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.

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.

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?

How to find new STR clients

If you’ve been an Airbnb property manager for any length of time, you know that one of the biggest challenges you face is finding good, quality clients to work with.

With many problems, after you figure out a way to solve the issue once you don’t need to deal with it again. It’s one and done.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with this particular problem.

If you have any desire to continue to expand your management portfolio, you’re going to have to constantly be on the lookout for new clients. This is actually true even if you don’t want to expand, but simply want to stay constant – there will always be some amount of turnover in your clients, and you’ll need to be on the lookout for great partners to replace them with after they move on.

So how to find new STR clients without sounding sleazy or salesy?

For many people (myself included) networking is hard.

Perhaps I should clarify. It’s not hard to talk about what I do, or even to sell myself – I love what I do and could talk about that all day. What’s hard is finding the right people to listen to you, the sort of people who could actually connect you with quality leads and long-term client relationships.

Enter BNI.

BNI (Business Networking International) is a global networking organization whose aim is to connect professionals with each other in meaningful ways and increase annual revenue for all of their members through regular referrals, 1-on-1 meetings, and other similar events.

I just joined my local chapter 2 weeks ago and I’m astounded by the results I’ve already seen.

In that short amount of time, I’ve already gotten 2 quality referrals – the same amount as I’ve gotten the rest of this entire year! I’ve also been connected with professionals in other industries that I need help in, which has also been a huge asset for me.

I have no doubt that the connections I’ll make in this group will be a HUGE boon to me and my business in the coming months and years. I’m so excited to dive in!

So, if you’re a STR property manager and are struggling to find more clients, my advice is this: connect with a networking group of some kind.

BNI is great and has chapters all over the world, but they’re not the only one out there. Do your research, visit a few, and then join the one that’s right for you. But once you join, COMMIT. Plug into the group in as many meaningful ways as you can. You will be amazed at the results you’ll see!

FREE live Airbnb training next week! Sign up today!

I’ve been in the world of short-term rentals for about 5 years now. Considering that Airbnb has only been around 11 years, and really didn’t take off for several years after it’s conception, 5 years is a pretty long time in the world of short-term rentals.

Needless to say, I’ve learned a thing or two. Or a few hundred or thousand things ;).

Running STRs can be hugely rewarding, but it can also be enormously challenging. It is not at all like running traditional long-term rentals; nor is it much like running a hotel, either. It’s this weird in-between niche that’s a world all to its own.

Have you ever wished someone would just walk you through all the quirks so you don’t have to figure them out yourself?

Your wish is my command!

Over the past few months, I’ve been hard at work disseminating all of my hard-earned knowledge into easy-to-digest videos and downloads. I want to teach you all of my tricks, all the pitfalls to watch out for, so that you can avoid making all of the mistakes I did.

Sound too good to be true? I promise you it isn’t.

In fact, next Wednesday September 4th I’ll be doing a totally free live webinar to tell you about some of my favorite tools of the trade, as well as debunk some commonly held STR myths.

It’s called “How I gained 9 Airbnb properties in 1 year…without spending a dime on real estate or marketing,” and I promise you you don’t want to miss it.

But if you do have to miss it live, be sure to sign up anyway, as there will be a free replay sent out afterwards that you can watch at your leisure.

Click the button below to sign up. Can’t wait to see you there!

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.

Three common short-term rental scams

As a short-term rental host, you’ve got a fine line to walk.

On the one hand, you want to do your best to give your guests a good experience – which may sometimes include compensating them when you or your cleaner legitimately messes up.

On the other hand, you are running a business and can’t be expected to give away all of your profits.

As Airbnb and other sites like it have gotten more legitimate and established, so have the scammers. People who aren’t looking to pay honestly for a stay, but want to get a free ride any way they can.

So how can you tell the difference?

Here are 3 common scams I’ve seen – and what to do about them.

Cashier’s check

This is one of the most common short-term rental scams going around right now. If you see someone ask to pay with a cashier’s check instead of through the booking site, for any reason, IT’S A SCAM. Do NOT accept them. Period, full stop.

It’s very easy to forge a cashier’s check, but it often takes weeks to bounce back from the bank, which means by the time you realize it was a fake and the banks takes that money back, your scamming guests will be long gone with a free stay under their belt.

Unclean listing

These short-term rental scams can take a myriad of forms. A guest might say they saw a roach, mold, unwashed towels, socks in the bedding, etc. Sometimes they’re telling the truth. But often they are not, or they’re nit-picking and looking for tiny little issues in order to get a free night.

If this happens, simply ask as professionally as you can for a picture of their claim. You can blame it on your cleaner if you want – “I just need to have a picture to show my cleaner when I talk to her to address the issues you brought up with this cleaning.”

If they can’t produce a picture, it’s a scam. If they wait until the last day of their stay to complain, it’s probably also a scam. You might want to include a caveat in your listing that refunds due to cleanliness issues are only given if reported within 24 hours of checking in.

Urgent cancellation

People come up with all sorts of reasons they might need to cancel. They booked the wrong location by mistake. Their flight was delayed. Death in the family. Someone else in their party had already booked a space for them. The list is seemingly endless.

You’ll get asked all the time to be flexible on your cancellation policy because of these extenuating or unforeseen circumstances. The most pragmatic thing to do would be to take the stance that lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part. This means that you stick to your cancellation policy – always. If they cancel 12 hours before check-in they won’t get a full refund, regardless of their story.

However, I also know that some people are very uncomfortable taking this hard line, especially when the guests are claiming something like a death in the family happened. If you’re open to giving a partial refund because of something like that, definitely ask for some sort of proof before you hand over the money! Scammers know that pulling on people’s heartstrings is the easiest way to get what they want.


Although those are some of the most common scams you’ll see, it is by no means an exhaustive list. Be sure to approach all guest requests for refunds with a fair amount of skepticism. Sometimes a refund is totally warranted – I myself just refunded a guest nearly $200 only a couple days ago. But often it’s just someone trying to pull one over on you. Make sure to ask lots of questions and require evidence of some sort to back up their claims before you go along with their request.

What are some other scams you’ve seen? Let me know in the comments!

3 things I learned from the World Domination Summit

Last week I went to a conference in Portland.

This was not just any conference. This was the World Domination Summit.

What is WDS, you ask?

The World Domination Summit was started 9 years ago by a man named Chris Guillebeau, author of the book “The Art of Nonconformity.” The purpose of WDS is to “help people live remarkable lives in a conventional world.”

As you might expect, this was not a normal conference. There were explosions, magicians, breakdancers, an “Alice in Wonderland” themed picnic, and even a guy in a ridiculous dinosaur suit. I went into WDS not having any clue of what to expect, and that’s probably a good thing. Any expectations I had would not have lived up to reality.

But aside from the fun atmosphere and literal smoke and mirrors, WDS also had a lot of real meaty wisdom and lessons to impart. Some of them were very specific; some more general life lessons. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but I think the more general wisdom might be very helpful.

So here are 3 life lessons I learned this year from the World Domination Summit:

1. Fear can be very useful.

One of the most consistent character traits across all of humanity is a desire to avoid fear. Sometimes we go so very far out of our way, just to avoid any sort of situation that makes us afraid. This is why people don’t travel, don’t learn new hobbies, don’t take risks at work. We’re afraid of failing, afraid of looking stupid, afraid of people thinking we don’t belong there.

But we forget how very closely linked fear and excitement are. A goal that doesn’t scare you also won’t excite you. And if you’re not excited about a goal, how will you get others excited about it?

Instead of running away from scary things, run towards them. Fear usually means you’re on the right track.

2. Our problems aren’t our fault, but they are our responsibility.

This one hit me right between the eyes.

I’ve been hit with more crap over the last 5 years than you could ever imagine. Seriously, my life would make a really good soap opera. I can’t make this stuff up!

And if I’m honest, some of it has really gotten to me. I’ve had whole days – sometimes whole weeks or even months – when I’ve wanted to wallow in my self-pity. When I’ve been angry at the world because of what was happening to me and refused to go out into it because I felt too sorry for myself.

And it’s true that most of my current problems are definitely not my fault. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do something about it. All of us have the responsibility to make the most of the cards we’ve been given.

Or, to put it more succinctly: Shit happens. Suffering is a choice.

3. When we embrace our flaws, scars, and awkwardness, they become our superpowers.

The things that made you weird in high school make you awesome now.

Isn’t this so true?!? When I was in high school I was a shy bookworm who loved reading and learning. These things were the cause of a lot of teasing back then. As an adult, however, it’s those very same traits that have helped me build a successful business and a life that I love.

Don’t avoid your weirdness. Don’t try to hide your flaws. Embrace them. Relish them. They make you who you are. And who you are is pretty awesome.

Airbnb Adventures serves as a strong reminder of the art of service in the hospitality industry

Recently Airbnb announced the newest branch of their brand, Airbnb Adventures.

Airbnb Adventures basically will incorporate the idea of travel guides and travel agents into the Airbnb experience. According to the article, it “is a new collection of bucket list worthy multi-day experiences hosted by local experts that take intimate groups to epic, off-the-beaten-path locations and immerses them in unique cultures and communities.” It will allow travelers to have unique travel experiences without having to do all of the planning legwork themselves.

I’m really excited about it. Although I doubt I will ever personally use it – I prefer to forge my own path when I travel – but I can see how it could be really valuable for some guests. So many people want to enjoy the thrill of travel, without slogging through all the work. I think Airbnb Adventures will fill that gap in a way that Airbnb Experiences never could.

But as I was reading more about the program and how it will work, it got me thinking.

Of course I don’t expect all Airbnb hosts to instantly become travel agents for their guests. For the vast majority of hosts, either not a goal or simply not feasible for whatever reason.

And yet, there are things we can learn from this new program about how to be a better host.

The heart of Adventures, as I see it, is giving guests something unique that they want, but can’t get for themselves.

Isn’t that the heart of hosting, too?

So many people are just in the business these days for the money. And money is great, but at the end of the day this is a hospitality business. If you don’t care about your guests, if you’re not doing your best to think deeply about their needs and how you can meet them, then really, what’s the point? Why are you even doing this?

In my experience hosting is the best experience by far for all parties involved when the host tries to anticipate their guests’ needs before they come up. You end up with happy guests who leave glowing reviews and don’t bother their host with lots of requests during their stay. It’s really the best of both worlds.

The heart of hospitality really is service, plain and simple. Do that, and you’re well on your way to roaring success.

So let me ask you. What are you doing to serve your guests these days?

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