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EP179: How to Effectively Screen Your Airbnb Guests

As children, we are taught to fear people we don’t know, and concerns about ‘stranger danger’ make potential Airbnb hosts hesitant about joining the platform. The good news is, there are a number of steps you can take to screen potential Airbnb guests that will ensure your safety – and improve the quality of the experience for guests who do make the cut!

Tanner Henkel is an Airbnb Superhost out of Toronto. He moved to the city in November of 2016, and quickly realized that his new building in the heart of downtown was prime real estate for Airbnb. Tanner enlisted the help of his roommate as a co-host, and now he has the opportunity to travel – and earn a substantial income through Airbnb.

After a frustrating experience with a guest who didn’t communicate his specific needs, Tanner developed a vetting process to protect his Airbnb business and verify that guests have appropriate expectations. Today he shares what he’s looking for in a guest profile, how he communicates with potential guests to ascertain their needs and expectations, and his advice around red flags to avoid. Listen and learn how you can apply filters to the Instant Book feature so that only guests who meet minimum requirements can Instant Book your listing!

Topics Covered

How Tanner got started with Airbnb

  • Moved to Toronto in November 2016
  • Master suite in new building, heart of downtown
  • Didn’t want to be locked into one location
  • Read Get Paid for Your Pad
  • Enlisted roommate as co-host

The concerns Tanner had getting started with Airbnb

  • Guests might ruin house, throw parties
  • Obtaining consent from building management

How Tanner compensates roommate for co-hosting

  • Shares income 70/30 when roommate covers check-in and cleaning
  • Tanner assumes hosting responsibilities when in town

The experience that led Tanner to screen guests

  • Guest surprised by shared space (despite clear description on listing)
  • Several issues during stay (bathtub depth, using key fob for building access)
  • Left after only two nights of 8-day reservation
  • Tanner contacted Airbnb to resolve
  • Gave guest partial refund
  • Airbnb cancelled remainder of reservation (no penalty to host)
  • Able to recoup money

How Tanner screens Airbnb guests

  • Review guest profile for reviews
  • Read reviews guest has written (for special requests)
  • Confirm guest has complete profile with clear pic of face
  • Confirm that guest has verifications, references
  • Communicate with guests prior to visit, clarify expectations
  • What will you be doing when you’re in town?
  • Who all is staying?
  • Have you used Airbnb before?
  • Have you visited the city before?
  • Use info to tailor guest experience, provide relevant information

Red flags to look out for

  • Profile picture doesn’t show face
  • Spare profile
  • No verifications
  • No social media accounts connected
  • Not responsive
  • Wants to communicate off-platform
  • Asks about neighbors, doorman, surveillance

How Tanner handles the Instant Book feature

  • Uses filters
  • Guest must be verified, have certain number of reviews
  • Requires 48-hour lead time

Why Airbnb encourages use of Instant Book

  • Improves usability of platform
  • Prevents discrimination

Instant Book considerations for hosts

  • Can cancel three times without penalty
  • Must jump through hoops to turn off
  • Make use of filters to keep business safe

Connect with Tanner

Tanner’s Airbnb Host Profile


Get Paid for Your Pad: How to Maximize Profit from Your Airbnb Listing  by Jasper Ribbers and Huzefa Kapadia


Hostfully Host Program

Connect with Jasper

Email: jasper@getpaidforyourpad.com

Twitter: @GetPaidForUrPad

Instagram: @GetPaidForYourPad 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/getpaidforyourpad

This episode is sponsored by Hostfully.com where you can create a custom digital guidebook for your guests!

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Complete Transcript for Get Paid for Your Pad Episode 179

Jasper: Welcome to Get Paid for Your Pad, a definitive show on Airbnb hosting, featuring the best advice on how to maximize profits from your Airbnb listing as well as real life experiences from Airbnb hosts all over the world. Welcome.

AD: This episode is brought to you by Hostfully, a company that helps you create beautiful guidebooks for your Airbnb listings. Especially for Get Paid for Your Pad Listeners, get two months free of their premium version.  For more details, visit hostfully.com/pad

Jasper:  Whats up everybody, it’s Get Paid for Your Pad episode 179! I’m in Las Vegas with my friend Tanner sitting next to me. He is a super host from Toronto and in this episode, we’re going to talk about how we screen our guests, as well as of course some of the experiences that Tanner has had in his Airbnb hosting experience and how he became superhost. Welcome, Tanner.

Tanner Henkel: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to do this.

Jasper: Awesome, well let’s start with how you got started.

Tanner: I just moved to Toronto in November of last year and I was looking for a way to not be locked into one location. I wanted freedom to move around and still make money from the apartment I had which was in an awesome location, brand new building so I knew there was an opportunity there and I read your book.

Jasper: Sweet. What type of listing?

Tanner:  It’s a shared apartment in the heart of downtown Toronto. Master suite, master bedroom, shared building.

Jasper: So, it’s a two bedroom and you have a house mate?

Tanner: I have a roommate that works as a co-host. He’s around a lot to check people in and deal with concerns.

Jasper: Do you only host when you’re out of town or when you’re in town?

Tanner:  Both. Ideally, it’s when I’m out of town. But there have been instances where we’ve left the calendar open and someone booked my room while I was in town. In that instance, I didn’t want to cancel on them because that’s not ideal so I arranged to stay somewhere else or slept on the couch for the night. We make it work that way.

Jasper: When you’d host guests when you were in town did you have a lot of interaction?

Tanner: We cater it to the guest. Some people want to ask us questions, where to eat and hang out, so, that helped because both of us were around in those cases. But some people just want to keep to themselves, hang in their room, do whatever they want to do. It’s better to be there so you can help, but some people don’t require that. It’s good that way, you can cater to what they want.

Jasper: Did you have concerns?

Tanner:  I did. Probably a lot of the common concerns. They’re worried people are going to ruin their house or throw a party, so it helps that it’s a shared space and either myself or my co-host is there 90 percent of the time, so I wasn’t too concerned about that. There was some issues with the building and having Airbnb in the building, but we worked it out with management. There was hesitation at first, but we went for it and we had no issues.

Jasper: Do you share the income with your roommate?

Tanner: Yeah, we figured out a split of the income. I did a lot of the leg work so I get a bit more, but it works out.

Jasper: Do you want to share the percentage?

Tanner:  Usually it’s 70 / 30 percent. He does a lot of the check-in and he does cleaning if I’m not there, and if I am, I’ll do it. If I’m traveling a lot, like I’m about to be gone for two months straight, we’re going to have ideally 80 percent occupancy in there, if he’s doing a lot of the work, it’s 70/30.

Jasper: whoever cleans gets the cleaning fee?

Tanner: Right, exactly. We put that money toward buying supplies and then if I’m spending it cleaning the apartment I keep the cleaning money.

Jasper: Fair enough. What’s your best advice for people asking advice on hosting? One of the things you mentioned was how to vet your guests. That’s something you’ve learned to do throughout your Airbnb experience. I thought that would be the topic of today’s podcast. So, what do you do to screen and how do you do it?

Tanner: I’ll start with how we got into the idea. About a month ago, we had a guest come and stay with us and one of the first things he said was “oh, this is a shared space? I thought I’d have the whole thing.” He was taken aback, and he was supposed to stay for 8-10days, which is a long stay. Over that, more things came up that we’d never heard issues about before. We were already super hosts at this point. He was bringing up stuff like that, how he’d have to share the kitchen and it was kind of eye-opening that he was so shocked by that. I thought that was clearly laid out on the ad. He ended up leaving prematurely, he stayed only 2 nights. It was a lot of work on the back end with Airbnb communicating with him, he didn’t know how to use the platform. IT was a pain. I came to the realization that people should know as much as we can tell them about the space. About what they’re going to get into and just be up front and honest about it, that way there’s no surprises. By communicating a bit before they show up, letting them know the co-host is going to be around, it is a shared space, even though it says that on Airbnb it doesn’t hurt to tell them again. Lay out any issues they might have, and asking them a few questions, like why they’re in town, some people say it in their initial message. IF they don’t ask them about it. Just to get an idea of what they’re looking for so you can cater to them. IF they’re brand new to Canada, they can check out things they wouldn’t think to see that would be in your average guidebook. Getting to know them before they show up and telling them what to expect gives everyone a better idea of what their stay is going to be like.

Jasper: How did you resolve the issue with the guest?

Tanner: With that guest, I spoke with reps from Airbnb and because it was such a busy time period, it was the pride festival in Toronto and the rates were high, and he’d booked 6 months in advance, which was crazy, and to have him show up and not be so taken aback by a shared space, I gave him a partial refund, but I couldn’t refund his whole stay, I didn’t think it was fair on our behalf. We did the best we could at that point on Airbnb and we were up front and honest, the fact he had special needs about the depth of our bath tub, it was tough for him. He didn’t know how to handle the key fob to get into the building. I didn’t think ti was fair to give him the full refund when he’d taken up our availability during a busy time period. We agreed to disagree on that and I gave him a partial refund and he seemed OK with that.

Jasper: Did Airbnb get involved?

Tanner:  They got involved as well. She told me, you don’t have to refund him, you’re listing mentions that you have a shared spaced, it’s up to him to ask these questions if he has those needs, so if he has 6 months lead up, he should, it just takes one message. So, it was a learning lesson for him, like if he’s going to use Airbnb again. And same on our behalf. Make sure we’re squared away.

Jasper: Even if you’re providing lots of details, the depth of the bathtub isn’t something you’d think of.

Tanner: No, No.

Jasper: Do you mention it now in your listing?

Tanner: No, I don’t. But I always tell people if they have special requirements, I’ll check.

Jasper: Did the booking get cancelled?

Tanner: Yes. He was there for a week and he left after 2 days so they cancelled the rest of it and they opened it back up

Jasper: So Airbnb cancelled it so you didn’t have negative consequences.

Tanner:  Exactly

Jasper: Were you able to rebook?

Tanner: It worked out because it was so busy in Toronto. It worked out to be okay in the end, it was just a lot of work

Jasper: It turned out well. The guest learned something, you didn’t really lose out on any money. Did he end up staying somewhere else?

Tanner: I don’t know, he was an older guy, so communicating wasn’t the easiest. One day he said he was leaving and then he left. It wasn’t that clear.

Jasper: Where was he from?

Tanner: Florida

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Jasper: So, you had this “bad experience.” I’d say learning experience and you realized you might want to get to know guests more before you accept the reservation, not just in your interest, but also in the interest of the guest, as a host you want to provide the best experience to the guest. If the guest isn’t happy, it’s not fun for you either. What are some things you can do to screen? You’ve mentioned a few things. communicate before-hand, send messages. What are others?

Tanner: We usually check out their profile so just looking at either the reviews that have been left and reviews they’ve left for other people so you can get an idea of what they’re looking for. Maybe if they list something specific on a previous stay they’ve had then we can be prepared for that and be a step ahead and give them what they’re looking for. That’s the first step. Also, communicate with them back and forth while they’re there. The profile has to be verified or we won’t consider them. Their references and such as well. For the most part…

Jasper: The profile is the first place where you look to gather some information about the guest. There’s verifications and references and reviews. You can look at pictures. IS it clear? Is it vague? I see some where the face isn’t in there. I think the content of the actual profile. If someone takes the time to write 3-4 paragraphs about their experiences and who they are, that’s a good indication that the person will be someone that you want to host vs. if someone doesn’t write anything. That could mean…if I were to try to scam on Airbnb, I’m probably not going to provide al ot of information.

Tanner: We had a couple people we turned away, one of them their name was one letter and it was a hippie van picture. It was like okay…no, that’s not enough. Someone else asked us, similar situation, she was talking about having multiple guests stay with her throughout the week, coming and going. So, sketchy, a bit of a red flag, it’s better to pass.

Jasper: You mentioned one thing I think is worth getting back to because people forget. You look at reviews of guest, reviews other hosts have left for them, but also see the reviews guests have left for other hosts. The example you mentioned with the guide who was having trouble with the bath. Imagine that he’d stayed with another host before and he left a review about it, that could have been a clue. That’s a good point. Let’s talk about some red flags, you’ve already mentioned some, like if they don’t have a good picture or don’t write much on their profile, no verifications – there’s also social media accounts you can connect to. If you were looking to scam, you probably wouldn’t connect your social media. Some other flags are someone who isn’t being responsive. You ask a guest a question and it takes them two days to respond and their answers are short. The biggest red flag is transacting off the platform, and people asking to see the property first, and the last thing is if you have someone asking about things like “do you have neighbors” is there a doorman, etc. Those kind of questions are raising red flags as well.

Tanner:  IF someone asks us how many people can fit in the living room, red flag. All stuff we’d keep an eye on. For the most part, that stuff is pretty self-explanatory.

Jasper: Right, another thing I wanted to talk about was instant book. This is a way to kind of screen your guest. You can turn on instant-book, and allow it to let everyone instant book. The extent to which you screen your guests, that’s the lower end of the spectrum. Are you using instant book?

Tanner: We are, but with filters. Only certain people can instant book with us. If they’re verified, have a certain number of reviews, and within a certain time. When we started the listing, first posted it, we had instant book turned on because we wanted to get more bookings, we just had it available to anyone and quickly realized we had to filter it out so we could get the ideal guests staying with us instead of just anyone. We got pretty lucky, we didn’t have any real bad guests from the instant book, but it’s something we realized quickly

Jasper: What was the time window you’re using?

Tanner: Right now, 48 hours. So, anyone outside of that with a verified profile and a certain number of reviews can instant book with us.

Jasper: One thing to mention with instant book is that if you’re using it, you can cancel and stay 3 times a year without getting penalized. I think Airbnb implemented that policy to encourage instant book, according to Airbnb it’s a very important feature for them because its improves the platform. It’s easier for guests to book if they don’t have to send a reservation request first. They’ve been pushing that feature. When you turn it off, they make you go through lots of hoops. Kind of shows how committed Airbnb is to maximize the amount of hosts that are using the instant book feature. With the filters you mentioned, you can use it in a way that still keeps your business safe. Especially given that you can cancel three times. One last thing I wanted to mention is that sometimes you can find out who this person is, I’ve chatted to Airbnb hosts who have been able to do this. Somehow, they’d managed to, through the school or something, the first name, details, you can figure out who this person is and find them on Facebook and check them out. I’ve heard of hosts who go through that process. That’s the higher end of the spectrum.

Tanner: If you feel like there are some red flags that came up but you still want look into it, that’s one way to go. That’s a good screening process. Its intense and not ideal.

Jasper: Then of course, you can do as much screening as you want. IN the end, it’s not a guarantee. Something can always come up. The expectations can be different, sometimes it’s something you didn’t think about, like your case. It’s hard to expect the bath is too deep to step in. But there could be other things. I had a guest who thought there was all sorts of things wrong with my apartment, they used Airbnb for the first time and they were used to staying in 5-star hotels. The guest told me my apartment was unacceptable and checked into the Marriott. He was probably expecting a 5-star experience which is difficult to provide as an Airbnb host. Going back to the point, it’s not about your own safety, it’s about making sure the guest knows what to expect and that’s why the communication up front is important and asking questions like what are you planning to do on your visit, whose staying, have you used Airbnb before, I think these are all really good questions to make sure you can provide the right information but for you to understand better how can I serve these guests. So, those are all great points. Tanner, thanks for being on the show, I wish you all the best luck with your Airbnb listing in Toronto.

Tanner:  Thanks for having me! I appreciate it.

Jasper: For the listeners, thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Of course, this Friday there will be another episode where we discuss this week’s news for Airbnb. See you then.