Designing an Airbnb Space on Your Property

By Sarah Kinbar Ristorcelli

Create an Airbnb space that is super neat and cozy to ensure that potential guests have a pleasant stay.

Photo: GettyImages/Westend61

We are firmly in the days of the sharing economy. From bikes and cars to shared office space, the pursuit of cost savings has created a massive new market. That shared market also extends to lodgings, as seen with the meteoric rise of Airbnb and similar online hospitality services. Airbnb was launched with three inflatable beds in San Francisco just 10 years ago. Today, the company boasts 4.5 million lodging accommodations and since 2008, hosts have collectively earned $41 billion.

The phenomenal popularity of the online rental marketplace has many homeowners taking a second look at their properties with an eye to how their existing residential spaces can be transformed to accommodate an Airbnb type of space. What used to be the "mother-in-law suite" is being repurposed as an Airbnb lodging.

If you've got extra space or a standalone building like a pool house or in-law cottage on your property, you might be able to turn that into a source of revenue by adapting it for the Airbnb crowd. Robert Griswold, an Inman News columnist and author of Property Management for Dummies, explains, "It's a good plan. It helps you with mortgage payments and the beauty of it is if anything goes wrong, you're right there."

Here are a few tips to get you started on designing an Airbnb on your property.

Elements of a Successful Airbnb Property

1. Broad Appeal 

The most successful properties appeal to the widest possible audience. So, instead of shooting for the very narrow luxury market, many Airbnb hosts are mimicking hotels by offering solid accommodations with a generic appeal. It's a winning combination and is precisely what made Airbnb so popular in the first place.

2. Clean and Inviting

Even if you're offering rock-bottom pricing, the space still must be clean, attractive and inviting. Visual appeal is important since the first impression guests have of the property is through photos on the Airbnb listing. Keep it clean and uncluttered. Keep the décor simple and not too off-the-wall unique. The best Airbnbs provide guests with safe, clean and comfortable lodgings that serve as the backdrop for their travels, not the reason.

3. Appropriate Zoning

Before you decide to offer accommodations for payment, check your local zoning laws regarding rules for Airbnb-type services. Some may restrict when and how you can offer accommodations for paying guests. Others may require you to obtain a special license or permit to welcome guests. There may even be tax implications for hosting. Although Airbnb does offer guidance for hosts, this is not a guarantee that you'll be in compliance with local requirements. Start at City Hall and do your research before offering your home up for guests.

4. Cost-Conscious

The whole reason Airbnb took off in the first place is because it offered an affordable alternative to hotels and other types of lodging. Therefore, if you want your Airbnb to actually attract guests, you need to keep your rates low and competitive for your area. That also means that you should be careful about how much money you invest in getting the property ready for guests. The last thing you want to do is spend more money renovating or building a space than you will be able to recoup within a reasonable amount of time. What is "reasonable" is up to you. Some people are perfectly fine waiting five years to recoup their costs, while others want to recoup costs within a year or less.

5. Appropriately Furnished

You'll need to furnish the property. Sturdy, easily maintained furnishings, low-cost tableware, and budget décor items are all a must. Indoor/outdoor rugs and fabrics, IKEA glassware and big-box retailer décor can help minimize costs while still providing attractive and comfortable furnishings. The one area worth splurging on is the mattress. People always remember the mattress and how they slept when they post reviews. Go for the most comfortable mattress you can afford — and be sure to add in a top-notch mattress protector!

6. Identify Your Market

You definitely need to keep your target market in mind when designing your Airbnb property. Business executives will have different needs than family vacationers. Much of your market may be determined by your location or the property itself. Orlando is a terrific market for families, while NYC may be better suited for business execs. A whole cottage will attract a different crowd than a studio apartment. Figure out who is visiting your area and what their needs and expectations are, then design the space to meet those needs.

As Airbnb experience research manager Anne Diaz says, "It's incredibly important that we're thinking about who we are creating [a product] for, how we want them to use it and why they want to use it."

Keep It Simple and Follow the Rules

On-site Airbnbs are a great opportunity for homeowners to earn some extra cash from an unused space. The biggest challenge in designing your own Airbnb may just be keeping it simple. While you may have an innate desire to offer the best accommodations possible, don't do it to your own financial detriment. Develop a budget, consider your return-on-investment timeframe, and above all, cover your bases. Make sure you adhere to your local zoning requirements. The last thing you want is for your investment to go to waste because you've been reported.

Now that you've learned a thing or two about designing an Airbnb rental, click through the HomLuv site to start identifying properties that could work as an Airbnb for you!

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Sarah Kinbar Ristorcelli is a writer and former magazine editor with a focus on the way people experience designed spaces. Her stories for national and local publications feature the innovations in technology, materials, and design that shape the way we live.

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