The days might all feel the same – but we still need to find reasons to celebrate

My neighbors are festive sorts of people. They like to use any excuse they can to celebrate. So it should have been no surprise to me when fireworks started lighting up the night sky last night in honor of Memorial Day.

Instead, I was confused.

I looked over at my husband and asked, “do you have any idea why there are so many fireworks going off?”

He thought I was joking. Sadly, I was not.

COVID-19 has put me and many others into a strange sort of time warp.

After a while, the monotony of day-in-day-out total sameness really gets to you for a while. I find myself forgetting what day it is, what holidays are coming up, even what month it is.

Every day is the same. So everything blends together. It’s hard to tell one day apart from the next.

But this is dangerous ground to be treading.

It’s important to celebrate, to remember, to commune. These are innate to our very humanity, and without them for prolonged periods of time we will lose a part of ourselves. I do believe that part of the reason there are increased rates of depression, anxiety, divorce, and more is because many of us have forgotten how to celebrate. We have forgotten how to remember and pursue good things, how to forge close relationships with other people.

I urge you, do not forget.

Make whatever effort needs to be made to help you remember.

Set alerts in your calendar to remind you about upcoming special events. Troll the internet for creative ways to celebrate. Ask your friends and family for inspiration. Set up regular video calls with your loved ones. Make silly videos for people’s birthdays. Try out a video messaging app like Marco Polo.

We must stay together, despite our distance. We must honor people’s successes, remember their sacrifices, and celebrate small victories. That is the only way we can get through this time healthy and sane.

I learned my lesson this Memorial day. I will not forget, even though the days might drag on in a never-ending monotony. Already planning something big (and responsibly socially-distanced) for the next holiday!

A precautionary tale for vacation rental operators post COVID-19

As a professional Airbnb manager, I’m a member of a lot of Facebook groups filled with other hosts and managers.

Some of them are very helpful and offer a wealth of knowledge; some of them I’m a member of more for the entertainment factor that anything else.

But I’ve been seeing a LOT of hosts lately making comments that concern me. They’re all along the same vein, but here is a paraphrased quote of one of them (I removed all the swearing and typos) :

“I didn’t pay my rent on my Airbnb unit in March, April or May. I’m not planning on paying at all until August at least. That’s the earliest the complex would be able to evict me based on current eviction bans because of the virus. Until then I’m just going to ride the gravy train. Plus the lease isn’t tied to my SSN, so I won’t even have the eviction on my record. Yay, me – I’m so smart!”

Really?

Do people really think this is ok?

There are so many things wrong with this statement. Where do I even start?

The blatant violation of a contractual agreement? The outright stealing? The bragging about said stealing? Comments like this (of which I’ve seen many the last few months) make me physically sick.

Many hosts complain that bad guests are making things difficult for them. But not many of them say anything about how other hosts are also making things difficult for them. If I was a landlord, I sure wouldn’t want to rent to someone who might sublet my place out and then plan on not paying me for 6 months or more!

Many Airbnb hosts jumped on the gravy train when bookings were easy to get, overextending themselves because it was “easy money,” and now they (and everyone they’ve rented or purchased from) are paying the price.

But it’s more than that, too. I’ve seen a consistent trend of Airbnb and other short-term rental hosts proudly exploiting loopholes in the system or even outright violating the rules so that they can operate. They seem to have no regard at all for respecting the rules of the community within which they’re trying to operate.

Thus they operate where they know they’re not allowed, lie to landlords, refuse to pay rent, and all sorts of other illegal or unethical practices.

If this is your business plan, your exit strategy, if you’re even considering doing this or anything like this, let me be clear: you’re not a business person, you’re a con man.

You’re a thief, a common criminal. And you should not be proud of this. You should be ashamed.

That woman entered into a contractual agreement that she is choosing to flagrantly ignore. It’s not even that she doesn’t have the money. She just wants to hold onto it “just in case.” She hasn’t bothered talking to her landlord and working out some sort of deferred payment plan. She’s just giving the middle finger to the person who’s enabled her primary source of income for the last several years.

People, this is not right.

If you want to start a business with Airbnb….make it a business. Make it legitimate and honorable. Do your best to pay your bills and honor your obligations. If you’re unable to do so because of unforeseen circumstances, talk to your creditors. (And yes, a global pandemic that cripples the world economy definitely counts as an unforeseen circumstance.) Be honest with them and tell them what’s going on.

More often than not they’ll be understanding and willing to work with you, as long as you’re upfront with them.

That is the only way to create a business that will survive the long run.

Now I know that if you’re in the situation right now where you have multiple properties and can’t pay the rent or mortgages on many of them, there’s not much that can be done in hindsight to change that, although I’d still recommend you talk to the landlords.

But hopefully this can serve as a precautionary tale for vacation rental operators moving forward.

I know that it can be tempting to just buy, buy, buy (or rent, rent, rent), to expand your empire as quickly as possible and bring in the moolah. But rapid growth like that isn’t healthy. We’ve seen this over and over again throughout history – it’s called an economic bubble, and it always eventually bursts.

I encourage you – I entreat you, I beg you – for your sake as well as all of ours, restrain your growth goals. Don’t gain new properties quicker than you’re able to manage them responsibly. Keep a healthy financial safety net to get you through the unexpected bad times.

There’s no question that COVID-19 threw a nasty and unexpected wrench into vacation rental operators’ plan everywhere. But there’s also no question that if they had been operating their businesses more responsibly and ethically in the first place, a lot of them would be in a much better place than they are now.

Let’s do better next time. Our guests, other hosts, and the landlords or banks who are entrusting their resources to our care deserve it.

How to survive COVID-19 as a STR host – webinar replay

Are you freaking out because of the uncertainty that COVID-19 is throwing into your life? Are you struggling to find a new equilibrium for your STR?

You’re not alone.

Across the globe, hosts everywhere are struggling with the challenges that the virus has thrown their way. Many of them are having a hard time.

That’s why at the end of April I hosted a live webinar – How To Survive COVID-19 As A STR Host – with my friend Katie Adkins.

Katie is a leadership development coach, and the founder of Adkins Talent Solutions. She excels at helping people to think creatively to maximize their full potential.

So on the webinar, we did a little coaching session with me as her subject. My hope was that the insights she pulled out of me as an STR host could help other STR hosts think creatively and get out of their ruts, as well.

It was a great hour! In fact, I had so many people follow up and ask me about it that I decided to make the recording available to everyone. Enjoy!

If you have more questions, you can always follow up with either me or Katie.

What are you doing to stay mentally healthy right now?

I just started my 7th week of social distancing / home quarantine. It’s been brutal. It’s likely that you’re in a similar boat.

The last few months have been unlike anything we’ve experienced in recent memory. As the world continues to grind to a halt, many people are starting to become less concerned about physical health and more concerned about mental health.

Of course physical safety is also still important, especially for the millions of elderly and immunocompromised people out there. But we cannot focus on that and completely ignore the mental health aspect of it, which is just as important.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been feeling myself slowly going crazy. The lack of physical interactions with people, the added stress with work that COVID-19 is wreaking on my industry (as well as so many others), the pervasive sameness of every day…it’s all piling up and over time becoming more than I can take.

I know I am not alone.

Over and over again, people I speak with are mentioning similar challenges. We are simply not made to live in isolation, and months on end of pervasive, global isolation is taking its toll on all of us.

So I want to challenge you, in these difficult days, to think of what you can do to keep your spirits high. Go for walks when the weather is nice. Turn off video on your next call if you’ve got Zoom fatigue. Do a puzzle. Garden.

But you also don’t have to stay home if you’re dying to get out. Go strawberry picking. Take your hammock to a local park. Go for a drive. Do what you need to to keep yourself sane and not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy.

And if you want a bit of an extra bonus, try injecting some creativity into your activities! Over the last few weeks I’ve done things like made a pie blindfolded, recreated famous paintings with things from my house, pranked my houseguests, and more. It’s been so much fun seeing what I can come up with, and I feel so much better for it!

At the same time…if you’re feeling blue and don’t want to do anything, give yourself permission to not be productive. Feel the sadness. It’s ok to be down. Just don’t stay there.

P.S. Want some help with learning how to not only survive, but thrive in these challenging times? Sign for a FREE webinar I’m hosting this Thursday here!

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!

How to grow stronger in the midst of COVID-19

If you’re like most of the globe right now, your world has probably shifted for the most part to online video calls from inside the safety of your home. As we all battle the infamous COVID-19, more and more countries and states are issuing stricter and stricter lockdown measures to try to combat the spread of the virus.

I and my family are no different. Everything we do regularly has either been cancelled or gone virtual. This includes my ESL (English as a Second Language) class, which I now meet with twice a week from the comfort of my own living room.

Every time we have met for the past 2 weeks, I’ve made a point to ask a simple question: what’s something good that’s happened to you since we saw each other last?

At first many of them said that nothing good had happened to them. They were stuck inside, with nothing to do, sometimes without a job, etc. I don’t need to elaborate anymore. We all know the havoc this virus has wrecked on everyone’s lives.

But I continued asking the question, and will continue to do so until we meet again in person. There are only 2 rules: everyone has to answer, and no one can say “nothing.”

Why am I doing this?

Simple. Right now the world looks bleak. It’s easy to focus on the negative, even if you’re a naturally positive person.

But there are still good things happening in the world. There are still good things happening to you.

Some of the answers that have come up on my calls with my students have been things like:

  • Helped my uncle pick out furniture for his phone
  • Baked bread today for the first time
  • Cut my husband’s hair (badly)
  • Worked on a home improvement project
  • My son got accepted into a good daycare
  • Played yard games in the backyard
  • Went for a walk
  • Finished a puzzle
  • Got my first sprouts in my new vegetable garden

Most of these things are small, insignificant things. But they are important to name because they help us to focus on the right things.

If we only focus on the bad we’re all going to go crazy before this thing is over. We’ve got to be intentional, now more than ever, about intentionally seeking out good.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not minimizing the horror of the corona virus. I know things look awful. I can personally attest to this.

I’ve lost thousands of dollars of business within just a few days. I have family members who are completely out of work. I lost a family member and was unable to hold a funeral for him. Trust me, I really do get it.

But there are also bright spots. If nothing else, you are still alive, which thousands of people no longer are because of COVID-19.

So I challenge you this week, to do one of the hardest things you might have had to do in a long time: be happy. Be positive and persistent. Be optimistic and creative. I promise you…this too will pass. And I hope on the other side, you will be stronger than ever. But that strength starts now.

Looking for more things to do while under lockdown? Check out this list that USA Today has put together of 100 activities to keep you occupied while you’re stuck inside!

The one thing as an Airbnb host that you need to make crystal clear to your property owners

I recently had a cohosting situation that put into stark reality the importance of making expectations crystal clear. Let me explain what happened and a few important lessons I learned from it… 

I got a call from the cleaner on a Saturday morning, right after a guest had checked out. She said that the garbage disposal was broken and was backing up into the sink and smelling up the whole kitchen. Of course, we had a guest checking in later that afternoon (isn’t that always when problems happen?) 

I have been hired by my clients to take care of problems as often as possible.

So I made a judgement call and took care of it. I found a plumber who could do an emergency replacement that very day. He went, got it fixed, and the next guest checked in without being any bit the wiser. The total cost, including the cost of the new garbage disposal, was about $300. 

Later, I told my property manager, saying something like this: “hey, we had an emergency this weekend. I took care of it and filed a claim, but just in case the claim gets denied, it’ll cost about $300. FYI.”  (but of course, I said it a bit more tactfully than that)

She was not pleased. 

From her perspective, nothing matters more than the bottom line, and she was understandably upset that I had made a decision which could potentially cost her $300. But from my perspective, the top priority is our guests’ satisfaction, and if it costs a little bit of money to achieve that goal, it’s worth spending. Plus, in this case, it wasn’t really something that could have waited…you’ve got to have a working sink if you’re going to advertise a kitchen! 

This brought up an important conflict of interest that I think is always going to eventually rear its head in a cohosting situation. 

As a property manager, your priorities are going to be different from the homeowners’. 

So you need to make crystal clear when you start working with them what the expectations are. 

How much money do they need to make every month?

How much in the way of maintenance do they want you to handle without consulting them?

How much money are you authorized to spend in a month without getting their permission?

I know it’s awkward to talk about some of these things. But you’ve got to be upfront from the get-go. If not, you’re just going to get yourself in trouble and frustrate your homeowner. You won’t be able to keep your clients very long if you’re not clear on what their needs and expectations are. 

But the flip side is also true. You need to be very clear with your clients about what your expectations are. 

In my case, I had to be very upfront with the homeowner: I won’t manage a place that’s not kept up. If it’s at all in my power, I’m not going to let a guest stay in a place that doesn’t have a working sink (or toilet, stove, fridge, whatever). Those are my standards of hosting; if they do not want to comply with those standards then it is better that we don’t work together. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not being flippant. I know that being this upfront and direct is incredibly hard for some people. But the fact of the matter is, it’s a requirement for being a cohost. If you can’t do that, then you probably shouldn’t be in this business.

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 :(.