We’ve been short-term rental hosts for nearly two decades. Renting out our home while we’re away helps us afford the travel we love, and it’s worked out well. That’s partly because we know that taking the time to prepare our home for our guests is as essential to a problem-free trip as double-checking our travel arrangements.
Getting your home in shape for guests takes some work – a little or a lot, depending on its size and condition. But we’ve found a real upside to welcoming guests a couple of times a year. The thought of strangers living in our home motivates us to fix leaky faucets, replace burned-out bulbs, clean out the pantry – all those pesky tasks we’d never get around to doing otherwise.
Here’s what we do to make sure our guests are safe and comfortable:
- Repair and replace broken or worn-out items
- Protect our privacy and valuables
- Clear away clutter and make room for guests’ things
- Stock up on basic supplies
- Prepare a “user guide”
- Clean everything until it sparkles!
Before You Begin
- People who rent other people’s homes seldom expect hotel-room perfection. But they want everything to be clean and usable. Slightly worn linens or scratches on the hardwood floor? No problem. Holes in the walls, broken windows, badly stained sheets, ripped sofa cushions and nonworking appliances are another matter. No one wants to live in a dump.
- Walk through your home as if you’ve never been there before. It wasn’t until I showed our garden to a friend that I noticed the old wicker chair that had lost most of its seat and the rust building up on the barbecue we rarely use. Then I saw that our pantry was filled with almost empty cereal boxes and spices that had been there since the turn of the century.
- To keep the job from feeling overwhelming, set priorities and focus on what actually needs to be done. Maybe the bathroom could use a paint job, but it's more important to fix the broken stairs that someone might trip on. Once you’ve identified the priorities, create checklists to help you remember what’s important.
- If you're very busy, get help. Consider hiring a fix-it person and/or a cleaning service.
- Expect the unexpected, like the washer breaking down the day before guests arrive (it happened to us). A last-minute rush will leave you exhausted, and that’s not a great way to start a trip!
Task #1. Repair and replace
You might not have enough time and money to fix or replace everything that is in bad shape. Focus on things that could be dangerous, such as a cabinet door that falls off when it’s opened. If you can’t fix something, warn your guests.
Examples of what to watch for:
Things that could cause injury – broken stair treads, collapsing chairs, nails that stick out from walls or up from the floor, rugs that slip or bunch up
Anything that smells bad or looks disgusting, such as moldy shower curtains, bath mats, dish drainers, or crumbling grout
Sofa cushions and mattresses that sag, smell, are badly stained, and/or leak stuffing
Toilets that run, faucets that leak, and dribbling shower heads
Nonworking heating or air conditioning systems
Cracked windows or those that won’t open or close and loose or squeaky door hinges
Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that need new batteries
Broken or nonworking lamps and light fixtures
Electrical cords and cables that are frayed or easy to trip on
Appliances, TVs, stereos, modems, or routers mentioned as amenities in your listing that do not work properly
Cracked or broken dishware, chipped cups and glasses, and badly scratched, bent, or rusty cookware
Torn, extremely worn, or badly stained towels and sheets
Rusty barbecue grills and other outdoor equipment
Task #2. Protect your privacy and your valuables
If you’ve communicated well with your guests and screened them carefully, you can feel pretty confident that they will take care of your things and respect your privacy. But things get broken and disappear, and an occasional guest may go through your files out of curiosity or while trying to find the appliance manuals.
Examples of what you can do
- Store your private papers and small items such as jewelry and mementos in boxes marked “Please do not open.” If you have the space, put them on a high shelf at the back of a closet or in the garage. Otherwise, leave them with a relative or friend.
- Put fragile, delicate, or valuable furnishings and artwork you really care about somewhere inaccessible, such as in a locked room. If you don’t have the extra space, consider renting a small storage unit for the time you’ll be away.
- If you rent out your home often, consider buying inexpensive replacements for good china, cookware, and linens.
- Store your computer. Nearly everyone travel with a laptop, phone, and/or iPads. If you want to make a computer available for guests’ use, buy a cheap second-hand laptop.
Task #3. Clear away clutter and make room for guests’ things
We recently stayed at a lovely Berlin apartment that was so cluttered and crammed with the owner’s things that we were forced to live out of our suitcases for a week. We were delighted with the location and the size of the place, but we wished she’d taken a few minutes to make some space for us.
To help our own guests feel comfortable, we leave space in drawers and closets and clear away some of the clutter that seems to accumulate when our back is turned. We don't get rid of everything, but we cull the stacks of old magazines and catalogs, toss nearly empty shampoo bottles, and put away some of the bric-a-brac that litters our shelves. Our home will never look as if it’s been staged. But we try to create the sense of space and organization that we appreciate ourselves when we live in someone else’s space.
Examples of what to do
- Empty at least a couple of dresser drawers, create some empty hanging space in the closet (and leave some empty hangars), and clear some counter or shelf space in the bathroom for guests’ clothes and personal items
- Arrange and cull decorative objects so guests can put things down without shoving yours aside – and put away anything you don’t want broken.
- Recycle or store all but the latest issues of magazines and newspapers
- It’s okay to leave books (well dusted and neatly arranged), and you can leave some family photos if you wish to give your guests a sense of the people who live in the home
- Put children’s toys on shelves or in bins or baskets, and put away anything don’t want guests’ kids to play with
Task #4. Stock up on the basics
People don’t want to waste their valuable vacation time shopping for essentials. We make sure the kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry area have enough basic supplies for all or most of their stay.
Examples of what to provide
- Coffee, tea, sugar and sweetener, salt and pepper, some herbs and spices, cooking oil and vinegar, and perhaps extras such as catsup, mayonnaise, and some shelf-stable milk
- Hand and bath soaps, kitchen sponges, cleaning supplies, laundry soap, and dishwashing liquid
- For a laundry room, laundry detergent, stain remover, dryer sheets
Task #5. Put together a “user guide”
We appreciate hosts who leave key information and instructions, especially the Internet access code, where to put the garbage, how to use the appliances, and who to contact if something breaks. Our “user guide” has information about how things work, along with some information about shopping, transportation, and recreation in the area.
Task # 6. Clean House!
Greet your guests with a sparkling clean home. Put fresh sheets on the bed and fresh towels in the bathrooms. Do the dishes and put them away. Clean the inside of the refrigerator, the countertops, the dish-drying rack, and the soap containers. Put out fresh sponges. Scrub the toilets, the shower, the tub, and the sinks, and put out fresh soap. Dust the shelves, even way up in the corners where the cobwebs collect. Finally, vacuum and mop all the floors. Your guests will thank you!