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House Rules

Picture this.  You’re on vacation, lounging on the beach.  This vacation is even more special because you rented out your place back home and the Airbnb money is virtually covering all of your expenses.  Not a worry in the world…until.  Your phone starts buzzing with texts, e-mails, and notifications from your guests asking all sorts of questions.

“What time is check-out?”
“Where can I find good sushi in the neighborhood?”
“How do I defrost something in the microwave?”

Our friends over at Superhost have a phenomenal cartoon illustrating this on their blog, I highly suggest you check it out.  Don’t let these questions derail your relaxing vacation!  Follow my guidelines to write a bulletproof house manual that answers ALL possible questions your guests may have.

1.  Be Redundant With The Basics
I’ve learned that you can never list the basic rules of your house enough times.  Yes, Airbnb has areas to fill these in on your listing page but it never hurts to reiterate.  I can’t tell you how many times people have asked for directions to my place when I’ve given explicit directions in the “directions” section of the listing.  People just don’t always take the time to read things that they should.  So I’ll include directions in my house manual along with things like check-in/checkout times, etc.  These should all be things that the guest receives in the booking confirmation email from Airbnb, but you can’t trust that they’ll actually read that!

2.  Create a Verbal Walk-Through of Your Place
Masters of memorization like to create something called a “memory palace.”  This notion was first introduced to me in Joshua Foer’s book “Walking With Einstein.”  The idea is simple.  In order to remember complex sequences of anything, you should anchor each item to a location or room in your house or another space you know intimately well.  Now when you think of this place you should also make the connection to the item you were trying to remember.  For our purposes, just picture someone entering your place for the first time and think of all the possible questions they could have from pulling into the driveway to operating the dryer in the basement.  Try your best to anticipate any issue your guest may have as they walk through your space.

3.  Cover Emergency Procedures
We all hope that there are never any emergencies when renting our space, but it could happen.  Guests like having the peace of mind that they’ll be taken care of if something unforeseen happens.  Of course it’s up to you to decide what qualifies as an actual emergency.  You should always write a few sentences about where the fire extinguishers are located just in case they’re needed.  Just recently Airbnb announced an initiative to get all hosts in the US up and running with free smoke detectors, CO2 monitors, and safety cards.  These safety cards in particular will come in handy when writing your house manual.  Be sure to leave them with all possible names and phone numbers that could assist in an emergency.  While it may seem like you’re being responsible if your mobile number is the one point of contact for everything, you won’t be much help if you’re on the other side of the world and the place is on fire.  As serious as these matters are,  I like to keep the tone light when talking about emergency situations.  No one wants to dampen their vacations with thoughts of doom and gloom, as long as the pertinent info is there, feel free to throw in a joke or two.  Which ties in nicely to our next guideline:

4.  Use Your Real Voice
Yes, you can make jokes in the house manual, in fact I encourage it!  Let the guests know what kind of person you are by the tone you use in the manual.  In some instances, the manual may be the only contact they have with you if you’re traveling or not staying on the premises during their stay.  No one wants to sift through endless drivel just trying to find the phone number for your next door neighbor to help let them in.  Make sure you keep the information organized in concise paragraphs or bullet points, but it should still sound like it came from you rather than a robot.  People stay at Airbnb listings in order to get that unique human touch that they may not get at a hotel.  Your house manual shouldn’t sound like the text posted on the back of a hotel door.

5.  Add Links
I like to create my house manual as a PDF document.  The beauty here is that you can include relevant links to things like your favorite restaurant or illustration of which buttons to press on the washing machine.  I wouldn’t go too heavy on links because not all guests will be looking at digital versions, but many of them will have it pulled up on their phone or tablet, and links add another level of depth to make things easy to understand.  Colorful hyperlinks, even to funny YouTube videos or non-essential info, help break up the monotony of the text and add more personality to your guide.

6.  Print Multiple Copies
As I just eluded to, some guests may prefer to always have paper print outs of your house manual.  While many aspects of Airbnb are inherently digital, hard paper copies are never a bad idea.  Once you have everything squared away in the digital version, I suggest printing at least 3 copies on paper.  With multiple copies you can leave them around in different parts of your house for guests to peruse whenever needed.  This also has you covered if international guests come to town without mobile phone service or other instances when a digital PDF won’t work.  Another bonus is that gusts may add handwritten notes and mark-ups to the paper versions that will come in handy for future guests.

7.  No Detail is Too Small
It’s never a bad idea to read over your house manual multiple times.  Pass it on to friends who know your apartment and could add anything you may have missed.  Creating a guide to a place you live in everyday is one of the most difficult things to do.  Most things in your space become second nature to you, but maybe they aren’t that intuitive to the average guest.  You can never have too much information in a house manual.  Although I will say that sometimes it could end up being more difficult to read and you may want to create a table of contents or clearly split things up into digestible parts.  While a lot of the work here can be covered in one solid afternoon of writing and brainstorming, the house manual should be a living document that evolves over time.  The goal is to invest the time upfront so that you have less work to do when actual guests are staying.

Have I missed anything?  What have been the most important inclusions in your House Manual?  Keep the conversation going in the comments or on twitter @darebnb

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B · July 18, 2014 at 2:38 pm

In your household manual:
1. let guests if they cannot leave unopened food for the next guest.
2. if you are in another country, please give detailed instructions for how to find the place to put your garbage when you leave.
3. Please tell how to use the washer and dryer – US and European systems differ greatly.

I’d rather have nice towels (no stains) than wine!


Chris · July 20, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Good points Barbara! You sometimes think it’s understood not to leave unopened food, but some people will still do it. Better to explicitly tell them not too. Garbage removal is key as well. When hosting people for only 1 or 2 nights I’ve been flexible on garbage removal since I’d have a cleaning crew coming in anyway. But for long stays they need to know where to take the trash. Yes, any sort of electronic equipment (TV, stereo, microwave, washer/dryer) should have some instructions included with it. Never assume that anyone knows how to use something that you may be accustomed to.

The Definitive Guide To Automating Airbnb | Darebnb · March 14, 2014 at 6:17 pm

[…] Create a Foolproof House Manual  […]

The Top 5 Services Every Airbnb Host Needs To Use | Darebnb · May 22, 2014 at 12:43 am

[…] the stereo? Brief your bellhop on the ins and outs of your place (even easier if you already have a foolproof house manual) and rest assured that they’ll make your guest feel right at home. Need your place tidied up […]

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