6 Steps Toward Renting Your Property to Short-Term Visitors

How much is your spare bedroom worth? How about your second home or investment property?

It could be a significant chunk of change if you’re willing to enter the short-term rental business.

Austin is a top destination for hundreds of thousands of travelers and businesspeople. And many of them would prefer to get a true taste of an Austin neighborhood, perhaps spend a little less than they would on a hotel and enjoy some of the privacy and amenities of a home.

Thousands of Austin properties are listed on some of the most popular rental websites, including luxurious options that go for $1,000 or more per night or just a spare bedroom or pull-out couch for $25. That could be enough to afford a vacation of your own, fund a small home improvement project or just pad a savings account.

But renters won’t show up and pay you on their own. Listing, promoting and renting your property requires attention to detail, a willingness to keep a tidy home and a knack for marketing your property to generate the type of supplemental income that makes inviting visitors into your home worthwhile.

Before you sit down and build a profile for your property, take a moment to consider which service is best for you and whether you’re ready to host your first guest.

Decide which avenue is best for you: Services such as Airbnb, FlipKey, HomeAway and VRBO are excellent options because, for a fee, you have generally robust support from the company you choose to work with, including screening the folks you’ll be renting to and a virtually unlimited audience of potential renters. Meanwhile, sites like Craigslist may generate rentals, but you have less control and insight on who will be in your home. Each service has its speciality.

Airbnb, for example, is typically for stays of a week or less. It has many high dollar options, but it tends to specialize in budget travelers looking to pay rates that are similar to — or less than — a hotel. A significant percentage of rentals are for a single bedroom to be rented while the homeowner is also living there.

HomeAway caters to those staying a week or more. It specializes in private home rentals where the owner is not living there, which generally commands higher prices. HomeAway is a top choice for families staying in Austin for things like family weddings, long vacations and extended business trips. Its sister site, vrbo.com, specializes in shorter-term rentals.

Many homeowners choose to market their property on several sites to increase their visibility.

Understand Austin’s short-term rental rules: Rules vary depending on how you rent, but anyone availing their home for vacation rentals needs a license, which involves an inspection, an application, a $285 fee and providing proof of property insurance. And, yes, the city wants you to pay taxes on that income. Austin also has caps on the number of vacation rentals allowed in some areas, so check the city’s website to learn more about your neighborhood.

Also, be sure to check your insurance policy to ensure you’re covered if someone gets hurt in your home. Some services offer supplemental insurance and other tactics to make sure owners have some recourse if someone damages their property.

Decide what to show — and not show — publically: When setting up your advertisement for your rental property, consider how much you want to show to the rest of the world. For example, Airbnb allows you to opt-out of the street view of your property. This gives potential renters a view of where your home is generally, but they don’t get an address to see the specific house.

Also, consider what kind of host you can be. For example, can you promise to leave guests a list of the best nearby restaurants and attractions? Are you willing to meet your guests for a cup of coffee or glass of wine to help them make the most of the property and the city? For many renters, that personal touch generates great reviews that may appeal to other renters. Or, perhaps, you won’t be near the property, which can also be a benefit for renters who want privacy and know how to research the city on their own.

Market your property to the right people: It’s impossible to know someone’s intentions when they rent your property. But you can market your home to the type of people you hope to attract — and maybe scare away some that you don’t want. For example, tell people if your property is not a good place to have loud music or if you have sensitive neighbors.

High-quality photos of your home and its amenities are key. Think about hotels. They show you their property in the best possible light, which gives consumers confidence. Same goes for home rentals. Have your property nicely staged and professionally photographed to show the home at its best. (You may even be able to use these if you decide to sell your home in the near future.) If you plan to photograph your property yourself, be sure to review tips for interior photos to make the most of your efforts.

Don’t misrepresent. Be honest. Renters will appreciate it.

And consider listing add-on amenities for additional income. For example, many people will avail their bicycles for an extra $10-$20 each day.

Identify best times to rent: While Austinites love their city’s big events, such as South By Southwest and Austin City Limits Music Festival, those huge events may also be the right time to market your home to the tens of thousands of visitors who need a place to stay. The income from those rentals may even be enough to pay for part of your vacation. Consider events such as University of Texas Longhorns’ home games, Formula One racing at Circuit of the Americas, and Fun Fun Fun Fest.

Get feedback: Encourage people who stay with you to fill out a review. Those references will give future renters confidence, and they could help you adjust what rules you require renters to follow and how to better market that most attractive elements of your property.

Does everyone gush about your fantastic backyard patio? Consider amplifying that in your marketing. Or maybe families just love the treehouse or nearby park. That could be a sign that families, which often are willing to pay a premium for family-friendly rentals, are your target market.