Peter Lorimer, star of Netflix’s show “Stay Here”, is passionate about short-term rentals. He knows the industry well and encourages people to jump in, as long as they’re fully prepared to do the work. Here, the British personality talks about what it really takes to successfully run your own short-term rental property.
What’s your favorite part of being involved with “Stay Here”?
I think my favorite part was getting to see how Airbnb fit into all the different parts of the United States. Because you’ve got Palm Springs, which is super hot and super balmy and very kind of almost Hollywood, and then you’ve got the Hudson Valley. I hadn’t been to Hudson Valley before and I hadn’t been to D.C.
The best of the show was being able to immerse myself into the cultures of the cities that I hadn’t had the chance to be fully immersed in, which I think is kind of the essence of what Airbnb is, right? With Airbnb, we’re not just renting a crash pad, we want to experience living like a local. It’s such an exciting industry for just that reason. It is incredibly personal, whereas a hotel for the most part is a very impersonal place. It can be beautiful, but it isn’t personal.
You’ve told people on the show that when you run an Airbnb, you’re really the manager of a very small hotel. How can property owners get a competitive advantage in today’s market?
It’s incredibly important for property owners to know what the story of their place is. For example, if it’s a beach property, you’ve got to play up that narrative of having access to the beach and having buckets and spades and maybe a seahorse in your living room and maybe a nautical theme throughout the property. All too often, I see really great potential properties for Airbnb, but they don’t put the work into selling that story for the customer.
I think the best money anybody can spend is on a professional photographer. Don’t just be taking photos on your iPhone, don’t just be taking snaps. There’s a cat in the background or maybe a dead plant or trash under the table. I see it all the time. Have a professional real estate photographer come out, capture the narrative of your story. Make sure the photographs are beautifully shot, well lit, and super clean because the Airbnb industry is like the regular real estate industry.
I’ve been doing Airbnb for 10 years, but I’ve also been doing traditional real estate. In the traditional real estate industry, 15 years ago I would have clients call me up and ask, “what’s come on the market in, say, Hollywood?” You’d say, “this one, that one, the other one,” and you’d take them around and them a bit. Now because of technology, traditional real estate and short-term rentals have really turned into real estate Tinder. You have to make sure that you’re marketing your photographs and that your copy – your story – are all on point and are crafted, and you’re treating this like a business, not a side hustle.
The other person not to overlook: please, please hire a professional cleaning crew. There is nothing that will give a bad review quicker than flying a long way to stay at your Airbnb and there is some dirt in the sink, or worse, some dirt in the bathroom. There is a phenomenon that people seem to be more grossed out by dirt that’s in an Airbnb than dirt that’s in a hotel. I don’t know why that is. Trying to save $20, $30, or $50 on a cleaning crew, which will ultimately pass the expense on to the person that’s staying, is madness.
The other thing is this – I mention this in the show repeatedly as well – I love the genesis of Airbnb. You know it started in air mattresses and it started with a spare room. We are way beyond that now. So if you are renting out part of your home or a guest house, my recommendation is not to just fill it with the old furniture you don’t use anymore. You can have some of that in there, but be strategic. Buy some furniture that’s super attractive, maybe contemporary. Spend some money on investing in your business. Because I find when a business invests in itself, it always seems to thrive. When businesses try to take shortcuts, and use the old chest of drawers, or Granny’s old couch (as I refer to it in the show), it’s convenient, but at the end of the day, it affects your ROI and it means you make less profit.
How do you view renter’s insurance? Do you think it’s beneficial to tenants and/or landlords? If so, how does it help?
Speaking as a property owner, I think having insurance as a landlord is absolutely paramount. Because if someone slips and falls while going out of your house and getting into a cab in the rain, there is potentially, a nasty, sticky lawsuit. I definitely recommend renter’s insurance. Also, be very clear with whomever else you have insurance with that you will be using this as an Airbnb. I also recommend having an umbrella policy, which means if you max out that policy, there’s another policy behind it to catch any excess. If you’ve got two Airbnb [properties], some insurance is included. But on a personal level, if I knew a place I was looking at had additional insurance, it would add an extra layer of comfort to the whole process.
How does technology help to automate and make this job easier?
It’s very interesting. The past 10 years have had technological advances, and I remember when the first real estate portal came out, there were oohs and aahs and gasps. The industry itself has gone through huge technologic shifts. I almost feel technology is taking a front seat, but as long doesn’t make us lazy, it’s a good thing. If I’m a Airbnb owner, I can have an awesome doorknob automated on my property or a little plaque out that says call this number. I can say, “welcome. You’ll find some champagne in the fridge and some snacks on the kitchen counter. I’m just going to unlock the door for you now.” That’s great, but there is nothing – nothing – that is going to replace the personal touch. With my properties and the properties I represent, it is always about meeting them in person when you can. There are occasions when you can’t. If you want treat this like a business, and be in the hospitality industry of hotels, you’ve got be hospitable.
Technology is only a tool, but ultimately, you are the commodity, you are the business. The short-term rental is the business, but when you’re greeted by someone who owns the property or represents the property who can tell you everything, like “tomorrow morning, wander down the block go into Joe’s Coffee and ask for the strawberry pancakes and the special coconut latte,” you like that stuff. You feel like you’re getting the inside track, like you’re getting the secret to the neighborhood.
Does property management systems free up landlords to be more personal?
I’m all about how can I utilize an hour. So if I have limited hours today, how can I use them to get the absolute best results possible? If I’m nose-deep in paperwork and stressed out looking at the bills, my ROI, my X and my Y, then I’m probably not going to be the most vibrant host I could be.
I fall very much on the side of if you can afford it – frankly, I think you can’t afford not to – get property management software. There are lots of good examples. Turnkey is one of them, and there are several of them that will manage all the day-to-day running of the property, like commission. They take a legitimate slice out of ROI, but at the end of the day, what they give you back is freedom and time.
Other software or companies or vendors managing some of the mundane aspects of the industry make your personal amount of stuff to manage scalable.
What’s your advice for newcomers to the Airbnb business – what do they do themselves, and what do they outsource?
I’m a great believer in apprenticeships, and I’m a great believer in getting things wrong so you know how to get them right. So if someone is dipping their toe into this industry, I would highly recommend they take the bull by the horns and try to do everything by themselves, except cleaning and photography. All the design and direction of property, get those details in the process. If you’re looking to make this your career, get your nose in there. See what people like; see what they don’t like. See what’s scary. See what you get wrong; see the reaction when you put wine in the fridge for the family that doesn’t drink. See that reaction when you run out of soap and you have that call at 3 in the morning. It will never happen again.
I think to be a great short-term rental owner, you have to be able to manage it yourself as perfectly as possible. Essentially, we’re creating a small prototype of our small company and handing it over to someone else, saying “this is how I like to run it.” Now you run it for me.
If you want to be an authority in your industry, you need to know every aspect of that industry.
What trends do you see in near future? Where is Airbnb going?
I’m very much a power-to-the-people type of guy. I love it when there’s no middle and you’ve dealing with your customer and the business owner, speaking to them directly.
I love the genesis of this industry. It’s really mom-and-pop, people with a spare room. None of us knew what we were doing. We kind of bumbled along and developed into a very successful, sophisticated, multi-billion-dollar industry.
So I think where this is headed – I’m going to give you a phrase – never underestimate your punter. In England, a punter is a customer. Five years ago, you have could have gotten away with soap from Walmart or sheets that were 200 thread count. You could have cut corners. People wouldn’t have noticed as much. Now there is such immense competition in this industry. It goes back to investment. You’re the CEO of your small business, you must invest in your business.
I’ll give you an example. I just stayed at an Airbnb in Britain in a town called Leeds. I booked it, it was very nice, great location. I was already happy. I got there and was greeted by a local man, who told me everything about the neighborhood including things I did not know. Then when I went into the bathroom – I was already loving this property and I was going to leave a great review – they went the extra mile and put in high-end bath products. They went that little extra mile and I was like, “wow, dude!” This went from a great experience to a really great experience. That was repeated in the kitchen. Not only did they have tea and coffee, but they also had a collection of Yorkshire teas, which is where I’m from. I was experiencing parts of Yorkshire I’d never experienced before. They added on lots of layers that probably cost less than 1 percent, maybe 3 percent of the money they made from me. But without a doubt, I will recommend that place hand over fist to anyone that will listen. They predicted what the guests wanted before they wanted it. Every moment was curated.
What they did extra wasn’t that much but it made me feel warm and fuzzy feeling, like I picked the right one. It was great, it was gratifying.
What advice do you have for people who want to break into this industry?
The most important thing is data. Data drives everything. Know your niche. Know your audience. Whom are you going for? People who want to have an experience on a budget? Are you going for the luxury traveler? Are you going for the family traveler?
If you’re thinking of jumping into this industry, don’t just think, “I’ll get a property that’s kind of cool and I’ll paint it, put some furniture in it, and hope for the best.” Know what your weaknesses are, know your strengths, and lean into that.
I get asked this question a lot: “where should I buy?” Let’s say you have a million dollars to spend. I always say there are some parallels and differences with traditional real estate. Traditional real estate is location, location, location. With short term rental, it’s location, location, location, and amenities. For example, if you’ve got a million dollars in Los Angeles where I am, you can buy a small little condo in West Hollywood, a two-bedroom, or you could buy a four-bedroom house in an area called Santa Clarita which is about 20 to 30 minutes outside of Los Angeles. Traditional real estate, if you’ve got a family, you might lean towards the house, but when you’re dealing with an asset class such as short-term rentals, you want it to be among all the restaurants. You want to pick a house that has walkability score. Walkability is massive in the short-term rental industry. If you’re buying a property in a city that doesn’t have a walkability score, ask your agent.
I’d much rather have a smaller property with two bedrooms among the amenities of restaurants, nightclubs, parks, and points of interest than a bigger property that’s farther out because you’re going to have more vacancies with less amenities.
There are no shortcuts. If you feel like you saved a buck here or got something for less here, they won’t notice a used bed, or the mattress is kind of OK, they’re going to notice and it’s going to affect your ROI. Always have exceptionally good photographs and treat guests like extended family. When you meet them, be pleased to see them. Treat them like a long-lost friend. That’s what they’re hoping for; that’s what the industry was founded on. It isn’t like we’re checking into a hotel with the concierge. It’s like we are an old friend and we’ve got old friends from out of town coming to stay with us. Always put the client first and always put the profits last.
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