​Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Make your home more welcoming with tech

A guide to the connected Airbnb
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With more than 6 million Airbnb listings worldwide and millions more vacation rental homes on top, it's becoming even harder to make your home stand out from the crowd. Smart home technology can help you do that, as well as cutting down your running costs.

Based on our experience letting a house and input from industry experts we’ve put together a guide of the dos and don’ts when fitting out your vacation home with the latest technology. First, it’s worth starting with a big no-no: don’t over automate your home.

You might find it helpful to have all of your lights turn off automatically at midnight to save power, as you’re usually in bed, but your guests will have different patterns and you don’t want them to be plunged into darkness.

A few things aside, automation is great for your own home, where you can train your smart devices to work the way that you want, but in a rental, let your guests have manual control.

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home


Smart heating systems are increasingly being used in rental places, and offer several benefits to visitors.

“When we do have these devices present, it does make us think differently about how we manage these homes for our customers,“ says Aravind Rajagopal, the London general manager of Airbnb hosting service Hostmaker. “The one we see most often are smart heating systems and they are definitely welcome from our perspective. Any problems the guests are having with heating and we can usually troubleshoot them remotely.”

Smart heating can be a great way to save money on heating bills, too. When guests leave, you can simply switch the heating down, so that you’re not wasting money heating an empty property.

Read this: The best smart thermostats for your home

It’s important not to adjust the heating when guests are staying, say dialing down the temperature because you think that a guest has your home too hot. That would be an unwelcome intrusion of privacy, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t take some steps to help save on heating bills.

For example, with a Nest Learning Thermostat, you can lock the thermostat so that it can only operate in the temperature ranges that you set. Be generous, so that people can have the house warmer than you would, but you can cut out very high temperatures that would see the boiler running constantly.

Avoid battery-powered devices if you can

Visitors can make changes using the dial on the thermostat, with changes kept until the next scheduled time. The Tado Thermostat lets you set how long changes are kept for and includes the option for a time period (say, two hours) or until the next scheduled change.

Avoid battery-powered devices if you can, as a thermostat running out of juice in the middle of a cold spell will just cause you problems. For example, the Nest Learning Thermostat requires power for all components and requires no battery checks. If your thermostat has batteries, make sure that the device is checked regularly and almost-discharged cells are replaced.

Where possible, only install a heating system that’s easy to use. Using a Honeywell Evohome system, with controls for each radiator might be good for your home, but it makes it unnecessarily complicated for a visitor to make adjustments, and you dramatically increase the number of devices that rely on batteries to work.

Finally, disable any smart features that may cause problems. There’s no point using Nest’s learning algorithm to program the schedule, as vacationers will have unpredictable usage patterns. Likewise, features like geofencing are good for you at home, but you don’t want the heating in your rental to turn off because the system has detected that your phone isn’t at ‘home’.

Top tip: When your property is empty, give your heating a regular boost to warm the house and keep damp at bay.

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Security cameras

Smart home security cameras are a highly contentious product for vacation homes. Airbnb’s terms state that hosts must inform their guests if they have security cameras trained on the property of any kind and it’s easy to see why.

Most people don’t want to feel like they’re under constant surveillance, and even letting them know that a camera isn’t constantly recording or has been turned off for a guest’s stay may not be enough.

“We still have to notify the guests that the home has a camera and even doing that may be enough to put them off booking in the first place. They want privacy and not knowing what happens with material from a camera definitely raises concern,” says Katharina van Daele, CMO at hosting agents Pass the Keys.

Tried and tested: The best smart security cameras

If you must have a camera permanently, an outside model is a better choice than an internal one. We also recommend avoiding having a smart doorbell: guests don’t want to hear you having a chat with someone that’s just called. Besides, a smart doorbell is still a security camera, just in slightly different packaging.

Top tip: If you want an internal camera for security, have a housekeep plug it in when guests leave and remove it when they come to stay.

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Smart locks

Smart locks are actively encouraged by Airbnb, with many models, such as the August Smart Lock, integrating into the app. There are several advantages to having a smart lock. First, if a guest gets stuck, you can remotely let them in by unlocking the door from your phone (or your agent or housekeeper can do the same thing).

Secondly, you only have to give guests limited access, so once they leave after their vacation, they no longer have access.

Look for a lock that gives guests multiple choices on how they can access your lock. For instance, August will give Airbnb hosts three options when they give their guests keys: Make them download the account and do everything virtually; give them a PIN code for the August Smart Keypad; or both. It's worth choosing both, giving your guest a choice to do what's comfortable for them.

A keypad is a very good idea

A keypad is a very good idea, giving people that aren’t so smartphone savvy a way of getting your guests into your home.

A lock with a key backup is a must, giving a backup way into your home should something go wrong or just if you have less tech-savvy guests that feel more comfortable.

This rules out some products altogether. The Yale Conexis L1 lock, for example, doesn’t have a key option, so a critical failure means calling out a locksmith to deal with the issue.

Top tip: Check batteries regularly and replace if you think they’ll go when a guest is in.

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Connected TV & audio

Most guests bring their own personal computers for entertainment, say hosting experts we've asked. Whether tablets, phones or laptops, this is something that people setting up an Airbnb smart home need to expect and cater for.

It’s not necessary to make sure you have Netflix. Standard free to view channels will do, but you do need to ensure you’ve got a decent-sized screen and that your hardware is easy to access.

“Having a big screen projector is definitely an advantage,” says van Daele. “They’re not expensive and, if you have the space, it’s an easy wow-factor. Sonos is a great enhancement to the guest experience too. You just need to make sure that people can connect with Bluetooth to all these things.

"People know how to use Bluetooth but we do get guests calling us not understanding how it works. So, make sure everything is as easy to use and as international as possible. They don’t want to spend half an hour getting these things up and running.”

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Consider creating a small guide to explain to your guest how to use the TV in the place. Does it have smart apps? Is there a streaming device connected to it that they can use? Or does it have something like Chromecast that'll let them stream content from their phone.

Most importantly, you may want to give your guests easy access to your Wi-Fi. Some modems and routers will allow you to create a guest mode that can be used by visitors, like your Airbnb guests. Make the password something fun and cute and let them enjoy some good internet. That might be more valuable than anyone streaming service - especially if they're traveling from overseas.

If you do choose to get Netflix for your guests, be warned that many might not use it. Some Airbnb hosts have told us that they've seen guests simply log into Netflix apps on the smart TV or accompanying streaming box and logging out when they leave.

And be sure to check guests have, in fact, logged out, so that the next guest doesn't have to go through the process or, worse, actually use someone else's account.

Thankfully, running up enormous iTunes or Amazon bills on the host’s accounts is not a common occurrence, but previous guests probably won't like having strangers rooting through their viewing history.

Top tip: If you provide a Netflix account for guests, get the housekeeper to check if the account is logged in before new guests arrive.

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Smart speakers

Smart speakers have massively grown in popularity and many people are familiar with how they work. Amazon Echo speakers are slightly better for vacation homes as Alexa Blueprints let you build your own Skills.

For example, guests can ask what the Wi-Fi code is, or when the garbage has to be put out and Alexa will tell them. In all cases a smart assistant can control any smart devices that they have in your home. Leave out detailed instructions of what people can do to help them get started – this one's key.

Read this: The best smart speakers

Yet, for all of their benefits, smart speakers aren’t to everyone’s taste and some people understandably worry about privacy. To this end, we recommend avoiding any smart speakers that have a built-in camera, such as the Amazon Echo Show or Google Nest Hub Max. A standard smart speaker, such as the Echo Dot 3rd Gen makes more sense.

Have just a single device in your home, so you’re not littering your house with speakers, and make sure it’s clear how to disable the microphone, or even invite guests to unplug the speaker if they don’t feel comfortable using it.

Top tip: Create a new account to use with your vacation home and smart devices so that you don’t leak any of your private details.

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Smart lighting

Not really a requirement in a rental, smart lighting can make your home stand out from the crowd and attract the more tech-savvy visitor.

“Smart devices and other home technologies are a massive advantage, particularly for attracting business travelers. There are a certain groups of customers who are specifically looking for more modern homes,” says Pass the Keys’ van Daele.

“People are here predominantly to experience the city and the place they’re staying in but not always. Connected devices and things like integrated LEDs - where people can change the color of their environment to suit their mood - they’re a great way for your listing to stand out against many others of the same type, same area or in the same price range. Make sure you have pictures with them on in your profile.”

Guests may use the standard light switches that you have installed

The trick with color-changing bulbs is to make sure that you have the necessary controls available. Look for a system, such as Philips Hue, that has dedicated switches that people can use to select the modes that you’ve chosen.

Physical controls are a must because it’s too fiddly to have to share access to your system via the app for every new guest. If you have a smart speaker, make it clear that lights can also be controlled via your voice.

Be aware that guests may use the standard light switches that you have installed instead, so make sure these are turned back on between visits so your smart bulbs are ready for the next guests.

The alternative is to use smart light switches to control standard bulbs. While they can’t give you mood-changing colors, smart light switches can be voice-controlled and, otherwise, look and act like normal switches so as not to be confusing for guests.

In all cases - bulbs or switches - smart lighting can be useful, as you can turn on lights before guests arrive and turn them off when guests leave to save power. As with smart heating, don’t fiddle with your lighting while guests are in.

Don’t forget the outside, either. Hue has a range of outdoor bulbs, although you can install the regular ones in a weatherproof housing. Hue has an outdoor motion sensor, too, which can be useful for triggering lights to light up a dark entryway to your home for safety.

Top tip: You can program your Philips Hue bulbs’ on behavior to make them work like standard light bulbs.

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Wireless routers

If you’re not near to your vacation home, we recommend getting a router that has remote management, such as the excellent Netgear Orbi wireless mesh system.

Read this: Best mesh Wi-Fi systems

Being able to get into the router’s management from anywhere in the world means that you can troubleshoot problems, even rebooting the entire system.

This kind of rapid response can keep visitors happy and solve their Wi-Fi woes quickly.

Top tip: A mesh system can also improve wireless performance throughout your home and reduce dead spot.

Smart Hosting: The dos and don'ts of the ultimate Airbnb smart home

Smart plugs

Smart plugs on lamps and the like won’t set the world alight and aren’t going to attract new people to your holiday home; however, they can be a brilliant maintenance tool. For example, if you’ve got a set-top box or TV that crashes from time-to-time, a smart plug is a brilliant way to reboot both without you having to be there.

Read this: Top uses for smart plugs

You can either do this before guests arrive to make sure that you’ve ironed out problems, or you can respond to a complaint quickly without having to try and talk someone through cycling the power.

Top tip: You can use smart plugs to save power by turning off appliances when your home’s not in use but remember to turn everything back on before new guests arrive.

TAGGED    inspiration    smart home

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