First season vacation rental takeaways

Now that the summer is coming to an end, I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about what we learned during our first season as Airbnb and Hipcamp hosts. When John and I first discussed building a vacation rental cabin on the property, the conversation was always about wanting to share the farm and Yellowstone with more people. Living in a place that is heavy with tourist traffic can make it easy to dislike the out of towners and foreigners; but I fell in love with Yellowstone when I was only 8 years old, and I have always been of the mindset that the more people can see a place as amazing as this, then the more people there will be out there in the world like me, who want to protect it. And so, our decision to host Yellowstone visitors from all over the world was born.

To give you a brief run down, our vacation cabin is completely off grid.  The entire footprint is only 12 feet by 16 feet, with a 12 foot by 10 foot interior and a 4 foot porch on the front. We’re talking SMALL. Because of this, I went out of my way to make the interior as nice as possible. Think modern farmhouse style with a brand new memory foam mattress. Adjacent to the cabin is a small outbuilding where we maintain a composting toilet. I actually got the idea for this toilet from Doug and Stacey at “Off grid with Doug and Stacy” and it has been seriously the best decision I made for this rental. (but I’ll talk about that some other time)

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So we finish the cabin, we put it on Airbnb and Hipcamp and immediately start getting bookings. Once we started hosting guests, there were a lot of things that turned out how I expected, and a lot of things that didn’t.

Things that surprised me:

  1. Most guests really want to do their own thing and won’t require much from you. (this was a godsend for me, because I am pretty darn introverted once I get home, and having other people on our property definitely made me nervous at first)
  2. People do NOT treat your space the way they would treat their own things. They are rougher, tougher, and down right just care a lot less about your stuff than they do their own (this is of course not true for everyone, but I was surprised how many guests broke things in the cabin and didn’t tell us about it).
  3. People that utilize sites like Airbnb and Hipcamp expect to get way more than they would at a standard hotel or resort for way less money. This is neither good or bad, it’s just something to be aware of.
  4. There are some really stinking nice and amazing people out there that will make your day and it’s worth breaking out of your shell a bit to interact with those ones
  5. This could be just a coincidence, but often times it was our short stay guests (1 and 2 night stays) that were the most high maintenance. Weird, right?
  6. We received quite a few last minute bookings. Meaning, we would be having dinner at 6 or 7 PM and someone would message us requesting to book for that night. This happened to us twice early on and it taught me to always clean the cabin right away after a guest’s checkout, even if we didn’t have an immediate arrival scheduled. That way, if someone wanted to book that night last minute, it was ready to go.

Things that were as I expected:

  1. I put a lot of time and effort into describing and photographing our cabin exactly as it is so that guests would know what they were getting into (ie no electricity or running water) and we still had guests that were shocked that we didn’t have those amenities. People do not read the entire description. It’s just a fact.
  2. Utilizing Airbnb as our main booking site was AWESOME! Their app is super user friendly and allowed me to communicate easily with guests no matter where I was.
  3. When we decided to host a cabin, we did it knowing that I work 10 minutes away and we were hoping that I would be able to clean the little cabin on my lunch break; this actually went great and I was able to clean it between guests in one hour; no problem.

A few other things to note: fast and frequent communication helped us a lot in getting positive reviews and creating a good guest experience. The Airbnb app played a hug role in this because it alerted us right on our phones anytime a guest had an inquiry. John and I also each have our own Airbnb accounts and are set up as co-hosts. This was helpful because when a guest sent a message it went to both of us; that way, whichever one of us was free could respond- that made our response time that much quicker. Another thing I think our guests really appreciated; I spent a good amount of time putting together a binder with local attractions, good places to eat, hikes to take, places to shower etc; this way guests could reference these things and make decisions on their own as to whether they wanted to partake or not. There isn’t really a way for us to track if this decreased the number of times guests reached out to us with questions, but I like to think it did.

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Last but certainly not least, let’s talk money. I know this is a taboo for some people, but I think it’s helpful to know where we are at as a result of this cabin. As I said, the cabin is very small and because of that we wanted to make it extra nice. All in, we put about $15,000 into the cabin and outhouse to get it up and running for our guests. Now, at the end of the season, we have about $1500 left to pay off before we are free and clear on the cabin.  That means, everything we bring in from the cabin next summer will be 100% profit! Woohoo! If you are interested in the interior of the cabin and the materials we used, please check out my other post about getting the cabin and up and running here.

All in all, hosting a vacation cabin was a very positive experience for us. We already have a few bookings for next year, and we can’t wait to welcome more guests to the area! I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, or comments on the vacation rental process below. Or send me a DM on Instagram.  Have a great day buddies!

Sincerely,

Chels

 

 

 

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