Perhaps the greatest challenge of being a remote host is building a relationship with your guests when you can’t be there face to face. Airbnb was founded on the principal of personal connection, but when your listing is in the rural village of Dudeldorf, Germany, and you are a thousand miles away in Spain, how do you go about making the guests feel at home? Or providing personal recommendations for seasonal things to do?
Niels Becker has designed a truly genius approach to remote hosting through a listing Facebook page. The page functions as a sort of interactive, continually updated guidebook, providing guests with timely information around events in the area, like the popular Christmas market. In addition, the Facebook page promotes Niels’ listing as his satisfied guests like and share the page with their contacts.
Beyond his experience in the short-term rental market, Niels also manages several long-term rentals in Dudeldorf. Today on the podcast, he compares the revenue earned via Airbnb guests versus tenants. Niels explains how he secured public funds to restore his properties, why he chose to try Airbnb in one of those investment units, and how he finds information for his Facebook page. Listen in and learn his unique approach to remote hosting and why investing in rural communities is your safest bet.
Niels’ decision to try Airbnb
The particulars of Niels’ investment property
Niels’ Facebook page
How the Facebook page promotes Niels’ listing
Long-term rental vs. Airbnb
How Niels manages his units from home in Spain
The Airbnb-friendly regulations in rural Germany
This episode is sponsored by Hostfully.com where you can create a custom digital guidebook for your guests!
Complete Transcript for Get Paid for Your Pad Episode 198
Welcome to Get Paid For Your Pad, the 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.
Jasper: This episode is brought to you by Hostfully, a company that helps you make beautiful guidebooks for your listing. Make your own at Hostfully.com/pad and as a special for Get Paid For Your Pad listeners, you'll get a free guidebook consultation after you make your guidebook.
Welcome to Get Paid For Your Pad Episode 198. Today I'm very excited to talk to a super-host from Germany who has been using Facebook as a way to provide local recommendations to his guests and also as a way to promote his listing. This is something that really interests me, because I think a lot of people are looking to promote their listing, looking to find ways to promote their listings outside of Airbnb and I think Neils has done a really good job. Welcome to the show, Neils Becker.
Neils Becker: Hi Jasper. It's good to be on your show. Catch me in my home office here in Spain.
Jasper: Good morning, I guess it is for you. It's late afternoon for me here in Taiwan.
Neils Becker: Alright.
Jasper: Neils, could you share to start your story. I know you are an investor. You have five units under management. We're also gonna talk a little bit about the difference between renting out an Airbnb and long-term renting, 'cause that's something that you're experimenting with and you're trying to figure out what's more profitable, so, we're gonna talk about that as well. If you could give us just a quick, short summary of how you got started at Airbnb and what your experiences have been so far.
Neils Becker: I'm renting out some long-term on my units for quite a while, for about six years now. Near my listing, there is an American airbase, and usually we rent to American military, which is a very nice thing to do. The rent is backed up by the US Government, so it's a very sure source of income. I have one small studio, which is a listing that I have that never rented because it's very small, and long-term renters didn't really like it, so I thought I would plunge into the venture of short-term rentals by checking out with this unit and seeing how it would work against long-term rentals and how the revenue would develop and see how it would work. This is how I got into the Airbnb about six months ago.
Jasper: You're obviously doing a good job, 'cause you're a super-host, and I also wanted to mention that the village where Neils is hosting is very, very beautiful. It's called Dudeldorf. For those who are familiar with Germany, it's near the border with Luxembourg. It's a very beautiful area. It's called the Eifel. It's where there are little hills, and it's very popular among Dutch people because we don't have hills, so we always love to go to places where it has a lot of hills. It's a beautiful little village. I even think it's gotten some awards, right?
Neils Becker: Right, it's a small village that's beautiful, but it's fighting against people going away from it to the big cities, so it's trying to preserve its heritage. All my units are in two hundred year old buildings that I have restored to modern standards. In this area, the authorities give you money if you take up the enterprise of restoring local heritage. You get awarded, I think, 20,000 euros per project, or something like this.
Jasper: Okay. That's very cool. So you took advantage of that. Let's talk about your Facebook page and also the reason why you started it and how you're using it, 'cause I think that's really interesting.
Neils Becker: My problem was, I'm what you call a remote host. I'm sitting here 1,000 miles away from where my listing is. I was trying to figure out how I could provide that home feel, that personal feel, that guided by a local feeling that Airbnb is providing to people, so I thought, why not use a Facebook page for the listing, where I can share interesting things that are going on in the area, tips on other little villages or towns or cities that you can see. What I share on there is content that I take from some Facebook groups on the area. One group has 8,000 members and all they do is getting out, trying to find secret hiking tracks, small villages, and things that are not known, so it's local insight at its best. I share this on the Facebook page so guests can take advantage of this.
Jasper: I guess the guests can also find the Facebook groups that way where you find this information.
Neils Becker: Exactly. They can get more insight on the area by joining these groups. Some of them are public, so you can see all the other content that they have. The only thing I add is what the distance from my listing to the advertised villages or the photographed villages or the event that's going on, so people can say, “Oh, yeah, we can try out. This only an hour away. We'll go there. Looks nice.” Originally, I had thought to serve this content myself onto the page, so last summer, I went to the place where my listing is with my wife and I said, “Oh, we have to go to the [Riverkill 00:06:12] Valley and take a picture of the biking track.” She was not very fond of spending the whole vacation going to take pictures of things, so I found this a much easier and more convenient way, because these photographs that I'm finding there are really cool. They're really nice. People really do a good job. It's virtually just sharing on the Facebook page. Just three clicks and you're set.
Jasper: Awesome. So, it doesn't really take you a lot of time and I bet you probably discover some cool things about your area that you didn't even know existed.
Neils Becker: Exactly. Almost everything I have on there, I had no prior knowledge it even existed. I have to admit this!
Jasper: You're learning a lot about your own area. That's cool as well. The Facebook page if you want to check it out it's at Living in History. I literally just looked it up. If you type Living in History, it will come up. The full name is Living in History – Dudeldorf/Eifel. Yeah, I think it's such a creative solution because I think everybody is aware of the fact that you want to provide your guests with local recommendations. Everybody knows that. People use different methods of delivering that information. Some people welcome their guests. Some people, especially the people who are remote hosting, they'll send a guidebook, whether it's a Word file or maybe a PDF, or even an online guidebook.
The thing is with those guidebooks, you don't want to update them every single week, because that's a lot of work. It's a lot of work to update a guidebook. The recommendations that typically go into these guidebooks are sort of the evergreen recommendations, right? You're recommending local bars, local cafés, restaurants. But things that are new, like an event or different places in the area … There's so much going on in an area, you can't really stuff everything into a guidebook. Using a Facebook page to share the latest updates, the latest events. I think that's a great idea and I love how you're leveraging the other Facebook groups.
One thing that you mentioned to me is when you first started doing this, you were a little worried that people would be mad at you for sharing their stuff in those Facebook groups. That's interesting, because from my experience, people love it when you share their stuff, usually on social media.
Neils Becker: I quickly had that experience as well. I was just worried. You have a lot of copyright issues if you just take photographs from Google. You can be sure that someone sooner or later will get really aggravated. On Facebook, usually the photographers who have shared and taken the picture that I'm using, they give me a like, or they even say, “Thanks for sharing my picture.” So, it's just the opposite way. They are usually pretty thrilled that someone found their work interesting, and they see that obviously, I'm not trying to sell that photograph. I'm just using it to share an experience these people have had with other people. I think that's what it's all about, at least these Facebook groups are about this, sharing local events going on.
You said this right, on a guidebook, it's very difficult … For example, now, in the area, we have small Christmas markets coming up. In Germany, that's one of the things that's going on. On a guidebook, as soon as they are over, you'd have to delete this and update your whole guidebook for spring things coming up. I think that's a lot of trouble if you want to keep things that are close to when the guests arrive, that there are actual events that will be taking place in the area. This, for me, is an easier solution. You're right that the guidebook is good for some basic information.
Jasper: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's great. Other than a great tool to provide your guests with the latest updates on what's going on in the area, it's gonna also help promote your listing. It can also lead to additional bookings, which is a really nice added benefit.
Neils Becker: Right. What I do is I encourage my guests to obviously like the Facebook page, and some do voluntarily, or they even have guest entries where they enter photographs that they have taken. Obviously, this played to all their Facebook contacts and they come and see the Facebook page, so it's a good way to promote the listing. I do have a “Book Now” button on it, which leads back into Airbnb so that it can generate bookings very swiftly and easily for people. It's starting to happen that people are using this. I have developed this method for promoting the listing on Facebook about two months ago and it's starting to show first results.
Jasper: Yeah. That's great. It's really a win-win situation, win-win-win for everybody. I think it's awesome. By the way, I'm looking at your Facebook page and I notice people can also review your Facebook page. I wonder if it would be useful if guests audit and review you on Airbnb, I wonder if guests would be willing to also give you a review on the Facebook page. Have you ever asked them that?
Neils Becker: So far, I haven't. The reason is I have been struggling really hard to get the Super-Host status. I guess all hosts on Airbnb know that in the beginning, it's a very hard time, and you see people sometimes give you reviews where you think it's [inaudible 00:11:43]. I was lucky, because I only have two four-star reviews since I'm hosting and everything else is five-star. I was a little bit worried if I had to battle two places, the Airbnb ratings and the Facebook ratings. I have thought about this, because I think, especially if I would want to promote my listing through Facebook, the reviews would be a key factor, because they always are. For example, on Facebook, people could say, “Yeah, I've stayed there. I like the place.” Or even if they would only say, “I loved the area.” That will already help a lot, I think.
Jasper: Yeah. I would definitely not ask those guests who leave a four-star rating, I wouldn't ask them to leave a review on your Facebook.
Neils Becker: Yeah. I'm not sure if people would be aggravating by saying, “Ah, I had to do this review and now I have to do another one.” I don't know, but, it would be worth a try, I think. At least the people who are super-content, and I have some people who leave me excellent texts not only with five stars. What's more important even to me is that in the text they say, “We felt at home instantly.” Or “It feels like a luxury hotel room.” Things like that, where, other people really say, “Oh, that place must be awesome.”
Jasper: Hosts, I can't emphasize how important it is to share recommendations of things to do or eat near your listing beforehand. Your guests won't have to go to Tour Advisory, Foursquare, or Yelp. They won't have to scratch their head and think about possible places right in the moment. I've been using Hostfully to create an online and printable guidebook to show my guests my favorite coffee places in Amsterdam. They use my recommendations, and I'm getting fewer questions from my guests as a result. I've also included screen shots of my guidebook on my Airbnb listing as a way to differentiate my listing from others. So, make your own guidebook at Hostfully.com/pad.
Awesome. I wanted to also touch on the subject of the long-term renting vs. Airbnb. From my experience, Airbnb hosting is definitely a lot more profitable. I always feel like it's about 2 to sometimes 3X, what you can make on Airbnb vs. long-term renting, so I'm really interested to know what your experience has been so far as you're doing both.
Neils Becker: I'm monitoring this, because obviously, this is very important for me when I make the decision to possibly convert other units to short-term rentals. So far, I must say that the income from this unit is double than the long-term rental that I could make off of it. I have a good insight on this, because, as I'm saying, all the other units are rented at a good rent for the area. It is probably the top that you can get on a long-term rental, but still, this little studio that I'm listing is making double what I could get so far. I'm now going a bit into the off-season or low season periods, but still, bookings are coming in. I'm really confident that I can keep up the 2X at least. [crosstalk 00:14:55]
Jasper: Are these units comparable? Or is the one your renting out on Airbnb a bit different than the others?
Neils Becker: They're perfectly comparable from the standpoint where you would say location, how is it outfitted, stuff like this. The only difference is that this particular studio is smaller. It's less site, but when I compare the revenue that I'm making, I'm doing this by the surface, dividing the square meters or square feet, what one unit has versus the other and see what I can get. I started out with this small unit because it was just sitting there, so anything I earn is a profit. I'm not under any pressure. Otherwise, they're totally comparable. The furnished units are all furnished like the one that I have listed. It's the same style. It's the same old buildings. I don't know if you're familiar with the British TV show called Somerset Murders or something like this, with Inspector Barnaby. There are all these cute, small English cottages. This is like a German version of it.
Jasper: Well, I'm not familiar with that TV show, but it sounds pretty cute. One other subject I wanted to discuss is the way that you manage your units, 'cause you live in south Spain near Valencia, you mentioned, so you're quite far away from your home. How do you manage it?
Neils Becker: I do have, obviously, a local cleaning service and management service for any issue that can arise. I have local people there I totally can rely on. Other than that, it's all automated. I have a lockbox where people find the key. I tell them the code. They open the box and welcome themselves inside. Just to provide some personal welcome, what I do is I write them a handwritten note, where I say, “Welcome, so and so, thank you for staying. I wish you a good time.” And all of this. I send this as a photograph through the Airbnb messaging system. I'm telling them through all channels that I'm always available during their stay, and this is something I'm trying to keep up like 24 hours a day. Whenever there is something, they can call. They can send something through the messenger services. The communication is rated straight five star all through the time that I'm renting through Airbnb. There has never been anybody complaining saying, “We were left alone,” or something like this although I am never physically there.
Jasper: That's really smart. You're a quick read, if I say. I was thinking first when you mentioned the 100 notes to me before we started recording. I was thinking you just write the notes when you're in Germany, and then you'll just leave it on the table or something. But you're actually writing it in Spain, you take a picture, and you send it through the Airbnb messaging app, which now you can also use to send pictures. Before, you couldn't do it, but they changed that awhile back. That's super-creative. I like it.
Neils Becker: I think it's something where people see it's not like a large hotel chain who will give you a welcome message on your TV screen or something like this, which is just standard. It's something personal, to connect with people. Some guests, after they receive that handwritten note, will respond in no time and say, “Yeah, we just came in and everything is okay. Thank you very much, and thank you for the amenities that you have provided.” I have some craft beer that I have for them in the fridge, and some bottled water, and all this kind of stuff. I mean, the next best thing to a personal conversation, which in my situation is not possible.
Jasper: In Germany, are there any rules versus short-term rentals? Are there any restrictions in place or is that only in Berlin?
Neils Becker: In my area, if you convert something into something, into a short-term rental, if you have any activity, you will probably get a [inaudible 00:18:52] back by the local authorities, because they encourage to have the area promoted for more tourism, for people coming in. It's all opposite. We have a lot of buildings that are not being used because people have passed away and the inheritors live in big cities far away. Anybody who does a project like this and starts short-term rental it's very welcomed. It's totally opposite from what you see in big cities where the argument is always short-term rentals are taking away places for locals to rent. Here, it's totally opposite. There are no locals. It's good if you do something, and not everything becomes derelict and just falling apart. It's very much welcomed, so it's a good situation for an investor.
Jasper: Right. Very Airbnb-friendly, for a change.
Neils Becker: It's like weekly where you hear about new restrictions. Here in Spain, it has, because I was looking into investing something here in Spain, finding an Airbnb place. But here, in big cities, in Barcelona, Madrid, I think on Majorca, you have already restrictions for Airbnb. Obviously in Spain, there's a very strong hotel lobby who's always trying to restrict the short-term rentals. Now, you have to register your place, and you have to have a lot of things that sometimes you can't provide. And, it takes very long to complete the registration process. I probably wouldn't do this, because in the long run, if you put a lot of money in it, it can become a nightmare.
Jasper: Yeah, so this is quite interesting. I'm in the process of writing my next book on investing in Airbnbs and the one thing I'm doing right now is I'm trying to figure out what are the best areas to invest? What are the Airbnb-friendly places? Because if you're gonna invest in a large city, even if there's no regulation yet, there's a reasonable chance that within the next five years or so, the regulation will eventually come. I think looking at smaller places, even in little villages such as yours, there's only 1,000 people, might be a really good way to go, 'cause at least you won't have any trouble with the regulators.
Neils Becker: Rural areas are probably a good place to invest. You have seen my page there and my listing. What I'm charging would be ridiculous if you compared that to Amsterdam or Berlin or any big city. But on the other hand, the prices to buy a property or invest into a property are much lower, and I'm saying you're getting even public funds. If you do so, this can compensate for the lower revenue that you can make. Obviously, if you're in downtown Berlin, you wouldn't be charging what I'm charging right now, but you would pay a lot more to buy the apartment or flat or whatever you need to have.
Jasper: So, for you, it's still a pretty good return on investment that you're getting from Airbnb in your village.
Neils Becker: Yes, definitely. I'm very surprised. I read your book before I started out and I was a little skeptical if I could really get these economic goals that you were saying there. It does work. For me, it has worked so far. I'm very content so far.
Neils Becker: I'm trying to complete the total circle of one year to see how it behaves within 12 months and then I will take my decision to pull over other long-term rentals to vacation rentals.
Jasper: Awesome. I'd love to keep updated on your journey. When it reaches 12 months, maybe we can have you back on the podcast. We're running out of time, so, thank you so much for joining today. I really appreciate your story and it's great to hear that everything's going so well. For all the listeners, thank you for listening, and of course on Friday, there'll be a new episode, so hopefully, I'll see you then. Bye bye.
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