By Janis Fisher Chan
When I read about an Airbnb guest trashing a short-term rental, I feel a sharp stab of anxiety. Maybe that could happen to us.
When we first started exchanging and renting out our home, a friend of a friend told us about guests who had completely destroyed their very expensive front door. Then I remembered my favorite university professors’ experience with a last-minute guest: a drunk who spilled red wine on their antique carpets and destroyed some valuable artwork.
We don’t have an expensive front door, antiques, or valuable artwork. But stories like those prompt us to be very, very careful when choosing our short-term tenants. That’s why we go the extra mile when it comes to choosing the right guests. Careful screening and ongoing communication are the only ways we know to stay safe when we welcome strangers into our home while we’re away.
Make sure guests are who they say they are
- Look guests up on the Internet. LinkedIn profiles and Facebook pages can tell you a lot about who someone is and what kind of person they are.
- Check your home listing website for any reviews guests may have received.
- Ask guests for references. Contact them, preferably by phone so you can ask questions and hear nuances that might indicate potential problems in otherwise positive comments.
- Confirm guests’ home addresses and places of employment.
- Ask for copies of guests’ driver’s licenses or passports.
- Question any inconsistencies between what you find in these resources and what guests tell you about themselves.
Ask lots of questions!
These days, many hosts rely only on email conversations to gather information about their guests. But we always try to have at least person-to-person conversation on the phone or via Skype, preferably before they book (which is hard to do if you list on a site that blocks pre-booking conversations).
We keep a friendly tone, ask questions politely, and listen carefully to the responses. If something isn’t clear or doesn’t seem right, we ask follow-up questions. Most people welcome these conversations; it worries us when people do not.
These are some of the questions we ask:
What brings you to our area? Have you been here before?
What are you looking for in a short-term rental?
How long do you plan to stay?
How many adults and how many children will be in your party? Ages of the children?
Do you plan to bring pets?
Does anyone in your party smoke?
Where do you live permanently (or now, if guests are relocating to your area)?
A note of caution: Be sure not to ask any of the questions prohibited by the Federal Fair Housing Laws and any state or local laws that govern discrimination in housing.
Janis Fisher Chan is a writer and passionate traveler who recently launched TravelontheHouse.com to provide information, tips, and advice about home exchange and short-term rentals. You can reach her at email@example.com. (A version of this post appeared on her site in October 2016.)