Today we’re breaking down our experience after our first full (second partial) season renting our Michigan Tree House on Airbnb! We sure have learned a lot along the way!
Like most folks, 2020 changed our lives and our small business in ways we never thought possible. *Early last March, we listed our Michigan Tree House on AirBNB for our first official season. A few days later, the world shut down, travel restrictions were enforced and we were left scrambling to refund and reschedule all of our booked stays through early July. We pushed through and experienced our first (abridged) season as hosts and learned a lot about the process, what worked for us and what didn’t.
Now we’re in the final quarter of 2021, and we officially officially have our first full season under our belts! Lots of things changed, lots of things stayed the same and we’ve retained our Superhost status for another year! Here’s are some thoughts and FAQs as 2021 winds down.
Weeklong Rentals vs. Three Night Minimums
Our goal has always been to keep Tree House as a relatively affordable option for families and small groups of friends to escape to Harbor Country and experience all that Southwest Michigan has to offer. Given the restrictions and financial changes brought on in 2020, we wanted to offer shorter, more affordable trips as an option for people in need of a quick getaway so we set our minimum stay at 3 nights last season. We found, however, that the majority of our guests were staying for a week (or longer) so we made the decision to switch to week-long, Friday to Friday rentals through the peak Summer season for 2021. For those looking for a shorter or more economical stay, we still offer 3 night minimums in the ‘shoulder seasons’ of spring and fall outside of summer’s peak.
The change has benefitted us and our guests and we’ve gotten great feedback! For example:
- Week-long stays eliminate odd two night gaps in the schedule and keep the house full consistently each week
- Our guests can plan on a predictable Friday afternoon check-in and a Friday morning check-out the following week.
- Weekly turns cut down on textile washing, which in turn results in less wear and tear. We’ve invested in high-quality towels and bed linens and this helps them last longer.
- We’ve been able to lock in our cleaning/turnover person for every Friday morning, which allows her to schedule her other clients more easily and consistently.
Quality Cleaning and Turnovers as a Linchpin
Speaking of cleaning and turnovers, we have found this to be perhaps the most important aspect of hosting. We started last year’s partial season with a company that simply wasn’t able to keep up with our needs and expectations. In an effort to finish our turnovers as quickly as possible, they were completed by teams of two employees and laundry was handled offsite at a commercial facility. Unfortunately, the cleaning was inconsistent and things were never left quite the way we’d agreed upon.
Halfway through last year, we arrived for a stay of our own to find unsatisfactory cleaning, disorganized drawers and shelves and hastily made beds. Kim immediately sat down at her computer, made over a dozen phone calls and we were meeting with our current cleaning person in a matter of a few hours. She is kind, helpful, communicative and handles every aspect of her business on her own. We’ve found this to be the crucial difference between a self-employed small business owner and a company with a staff of employees. She does an absolutely impeccable job cleaning, the beds look perfect and our shelves and drawers are left exactly the way we like. She’s been an absolute godsend, so we do everything in our power to make her job as easy and efficient as possible!
Planning for the Unexpected
Regardless of how well we plan, stock up and organize, unexpected events will always come up (and usually at the least opportune time)! We do experience the occasional power outage at Tree House, since the surrounding areas are so heavily wooded and fallen trees and powerlines don’t mix. We’re also surrounded by nature, so critters can occasionally make their presence more known than we’d like. Last summer, for example, a swarm of hornets decided that it was a good idea to take up residency in a poorly sealed roof vent. In order to avoid any unfortunate encounters, I took it upon myself to make the 3 hour round trip to handle the situation. Armed with several cans of wasp spray and a headlamp, I eradicated the nest and caulked the exposed seam in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. Our neighbors probably thought I had lost my mind!
For other instances, we also have a local handyman, a plumber, an electrician and a wildlife management person available locally (he just happens to be allergic to wasps)! When things do go awry, we do everything in our power to make it right with our guests. We’ve sent digital gift cards to our favorite local shops, refunded nights and offered discounts for return stays when things are inconvenient beyond our control. It’s important to us that all of our guests feel valued and taken care of because we value them and strive to take the best possible care of them!
Personal Items and Locked Storage
We’re often asked how we handle our individual clothing and personal items since our home is occupied by relative strangers 75% of the time. We’re a pretty trusting bunch and we believe that if we take good care of our guests, they’ll take good care of our home and respect the few boundaries that we do have in place. For important items, Kim, Lucy and I each have our own locked drawer in the closet shelving unit in the primary bedroom. They each contain a few clothing items, swimsuits and a couple of Lucy’s toys that are special to her and would prefer not to share.
Inside the bathroom vanity mirror, simple labels that state ‘Owner use only, please’ denote the two cabinets that contain our belongings. The third cabinet is always kept empty for guest use. We try to think of it like this – if someone really needs to use a Q tip or a pump of face lotion because they forgot to pack something, it’s not the end of the world to us. It’s just simply a part of sharing our home that we couldn’t completely avoid even if we tried. And we’re OK with that.
Missing Items and Lost + Found
Occasionally, we’ll arrive to Tree House to find something that doesn’t belong to us. Since we spend the first week of each month in the home then rent it the following three weeks, it would be nearly impossible to determine who left an item behind. Sometimes we’ve uncovered incredibly fun stuff like sealed bags of great coffee or a large bottle of vodka(!). Other times we’ve found things like a tiny sock or other clothing item kicked way back behind the dresser. For non-consumable items, we’ll generally wash them and throw them into a small lost and found bin in case someone reaches out to claim them. Once the season is over, we’ll empty the bin and donate items to a local non-profit. Keeping outside items to a minimum allows us to maintain a curated, minimal space that has everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t.
That said, we’ve been asked frequently about theft of our personal belongings. Luckily, we haven’t had any instances of overt theft beyond the odd chip clip or pen that someone probably packed by mistake. Again, we chalk these tiny things up to the cost of doing business and replace them as necessary. Like Kim, our cleaning person also seems to have a photographic memory, so if anything seems to be amiss, she’s almost always the first to notice and let us know!
Monthly Maintenance Checks
With all of these procedures in place, we generally set aside at least a few hours each visit to handle our own maintenance checks and general upkeep. This can include things like winterization chores, touching up paint, caulking, trimming hedges and keeping an eye out for budding wasp nests. (I’ve learned their favorite spots and tend to mindlessly scan the eaves of the house all summer long).
Most of these chores are things that we’d have to take care of regardless of wether we rented the home or not, so the amount of work is fairly fixed. We’ve done our best to automate the home and rely on smart thermostats, lighting, smoke and CO alarms. We also recently installed a smart water shutoff that monitors ambient temperature in the crawlspace to alert us prematurely of conditions that could result in frozen pipes.
Beginning and End of Season Punchlists
At the beginning and end of each rental season we use our task management software to create checklists for more time-consuming projects. This might include things like swapping fixtures, adding amenities and larger-scale improvements.
This off-season for example, we’ll be adding some additional blinds and window coverings, as well as investigating some fun outdoor feature additions.
Is It Worth the Effort?
Absolutely. Yes! Renting our home on Airbnb has been an incredibly rewarding experience. After fees, taxes and expenses, every single dollar of the annual costs of owning and operating Tree House is covered by the income from our roughly 7 month rental season. Beyond the financial benefits, we truly love sharing our home and our little slice of Southwest Michigan with all of our guests! Hearing stories of family reunions, friend getaways and simple escapes to nature are incredibly meaningful to us and we absolutely love that so many of you have sent us kind words about the memories you’ve created here. The very first thing we do each time we arrive is read all of the new entries in the guest book. The photos, doodles, stories and thoughtfulness that you’ve all put into your entries warms our hearts and usually gets us a lil bit misty.
We’ll keep doing our part to maintain this special home if you all keep visiting and making memories that we hope will last a lifetime.
Psssst – a complete source list of every paint color and decor item can be found here.