Money blog: What I learnt from putting my home on Airbnb (2024)

'One guy wanted to rent my room for a few hours to meet a friend...' What I learnt from putting my home on Airbnb

By Megan Baynes, cost of living specialist

It's 9pm on a Tuesday and a stranger from Shanghai is cooking in my kitchen. I can't speak Chinese, and she can't speak much English, so we both had to mime when she asked me where I kept the knives and the salt.

I hadn't met this woman until 24 hours earlier, but she is staying in my home for another four days - and it's all thanks to an advert on the London Underground.

"Turn your spare room into cash using Airbnb!" it promised. Well, I am lucky enough to have a spare room, and I never seem to have enough cash (thanks to a litany of rising bills and wanting the occasional holiday), so could this be the answer?

I forced my husband to spend a weekend clearing out our top floor room and soon I was photographing away, artfully framing different corners of the space to try and show it off (not helped by my cat, who refused to get out of the way).

After downloading the app and signing up, I was paired with an Airbnb Superhost who gave tips and offered support as I made my way to my first booking. He advised that instead of offering an introductory discount, as the app encouraged, the best way to drum up business was to look up the price of local listings and then undercut them. Once I had built up a few reviews (I was aiming for five stars) I could then raise my prices.

My neighbours were listed between £40-55 a night, so I hedged my bets and started at £35, with a £10 cleaning fee. Within 24 hours, I had my first booking. A young borderforce agent was doing training at Heathrow and needed a place to stay. We gave him a set of keys, told him to make himself at home and five days later, we were £117 better off.

After several months of hosting (and - not bragging - ten five-star reviews) we are now almost solidly booked at any given time.

Tips for smooth sailing welcoming strangers

I have a pretty good weirdo-radar, and when it comes to letting people inside your front door, it pays to trust your gut - I have declined bookings simply because I got bad vibes.

The guy who wanted to rent my room from 9am to 3pm to "meet a friend from London"? Nope.

The man who wanted to stay for three months? Not for me.

A young gentleman who promised to pay me cash on arrival? Thanks but no thanks.

(You'll notice a common theme with these - as I often work from home alone during the day, I'm not taking any chances).

Touch wood, everyone who has arrived has been friendly, polite and, most importantly, not smeared faeces on the walls, tried to remove the sink, or done any other Airbnb horror story.

How to get good ratings

Did I mention we have five stars? I don't think there is any real secret to getting a good rating, but I tried to think what I would want checking into someone's home. Make sure you have high-quality photos that match what the room is actually like; don't go crazy with the filters.

We always make sure the place is clean, well presented and clutter-free. Small, thoughtful touches like a TV with a Sky box, a box of toiletries, and a coffee machine also go a long way.

I am also very upfront about the fact we have pets - the last thing I want is someone with allergies to book (and give me two stars!), so Louie sits front and centre of the listing.

The pitfalls to avoid

After the success of Airbnb, I decided to go one step further and list our room on Booking.com. Their management platform is clunky, difficult to use and you can't vet people who book - they just instantly book and that's it, you're stuck with them. It's also a bit of a faff double-checking both platforms to make sure you aren't accidentally double booking. But it does generate significantly more bookings for us that Airbnb.

As boring as it is, you also need to consider the tax implications. The good news is Airbnb isn't taxed like Vinted or eBay (which has a £1,000 tax-free allowance).

If you rent a furnished room in your primary residence (ie not a second home) you can claim Rent-a-Room relief. The threshold for this is £7,500 per year (or half that if you share the income with your partner). The tax exemption is automatic, which means if you're below that you don't need to do anything - but if you're earning above that, you'll need to fill out a tax return. Given we are earning around £350 a month from our room, we will fall way below this.

I convinced my mum to list her guest room on the platform, and she has also had decent success (excusing the girls who threw up in her bin during Cheltenham race week and the woman who knocked a star off because she forgot to put a hand towel in the bathroom). I then talked my brother's girlfriend into giving it a go.

I did, however, make one fairly significant error: I forgot to get them to sign up using my host referral code. You can earn up to £268 for every host you refer, which means I lost out on a fairly significant chunk of change. I then forgot to refer them again when they moved to Booking.com so missed out on hundreds in commission-free bookings under their scheme. I try not to think about that too much…

Overall, I have loved using Airbnb - in just over two months we've converted our spare room into more than £700. And while I would like to live in a world where we could afford our daily outgoings without flogging our spare room like a cheap roadside motel, we are where we are.

If you have the room, a good radar for vetting people, and are open to intrusion on your personal space, it could be right for you too.

Just hit me up for a referral code first. (Note to editor: Only joking).

Money blog: What I learnt from putting my home on Airbnb (2024)
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