Whats it like to be a Airbnb host in Manchester?

AirBnB kinda sucks

Zoe pointed me to the medium blog One year hosting on Airbnb.

I thought was actually quite interesting, so I thought I’d do something similar but maybe less quantified.

I moved to Manchester 8 years ago and moved to my own flat 6 years ago. I bought a two bedroom flat mainly so I could have family & friends over without building a bed in the living room each time. Originally it was going to be my computer room complete with server and all type of tech. But I ended up putting a sofa bed in there and never really using it much. It was a bit of a waste to be honest, and I always felt a little bad about that.

As one of the earliest movers to Manchester from London as part of the BBC’s move to media city UK. I saw the potential for maybe renting my spare room to people moving up and finding their feet. Heck I’m right by Piccadilly station and they were building a new tram station by me (new Islington) making getting to media city easy as pie. There is a private Facebook group for movers and I kept an eye on that for potential people.

There was quite a few people doing the same and they would list their places on spare room and elsewhere. I was going to do the same but never around to it. I didn’t really want someone for months at an end because I wanted the flexibility if a friend wanted to stay over. I had previously had a flat mate (Tim) and he was great (saving my life and all) but I said to him that I was going to live mainly alone. It was something I just needed to do

I had heard of airbnb but thought of it like couchsurfing which another friend (Dave) had used a lot. It was somewhere between needing to put my spareroom somewhere to show people on the Facebook group and half looking for a flat mate, partly from the guilt of not using the spareroom much. That make me actually look into it and ultimately put up the listing.

Skies above Manchester
Double in Manchester City Centre

My listing was very honest, maybe too honest. The photos are a little crappy and I didn’t stage anything (no ironing of the sheets, photo retouching, etc). I also didn’t use a wide angle lens like airbnb’s photographers do. Nope the room is small but has a proper double bed, some draws and a mini wardrobe. I decided the biggest selling points of the flat was the separate bathroom (I tend to use my on-suite for everything), the amazing views, its location and my flexibility. This is why I made the first photo a sunset from the living room. I keep thinking I need do better about the photos but frankly i’m happy with the little extra money and I’m not doing it to get rich (unlike some people)

On that front, I actually add restrictions to put certain people off.

  • You can not book my room on the day. I had enough of last-minute requests and frankly the kind of people putting in the request seemed a little sketchy. The weirdest one is a man who wrote a message like I had already accepted his request, he wanted to know where to go to meet me!
  • I always get into a conversation with the person. If I get a bad feeling I make an excuse and reject their request. I need to know they are coming to Manchester for a purpose not doss at mine, eat my food (there is a story there) and drink all my cocktail spirits.
  • I wouldn’t do instant book, for the reason above I don’t use instant book, I need to get a feel of who the person is. I’m also ruthless with checking their previous bookings, social media profiles and offline ID. My bare minimum acceptable is a verified phone number, email, at least one social media profile. I need a good photo of the person and one or two positive reviews. If no reviews I’d need to know they have done the offline ID check. It’s off-putting but it’s my home and I want to know exactly who they are. Also I checked with my insurance and this is important if Airbnb’s insurance doesn’t cut it and I need to use my own.
  • All guests need to go through verification. I turned this on because it made sense for me.
  • I charge over the recommended price. Airbnb has data on all the places similar to yours and how well they are doing. The algorithm then calculates a recommended price which will attract people and earn a good return. The problem for me is I don’t want a lot of people, I don’t need the room always in use. It’s optimised to get more people and thats not for me. It also requires you really change it quite a bit or rely on them changing the price. I swear a few times I seen the price go as low as 19 pounds a night, this is not workable for me.
  • I have a list of things which I’m allergic to which I have listed on my profile. The big one is no cooking baked beans in the flat. I can deal with almost anything else but I can’t have that in my flat. To be fair most hosts don’t let people cook, but I think thats pretty tight (imho) and unfair if you are there for over a week.

Some numbers. To date I have had a lot of enquiries for my spareroom (73, I took the time to respond to). Some months it’s every week some months I get nothing. I have had 15 people in the years I have been doing it. The average stay is about 3-4 nights and I mainly get males (unsurprisingly), but had a good number of females. If you count actual bookings, its not far off half. But its only because Caroline rebooked many times. My next guest is female. Exact earnings I do know because Airbnb does tell you but I’d rather not say, but it’s worth saying I did look up the maximum you could earn before paying excess tax and I am quite a way off. Paypal did think I was doing some money laundering and cut me off for a while, which was painful.

Most of my guests are from the UK but I’ve had a couple from the states and western europe. Once again if I was doing things by time, Portugal would be the biggest percentage by far with the UK second and America third. I don’t tend to get many people just wanting to party, mainly becasue of the restrictions I have put in place I believe.

Incidents? Nothing major my front door has been left open, somebody complained I didn’t have enough takeaway menus (I have none to be fair) and I have found something very surprising in the fridge one day.

I have heard of some real bad stories and to be fair my own experience in Japan does remind me how bad things can get. Also how tricky getting help out of Airbnb can be. I would do everything I can to fix things myself before embarking on getting help out of them. Although to be fair they have quickly modified peoples reviews when they break the guidelines (not deliberately or maliciously)

Positive experiences, I have many!

Catherine was the first woman who stayed at mine and she was wonderful, shes also the one who finally convinced me I should finally go to the ballet I was thinking about. Darren was so pleased about the place and was kind enough to let me cousin and friend stay in the living room while he was there. I don’t even know where to start with Caroline…

She certainly stayed the longest at just over 3 months but was a pleasure to be around. We had some great conversations and had a routine of watching the Affair together. She certainly became more like a flat mate than a airbnb guest which was fine, except I needed to redecorate my flat, which also involved storing stuff in the spare room. It was a shame to see her go, but things were not working out for her career wise too.

All of these people wrote me glowing reviews and gave me a lovely present to say thank you. Caroline even wrote me a number of lovely post it notes during the months, one still exists on my noticeboard. Will have to encourage more guests to do this after seeing Rehan’s book.

Having Vivid Lounge downstairs is incredible and always gets super high praises from guests, no wonder it was voted one of the best thai restaurant in Manchester recently. Most of my guests drop in there for drinks or food at some point. I’m actually writing this while sipping a coffee in Vivid, trying to get use to British Summer Time

I would encourage everyone who has a spare bed in their house to list their space on Airbnb (if that’s legal in your country). It’s a great way to boost the economy of a city/country because there are thousands of other tourists who like to visit different cities but are not able to do it because the hotels are too expensive.

As for me, I am deeply honoured to have been a host for the hundreds of guests who stayed at my apartment and gave me a chance to contribute to their first amazing experience of Amsterdam.

I would echo most of Rehan’s thoughts.

But I have to say you have to sensible about everything. I know friends who have taken on Airbnb and been unflexible or not willing to trust the person with keys, etc. Trust is a two way street and my faith in humanity is strong, but I’m not blinded by making huge amounts of money. This is the classic money clouding judgement/decision making process. Yes you could make quite a bit of money but you will end up taking more risky people and do you want the hassle of replacing stuff after someone decides to have a party in your flat with a bunch of friends or even people they met that night?

I know theres a lot of tension about Airbnb, especially with what Berlin did, others are sure to follow suit. Some of the Manchester flats management agents won’t allow Airbnb to happen within their flats. But as I said previously, we need to think differently about the people who are renting a whole apartment or house from those like myself who are renting their spare room or a sofa in the case of Rehan at first. Its a great way to meet different types of people and its always a interesting talking point in conversations, dare I say it could help make you interesting?

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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