How to Prepare Your Home for Airbnb, VRBO, or Other Short-Term Guests

How to get your home ready for short-term guests.

When your rent out your home or apartment to short-term guests, you can’t simply hand your guests the keys and expect everything to take care of itself. You need to carefully prepare your home in advance for paying short-term guests, many of whom will be expecting cleanliness and comfort standards on a par with those found in a hotel (or at least a motel). The better job you do getting your home ready the easier your guests’ stay—and your life as a host— will be.

Clean Your Home

Obviously, your home should be clean and in good order upon your guests’ arrival. In particular, the bathrooms and kitchen should be spic and span. The beds should be made up with clean linens. Many hosts hire housecleaning services to do a thorough cleaning before guests arrive. Many others do it themselves and save the expense. When you clean yourself you have the advantage of ensuring it’s done right. You can use a vacation rental cleaning checklist, such as the one available on the HomeAway website, to make sure you don’t forget anything.

Fix Any Hazards

There should be no obvious safety hazards like exposed wiring or a loose step. Fix anything that may cause the injury of a guest. (See the Nolo article Insurance Questions When Renting Out Your Home Short Term for more on liability issues.)

Safeguard Your Valuables

If you’re renting your main home or apartment, it doubtless contains many valuables you don’t want to lose or have strangers pawing over—things like jewelry, family photograph albums, fine china and silver, artwork, firearms, clothing, mementos, financial papers, and personal documents such as passports and birth certificates. The best way to safeguard your valuables is to screen anyone you rent to on a short- (or long-) term basis. Check references and profiles of renters (if available); for some useful tips, see Airbnb's advice for hosts on how to communicate with guests.

In addition, you should take specific steps to make your valuables inaccessible to guests. One option is to place all such items in a locked closet (or separate locked room, if available). However, this isn’t foolproof. In one widely reported case, a guest broke into her host’s locked closest and stole her passport, jewelry, and other valuables. It will be safer to move your valuables elsewhere while your guests are at your place--for example, by renting an off-site storage space. However, this will not be feasible for most people, especially if you are having short-term guests coming and going all the time. Extremely valuable items, such as jewelry, can be placed in a bank safe deposit box (this is a good idea for anyone, not just those with short-term guests).

Also, if you don’t have a locking mailbox, make arrangements to safeguard any personal mail delivered to your home while you’re renting it out. You could, for example, arrange for a neighbor to pick it up or pick it up yourself. Alternatively, you can have the post office hold your mail while guests are staying at your home. You can also rent a post office box.

Equip Your Home for Guests

Your home or apartment should be equipped to make your guests stay as easy and pleasant as possible. This is the way to get good reviews and repeat business on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. You should, for example, provide:

  • clean towels and linens (these don’t’ have to be the same as you and your family use)—you should have a set of at least two towels, hand towels, and washcloths per guest
  • extra blankets
  • an ironing board and iron
  • dishes, silverware, and pots and pans sufficient for the maximum number of guests you host
  • a microwave oven
  • potholders
  • coffee maker, teapot, and toaster
  • basic seasonings and food items like sugar, salt, butter
  • cleaning supplies including hand soap, dishwashing liquid, carpet cleaner, all-purpose cleaners, bleach, and disinfectant
  • basic toiletries like toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues
  • a first-aid kit
  • a fire extinguisher
  • functioning smoke detectors
  • all remotes necessary to operate the television and other devices
  • trash can liners
  • fans
  • pillow protectors and mattress pads, and
  • extra light bulbs.

Most guests will expect to have access to the Internet. If this is not available, make sure your guests are aware of it before they rent with you.

Although not absolutely necessary, there are lots of other things you can provide your guests to make their stay more pleasant--for example:

  • food in the refrigerator and cupboard, such as coffee, milk, juice, or cereal
  • a selection of DVDs that guests can watch on your TV if they get tired of sightseeing
  • playing cards and other games
  • if you’re near the beach or have a pool, beach towels and chairs
  • guidebooks and maps to the area, and
  • a hair dryer.

Some hosts get creative and leave goodies for their guests like bottles of wine, chocolate, fresh fruit, or local delicacies.

Draw up a list of all the items you need to buy (see this Amenities Checklist on HomeAway's site), and be sure to keep your receipts for tax purposes. (See the Nolo article Tax Issues When Renting Your Home on Airbnb or VRBO.)

Leave Detailed Instructions

The more written instructions you leave for your guests the better. This way guests won’t have to call you every time they have a question (although they may do so anyway). Be sure to include instructions on how to operate all the remote controls for your television and other electronics, as well as how to access your Internet connection. Also leave clear instructions on how to operate the dishwasher, washing machine, clothes dryer, stove, heating and air conditioning system, and any security system. Explain where the trash and recycling should be taken. Local rules about parking should also be covered. It's also a good idea to provide a list of local grocery stores, gas stations, and recommended restaurants.

Make sure to fully explain your “house rules.” For example:

  • Is smoking is allowed? (If yes, provide ashtrays, or specify limits as to where a guest can smoke--such as out on the deck.)
  • May your guests have parties?
  • May your guests play loud music after 10:00?
  • If you allow pets, provide specific pet rules and suggestions for local dog parks.

Always tell your guests not to bother your neighbors—for example, if you’re renting a rental unit in an apartment building, your guest should not knock on your neighbor’s door or buzz them to get in.

Finally, be sure to leave your contact information (email and phone) if your guests need to get in touch with you. Also provide local emergency numbers and the address and number of the nearest hospital. If at all possible, ask a trusted neighbor or friend to keep an eye on your home while you have short-term guests. (Treat them to dinner in exchange for helping you out this way.)

If you have renters staying more than a few days, you might find Nolo's Housesitting Instructions form useful in pulling together all relevant information.

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