What Really Happened When I Rented Out My Apartment on Airbnb

POPSUGAR Photography | Lisette Mejia
POPSUGAR Photography | Lisette Mejia

Make money while you're on vacation? Sounds too good to be true, but it is possible for many, thanks to websites like Airbnb that allow you to rent out your empty home while you travel.

I decided to take the plunge into the sharing economy during my recent two-week European vacation. While my husband and I were traveling in Rome, Sicily, and Paris, three different groups of travelers slept in our San Francisco home. A family of four from the UK made a three-day stop during their California road trip. A trio of start-up workers in town from New Zealand stayed for a week. And a woman from Sweden, on vacation to celebrate her 50th birthday, enjoyed our home with her husband and three children. Here are four reasons I'm happy I put my trust in perfect strangers — and they're not just financial.

I Learned My Local Housing Laws

As a stickler for the rules, I decided to register for a short-term rental permit. While my rental situation was legal under San Francisco's housing laws, getting the permit was not easy. I had to register for a business license, make a trip to a city planning office and the DMV during work hours, and fill out complicated paperwork. But the process helped me understand the brewing debate in San Francisco over housing and vacation rental regulation, and I now feel better informed to vote and weigh in on the issue. It also encouraged me to email my local elected supervisor with some suggestions to make the process easier, and he even got back to me and made some changes on the city's website. While I wish it wasn't such a headache, I at least got a sense of civic engagement out of it. Some advice: give yourself a few weeks to complete the process.

I Cleaned the Sh*t Out of My House

I was already familiar with the benefits of the KonMari method and have an aversion to clutter. But knowing that strangers were about to enter my home (and then review it online) made me look at my home with fresh eyes. My husband and I reorganized our kitchen to make sure everything had a logical place.

If you're worried your home could get damaged or degraded, know that it had the opposite effect on my place.

We cleaned off surfaces, emptied our nightstands, scanned paperwork to the Cloud so we could shred the physical copies, and removed personal items from our living spaces. We finally installed new curtains in our bedroom and replaced a broken lamp. We emptied our dressers to make room for our guests' belongings, limiting ourselves to one owners' closet worth of clothes. We took multiple trips to Goodwill, not believing all this "stuff" was once in our house.

If you're worried your home could get damaged or degraded if you rent it out on Airbnb, know that it had the opposite effect on my place. All this cleaning and organizing made me feel like our apartment got a major upgrade.

It Made Me Trust People

Sometimes the news can make us feel like the world is falling apart. Welcoming strangers into my home reminded me that most people are inherently good. Our guests were easy to communicate with, respectful of our home, and even left us treats, including a handwritten letter signed by the kids and chocolate from New Zealand.

It Helped Pay For Our Vacation

Traveling is a luxury. Our trip became much more affordable thanks to the money made from our apartment, which would have otherwise sat empty. Airbnb makes the payment process easy, and we got the money directly deposited into our account each time a new guest checked in.

Things to Keep in Mind

While there were a lot of hours spent preparing our apartment for Airbnb, the effort felt worth it. If it sounds like a promising idea to you, here are some more tips to consider before renting your place:

  • Learn your local laws and insurance rules. Airbnb lists responsible hosting guidelines and city regulations online.
  • Find a cleaning professional you can trust. We made a checklist for our cleaning woman and walked her through the schedule and the plan for sheets and towels, since we needed her to turn over the apartment while we were gone. There are also services that will do this for you, like Pillow.
  • Consider keypad locks. We changed our keys to industrial keypad locks so we just had to give our guests codes to enter our place.
  • Prepare your check-in and check-out messages ahead of time. I wrote them in a Google Doc and downloaded the Google Docs and Airbnb apps to my iPhone. Then before each person was set to check in or out, I would copy/paste the message from Google Docs into the Airbnb message and send away. It took 30 seconds.
  • Create an apartment guide. Explain how to use your dishwasher, laundry, or other appliances, and make note of fun things to do in the area. I wrote ours in a Google Doc and sent it ahead of time to each guest and also left a printed copy in the house.
  • Set up an owners' closet. We consolidated our private belongings to one closet and locked it. It gave us peace of mind.

I know I will turn to Airbnb next time I plan a vacation. The opportunity to afford new experiences is worth putting my trust in fellow travelers.