Our family has had a lot of great experiences with Airbnb rentals. As I wrote in my last post there are many pros and cons to using Airbnb for a family rental. One of the disadvantages of using Airbnb is the search and booking process is difficult and requires a lot of time. The site has done it’s best to make the experience go smoothly, but it still requires a lot of work on the user’s end.
Getting started with Airbnb
We had to create an account and verify the account either through Facebook or a video. We don’t use Facebook, so Daniel made a little video. In the video he mentions that we love to travel with our three kids and we are from Texas. It’s a really short video. This is to ensure to the host that we are a real family and they can know a little about who will be living in their rental.
Once we have a verified account we can begin the search process. Later in the post I’ll share tips on how to use filters, maps, and reviews to look for a place. Once we find a place then we inquire if the place is actually available as the calendar suggests. After the host replies it is available, then they will accept our offer and send us an invoice for the full amount of the booking. We will need to pay the balance in full at the time of booking. We always make sure to read the cancellation policy. Most cancellation policies are very strict and it’s difficult to get a refund. Then as the date gets closer we use the Airbnb messaging emails or text messaging to coordinate arrival. Once we have arrived we will get the keys and enjoy our time pretending to be a local.
Airbnb requires a lot of work upfront, but once you have booked a place the rest is pretty easy to manage. The very best way to ensure you have a great time using Airbnb is to pick a great place to stay.
Here are 25 Search Tips for Finding a Family Rental on Airbnb:
1. Search with the number of people who will be living at the rental – including children. The price changes with each additional person. Some rentals have an occupancy limit. It’s best to include everyone so the host won’t have any surprises. We also mention how many kids we have when we inquire about the availability.
2. Click Room Type: Entire Place. Never use private room or shared room. This is especially important as a family. The only crimes I have seen that have happened through Airbnb have happened when they are renting a room or sharing a place. Even after I click “Entire Place” I read through the description to make sure we are getting the place to ourselves.
3. Research the neighborhoods where you want to stay. Every town has it’s good side of town and less desirable side of town either due to crime or accessibility. Figure out which neighborhoods you want stay in and search within those neighborhoods. In Brooklyn we wanted to stay in the Park Slope neighborhood and tried to get a place as close to Prospect Park as possible.
4. Book as soon as you have the money to pay for everything. Most of the highest rated places are booked 2 months in advance. If you book at the last minute there will be apartments or houses where you want to stay, but you may have to make a few compromises with fewer options.
5. If you are staying in one city for a long time consider booking more than one place. Leave the dates open in the search and then compare the available dates of the places you like. Sometimes it’s fun to get a feel for a bunch of different neighborhoods in one city.
6. Don’t get your heart set on one place. We have found many hosts who don’t reply to emails or who have already booked the place, but didn’t update the calendar. Sometimes we’ll find a place, but it gets booked by someone who asked right before us.
7. Do inquire about many places at one time. Hosts can be flaky or slow in responding so I like to ask many hosts at the same time. Then you can see which ones are responsive and eager to have you stay in their rental. I’m always pleased to book with someone who gets back to my emails quickly. It means that if we have a problem down the road, then they will get back to us quickly. Also, when you book a place Airbnb will automatically notify the other owners that you don’t need a place anymore.
8. Never use instant book. There is a button that says “Instant Book” on the site. I know Airbnb is trying to make things easier, but it’s a lot better to be sure the place is available before you give anyone your money. It’s very difficult to get money back once you have booked.
9. Never book a place with zero reviews. Why take a gamble when there are plenty of other rentals with reviews already on them? A place with no reviews seems like it could be a scam. Also, it means that the owner may not have any experience with Airbnb and you don’t want to be their guinea pigs.
10. Do look at how long the owner has been on Airbnb. If a place has zero reviews and the host has only been on Airbnb for less than a month with no other information about the place, then run away. It’s a lot better to rent through a tried and trusted rental.
11. Read the owner’s profile. You can get a feel for a owner through their profile and photo. I’ve never rented a place without a profile and a decent photo.
12. Ask a friend for help if they know an area better than you do. Before I booked a place in NYC I sent all my potential rentals to my friend, Leticia. She was able to help me figure out where to stay and what neighborhoods to avoid.
13. The price calculated on the site is the price. The owners can’t change the price, because it is set by an Airbnb algorithm. You can’t really haggle for a cheaper price.
14. Look for a place WITH a cleaning fee. The cleaning fee is so the apartment is cleaned before or after your trip. I like knowing that the owner is hiring a cleaning service, because it means that the place should be clean when I arrive. I’ve read owners who say they clean it themselves but I don’t trust their skills. I have a friend who rented a dirty apartment once, so getting a dirty place is a possibility.
15. Look at the couch in the photos. If having a couch is important to you, then be sure to check out the couch in the photos provided. I found a perfect place in Mexico once, then I saw that all furniture in the living room was made out of wood with zero cushions. I knew we wouldn’t be comfortable in that place for a month.
16. Is a television important to you? Not every place comes with a television and not every place will have cable. If you want a television look for one in the photos or see if it is listed in the amenities. We always need a television and we travel with our AppleTV, so I definitely look for a television. I’m not going to kid myself that we can get along without one.
17. Don’t filter for everything you want. Sometimes the owner will have wireless internet or a television, but they forget to check the little box indicating that they do have it. So I leave the checks off and search for what I want in the description of each place.
18. Look at the kitchen. Some owners will say they have a kitchen if they have a microwave and a mini-fridge. So if you want a large kitchen to cook meals, then check out the photos.
19. Read the reviews! Don’t stay at a place if they don’t have any reviews. Read through all the reviews. Most reviews are positive, but you can glean more info about the place by reading all of them. Some people are never happy. One reviewer was mad because there wasn’t an organic grocery store near to the apartment. Obviously, an owner can’t do much about that situation. Another place I liked had several, “It’s a great place, except for the cockroaches!” I did not book that place!
20. Use the translation button at the top of the reviews section. Some reviews are in a language you can’t read. Use the handy “translate reviews to English” at the top of the reviews section.
21. Use Google Street View around the address or neighborhood. Using Google street view will help you get a feel for the neighborhood and let you know what it is like around your Airbnb.
22. Consider parking or access to a metro stop. If you are driving, then will parking be an issue? Will you have to pay for parking? If you plan on using public transportation, then how far is the bus or metro stop? Also, use Google Maps to verify the metro stops. A description may say “5 minutes from metro!” but in reality it’s 10 minutes of walking 5 long blocks. The walk to the metro makes a huge difference if you have kids with you.
23. Decide if you need bedrooms OR beds. Can all your kids share a room or does one kid need their own room? We often rent two bedroom apartments, but they have enough beds for all five of us to sleep. Read the description to see how many beds and what types of beds are available.
24. Look through the pics to see if it is a rental or someone’s home. I much prefer to rent an Airbnb that is clearly a vacation rental. Some photos will have tons of personal artifacts so I try to steer clear of renting someone’s personal living space.
25. Look at all the photos! A wide angle may be used to make a space to appear to be bigger than it really is. Also, if the photos have Airbnb verified watermark, then it’s almost a guarantee a wide angle was used to take the photos. Airbnb asks in each exit survey if the listing is an accurate depiction. I know this is something the company is concerned about, so they do their best to make sure a place is what the owner says it is.
Renting through an Airbnb can be a fun experience if you spend time researching the right place. It’s a lot of fun to get the keys and discover a new place. The best part is getting a whole place to yourselves and pretending to be a local.
Good luck with your search!
Do you have any questions about searching Airbnb? Do you have a tip that I missed?