The sharing economy is one of seemingly endless opportunity. (Have car, will drive for cash.) The reality is, however, is that this whole sharing business is truly uncharted territory. Everyone's learning as they go, including the companies leading it all.
These days it’s so incredibly easy to list a place on a vacation rental site like Airbnb, VRBO and Flipkey. Presented with a no-brainer for those with extra space, most people maybe don't give it as much as thought as they should. If you're considering hosting for some extra money, you're going to want to be educated about a whole host (ha) of things. Here are some of the most important points to keep in mind.
It could be illegal.
This one's a doozy and obviously should be of the utmost concern. There's a number of heated legal battles happening around the worldwide between sharing sites and local authorities. Even the New York Attorney General is getting involved in the whole shebang. Officials say they aren't anti-Airbnb or vacation sharing but are taking issue with potential illegal rentals. Others are afraid such sites are messing up the local housing market and siphoning profit from the tourism industry.
Let them bicker over it while you make some money in the meantime, you might think. Perhaps your drive is to stick it to the man and rent out anyway. But when it comes down it, you as a host could end up caught in the crosshairs of all this, which would suck. It's like when a bunch of broke college kids got served for downloading music on Napster. There's no way that Black Eyed Peas mp3 was worth it.
That’s why you should find out what the local housing and rental laws are in your neck of the woods. In New York City, for example, the owner has to be present if it’s a rental for less than 90 days. Because when the authorities come knocking, which happened in Paris recently, you or your guests who are going to have to answer the door and answer to them, not Airbnb.
Your guests expect something of you.
It takes more than listing your address and "room available" to make some money — or, at least to make money from the types of people you'd accept as guests. You're going to have to sell your place and that starts with tactics as simple as posting pretty pictures. In some cases, the site you decide to go with may even help provide that. Airbnb will even sometimes send out professional photographers to your place for free because they have just as big a financial stake in it as you do. Because you're also selling yourself as a host, making yourself seem approachable in your profile is also important. (Perhaps consider projecting something at the halfway point between Facebook and LinkedIn.)
When your guests are in town, you're going to have put some muscle into it, too. You're obviously not expected to provide Four Seasons status lodging but things should be clean and orderly. Extra, clean sheets and towels? Stocked toilet paper? That's all on you.
Because it's the reality of the online world we live in, guests have the power to review and a whole ton of them do. Many will post about their stay, commenting both on the place and the host. Of course, there will be some overachiever hosts who will probably be into tour guiding, providing brochures, the whole nine yards. Not everyone wants that, though, and if you can tell someone who requests to rent your place wouldn't jibe with your hosting style, then don't accept the stay.
You should let the neighbors know.
Neighbors really have the power to make or break a place like no apartment amenity or landlord can. You don't necessarily have to love thy neighbor but they can be your best ally if you're renting out a place, especially while you're out of town.
The neighbors are going to figure out what's up when they see a cast of people coming and going from your place, too, so it's best to be clear with them lest they suspect something worse. The last thing you want is them phoning the police on you — and then you finding out what you're doing isn't kosher. (See: "It could be illegal.") But it works on the flip side, too: they could keep an eye out if your renter throws some rager or begins randomly smashing your dishes. It's in everyone's best interest to give them fair warning.
You could get squatters.
This is a pretty extreme example but it actually has happened. The real point of this: Make sure you're watching out for yourself and your place and prepared for anything. Again, be educated about the rental laws where you are. You also want to read the fine print of whatever hosting site you're using. It could ending being a huge headache and costly to assume that Airbnb has any type of responsibility, financial or otherwise they don't actually claim, such as making sure your guests get out. (Airbnb was ruthless when it came to getting the squatters to cough up money or leave, for example.)
Consider hypothetical situations that could play out, like your place getting trashed under someone's stay. What would be the recourse? Is it something you'd be able to deal with?