Prevent host disasters with these simple steps

The “horrible guest experience” is an overhyped phenomenon in Airbnb hosting, as long as you take reasonable precautions.

When Holly Dupart first saw the name Sherebia Jackson, she was skeptical. The name on the woman’s HomeAway profile didn’t match the one in the credit card information she provided to book Dupart’s listing. Dupart quickly contacted HomeAway, only to be told it was probably just an alias and she should be safe to confirm the booking. So she did.

Obscure identity
As long as people take reasonable precautions, fraud-related “horror stories” almost never happen.

Not long after the first booking, “Sherebia” again booked Dupart’s apartment listing, this time with another name. HomeAway once again assured the skeptical Dupart that it would be safe to let Sherebia into her home. The third time Sherebia resurfaced, Dupart called the police and found it was a case of credit card fraud: None of Sherebia’s payments had gone through.

“When dealing with these agencies, you have to be responsible for yourself,” Dupart said. “It took me to call HomeAway three times before they agreed that something was wrong.”

The good news is many guest-related problems like Dupart’s can be avoided if hosts are mindful of who’s coming to stay under their roofs and set some basic rules, says Shorge Sato, a Chicago-based real estate lawyer focusing on Airbnb issues.

The “horrible guest experience” is an overhyped phenomenon in the vacation rental community: As long as people take reasonable precautions, he says, fraud-related “horror stories” almost never happen.

Are they who they say they are?

Dupart, now an established Airbnb host in Chicago’s South Side, took these lessons to heart to better manage her new listings. What she wasn’t cautious enough to do before — mitigating her hosting risks — has become her top tip to new hosts.

Other hosts are coming up with even more innovative ways to prevent fraud.   Last month, Dupart herself booked on Airbnb as a guest for the first time. Shortly after she sent the booking request, the host called her to have an authentic conversation about expectations and rules.

Guest profiles
At the minimum, Dupart thoroughly reads guests’ profiles and reviews or asks for IDs and credit cards.

Hosts may have different strategies, but she says they all should put in place risk management measures to avoid sticky situations. At the minimum, she thoroughly reads guests’ profiles and reviews or asks for IDs and credit cards.

She was impressed by this personal approach. “I’ve got to step up my own game as well!” she quipped. She also knows of a host who installed a camera in the hallway and requests guests to hold up their IDs to the camera before entering the apartment.

“Asking people to verify who they are goes a long way toward minimizing the chance that people are going to do stuff, because you can theoretically come back to them at that point for legal action,” Dupart said.

Your turf, your rules

Hosts should stick to a process

To ensure a positive hosting experience, it’s essential to have systematic and clearly defined house rules, because sometimes guests might abuse the shared space unintentionally, Sato says. For example, damages often occur when guests have wild parties in the Airbnb unit, so it’s important to know exactly how many people are coming and what kind of activities they are planning. One strategy hosts use is to reject one-night booking requests from locals because these are usually meant for parties, Sato says.

When you go outside of your process, outside of your plans, that’s when you’re inviting issues and problems.

Holly Dupart

Hosts should also be careful when processing last-minute bookings, Dupart says. Just like with any other guests, hosts should take them through every step and ensure they understand the house rules. Treating every guest the same way will help prevent potential housing discrimination charges as well, she says.

“Some people think, ‘It’s a last-minute booking and the guest didn’t respond [to my guidance], so I’m just going to go ahead and let her in case she books somewhere else.’ Let them book somewhere else,” Dupart said. “When you go outside of your process, outside of your plans, that’s when you’re inviting issues and problems.”

Making connections goes a long way

Michael McCafrey, a 64-year-old artist in Chicago who rents out his co-living space, says from personal experience that guests are much more civil and respectful when the host is present.

Both McCafrey and Dupart say establishing a personal connection with guests always helps make the relationship friendly and understanding, which in turn prevents drama and conflicts.

Establish a personal connection

99.9% of the people who came to my home are totally wonderful people. And then there’s the 1% who forgot to take their medicine.

Michael McCafrey

Of more than 2,000 guests who have stayed in McCafrey’s artistic abode, he says he’s encountered only one sour guest interaction: Two middle-aged women demanded a refund because he ran out of sugar in the kitchen.

After he refused, the women filed for a refund on Airbnb, which was forwarded as a letter to McCafrey. But through Airbnb’s platform, he defended himself against each line of their complaint, and the issue was smoothly resolved.

“Airbnb has renewed my faith in humanity,” McCafrey said. “99.9% of the people who came to my home are totally wonderful people. And then there’s the 1% who forgot to take their medicine.”

Additional Resources

  • Need advice preventing bad guests from even coming into your home? This Auckland-based Airbnb management service platform has the key.
  • If it’s still confusing, take a look at this exhaustive, screenshot-laden, step-by-step guide by Optimizeyourbnb.com, a search optimization service for Airbnb hosts, so you don’t encounter your own “Sherebia.”
  • Not the reading type? Enjoy this YouTube video explaining how to keep out the bad crowd. Comb through the comment section – it’s a gold mine! (Or a minefield? You decide.)
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