’s important to remember that there is another side to the coin.

There are some big advantages to longer-term renting that many people seem to gloss over. One of the biggest is that long-term renting is virtually guaranteed. You sign a contract with someone for a year or two and, providing you’ve vetted them properly, you get the same amount of money every month for the next year or two. Easy as that.

Short-term rentals are not so simple. Depending on where you are, the supply of short-term rental (and thus competition you have to beat out) might be incredibly high.

You’ll have to compete with low prices and work a lot harder to keep bad guests out.

You might have more pushback from the neighbors, too, who are often much more uncomfortable with having a constant stream of strangers coming through than they would be with a traditional renter.

Yes, short-term rentals offer the potential to make several times more than you would with a traditional long-term rental.

But there is something to be said for guaranteed income, a known market, and placating the neighbors.

With short-term stays, you are never guaranteed to get the next booking. You’re never guaranteed to have a good guest – even if they have good previous reviews. You’re never guaranteed to have understanding neighbors – even if the HOA allows short-term rentals, the neighbors can still make your life miserable.

It’s true that there’s often less wear and tear on your house with a short-term rental….but that’s only assuming you don’t get a bad guest who ends up trashing your house.

This is not to say you shouldn’t do it. Many people have done it and have been very successful at it.

But if you’re considering starting a short-term rental – either a brand-new listing or converting an existing long-term unit to short-term stays – make sure you do your research before jumping in all the way. Because at the end of the day it’s not as simple a calculation as many people make it out to be.

And if you make the calculation wrong you could be out thousands of dollars and a whole lot of headaches.

A cleaning headache you shouldn’t ever have to deal with

Is your STR cleaning closet giving you headaches? Maybe you’re doing it wrong.

I had a meeting with a potential new client the other day. It was a very eye-opening conversation.

He was an experienced host himself, having managed his own home for years; but a change in life circumstances had made him unable to continue managing the space, and he’d decided to look for a manager.

We were sitting there at the cleaning closet, discussing restocking needs and such, when he made a comment that took me by surprise.

“The closet needs to be locked,” he said, “so you’ll have to come by for every turnover to let the cleaner in.”

What??

No wonder he had started to get fed up with hosting.

Right now I’ve got a dozen listings, some of them over an hour from my home. There’s no way in hell I’d even consider going to every property after a guest checks out just to let the cleaner into the cleaning closet.

I just don’t understand why some hosts do that to themselves.

If you’re going to hire someone to clean your property, you need to have enough faith in them to trust that they’ll do right by you. And I understand that this is going to rule some potential cleaners out; but that’s ok.

Do the work on the front end to vett your cleaners so that you can relax and trust them to do their job after you’ve hired them.

And you should never ever have the only key to a cleaning closet. I just don’t understand why anyone would ever think that is a good idea.

Put a lockbox with a key in it on the property and give your cleaner the code. If you’re worried about her losing the key, get a hasp lock with a combination padlock. If you don’t want guests to see it, hide it somewhere they wouldn’t look.

Remember, if you’re trusting your cleaner enough to be alone in your home, you should trust them enough to have access to the keys.

There certainly are tedious parts to this business. But coming over in between every cleaning shouldn’t be one of them. Do yourself a favor and make your STR cleaning closet a simple solution.