Everything You Need to Know to Become an Airbnb Host in D.C.


Have you thought about becoming an Airbnb host in D.C.?

In a city that’s so expensive, home sharing can be a great way to supplement your income. Thousands of Airbnb hosts list places in the District, according to data from the home sharing platform.

“Part of what makes Airbnb so successful for me is the city,” says Snyta Keeling, a 43-year-old Airbnb Superhost. “D.C. is great for home sharing because there’s something going on at every time of year.”

Between the cherry blossoms in the spring, the Fourth of July in the summer and the elections in the fall — which draw businesspeople, students, lobbyists, sports fans and activists — there’s certainly a demand for space.

How to Create the Best Airbnb Listing in D.C.

The first step to becoming an Airbnb host is to list your place. The process itself is simple, but you’ll want to exercise tact, so your space stands out from others.

We’ll walk you through the process, plus share some pro tips from Keeling, a federal government employee and attorney who hosts guests in her three-bedroom townhome in Southeast D.C. She quickly rose to Superhost status when she started hosting back in 2015.

Answer Some Quick Questions About Your Space/Amenities

In this first part of setting up your listing, you’ll answer some basic questions about your space, which could be anything from an apartment, an extra bedroom or house to a campsite, yurt or RV, depending on your local laws.

Basic questions in this section include the number of guests your space can accommodate and the included amenities.

Pro Tip

If you don’t have an entire place, list your spare room. That’s what Keeling, a D.C. Superhost, does. At first she was worried guests would be uninterested, but she’s found they love the hospitality.

Set the Scene With Photos

Keeling compared Airbnb listings to dating profiles — and she’s so right. If you come across someone who’s posted a bathroom selfie with the flash on, you’ll probably move along — even if they do rescue puppies and own a private jet.

The same idea goes for Airbnb; photos are everything.

The platform offers some basic photo tips, which include utilizing natural light, avoiding flash and shooting in landscape mode from the corners of rooms, so you add perspective.

In addition to internal photos, Keeling emphasizes the importance of external photos as well. “It’s important to do external photos, so you guide a person through how they’ll approach the home and what the surrounding community looks like,” she says. “If you live close to a metro stop, you’ll want to have a picture of that, for example.”

Think about what makes your space and your location appealing, and illustrate those elements through photos. In addition to metro stops, you might also include photos of the nearby neighborhood, any tourist attractions (ahem, the National Mall), or even a photo of the closest grocery or convenience store.

Write a Description

Once you hook people with your photos, continue to lead them through your listing with the description.

Here, you’ll be able to highlight what makes your space unique. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at other Airbnb listings in your area to see what other hosts highlight.

Keeling has a few tips you can follow when crafting your description:

  1. Manage expectations. “You know the idea of putting your best foot forward?” Keeling asks. “No! What you do is put the blemishes out there, so your guests will have set expectations.”

  2. Turn negatives into positives. Keeling’s townhome is located in a residential area on the easternmost point of D.C. That means it’s not central; you have to take a metro to get to the closest grocery store, which could be a downside for some guests. However, in her listing, she emphasizes the perks of free parking, which is difficult to come by in D.C. It’s also a quiet retreat after you’ve spent the day in crowds.

  3. Add an element of surprise to your space that you don’t mention in your listing. For example, Keeling has a high-end Tuft and Needle mattress with nice pillows. Because she doesn’t mention it in the listing, guests are surprised and are more likely to rave

After you host several guests, you’ll get to know your audience, so you can lean into that. For example, Keeling quickly realized she’s not attracting club-goers and partiers; she gets guests who are looking to get away from the bustle of the city and value their sleep.

Name Your Listing

This might seem like a small task, but naming your listing is just as important as nailing your photos. Airbnb urges hosts to create a title that highlights what’s unique about the space.

For Keeling, one of the most appealing aspects of her listing is the free parking — a rarity in D.C. Her space is also green; it’s decked out with solar panels, rain barrels, vegetable gardens and composts. This is a unique draw, so she emphasizes it in her listing title. It also attracts like-minded guests, which is important when you’re sharing your space.

Set House Rules

Airbnb has a set list of rules you can opt into if you’d like them included in your listing. A few of these include: suitable for pets, smoking allowed, and events or parties allowed. You also have the option to write in additional rules.

“Don’t go crazy with the rules, but come up with some core rules that are important for you,” Keeling says.

Keeling, for example, maintains a shoeless house. That’s partially cultural, but it also just makes the space easier to clean. She also emphasizes no smoking of any kind, and no eating in the bedrooms.

Set up Your Calendar

Taking time to set up your calendar is important, because if you cancel on your guests, Airbnb will charge you a penalty fee.

A few questions you’ll answer include:

  • How often do you want to have guests?
  • How much notice do you need before a guest arrives?
  • When can guests check in?
  • How far in advance can guests book?
  • How long can guests stay?
Pro Tip

When starting out, Keeling suggests limiting guests’ length of stay to a couple of nights. That way you can get guests in and out and start racking up reviews, which will build your ratings.

Keeling allows for at least one day between bookings, so she can have time to reset the spaces, and she doesn’t let guests book more than three months in advance, in case something comes up.

You’ll be able to adjust these settings as you go, so you can find out what works best for you.

Price Your Space

Airbnb has a Smart Pricing tool, which you can opt into to automatically adjust the price of your listing according to demand. For example, when the demand during the Cherry Blossom Festival or Fourth of July spikes, Airbnb will likely increase the price of your listing automatically.

You can set price minimums and maximums, so your listing won’t dip below a certain amount or spike to something unrealistic. Although Airbnb will suggest these amounts when you’re signing up, Keeling urges new hosts to do their own research.

Here are a few tips to help you determine these numbers:

  • Consider your expenses, i.e. utilities, cleaning and any maintenance requirements.
  • Be realistic. “People tend to have an inflated view of their place,” Keeling notes.
  • Search other Airbnb listings in your area and price just below those.

When you’re starting out, you’ll want to price your place lower, so you can get guests in, accumulate reviews and work your way to that Superhost status, which will help increase bookings in the long run.

Note Your Local Laws

You’re almost done setting up your listing! Now Airbnb will remind you to familiarize yourself with your local laws.

In December 2018, the D.C. Council passed a set of regulations that would limit some kinds of short term rentals. Check with the District if you have questions about current laws or when (and if) the pending regulations will come into force.

Also Consider…

In addition to hosting laws, you’ll also want to check with your homeowners association or landlord to make sure short-term rentals are permitted.

Also note that short-term rentals could invalidate some homeowner’s insurance, so check these policies with your provider.

Airbnb also includes liability insurance for up to $1 million, but Keeling reminds us that this is not a substitute, so she suggests setting aside some money for damages. You can also set up a deposit with your listing and make claims, though Airbnb will only reimburse you for the repair value — not replacement. This has worked for Keeling multiple times.

As you start booking guests, you’ll also want to keep tabs on expenses and revenue for tax purposes.

Pro Tip

When starting out, Keeling suggests limiting guests’ length of stay to a couple of nights. That way you can get guests in and out and start racking up reviews, which will build your ratings.

She also reminds hosts to take advantage of tax deductions. Because she has guests staying in her space, she can deduct many charges as business expenses, including utilities, furniture, home improvement, even electronics — basically anything guests will also benefit from or use.

Ready to Give This Whole Hosting Thing a Try?

How are you feeling? Like we said, listing your place on Airbnb is simple — but it does require some creativity and strategy. The good news is you can adjust or change your information and settings at any time, so you’re not locked into anything permanently.

Keeling’s favorite part about hosting has been the connections she’s made. She recently traveled to New York City to watch one of her former guests graduate.

Oh, and the extra income is nice, too. “When you feel depressed about getting out of debt or getting into a house, building a life, home-sharing could be your gateway to all of that,” she says.

One final word of advice? Keeling makes an effort to stay at places on Airbnb when she’s traveling. She likes taking in the guest’s perspective and finding ways she can improve her space.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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