Monday 16 September 2019

12 ways to turn your home into an Airbnb winner

How do you style up your home for holiday rentals? Fran Power asks three experts to share their secrets

Natural light shows off a room better so shoot your photos in the morning
with all curtains, blinds and doors open. Use plants to add interest. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
Natural light shows off a room better so shoot your photos in the morning with all curtains, blinds and doors open. Use plants to add interest. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
Vintage finds add interest. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
Make sure the bathroom is spotless. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
Frame areas of interest. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy

Fran Power

The news in January that Dublin's top earning Airbnb listing was bringing in €230,000 a year has set the heart of many an over-stretched mortgage-payer racing. Admittedly, that high earner is a six-bedroom boutique townhouse near St Stephen's Green decked out in impeccable taste. And the figures are from aggregator AirDNA rather than from official Airbnb sources.

Still, the average Irish host earned €3,500 a year, from November 2016 to 2017, and hosted guests for just 37 nights a year. And 70pc of Airbnb hosts were owner occupiers either renting a room or the entire house while they were away (Ireland, by the way, has the highest number of female hosts in the world at 60pc).

There were 8,500 listings in Dublin alone. That's a competitive market. Given that not all properties boast sea views or city-centre locations, the key to standing out and securing more bookings can come down to interior design.

And that applies not just to short-term rentals but also to house swaps in which popular websites like offer a way to see the world without clocking up hotel charges.

We asked three industry veterans - an interior designer who specialises in staging property, an interiors photographer, and an Airbnb host and creative consultant - for their tips on how to prep for rental or house swap.

1 Find your USP

You have to identify your market - business traveller or leisure; couples or families - and make your decisions accordingly. "Find the unique selling point of the place," says Natasha Rocca Devine of The Interiors NRD. "Is it a beautiful view? Does it overlook the garden? Is it by the sea? If so, add towels for swimming. Is it very small? If so, are people coming to rent it because it's close to Dublin Airport? Embrace that - put in travel guides, Dublin maps, information on hop-on/hop-off buses. Make it fun."

But, she warns, don't get carried away. "Keep it really practical - it's not an interior design project, this is for staging, so you're not investing in a redesign. This is a quick fix."

2 Declutter but stop short of bland

"Remove anything you don't think is going to be sellable to your guests," says Natasha. "Essentially you're pitching your place to people - Airbnb, as much as it's relaxed, is also a business opportunity nowadays. Is it going to help make money? If not, then clear it out."

Make a clean sweep of shelves, mantelpieces, tables, sideboards. Then repopulate - sparsely - with one-offs culled from vintage stores, markets and charity shops, says well-known interiors photographer Ruth Maria Murphy. These will add personality instead of generic high-street items that just add clutter.

"Decluttering and depersonalising is definitely something that needs to be done," says Ruth Maria, "while not losing personality altogether. It's a bit like the showhouse versus the real house. The showhouse has no soul but, at the same time, you don't want your place to look really lived-in either."

Veteran Airbnb host Ros Walshe, whose Wicklow cottage also won RTE's Home of the Year 2018, agrees. "Airbnb is all about the personal touch and personality, otherwise you'd stay at a Premier Inn." She had photographs taken professionally for her listing and strikes a balance by having nice paintings - husband Patrick is an artist - and personal possessions about the place alongside boutique hotel touches like body lotions, quality linen and towels. "I think when people come, they love the fact that it is not full of Ikea - that there is personality. They normally walk in and say, 'Wow, this is different to anything else'."

3 Do a deep clean

"Cleanliness is really important," says Ros Walshe. "You don't want people to think it's scuzzy." Wash the windows, scrub the floors, clean out the fire grates and remove cobwebs - it'll make a difference to guests and also to those all-important photographs.

Beyond the fundamentals, nothing says fresh, crisp and clean like white bedding and towels, says Natasha Rocca Devine, who has found that clever staging boosts property values by at least 10pc. "White sheets give that hotel feel. Bedding is a key factor in making your place look appealing." The White Company, White & Green, Penneys and Ikea all stock good ranges.

However, Natasha warns: "I'm conscious that for short-term rentals there is a lot of wear and tear so I wouldn't advise going too luxury; a lot of people might not appreciate it - they're just coming in and out for two nights, they probably have plans, and just want fresh towels and bedding and access to wi-fi and the location. It's also not good business sense to spend a fortune."

4 Decide on your look

"Come up with an angle," advises Ruth Maria, "Give your place a theme - is it a retro apartment or a country cottage or an urban city pad? If you have 'a brand', you can style with that in mind, rather than make something out of nothing."

If you're choosing mid-century modern, for example, style up a retro chair with cushions and a book. "A really cool chair is something that you can get a great photo of. Somebody can visualise sitting there reading a magazine."

5 Tricks of the trade

The photographs of your property that go with your listing are crucial to catching the eye of a potential guest. "All you've got is a few seconds on the website to grab a viewer's attention," says Ruth Maria. "You're trying to capture a mood or sense of something that draws them in further."

When it comes to taking photographs, keep in mind these tricks of the trade:

Wide angle or detail shots? "It can be hard to get a wide shot looking really well," says Ruth Maria. "For the website, you might need one or two, but then the rest can be vertical shots to showcase the space. Don't try to do too many funny angles, just take photos straight on, a little lower than eye level."

Divide the room up "Don't stand in the corner and take a big wide shot. Compose your shot in a more intimate way," says Ruth Maria. "Imagine someone sitting at the kitchen table and the viewpoint they might have of the room, rather than trying to cram everything into one picture."

Use natural light. "Natural light shows off a place better; it brings out the colours. As soon as you put lights on, they cast yellowness and shadows," says Ruth Maria. To boost daylight, shoot in the morning. "It will tend to be brighter. Open all the curtains, blinds and doors."

Rooms that matter. The real clinchers for your listing are the kitchen, living room and bedroom. "Style up something like a table with nice delph and fab greenery and a cup of tea or coffee," says Ruth Maria. "You're trying to help people imagine themselves there for a few days.

"The main thing is that the first photos draw the viewer in further," she says, "and if you have to show more 'reality shots' - the bathroom, for example - have them buried so that viewers are enticed and enthused before they get to them."

6 Make a statement

"Don't be too safe and generic," says Ruth Maria. "Give guests something to talk about. You're better off making a statement than saying nothing at all. Someone else will say, keep it neutral. I don't agree. There is so much on the market that you want to create something that visitors can grab on to."

Natasha agrees, but adds: "Steer clear of the controversial." Anything that might be offensive on the grounds of religion, for example, art that is too explicit, or books that might not be child friendly. Better to stash them away while the property is rented out.

7 Be generous with storage

Don't be stingy with hangers and invest in good quality wooden ones, says Natasha. They last longer than the plastic ones. Choose multi-functional furniture that has hidden storage, such as a sofa with hidden storage underneath, which is ideal for keeping your belongings safe. "Ottoman beds are perfect for putting away bedlinen and blankets when your guests leave," says Natasha. " has some fabulous options, and Ikea has some pretty footstools which double up as the perfect place to hide away bits and bobs."

8 Go plastic free

Many visitors prefer to eat in occasionally, especially if they are travelling with young children. Natasha suggests stocking up on eco-friendly products or going plastic-free with sustainable kitchen utensils made with wood, bamboo and steel, rather than plastic. You could market yourself as a green home. "Finishing touches could include steel straws, beeswax re-usable food covers, compost boxes for veg and fruit waste, and wooden baby cutlery - has good options."

9 Green the place up

One styling trick Ruth Maria always uses is greenery. It gives personality and adds a splash of colour. "Plants, plants and plants - they're a pain to keep alive but I always have fresh plants around. Choose interesting plants, not just the same ones you see in a hotel lobby or corporate office." Succulents, ferns, jade, alocasia, dieffenbachia in pots or terrariums all dress up a room.

10 Go personal

"Treat your place like a brand," says Ruth Maria. When you're writing a description of your home, make it personal. "My favourite coffee spot, my favourite cupcake place, my favourite retail store - not 'You're near Grafton Street'. Get really personal - and that goes for the place itself."

11 Fine-tune the detail

Invest in a few finishing touches. "A bookshelf can give a focus point to an otherwise boring room, and it's a cheap way to create an interesting space," says Natasha. "Your guests will appreciate the reading material on a rainy day." Leave colouring pencils, paints and a roll of lining paper for children to mess on. Art is a cheap way to inject character. Frame up covers of a favourite magazine, or even wrapping paper, to create drama.

12 Ensure a good night's sleep

Some of your guests may arrive with jetlag so they will appreciate help resetting their body clock with black-out blinds or thick curtains. Natasha recommends checking Argos and Harry Corry for affordable blinds, while Marks & Spencer stock a range of good-quality curtains in metallic and dramatic prints. If the budget stretches a little further, try the William Morris prints available on

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