Did you know that an average of 2 million people each night bed down in an Airbnb property? That’s half a billion people since 2008 and proof of just how popular staying at someone else’s place is instead of at a hotel, with lots of people opening up their homes for short-term rental or to meet new people. The bottom line: homestays are in. Thinking of becoming a homestay host yourself? Then here’s your ultimate guide to doing it.
Different types of homestay
The first thing to know is that you can offer different types of homestay, depending on your aims and circumstances. Here’s a quick rundown of them all:
This is business, plain and simple. Someone is paying to stay at your home. You may be vacating your home for a while and letting your guest(s) stay while you’re away, which happens on Airbnb, or you remain in your home and host, as in the style of Homestay.
When someone is paying, they’re expectations may be higher than if they were couchsurfing (see the ‘Free’ subsection). They’ll likely not be expecting to sleep on a sofa or a bed designed for overnight guests.
This is handy if you need someone to look after your pets or tend to the garden while you’re away. In return for the accommodation, they take care of these responsibilities and/or others as part of the deal. It’s an appealing homestay option to travellers who want to visit expensive cities for less.
The worked-for homestay is useful for business owners who need an extra pair of hands. In return for food, a roof over their head and a little money, a guest will work for you for a few hours each day. This appeals to travellers who are looking for new experiences or wishing to practise a language. They may be on a career break or a gap year from studies.
Also known as couchsurfing, you’re inviting someone to stay in your home for free while you’re there. Couchsurfing.com is one of the most famous websites for people who offer this style of homestay. The experience is about bonding, rather than free accommodation – the guest(s) will sleep happily on the sofa or whatever bedding arrangement you provide for them – and the hosts tend to show guests around their location.
Setting up for homestay hosting
Whether you decide to open up your home to earn some extra money or make new friends, it’s not something you should do overnight. Hosting homestays requires consideration and preparation. Things won’t run so smoothly if you open up in the spur of the moment!
Check local laws
Airbnb is popular with travellers and business owners, but less so with local authorities and local residents. Amsterdam, New York, Paris, Los Angeles and several other towns and cities have cracked down on Airbnb-style renting. Some impose a requirement to register for short-term property rental and/or restrictions on the number of days people can rent out their property each year. Before advertising your property on Airbnb, check with local authorities what the rules and regulations are for doing so to stay on the right side of the law.
Set up a profile
If you’re going to set up as homestay hosts, you’ll have to set up a profile on a homestay website such as Airbnb.co.uk or Couchsurfing.com. Provide as much relevant information as possible to make your profile appealing. This could include your age, occupation, pets, hobbies, any languages you speak and information about the property itself.
Upload photos that really showcase your property. Clean and tidy it and then photograph it. Turn on the lights and get the fireplace going, if you have one, so the property looks cosy and inviting.
Verify your identity, too, to reassure people you’re genuine.
Decide what kind of host you want to be
You can be the kind of host who gives your guest(s) a spare set of keys and lets them get on with their stay. You can be the more attentive type who spends time with their guests, cooks for them and shows them round the location. It’s up to you, but make it clear on your profile so people know what to expect from you.
Be clear about what you’re offering
Guests will have certain expectations from different sites. For instance, Airbnb guests will be looking for clean, comfortable accommodation, whereas if they book on Couchsurfing, they understand that the accommodation might not be up to the standards for which they’d hoped.
This means you must be clear about what you’re offering. Where will they be sleeping? On a nice, cosy divan or on the couch. Will you be around much or are you out most days? Do you have any pets? They might appreciate knowing this if they have allergies or phobias. Be clear, too, about when you’re available to receive homestay guests.
Do you offer a tour?
People staying with locals and/or who have never been to the area before may be looking for you to act as a tour guide. Expect this if you host on Couchsurfing.com or similar sites which focus on bonding with locals and offer free lodging. Some guests will be happy to explore with or without you, though, but either way, display clearly whether you’ll show people around.
Arranging and collecting payment
The system of payments is different, depending on the type of homestay you offer. The first step will be to create an account, which you’ll have done when you created your profile. If you’ve not done this already, you just have to go to the homepage and look for ‘Sign Up’ or similar instructions to create your account.
You may also wish to set up a separate bank account, purely for collecting and managing payments from guests. This can be helpful when having to do your accounting.
Collecting payment on Homestay
On the Standard payment option, the guest makes their booking and pays a 15% guest fee (the maximum is £199) to confirm the booking. When they arrive at your home, you’ll receive the price of the stay. You should indicate whether you wish for guests to pay in cash, by bank transfer or by PayPal. You should also notify your guest that you’ve received payment.
If you’re a host who offers the Deposit payment option, the guest can choose this and will pay 25% of the price of the stay as well as a 15% booking fee (the maximum is £199) to confirm the booking. You’ll receive this deposit two business days after your guest’s scheduled arrival. As the host, you’ll pay a small 3% host fee, which the organisation deducts from the stay amount.
Collecting payment on Airbnb
Airbnb release the payment for your guest’s stay 24 hours after their check-in date. Depending on the method of payment you choose, this can take a little longer. A bank transfer can take up to seven days. If you’re hosting someone for more than 28 days, you’ll be paid monthly.
Airbnb charges a host service fee, which, often, is 3% for hosts. The company will also charge a guest service fee of 13% of the booking subtotal or under. As the host, you’ll receive the nightly rate – which you can set with the ‘Nightly rate’ option in the ‘Pricing’ section of your listing ―minus the host service fee. If Airbnb adds VAT on top of the service fee, this may also affect the payout you receive.
Arranging payment for a worked-for homestay
Depending on the organisation running the scheme, you may or may not have to pay to host, since you’ll be providing food and accommodation for your guest. If you’re running a business, you may have to pay them a minimum wage for working for you. The platform Workaway expects you to do this. Guests using a worked-for homestay site may have to pay the site itself for the homestay.
Preparing your home
Your profile’s set up. You’ve confirmed a request to stay with you. It’s time to get the place ship-shape and ready to receive them. How do you do it?
View other hosts’ profiles and reviews
Checking out other hosts’ profiles and the reviews they’ve received. You can learn quickly what guests (might) like or dislike about their homestays. Some might prefer more attention from their hosts. Some might prefer less. One thing of which you can be sure, though, is that they’ll always appreciate somewhere comfortable to sleep.
Anticipate your guest’s needs
Think about what your guest will need. If they’re arriving late at night, the supermarkets may have already closed by the time they reach the property, so leave some food in the fridge for the evening and the next day. Is your property near the beach? In that case, a few beach towels could be appropriate.
Keep the home clean and clutter free
Remember that guests leave reviews, so you should deep clean your property, even if your guest is couchsurfing. Wipe all the surfaces down. Empty the bins. Sweep and mop the floors. Vacuum the carpets. People don’t have to eat off the surfaces, but if they were able to you’ll get a better review!
Preparing the bedroom
Naturally, the bed and bedding provision is the most important part of hosting if you’re an Airbnb host. Review the bed situation and ask, truthfully, whether your guest will be able to sleep comfortably. If the answer is no, order a new mattress or even a new bed.
Don’t worry about how much this might affect the plans. Some retailers offer next day delivery, so even if you take a relatively late booking, you still have a chance of being able to organise a new bed in time for them. Note that you must book before a certain time to be eligible for next day delivery, so the earlier you place your order, the better.
Other aspects to bear in mind are the quality and cleanliness of the bed linen. No one wants to sleep between dirty sheets! You should also leave plenty of hangers in the wardrobe and an extension cable so that the guest(s) can charge up their devices.
Preparing the kitchen
Your guests won’t know your kitchen like you do and you may want to buy some pans and kitchen utensils solely for them to use. Provide some pan stands as well to help protect the surfaces from burns.
Whether they use your kitchen equipment or a guests-only set, make sure they have enough to cook with if they wish to. Oven gloves and kitchen towels are other essential items. You should also provide simple basics, such as salt, pepper, herbs and spices. They don’t cost much, so there’s no excuse for not buying them!
Cleanliness is crucial in the kitchen. Wipe the surfaces down and clean the oven before your guests arrive. Ensure your guests have access to cleaning cloths, sprays and other items so that they can clean up after themselves.
Preparing the bathroom
No one wants to lower themselves into an icky bath or a limescale-ridden shower, or use a filthy toilet, so cleanliness is the order of the day. You should provide the basics as well, though, which would include plenty of toilet rolls, some soaps, a hairdryer and some towels. If the towels are that little bit softer and the soap is high-end, so much the better! Supply a couple of small pedal bins or wastepaper baskets, too, one for waste, the other for recycling.
Protect your valuables
Your guest may seem pretty legit, but that doesn’t mean you should leave jewellery, financial papers, cash or other valuables lying around. While your guests are visiting, store them away in a safe, if you have one, or in an off-site deposit box. They’re cheap to rent. You can never be too careful!
During the homestay
Once they’ve arrived, there are several things you should do while your guests are visiting:
Make the service personal
Be sure to be in when your guest(s) arrives to greet them and help them settle in. Let them know they can contact you if they need anything or have any questions about your home or the location. You could even do all this over a coffee and give them keys to the property.
Set some rules
One of the keys to successful hosting is to let everyone know where they stand when they arrive. You don’t have to reel off a long list of house rules, but you should think about certain things you won’t permit, as well as things you’d like guests to do. You might not allow people to smoke in certain areas of the house, for instance.
Let your guests help
Just because you’re hosting, it doesn’t mean you can’t accept help from your guests. Couchsurfing guests may want to show their gratitude and cook you a meal or do some washing up. Couchsurfing is about bonding, so let them whip out the frying pan or whatever utensils they need and go for it. Enjoy the treat, but remember that they’re not your servant, so don’t abuse their kindness!
Be as responsive and helpful as possible
When you’re renting out your home as an Airbnb, you don’t just sling your guest(s) the keys and ride off into the sunset, never to be heard from again until the end of their stay. That goes for hosting if you’ll still be in the property, too. Guests must be able to get in touch with you. Give them your email, phone number and the contact details of a ‘support’ person who can address situations at short notice (such as a friend or neighbour), and get back to them as soon as possible.
As a host, you should be as helpful as possible. Compile a folder with information on different restaurants, transport options, maps and local attractions. You may even decide to show your guests around the location, which is part of the bonding process (but not mandatory) if you allow someone to stay at your home.
When the guests leave
The guests might be on the way to the airport or other destination, but your job is a host isn’t quite over. There’s still one more thing you can do:
Leave your guest a review or reference
Leaving a review or a reference on your guest’s profile is helpful for them and reassures other hosts. Trust is a big issue and helps to make homestays run smoothly. When you’ve had a good experience with a guest, you should let them and others know.
This goes for bad experiences, too, although you should reflect carefully when posting a negative review about what really warrants bad behaviour. Some ‘bad’ behaviour may be just a minor misdemeanour or slip-up, whereas you should definitely warn others if a guest has been threatening, abusive or made you feel uncomfortable in some way, or has neglected the property.
A rewarding experience
Hosting others in your home, whether as a business or as a way of meeting new people, is rewarding. It takes careful preparation and skills to host people in such a way they’d come back or recommend you to someone else. Making your home as comfortable as possible for them and helping whenever you can will go a long way. We’ll let you set up that profile.