Get the professional photographs. Spend the money, take the time, and do it. Having a professional real estate photographer take photos makes your listing stand out. It highlights the best part of your listing and can also clarify details about rooms, surrounding area, and other special things about the property.
Many people dream of becoming an Airbnb host but don’t know where to start. In this series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host” we are interviewing successful Airbnb hosts who share lessons from their experience about how to run a very successful Airbnb property. As part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Perkins.
Samantha Perkins is an Airbnb Superhost, author of Alive AF-One Anxious Mom’s Journey to Becoming Alcohol Free, and nervous entrepreneur. Samantha resides in Louisville Ky with her husband and 2 children and manages the family’s three short term rental properties in Mammoth Cave Kentucky. Samantha loves the hospitality aspect of hosting guests via Airbnb and uses her background in Psychology plus her Real Estate knowledge to give guests the best possible experience. Samantha and her family are lovers of nature and frequent all that Mammoth Caves has to offer year around including mountain bike trails, walking paths, and playgrounds. Samantha is extremely grateful for the opportunities that real estate has given her and her family and loves sharing about how to use Real Estate to get you closer to your other passions.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?
Thank you! Sure. We are a little family of four and we have a real estate business. My husband was a past banker, whose job was to approve loans for real estate investors (among other things). He got to see real estate transactions come across his desk in the form of numbers and spreadsheets. Eventually, he decided to do some investing himself and so we partnered with a friend to buy single family long term rentals in Atlanta Georgia, where my husband grew up. I wasn’t very excited about us becoming “landlords.” I was a social worker at the time and worried about the quality of the homes, the care that we would be able to put into the tenants, and more. While I would have preferred to overthink the opportunity until it was no longer available to us, my husband was an expert at taking advantage when the time was right. We became landlords and my fears were quickly diminished as I got to witness the love and care that our partner put into to upgrading our properties and taking care of our tenants. Over the years, we invested in a few more properties closer to home. I was a nervous wreck every time but with the experience that my husband had gained from seeing those numbers as a banker, he had a deep understanding of the long term gains. Eventually we both left our full time jobs, sold our big house and downsized so that we could use that money to buy more properties. We sacrificed the quality of our home so that we could set up more passive, long term income. In other words, while I wanted to go shopping for new patio furniture, we had to buy a sparkling new sink console for one of our rental properties instead. While our floors desperately needed an upgrade, we spent our money refinishing floors at the rental property. The work isn’t always easy but at the end of the day it feels really good to take care of those homes. In addition to our long term rentals we’ve added three airbnb short term rentals to our portfolio. This is a much different business. I personally manage these properties which includes everything from answering questions about what size casserole dishes we have in the cabinet to taking care of all of our guests needs during their stay.
What led you to first start becoming an Airbnb host?
My family and I were on our way out of town for the weekend to visit our friends at their lake home about an hour and a half from our home. My husband, a lover of all things real estate, had been searching the area online for houses for sale. We came across this small but charming cabin that was for sale by owner. On our way into town we stopped by to look at the property. It was so well loved and you could tell that the owners had put so much work into the place to make it special. While, I really liked it, I wasn’t sold on the idea of having a second home. Our kids were very little at the time (ages one and three) and I couldn’t fathom having something else to take care of. We left the property and headed to our friends. We spent the weekend in the country and on the lake having a wonderful time. I guess I was swooned by the smell of campfire and taste of smore’s. We drove back by the property the next day and decided to make an offer. I immediately felt worried about the cost. I guess it was a bit of buyer’s remorse. As a solution, I decided we could list on a short term rental site and if it rented, we could offset the cost and justify having such a luxury (the whole thing was less than 500 sq ft total). I had no idea what I was doing but the Airbnb website made it so easy to load information and pictures. As soon as I listed it, people started to book. I was shocked! Before long, it rented so much that we could barely find a weekend to get away and use it ourselves. The business landed in our laps and we took advantage of what was presented to us. Soon we stopped using it all together and made it available as rental only. We bought a chunk of property that was for sale nearby and built two more tiny cabins.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this?
At first, we had no idea what we were doing. This cabin was an hour and a half away from our own residence but I managed all of the details myself. I would strap my two babies in the car and drive down to clean the property every couple of days or so including Thanksgiving Day, other holidays, and days that I was busy but forgot to block off. I would have to cancel things, miss events, and more because I was driving back and forth to clean. One day I had my daughter with me who was only two. We had asked someone local in the community to drop off a “rick” of firewood. I lived in the city and I had no idea what a “rick” meant. When I finished cleaning up inside I went outdoors to discover that someone had dropped off our firewood. There must have been 600 logs laying directly in front of the door. I didn’t think to ask to have the man stack it for me and so I was left to carry these heavy logs down to the fire pit area. The guests were scheduled to check in within thirty minutes and it was a hot summer day. I was running with these logs one by one and stacking them in order down the hill to have the property looking neat ready for our guests. My daughter was crying, I was sweating profusely, but we managed to get the wood stacked and be out of the way before the guests arrived. We had to learn the difference between city life and country life. Things are slower, your neighbor is your greatest asset, and it’s okay to ask for help.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I often tell people that the only reason I’m successful at hosting now is because I’ve made enough mistakes. Airbnb hosting isn’t as much about managing real estate as it is about hospitality. I thought it would be like our long term rentals and that people would show up, rent, and leave. That’s not at all what its like. One time, at our second cabin that we lovingly call the Cozy Cottage, I was rushing or distracted when going over the calendar. It was one of those times that I thought it was Monday all day but it was actually Tuesday. I sent my husband over to the cabin to drop off supplies (toilet paper, coffee, new sheets, sparkling waters) and the cabin had yet to be cleaned. He told me that he thought it was odd our cleaning people hadn’t been there yet but I gave our cleaning lady the benefit of the doubt and assumed she’d get to it later. Later came and our guests reached out to inform me that they had arrived safely and that there were supplies laying everywhere but that they property had yet to be cleaned. I was mortified. I called our cleaning lady and she was there to clean it up within 15 minutes. I refunded the guests entire stay and took them over a basket full of goodies the next day. It was my biggest fear in managing these properties but I learned that communication goes a really long way….And so do refunds. Taking responsibility immediately for my mistake and communicating clearly have been the best lessons I have learned.
What are some of the common mistakes you have seen people make when they first start hosting with Airbnb?
Getting stuck on price. Our price is flexible. In fact, just yesterday I lowered our price a few dollars for the entire next month. We like to keep traffic coming to our listing and the best way to do that is to have a competitive price. We prefer to keep it booked than to get stuck on getting the highest price for one weekend. We’re also extremely flexible with our refunds. Money is not the only gain. We provide people a place to relax, get away from stress, make memories and more. If we have failed to provide that we get really flexible with our cost. If our listing didn’t meet some of the cleaning standards, we refund some of the money. If someone has an extenuating circumstance, we refund some of the money. I see hosts refusing to work with the guests and it results in negative reviews and an overall negative experience for everyone. On the flip side I see hosts pricing their listing too low. They do all of this work and barely make enough money to cover the cleaning cost. Looking over price regularly, adjusting, and being flexible have made things much easier for us. We stay booked, our guests are happy, and we get good reviews which drives more traffic to our listings.
What are some of the things that can be done to avoid these errors?
Regularly reviewing your price and competition. You can’t just list and walk away. Well, maybe you can if the property is just that amazing. Get to know the surrounding areas. Understand off season and peak season. Adjust the price often (and maybe that’s only by a few dollars). Give refunds when you go wrong. Guests will appreciate it and maybe they’ll come back again because you’ve built trust. It’s really about mindset. If you start the project with the idea that you want to provide people with a wonderful life experience you’ll be a much happier host with happier guests. If you have the mindset that you just want to make money no matter the cost, you will likely endure problems.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Airbnb experience?
In your opinion, what makes you different from the rest? Current times have led to a bigger business. When the news of Covid came in March of 2020 our business took a major crash. We were booked solid at two cabins almost every single day in the months of March, April, and May. But when states started closing and travel was limited every single guest cancelled. We worried whether or not business would come back and had so many questions regarding how to manage something like this. Soon enough, as the states started opening and guests started booking. Our cabins are secluded in the country. There is no major city nearby and it’s a good 15 minutes to the nearest grocery store (which happens to be very small). Guests are isolated and safe at our cabins especially if they are coming from a city setting. There is nearby hiking and we are only 20 or so minutes away from Mammoth Cave National Park that is open and functioning year around. We don’t provide wifi which may seem like a deal breaker for many but the people coming to stay at our location are really looking to get away. Away from social media, news, stress of work, and more. They can come to our cabins, relax, be in nature, and can be reminded of a slower and simpler time. Believe it or not having no wifi is actually a perk for some of our guests!
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Communicate. Guests have a lot of questions. Sometimes before they book they want to know as much about the property as possible. While it all may be listed somewhere in the description guests want reassurance that you will provide them with the exact answer they are looking for. In addition, it’s probably not just your listing that they are questioning. The quicker you respond and make yourself available to answer questions before, during, and after the booking process-the more likely they are to book and have a smooth stay. In addition, if there is something going on at the property (a leaky sink, a stubborn lock, etc) let the guests know. Don’t be afraid to mention flaws. Guests like to be informed and they would much rather know about something going on than find it themselves and be surprised or feel deceived. Transparent communication makes all the difference.
- Get the professional photographs. Spend the money, take the time, and do it. Having a professional real estate photographer take photos makes your listing stand out. It highlights the best part of your listing and can also clarify details about rooms, surrounding area, and other special things about the property.
- Make cleaning your top priority. While it would be fun to skimp on the cleaning so that you could put together that cute little side table you’ve been wanting to add to the living room it’s not the best choice. If the guests walk into a sparkling clean vacation spot their whole experience will go much smoother. If anything else comes up they are more likely to ignore or let slide because they are feeling good about the place otherwise. When there is dust under the bed or food debris left in the fridge they guests may get a bad vibe and then things start going downhill. They might be thinking what else is wrong here?
- Go the extra mile. The best thing about staying in an Airbnb vs a hotel is that personal touch. Leave a handwritten welcome note. Provide water and snacks for their stay. Give them inside scoop on the best local eateries or hikes. Tell them about your favorite thing to do in the area. Make them feel special and taken care of because they chose to stay with you. Thank them for that and make it known how much you appreciate them choosing your listing over all the others.
- Set boundaries. We host amazing guests! However, there are some guests that have high or unreasonable expectations. For example, I’ve been asked to drive people places. I get messages in the middle of the night. I’ve been asked to provide things that we just don’t have (a quinoa maker or a garlic press). People always want late check out and early check in. I’ve had to set some rules for myself and really stick to them so that I don’t get sucked into to every single scenario draining myself of both time and energy. I don’t respond to messages after a certain time at night. I rarely allow early check in/late check out because that doesn’t give me enough time to clean the property. I say I’m sorry but we just don’t have certain items and feel free to look elsewhere for a property that does. Sometimes, I have to remind guests (and myself) that I am not a massive hotel business with 17 employees. It’s just me and there are limits to what I can provide or do for guests. I want guests to know if I can’t meet their expectations that they are free to move onto to another, more appropriate fit for their needs.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
I’m an introvert and I like for my vacations to be all about relaxation. A small and clean getaway in the mountains or near water with a view is a great start. Somewhere that I can step right into nature from my front door. I like a quiet place to drink my morning coffee and afternoon tea and walk to a local bakery or brunch restaurant if possible. I like board games and extra blankets so we can have family movie nights while we play new games that we might not have at home. Also sun…lots of sun.
Can you share with our readers how you’ve used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Now that I have a couple of cleaning helpers I can spend most of my time working on the properties remotely using the Airbnb app/website. I answer questions, coordinate cleanings, and provide check in information in spurts all day every day (like every single day). But I don’t have to be accountable at a desk or in any certain place. In between answering questions and responding to messages, I have time. This time has allowed me to do some serious personal development. I was able to explore and discover the role that alcohol was playing in my life and it turns out it wasn’t a good one. I decided to stop drinking (which is something I had time to nurture) and I wrote about my journey in a blog I started (another thing that I had plenty of time to do). I also published a book called Alive AF-One Anxious Mom’s Journey to Becoming Alcohol Free with the intention to help other women and mothers feel safe to evaluate their alcohol use and decide if it’s working for them. My Airbnb business created the space for me to do this work that a regular 9–5 would have never allowed. I would have been too burnout and stressed at the end of my days to put the kind of effort I needed to into myself. In a way, this business saved me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One thing that this business has taught me is that we are all more alike than we are different. Right now, it seems like we are completely divided as a country. But in the threads of my messages hosting hundreds of people from every race, religion, political preference, and background I can tell you that we all want many of the same things. We want to feel accepted, safe, loved, and validated. We want to have joy and make memories and have fun. People need breaks from their difficult day to day lives and stressors. My movement would be that every single person in the world would have the right and the ability to go on a vacation. What would it be like if everyone could get away from their lived experience and to see something new with a fresh perspective? Maybe we would all be a little more kind and patient.
How can our readers further follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!