Should you have security cameras at your Airbnb?

It’s June in London. For the last month it’s been rain and more rain. My airbnb has been busy as usually but this is mostly due to my low prices. I can say that my success is due to keeping a low price and being flexible with my guests (letting them arrive early etc). Also the fact that I accept single night bookings means that I have a constant turnover of guests. This constant turnover is more demanding on me with so many sheets to clean and check-ins/outs but this sends all the right signals to airbnb. Bookings lead to bookings and a high number of reviews keeps my space high in the rankings.

Airbnb trust and safety team

I received an email from the Airbnb ‘trust and safety’ team telling me that they have received a report telling them that I have a surveillance device in my listing. I was frankly told that if they find that I have broken airbnb’s hosting policy my account will be suspended or deactivated (there is little difference, in practice both mean curtains). I was shocked and started to get very worried. Breaking a small rule here and there might mean a slap on the wrist but being accused of spying on a guest like this could be very serious. I had 24 hours to contact airbnb and explain myself or face a certain end to my airbnb hosting career.

hosts are required to provide notice to their guests of any surveillance device(s) present in a listing prior to booking, regardless of whether they’re in-use or operational during the reservation, the guest’s consent is required before the reservation and payment are confirmedairbnb hosting rules

This issue with my security cameras came from a guest review. A guest checked out and immediately left a review saying he spotted two security cameras when he was checking out of my listing. He does mention that they were both facing the doorway of my house (and therefore not in the bedroom for example) but this seems to be enough for a report to be sent to airbnb. I suspect the report is auto triggered from keywords or actions from the review and not a separate report sent to airbnb. So the guest might have been unaware of the hot water he had now landed me in.

Do you have security cameras in your Airbnb?

I do have two security cameras in my airbnb listing. Both face the main entrance way to my house. The first is outside and is a ring video doorbell. This is primarily a doorbell but it also records video when it detects movement and you can speak to whoever rings the bell from your phone. I find this very useful for when say I have a Amazon delivery and I’m not at home (I can tell the delivery person to leave my parcels next door). The second is a Canary security camera. This is inside the house and faces to door. This is more a full time surveillance device. In some ways this is doubling up on watching my front door but both are necessary i find to get a full picture of whats happening in your listing.

I wrote to airbnb and explained that I did have security cameras in my house. But they only face the front door and are NOT in any private space for the guests (not in the bedrooms for example). It’s best to write a detailed description of the issue so anyone reading it will be in no doubt that your intentions are honest. Any hint of deception will not play well. I made it clear the cameras are for security purposes since I live in the house with my wife and may occasionally need to check who has come into my house; especially at night. I also explained the camera on the outside of my house (the ring video doorbell) for when I have have parcel deliveries or when a airbnb guest arrives unexpectedly (or possibly has trouble entering the house). I was quite willing to provide some sort of evidence to airbnb (pictures maybe) that what I was telling them is correct. Thankfully Airbnb did not ask any further questions and reinstated my account.

I had actually told Airbnb in the past that I have cameras in my listing. I have had several instances where guests broke my house rules by bringing extra guests into the listing. After raising a dispute with a guest I once sent video evidence of them bringing another person into my house in the middle of the night to airbnb. At that time Airbnb did not check that I had disclosed the presences of cameras to my guests (or quite possibly there rules did not exist at that time as this was several years ago). I have now mentioned in all of my listings that security cameras are in operation.

Airbnb review system

It’s Easter bank holiday weekend in London and it’s very sunny. My airbnb is full over the long weekend as usual. My strategy is to be fully booked at all times and it works fine for me (even if I am charging lower prices than this time last year). My average charge per night is only £18 now (my price was £20 when I first started as an airbnb host nearly 5 years ago). This should be a warning to other airbnb hosts that your income could possibly fall over time. The major reason I think this has happened is the increase of rival airbnb hosts in my area. Also the two year delay for the new crossrail train line has not helped.

Airbnb changes to reviews system

Airbnb has informed us that the way it treats your less that positive reviews has changed. The idea is that getting one very bad review when your reviews are usually positive or excellent will not negatively effect your appearance in the search rankings (well thats sort of what it says). I have generally found that getting bad reviews had not overall affected my bookings. There are some reasons for this. The first is my low prices – guests don’t tend to have high expectations of a cheap one night stay. The second is that I have so many one night guests that often a bad review will get pushed down the review feed quickly (hopefully replaced by better reviews) and someone will have to scroll down far to get to the bad reviews. This is another reason why accepting one night only bookings can be a very good thing.

What bad reviews do I get?

For an example of my bad reviews take the case of the guest who wanted to put cheese in my fridge. I have a very clear rule in my listings and that is “no access to the kitchen”. This is mentioned frequently in my listing description (it’s mentioned 3 times in the description and once before you can actually book). I mention this so many times in big letters because so many guests fail to read the reviews properly and just assume they can use the kitchen. So when this guest asks to put cheese in my fridge I said “sorry no I can’t let you use the fridge”. He complained that he got bad service and he didn’t feel welcome. One of the reasons why I don’t let guests into this part of the house Is because my dog is there (the dog will most certainly attack an intruder like this) and in my mind more importantly the guest already agreed to no use of the kitchen when he made the booking. So I believe this bad review to be unfair but there is very little I can do. He is entitled to leave his review. There is nothing I could have done differently other than buy him a fridge for his own personal use for one night and put it in his room.

The most surprising bad review I get is for ‘Value’. I say bad review. This is the Star Ratings that guests can leave at the end of their written review. It’s between 1 and 5 stars (1 being the lowest obviously). I usually get either 4 or 5 stars for everything. But occasionally I get a low star rating for Value and this I find strange. The main reason being is that I am so cheap. I charge £20 or less a night for central London. This is a rock bottom price. I could maybe understand a low rating if my house was literally falling to bits but it’s almost brand new and has most of the modern conveniences. Many of my guests are genuinely surprised how nice it is. So a low rating for value makes little sense unless your really trying to say something else.

The worst review I received was from a guest who didn’t even stay at my listing. A guest booked but was expecting to be able to check-in to the listing very early morning. This was not possible as the room was still occupied by the previous nights guest (checkout is by 11am). The guest was upset and cancelled. A full explanation of this incident can be found here. The guest promtly left all single star reviews for each category. The worst possible. It made no difference that she didn’t even set foot inside the listing. She was still able to rate the listing 1 out of 5 for cleanliness for example. This to me is a very unfair system. The only thing I could do was to leave a reply to the review explaining the incident. But overall it has not affected by bookings (I have over 1400 reviews so this is a drop in the ocean).

Airbnb Review Categories and Find an Airbnb Co-Host and save on Tax.

It’s March in London and we just put the clocks forward one hour which means only one thing – spring is on the way. We are now out of the worst of the Airbnb low season and things are already picking up. I’ve had several bookings as far in the future as August but still most of my reservations come in less than a month before the actual booking date.

Airbnb Guest Review ‘Issue Categories’

I’ve noticed that the guests reviews now reveal the actual number of stars you received (it’s between 1 and 5 stars). When I first started hosting this was not actually revealed to you. The only way to know for sure what star rating each guest left you was to keep track of the number of stars you currently had before the guest arrived and check it after they left and then do the math. This new system does make the whole thing easier to follow and can alert you to issues you may have quicker.

 

 

If a guest leaves you less than 5 stars for any category (cleanliness, check-in, accuracy etc) then they have the opportunity to be more specific on what was not up to standard. My main negative feedback point is LOCATION and SIZE OF HOME. These are not a surprise to me as the area I live in although is relatively close to central London the street do look a bit shabby. The other issue is ‘size of home’ which I can only guess is because the guests are sometimes surprised that I have more than one room in my house on airbnb and either it feels less private, or less safe.

Adding a Airbnb Co-Host

For those Airbnb hosts who are just too busy to stay on top of their bookings a co-host could be very helpful. And more importantly can help avoid income tax. If like me you get booking requests and guests questions at the wrong time of day (in my case when i’m asleep) then a co-host could be the answer. I currently do not use a co-host but I like the idea and may start using it soon. My wife would be my obvious co-host but it may make sense to have someone else you trust but who has very different financial circumstance.

 

 

To all those people out there who think the money you make on airbnb is not liable for income tax you are 100% completely and utterly WRONG. In fact ALL earnings must be taxed – except in certain circumstances. Yes there is the rent-a-room allowance (currently £7,500) which is free of income tax but beyond that your going to have to pay. That is unless you can shift the income to someone else who is already not using their full tax free threshold (currently £11,500 a year). Say a stay at home relative who has no other real income. Someone who you can co-host with and pay them for the excellent service they are doing for you (or pay them anyway even if they do nothing). After your co-host has taken their tax free income they might want to give you an early birthday present in cash?

Should you have Airbnb guests on Christmas day?

Its December in London and the weather has been unusually mild for this time of year. Bookings have dropped off since the autumn and I’ve reduced my prices again for the new year. I’m now charging £28 a night for a double room for two people – this time a year ago I was hoping to be able to charge £35 a night by now, so its very disappointing. I have 200+ reviews and most of them have been positive but my five star review rate is still languishing at 64% and has been for about a year. I have noticed that there are more listings in my area and they are mostly double rooms at prices barely above the price of a single.

Airbnb Hosting Mistakes

Airbnb has been around a little while now in the UK but I’m seeing some very obvious mistakes with some listings such as:

  • Messy rooms in the pictures especially the cover image
  • Not using a real picture of yourself in your airbnb profile (hiding your identity on a website built on trust is not clever)
  • Unrealistic prices

I have noticed the airbnb price tips to be different for my two single rooms (which are in the same house and are very similar) having wildly different suggested prices. One room currently has a suggested price of £21 the other £25. The one with the £25 price tip has in general received better five star reviews than the other (why I can’t really say as they are very similar) so this may be the reason.

 

Airbnb provides price tips so you can avoid being too expensive for the market
Airbnb provides price tips so you can avoid being too expensive for the market

 

Airbnb price tips are handy if your not sure what price you should be charging but I don’t find them very useful. The obvious problem is that if everyone is using the airbnb price tip then you will all be charging the same and therefore have as much chance of being booked as everyone else. I like to be full at all times even if this means selling at a discount (I would rather lose £2 than £20). I see an empty room as money lost so any sale is a good sale.

I would say on average most of my guests are very nice. They tend to be young, employed, and most come from Western Europe but occasionally from Brazil, USA, and East Asia. Surprisingly many are female which might say something for the level of safety I provide in my accommodation (lockable rooms and live-in hosts).

Guests on Christmas Day

Over the Christmas period I do have airbnb guests staying at my house. I still have my usual family Christmas and the guests were out of the house most of the time. I did have to explain to some of them that Christmas day meant that there would be no public transport in London which they found surprising for some reason. I did get some guest enquires about arriving on Christmas day which I had no problem with but I quickly explained to them that getting from Heathrow airport to my house on Christmas day would mean a taxi and and a very expensive one at that. It makes no sense saving money on a airline ticket because it arrives on Christmas day only to loose all your savings on the taxi trip from the airport in my opinion.

When is the peak season on Airbnb and how to get rich on Airbnb?

I’ve noticed a reduction in the number of bookings coming through. I’ve got quite a few empty slots from the end of August through September and beyond (in my experience people tend to book only a few weeks in advance so it’s no surprise December is still empty for example). A quick look on the Airbnb Groups discussion page for London hosts and many of the comments there are saying the same thing – not enough bookings.

What to do if your not getting bookings?

I price my listings cheap and to have an empty room now and again is disappointing but no big deal for me. Those with expensive big listings (such as whole apartments in the city centre) are missing out on big money if they have any vacancy. The question is what can you do (if anything) to solve the problem? The obvious answer is to cut your price – better less money than no money. But this does eliminate the possibility of getting a last minute booking at a good price.

“it was as if a light switch went off in final part of July. Suddenly enquiries and bookings just stopped across all my listings”- airbnb host in London groups

A similar thing happened in January I recall and this didn’t really pick up until April. I also noticed more listings appearing in my area at a discount to even my low prices so that’s not helping. My only solution is to keep my prices low and ride it out. I often get last minute bookings – which is the big advantage of operating in a major city like London. I assumed August and September would be the high season, when I would clean up, but this is clearly not the case.

Getting one star ratings from guests

My star ratings have been getting worse and worse lately. Most guests leave very nice written reviews but when it comes to the stars they often give a 3 or 4 with some even putting a single star. My biggest problem is one I simply cannot change and that is – my location. I live in Newham in East London, one of the worst areas for poverty in London. It’s not dangerous (no gangs on street corners etc) and it’s reasonably central (zone 3) and has decent transport connections and plenty of shops/fast food. My biggest draw card is my price – I’m very cheap and my property is fully refurbished and it still has the ‘new’ feel. I would have thought someone might say “well the location isn’t perfect but what do you expect at this price.” But it doesn’t seem to work that way.

“I would have thought someone might say well the location isn’t perfect but what do you expect at this price”

How to get rich on Airbnb

I’ve just come across a listing where the host has put two double beds in the living room and another double bed in the bedroom and charges £150 a night, sleeps 6. Now that’s a way to make money on Airbnb!

I will never have Airbnb Superhost status

From the start of the year my star ratings have gradually gotten worse. In January I had 79% 5 star reviews, just shy of the 80% required for Superhost status. Since then my five star reviews have dropped to 66%.

For a while I was very unsure why the ratings had dropped so much. Almost all my guests had written in their reviews that they were very happy with their stay. The only negative review I recall said the “bathroom was too cold” which was true because my wife had left a window open in the room across the hallway and we didn’t notice for two days (whoops!).

Airbnb now give you a breakdown on your star ratings by category
Airbnb now give you a breakdown on your star ratings by category

Room For Improvement

Recently Airbnb have introduced a tool on the dashboard giving you a breakdown of the categories for your star ratings (previously these were aggregated). So you can now see how many stars you got for ‘Cleanliness’ for example.

My breakdown for each of my listing highlighted my problem – the location. I had been marked down on location several times (some reviews only giving me one star) which explains my ratings dropping off gradually. Frustratingly location is the only area I can do little about. It true the area I live in is not considered the best part of London (to put it mildly). But It is located in zone 3 (of a possible 9, the closer to the centre the lower the number) and my low price reflects the unattractiveness of the area. If I was located in a leafy part of central London then you can bet I would be charging much much more.

Airbnb recommends me to better describe my area in my listing description so to give guests a fair warning of what to expect. I’m hesitant to do this as this would surely put guests off. I’ve added into my description ‘ethnically diverse part of London.’ My area Newham is about at ethnically diverse as you can get as it attracts the poorest people of London, mostly new arrivals in the UK from Eastern Europe, and has a large Muslim community from the sub continent.

To reach superhost status you need 80% five star reviews
To reach superhost status you need 80% five star reviews

Your only as good as your last review

Potential guests do look at your star rating when choosing a listing but the most emphasis is on your most recent review. A recent review (ideally very recently, no more than a couple of weeks old) is the best advert for your listing. If you’re unlucky enough to have a very bad review recently then this could explain a significant drop off in bookings.

My chances of reaching Superhost status are looking very slim. My booking have not suffered since my ratings decline, mostly I think because of the general increase in demand during the summer, and keeping my prices well below the London average.

How to get started as an Airbnb host

So you want to be an Airbnb host and your looking forward to making some money. Well here is what you should do.

1. Register an account with Airbnb. Register here.

2. Add a new listing under your profile. Write a detailed description of your room/whole place. Try and describe factually and keep in mind what a traveller will be most interested in.

Create your Airbnb listing and start making money in the sharing economy
Create your Airbnb listing and start making money in the sharing economy

3. Your going to need to upload pictures for your room. Get the Airbnb professional photographer to take some pictures of your listing. This costs money but the pictures should look excellent and more importantly the pictures will be officially verified by Airbnb which should push you up the search rankings. You can apply for the Airbnb photographer here.

4. Make sure the room is ready for your first guest. Obviously the room should be as clean as possible with fresh sheets (think what you would expect from a hotel). But also your going to want to remove as much clutter as possible. On balance your guest is unlikely to want to see all your nik-naks and family heirlooms filling up all the draws and wardrobes. Take them out and put them somewhere else.

5. Make sure you are available to greet your guests. Now is a good time to mention any house rules.

6. I try to leave my guests well alone during their stay. If I happen to see them I might say “can i get you anything?” but thats it. I don’t provide an ‘experience’. I leave the great city of London to do that for me.

Make sure your listing is has clean sheets, towels, and free wifi
Make sure your listing is has clean sheets, towels, and free wifi

7. You may want to enquire with your guests at what time they will be checking out on their last day. Some do need to catch a flight home and may need to leave at a very early hour. I do allow guests to leave luggage with me if they are getting a late flight and don’t want to carry luggage around all day.

8. Re-set for the next guests. Make sure the room is adequately ventilated and the sheets are fresh.

9. You will need to leave guest feedback. You should do this as soon as Aribnb allows you so your guest feels they should do the same.

Your first Airbnb listing

New listings get a boost in rankings so you may find that you a few enquires on the first day or two. After that enquires might drop off suddenly and then you will need to work on your ranking.

How many of my guests are first time Airbnb users?

Airbnb is still relatively new to most people in the UK and Europe despite being very popular in the USA and some other places for a few years. Consequently many of your customers will be using Airbnb for the first time and will not have any reviews from previous hosts (I estimate that about 50% of my guests are Airbnb virgins).

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So you get an enquiry from a potential guest asking to stay a few nights but there is no profile picture and almost no information on their profile. I always ask them to upload a profile picture and to tell me why they are coming to London and if they can tell me a bit about themselves. This puts you in the driving seat and lets the Airbnb newbie know what is expected of them as a bare minimum. Anyone who refuses to answer or upload a picture I decline. You don’t want to be unreasonable as get too intrusive in other people’s business but some basic information like this can reveal a lot about somebody’s intentions and how they might behave in your property.

Declining a guest request to stay

I had a potential guest who actually had a reasonably complete profile and actually had a good review from a previous host. I asked him why he was coming to London and he said to meet up with some friends. The booking was for one night (a Saturday) and his profile said he is a student. I said it was ok to stay but reminded him that check-out is 11am. He wrote back and asked if he could have a late check out and even offered to pay any extra. I got the impression he wanted a late check-out as he planned to stay out late in to the night with his friends and most likely this would mean some medium to heavy drinking. I wrote back to the guests saying that I didn’t think it was appropriate that he should stay with us as other guests might not appreciate him coming home at a late hour and declined his request but wishing him all the best. It’s a shame as he probably is a really nice man but our listing just didn’t suit his purposes and it was unfair on everyone to accept his reservation.

Mention your house rules up front

It’s probably a really good idea to mention certain house rules when guests first enquire about a booking. I always mention that there is no use of the kitchen allowed. This does put off some guests but better that than them get really disappointed when they arrive. It’s worth doing this as many guests don’t completely read the profile before enquiring.

When a guest arrives it is another chance to mention the house rules to them. Be clear that this is their bathroom, this is their bedroom, do not go in this room, etc.