PEI

5 tips for running a successful Airbnb

The increasing popularity of short-term rentals on sites including Airbnb, Vacation Rental By Owner, and HomeAway mean there's more competition for customers, so what does it take to successfully rent your property?

'If they have a problem I immediately try and fix it'

The Godkins say it's important to set your rental apart by providing touches like locally-sourced fresh artisanal bread, jams and coffee. (ParkView on Richmond/Facebook)

The increasing popularity of short-term rentals on sites including Airbnb, Vacation Rental By Owner, and HomeAway means there's more competition for customers, so what does it take to successfully rent your property?

CBC asked two couples who purchased properties in downtown Charlottetown with the express purpose of renting them out on Airbnb for their advice on how to stand out from the crowd. 

Steve and Nancy Godkin have one house with three units called ParkView on Richmond, and Laura and Kevin Clarke have one house on Hillsborough Street with four units, Pura Vida Beach House. 

1. Be a superhost

Both couples are what Airbnb calls "superhosts." Superhosts are experienced hosts who get high ratings from customers.

A beach house in downtown Charlottetown? The Clarkes created a place they would have wanted to stay themselves. (Submitted by Laura and Kevin Clarke )

"I'm very focused on my guests before and after they come," said Nancy, who with her husband Steve recently renovated a historic home to create three Airbnb units. They have received only five out of five star reviews for ParkView on Richmond, which also received a heritage award.

"I'm quite proud of that, it was a lot of work though," she said. "If they have a problem I immediately try and fix it." 

Superhosts usually provide welcome treats, and the Godkins say they do it up right.

'How can we live this life we see our hosts living?' asked avid travellers Laura and Kevin Clarke — their answer: their own Airbnb. (Submitted by Laura and Kevin Clarke)

"I always actually give them quite a few goodies like cookies, breads — I make sure there's fully stocked kitchens," Nancy said. The value of the package depends on the length of stay and other factors, the couple said. They source fresh, locally-made baked goods, jam and coffee.

That's kind of what you use Airbnb for, is to get the unique experience.— Kevin Clarke

"It is competitive, you've got to stay creative with how you present your place," said Clarke. "We have a lot of return customers who say they loved their experience."

Clarke asks people why they are visiting and tailors welcome treats to that — a bottle of wine for a couple celebrating an anniversary, or coupons for free Cows ice cream for first-time visitors to P.E.I. There are free bicycles to use on the property too. 

"Always try to be really responsive," said Clarke. They also have a self check-in process that many guests enjoy, he said.

2. Competitively priced

The Godkins say while their prices are on the higher end, they are comparable to local hotels. 

The Godkins say 85 per cent of their guests leave reviews, and all of them have been positive. (ParkView on Richmond/Facebook)

"It's actually, compared to a hotel it's quite reasonable," said Steve. A quick check on local hotel prices shows he is right. 

In summer the Godkins charge $180 per night for their one-bedroom, $200 for their two-bedroom, and $300-$320 for their three-bedroom, three-bath unit. All include full kitchens. Several of their guests have told them theirs is the nicest Airbnb they have ever stayed in, Steve said. 

"If you're only going to attract people by being a lowest price, then you attract people that want to pay the lowest price," said Steve. "We offer really good value, but we are not trying to attract the bottom, the low price — hence why in the winter we are not very full."

This was the first winter since the Clarkes bought and renovated their property in 2016 that they rented out most of their units on Airbnb rather than to students. 

They use a feature offered by Airbnb that automatically prices their units around the going rate in the area — so rates could go as low as $60 in the winter, and as high as $150 in summer. 

3. Location, location

These rentals are in Charlottetown and are very close to the waterfront, restaurants and entertainment. 

Kevin Clarke enjoys woodworking and made a lot of the property's decor including a surfboard bar top and stools. (Submitted by Laura and Kevin Clarke)

"The house came on the market and we looked at it within an hour of it hitting the market — we basically put an offer in on it and bought it right away," said Steve Godkin. "The location [was] ideal, on a park, in an up-and-coming area. It's location, location, location sometimes with Airbnb as well and I think it just worked in this case." 

"I'm glad we jumped on it when we did," said Clarke of purchasing their property in 2016, just as Airbnb was exploding — the number of units for rent doubled that year, from 150 to 300. 

"Location is key for sure, if you're within walking distance," to shopping and restaurants, he said. 

4. Set yourself apart

The Godkins have tried to set themselves apart by being high-end but approachable. 

Luxe decor touches at ParkView on Richmond. (ParkView on Richmond/Facebook)

Nancy did extensive research over the year and a half it took to renovate their building and paid attention to do's and don'ts from other Airbnb hosts. She did all the decorating and photography of the units herself. 

"My personal opinion is the market is going to get oversaturated and I think we're seeing it this winter, cause we're not as full as I thought we would be," said Steve. "We're also not willing to bring our price down. We have Airbnb suggesting we bring our prices down to $80 a night. So I'm picturing a lot of people out there who have units who basically did what we did — you can't buy a house downtown that's multi-units. 

"I think people are saturating the market," Steve said. "You can't have more and more every year and it not start affecting things." 

The Clarkes have tried to make Pura Vida different by being beach-themed, with some furniture handmade by Kevin including a surfboard bar, reclaimed pallet sofa, and driftwood lamps. There's a hammock in the backyard. 

ParkView on Richmond has been in business less than a year and bookings are already filling up for the coming year. (ParkView on Richmond/Facebook)

They have travelled extensively — Laura is a flight attendant — and say they wanted to provide guests with unique experiences like they've had at Airbnbs.

"That's kind of what you use Airbnb for, is to get the unique experience and not pick something that looks like a hotel, because then you might as well just stay in a hotel," Clarke said. 

5. Cleanliness is everything

Clarke was a welder but has made looking after the couple's Airbnb a full-time job. He's a "neat freak," he said, and does all the cleaning himself. 

"That's another thing we get a lot of compliments on, is the cleanliness," he said — the important thing is to make it look like no one has ever used the accommodation before. He replaces towels often and uses high-quality linens, he said.

The Godkins use a professional cleaner who cleans other Airbnbs in town and is known as one of the best. 

Housing crunch: The elephant in the room

Some see the proliferation of short-term rentals — if not the owners themselves — as the villain in P.E.I.'s current housing crunch. 

The vacancy rate for apartments across P.E.I. is virtually zero, at just 0.3 per cent, as of last November. 

The Godkins say the property they brought to Airbnb was not long-term rentals before they bought it and was also in poor shape. Steve said tourists are looking for more summer rentals in the capital. 

"I think it's doing wonderful things for the city," Nancy Godkin said. "There are very very limited amounts of hotel rooms in the city." 

"It does bring a lot of business into Charlottetown," said Clarke, noting his guests love to shop and eat downtown. "That's what I like about being an Airbnb in Charlottetown — we bring business to our local family-owned businesses."

Both couples say they'd like to expand their Airbnb business in Charlottetown and are on the lookout for more properties to renovate. 

CBC News contacted Airbnb for this article, but the company declined to provide information on the number of P.E.I. properties it lists on its website. At publication time there were just over 300 listed on the website.

Charlottetown CAO Peter Kelly said last August he believed the number of short-term rentals in the city alone was about 400. 

"The city has no way to track how many Airbnbs are in Charlottetown. When the CAO previously gave a number, this was estimated from looking on Airbnb-type sites," the city said in an email.

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About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca

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