Robyn Yousef takes a deep breath and launches into the Airbnb business.

Lots of our friends were doing it and tried to encourage us, but I wasn’t convinced I wanted strangers staying in my freshly-renovated house by the sea. We’d bought the very worst, most unloved house in a small seaside settlement in Northland. It took us years and many minor dramas to gut and remodel, and the locals were all very complimentary about the house’s new look.

Airbnb INP
Robyn Yousef at her Airbnb. Photo by Leslie Noble.

After patting us on the backs, they’d then ask: “Are you going to do Airbnb?” I wasn’t keen. I knew it was a growing trend in our enclave. No-one claimed great riches, but I knew it provided welcome extra income and friendships were even forged with guests. Initially I stuck to my proverbial guns.

“Let’s keep upstairs for us and the two units downstairs (conveniently with bathrooms and kitchenettes) for our family and friends. Let’s enjoy these retirement years surrounded by the people we want to be with, not some randoms.”

Then I saw our rates bill. We were paying more for our reno than we were for our home in Auckland. Bring on the randoms! I joined the happy band of people who have hooked into the Airbnb phenomenon.

I asked countless questions about kettles and toasters, bed linen and towels. Together with my husband (who was annoyingly enthusiastic), we did the research and acquired a charming couple as agents.

Our first experience did not go well. It was the New Year and our guests were young kids wanting to party, but conscious of us old fogies in residence upstairs. I thought they were slightly reticent when I rushed down and welcomed them in with a (virtual) hug. They left early, complaining we were “a bit too worried about their welfare.” 

Since then we have had moderate success. I have watched Alex Polizzi (the British hotel inspector) for winning tips to give my place that edge. I’ve taken to double-checking under the bed for dust, and another Alex idea is a free postcard for each guest.

Other things I’ve learned are that my white, high-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets feel great next to the skin, but are not as practical as other colours; it’s unaffordable to offer hand-milled French soap or the finest in coffee and tea blends. If you are going to rent the place out, the lure is the care taken with presentation, facilities offered, the location and the affordability. 

And if you happen to live on site or be there when guests arrive, don’t welcome them with a hug or a kiss on each cheek. It’s a business transaction. Friendships are sometimes forged but don’t push it.

Reported by Robyn Yousef for our Autumn 2022 issue

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