Want to become an Airbnb Superhost? Check out this story of someone who started small and grew her short term rental business.
Wendy Hill Manson wanted a side hustle to make some extra money to help her boys pay for college. She decided to take the plunge into Airbnb. A few years later, she's now an Airbnb Superhost with 4 rental units and ready to expand. Last year, she made over $100,000 with Airbnb!
Wendy shares how she got started as an Airbnb host, the mistakes she made along the way, and how her short-term rentals are helping her ease into early retirement.
Why Start an Airbnb
Andy Hill: Why did you decide to get started with short-term rentals and Airbnb? What was your motivation?
Wendy Hill Manson: My in-laws had been hosting with Airbnb out their basement for a couple of years. That allowed them to go on a couple of cruises each year with the extra income. Also a good friend of mine renovated her basement with wood flooring and a new sauna bathroom and the space was gorgeous so I wanted to do the same to our walkout basement.
We had 2 kids in college and had extra room in our home. I wanted to fix up the walk-out basement of our home. So it was a combination of wanting to earn money to remodel the basement and hopefully earn some money to pay for college tuition. We went for it.
You did this Airbnb adventure with your husband. What were his initial thoughts on the idea?
He didn’t think I would make enough money to pay for the renovations to the basement. So there was some discussions and convincing because he is pretty frugal and doesn’t like change.
I promised him I would be able to pay us back for the renovations. Plus he is a busy guy so he was not thrilled about adding more to our responsibilities. But he gave me the green light to renovate the basement and start the Airbnb business.
First Airbnb Rental Unit
How did you prepare the room to become a short-term rental?
It had 2 areas. A playroom area and a kitchenette area. Neither had been updated for a while.
We have 3 teenage boys so the basement was pretty run down. We put down new flooring, painted the cabinets in the kitchenette area, bought beds, got a new TV, and retiled the bathroom sauna area.
How much did you spend on the updates? Did you recoup your investment?
It was around $7,000 – $10,000 to redo it. And we recouped our investment in about 3 months.
What were some of the mistakes you made with your Airbnb?
- Not enough window treatments
- Being aware of noise levels in the morning when I would leave fit school (no heels on wooden stairs)
- More communication with guests
- Leaving information on how to easily use the space, how to use TV, sauna, temperature regulation
- Making sure guests know to contact you if there are issues before they leave their review
What did you do to improve your Airbnb skills?
Providing extras like toiletries, drinks, coffee, plenty of fresh linens make for happy guests. White linens are best for cleanliness. I go through a large box of oxyclean every month.
Cleaning is huge. I am very picky about cleaning and making sure the space is very clean for each new guests.
Communication with guests is huge. I leave detailed book with all of the information needed to use the space and leave lists of our favorite things to do and places to go in our guidebook.
We found that whenever possible meeting guests when they arrive always prevented issues later. Since the pandemic, we haven’t done that but when things get back to normal we do our best to greet guests if possible.
Were there any creators, books, websites or videos that helped you get started?
My mother in law was helpful as well as other friends in town that had short term rentals.
We binged on Netflix shows like Stay here and Instant Hotel and they were fun to help with ideas and inspiration.
Pinterest is a great resource for ideas for decorating and many other ideas for hosts.
Expanding with new Airbnb Rental Units
How did you move on to your next rental?
The basement rental was doing way better than we expected and was more fun than we thought so it made me think about the house next door to us.
Growing up I rarely lived in the same house for more than 3 years … ever. We moved to many homes in many states. I thought I would never put sentimental value on a house.
When we moved to our home I expected to be leaving it in a few years. We have currently lived in our house for 22 years!
It is where we raised our kids and I love it. It is crazy for me to think about that.
I love all of the historic homes on our block but my favorite isn’t my house. My favorite is the house next door. I have enjoyed living next to it. The beautiful house next door to us has always been a joy to live next to.
Built in 1898 the onion tower Victorian is a historic gem. Watching it go for sale years ago got me thinking and seeing it empty for over a year made me sad. The gorgeous gardens started to become overgrown and I yearned to restore the home.
So just as we were a few years from being mortgage-free we made a crazy shift. I’m excited to say instead of being mortgage-free we now have two homes (and mortgages).
I couldn’t be happier about this adventure. We plan to rent it out so all can enjoy this beautiful home.
How does the mortgage process work with a short term rental?
Commercial mortgages can require 20% down which we did not have. Remember just a year before we were struggling with how to pay for college. So we refinanced our home and that wasn’t enough funds so David had to clear out a part of his 401k with a penalty for withdrawing early.
Did you have to do a lot of work to the house?
We had to get the cat piss smell out of the house so all wall-to-wall carpets were removed. Wood flooring was redone in those areas.
The basement walls and floors were all redone. Other than that we went with the way the house looked and I furnished and stocked the home with kitchen supplies and linens.
Most of the furniture was purchased at estate sales, second-hand stores, Facebook Marketplace, antique stores, or garage sales. I like the idea of upcycling and reducing waste. I’m making it a goal to be as plastic-free as possible and use all recycled paper products in my rentals.
When did you feel like you were understood how to Airbnb successfully?
Every day is something new. I don’t know if I feel like I have the hang of it yet.
Luckily problem-solving is something David and I both enjoy doing. I think having the support of good cleaning people helps since I still am a full-time teacher and David runs his business as well.
Does it surprise you that you made over $100k last year?
Yes! I was hoping to just pay the mortgage especially when we were shut down for months due to the pandemic.
First Time Airbnb Advice
What is the best part of hosting an Airbnb?
We enjoy hosting, meeting amazing people from all over and helping them “live like a local” as ambassadors to our town. We love hearing how much they loved visiting a friend's shop or dining in a friend's restaurant. It feels good to help build the economy of our town.
What is the worst part?
There is always something to fix in an older home. There are guests that are not good matches for homestay experiences. We have a secret code as hosts in reviews of you read “Better suited for a hotel” in a review that is a signal that the guests were too much.
The homestay experience is somewhere between staying in a hotel and staying at a friend's house. Most that use homestays understand that. Have had about 300 different guests in the past 2 years and 99% of them were amazing.
Will you be making any changes this year based on your learnings so far?
I need to paint the house and have the back deck redone but after that I think it will be close to being finished with the renovations.
We will consult with our CPA and see if he has any suggestions on how we could have done things better.
I think I will have to finish the “Profit First “a book my husband liked that helped him in managing the finances of his business.
There’s someone reading this and they are thinking … “I’d love to make more money and own real estate, but it just sounds like too much work.” What would you say to them?
It is a ton of work but nothing worth having comes easily. I think it depends on the market you are in and how much you enjoy interacting with people.
I know you recommend that people don’t buy rental properties until they have saved the 20% but I feel if we had waited then this opportunity to be so close to our rental would have passed. It would have been best to wait but then for us, it probably wouldn’t have happened,
What is the first step someone should take to start their Airbnb Superhost journey?
Look into your city regulations regarding short-term rentals. Many do not allow it or have limits on licenses.
In our town, I contacted the zoning department and they directed me to the fire department to have an inspection and purchase the STR license from them.
Make sure you have something to make the homestay experience unique. We found having a sauna in our basement rental allowed us to have great occupancy in the less busy winter months so we are in the process of adding a sauna and fitness room to the Hewitt Onion Tower.
Also, make sure you have a great cleaning team. Cleaning and flipping the property is a big part of running a short term rental. I enjoy cleaning and listening to an audiobook (or a great podcast) but I can’t do flipping during the school year. I rely on a few helpers that do a great job.
The cleanliness of your rental can make or break you in this business. And that relies on good reviews. Hair in the shower or food left in a fridge is all it takes sometimes for guests to leave bad reviews.
Ready to start your Airbnb Superhost journey today? Sign up to become an Airbnb host.
LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE ON:
Wendy Hill Manson Resources
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MKM Podcast Resources
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Carpe Diem Quote
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