I’m Really Clean, is the Cleaning Fee Optional?

I get this question a lot. There are two good responses:

Short response — I’m sorry, it is not.

The snarky response — actually the cleaning fee pays for the apartment to be cleaned before you arrive. So I guess in theory you could take the apartment uncleaned, but I try to provide a uniformly high level of service, so that’s not something I’m willing to do.

Can I Check in Early?

By far the most common question I get from potential Airbnb guests is, “can I check in early?” Often this question comes after the booking is made. And of course, with the booking already being made, you want to be accommodating. And there’s always the fear in the back of your mind that if you come across as unreasonable, the guest will give you a bad review.

On the other hand, early check-ins and late check-outs play absolute havoc with your cleaning schedule. Everything looks so nice on the calendar until that guest with a single-night stay wants early check-in and late check-out.

I’m arriving on a red-eye flight at 6am and will leave the next day on an 8pm flight. Can I check in early and check out late?

I’m thinking, yeah, right, I really need the revenue from that one-night stay. Here is how I respond. It works about 80-90% of the time, which in my experience with Airbnb is pretty good:

I’m sorry, but the previous guest will check out at noon on the day you arrive. The cleaning lady will work from noon until 4pm, and it’s not fair for her to have to work with someone else in the apartment. You can drop your bags in the apartment any time after noon, but you can’t enter for any other reason until after the official check-in time.

Gas Cut Off!

There’s never a dull moment …

I got an email message from my property manager saying that the gas was cut off at four units. The gas company had found a leak. This was around 5pm. The soonest it would be back on would be the next day, in the afternoon. So about 24 hours.

I quickly sized up the calendar: who are the guests, how long are they staying, and how much of a relationship have I built up with them? As it turned out, there were

  • Dimitrii, from Russia, almost at the end of his 40-matthew stay
  • Randolph, almost at the end of a 10-day stay
  • Isabelle, just arrived for a 3-day stay

I swung into action trying to mitigate the situation. The gas got turned on yesterday afternoon, and Dimitrii and Matthew check out in a few hours. I guess I’ll find out in a few days if it worked. Here’s what I did:

Step 1: contact them immediately, tell them simply and directly what happened. A minimum of blah, blah, blah, just get straight to the point:


there has been a major emergency. There was a gas leak somewhere, and the gas company has notified us that they cut the gas. They said they should be able to get it back on tomorrow.

I understand that this is a serious inconvenience. Please let me know how you want to handle it. I see two possibilities: you can check out today, and I will give you a full refund for the remainder of your stay, or you can remain, and in this case I will give you a full refund for today and tomorrow.

I know this isn’t what you wanted to happen on your vacation, and I apologize for the situation.

I stated the problem, offered some options, and let them decide.

Step 2: And then I thought to myself, “I’m going to refund today and tomorrow anyways, so maybe I should just go ahead and do it now. If they decide to check out today, then I can refund the rest in a second transaction.

So I did it. Click, click, click, and two days refunded to all three guests.

Step 3: Sit tight, wait, hope the guests don’t freak out, and hope the gas company gets the gas back online tomorrow afternoon as promised.

A couple of hours later I got this response:

Thank you for the prompt notice and for handling it so professionally. I was in business meetings until late this afternoon and did not receive the message until this evening. So long as the house is safe (the gas is off) I’ll stay this evening and check out in the morning.

I am in town monthly and will absolutely book with you again if the unit is available! It has been a pleasant stay.

Thank you.


Meanwhile, Isabelle, who had just checked in, was less happy. She said she wanted to check out and get a full refund. Fine, I told her to cancel, and I would give her the refund. Ten minutes later, that was resolved. Fortunately, it seems that if a guest cancels, they can’t write a review.

Dimitrii wrote back to say that he was satisified with the refund. So now I’m just waiting to see what kind of reviews I get …

The Reviews

And here’s an update. Reviews from Randolph and Dmitrii …

This was a wonderful stay. The office desk and neighborhood close to downtown were just what I needed for my business trip and the amenities are great. Matthew was professional and responsive. I recommend this Airbnb and will be sure to book again.

Great calm place. Very close to I-95 and it gives great mobility – you can access to far point of Miami Beach for 30 min and any destination in Fort Lauderdale within 15 min. Although apartment has a lot of space. And you can be sure that if you will need anything – you will get immediate reaction. I never got it so fast before. So Matthew wish you to have guest 30 days/month )

Ants …

You’re going to have them. Virtually impossible to get rid of them. You can’t control how clean your guests keep the kitchen. You can’t control whether they leave food out. You can’t make them empty the trash regularly.

I recently stayed in a luxury apartment on the 46th floor in a brand new building in Ho Chi Minh City. Beautiful apartment. It had ants. On the 46th floor! Ants!


So, what can you do?

  1. Drench the unit in pesticide.
  2. Buy ant granules at Home Depot and sprinkle them around outside of the building once a month.
  3. Cut back any trees whose branches touch the roof. The tree can be a bridge that the ants use to get over the ant granules.
  4. Leave a can of ant spray in the unit. Is that an admission that you have ants? Yes, but guests who don’t see the ants won’t think anything of it. They’ll just mentally classify it as “cleaning supplies” and move on. Guests who see ants will appreciate it. Most of them won’t mention it in the review.
  5. Respond quickly when guests mention ants. “There is ant spray in the cabinet above the stove. You can use it, or I can ask my property manager to send someone in the morning to spray the apartment.” Almost all guests will be happy with the first option. If you respond quickly and they feel like they are in control, they will rarely mention the problem in their review.
  6. Be ready with the exterminator. In Florida we get a lot of palmetto bugs. These are giant (3-4cm!) and they look like cockroaches. At the first mention of a “cockroach”, I respond with, “I can have the exterminator there in the morning. He can spray the apartment thoroughly.” Many guests say they prefer not to have the chemicals, and the discussion ends there.

Lingerie Party?

I was looking forward to renting your place. If I booked it for game night in lingerie with approximately 8 females, do you consider that as a party? I see your house rules say no events or parties.

Well, let’s see … if you comply with the check-in and check-out times so that the cleaning lady can clean on schedule, according to the calendar. Actually, no, it’s a party, so … declined.

Pricing Strategy for a Brand New Unit on Airbnb

Reviews and stars are critical to getting bookings. But you don’t have any. What should you do? One strategy is to just set your target prices and wait. You will get some bookings, and you will eventually get reviews and stars. But you are going to have a lot of vacancy for the first few months, and revenue is going to suffer.

But remember: a 5-star review is worth the same whether it is for a single night at $10 or two months at $10,000. My strategy is this:

  1. I don’t want long bookings. For the first sixty days I set a minimum stay of one night and a maximum of three nights. That’s right: 1-3 nights only. It’s all about getting the stars.
  2. I set prices low. Really low. If it’s during the high season, I don’t have to be as aggressive, so just 30% off my target rate. If it’s during the low season, I’ll go even lower. Of course the target rate is already low for the low season, so my price can go as low as $25/night.
  3. I don’t drop the cleaning fee. I pay my cleaner a flat $50, and that’s what I charge as the cleaning fee. I’m willing to take a low price, but I’m not willing to take a loss.
  4. I explain in the listing that the price is very low because this is a new apartment. I explain that we might not have all of the glitches worked out, but that we’ll fix any problems quickly. Going further, I say that I’m looking for guests who will give a good review in return for a low price.
  5. I pay to have it cleaned before the first guest arrives. My decorator always tells me very proudly, “It’s perfect! It’s my favorite apartment so far! You can put it on the apartment for booking tonight, it doesn’t even need to be cleaned!” Not so fast! I want to make sure my cleaning lady is totally familiar with the apartment before the first guest arrives. I can’t have her seeing the apartment for the first time on a same-day turnover when she also has three other apartments to clean.


I have a rule that I respond to every guest and explicitly recognize feedback (whether explicit or implicit), but I’m at a loss to respond to this:

Thanks for the experience
I will note rate low at all. But just needed to kno if there is a ghost in the house?

My friends n i we’re experiencing the same feeling a child ghost lives there possibly??

Doors would close, things fall…we all saw orbs

Suggestions on how to reply are welcome, because I’m at a loss.

This just in: a former tenant saw this post and wrote me these suggestions:

There were ghosts at the place where I stayed for 5 Years. It’s best to just talk to them and level with them and tell them to leave you alone. The mutual respect thing goes far, and the “live and let live” compromise is super easy after having the talk.

Get 5 Stars When Nothing Goes Right

Sometimes things just don’t go right. But often you can still have a happy guest and get a 5-star review. I have to admit, there has been more than one occasion when everything just went wrong. Here is a recent example:

A guest from Germany makes a booking in August for four nights in December in my apartment in Fort Lauderdale. He tells me that he will have his 22-month baby with him. That’s okay, because I have a crib in every unit, and this unit has a high chair.

The evening of his arrival I get this message:

Hallo Matthew we successfully checked in but there was no 2nd key on the kitchen table so we only have one key able to return. We found an empty child seat box but no seat for little child.

So we have two problems: no high chair, and no second key. Plus, it is late at night. I’m reluctant to call the cleaning lady or the property manager for non-emergency issues. But the key is to be proactive and respond quickly. Within minutes I respond with this:

The key is probably on the instruction book. I know there was a high chair somewhere, I bought it myself. Let me investigate. Did you look in the two closets and under the bed?

He quickly finds the key, but reports back that the high chair is nowhere to be found. So I contact the cleaning lady and find out that she put it in the locked storage room.

Kimberly says it is in the storage room. Is it okay if she gets it out tomorrow, or do you need it tonight?

He is okay with tomorrow. So everything seems okay. But then, on the third night of his stay, he sends this:

Hallo Matthew sorry to write you so late or early in Europa but It seems like we are not alone in the apparent here…. i have to say you that I just killed two cockroaches in the apartment… one fully grown on the stove and one in the bathroom. I am very angry at the moment not knowing what else to say…

And he attaches a picture of a smashed bug on the stove top! Well, what can I say? We keep the units as clean as we can, but we can’t control what food guests leave out during their stays. We also exterminate monthly. We literally drench the apartments in insecticide. But we’re in Florida, and this is an older building just two steps up from ground level.

Again, it’s late at night, and I’m reluctant to call out the cavalry for bugs that are already dead. But I respond immediately, and this conversation ensues:

Me: I am very sorry to hear this. Would you like me to send the exterminator in the morning?

Guest: Hallo we cannot stay here with child after extermination that’s no option with little child. Poison, treated surfaces… kids will be in contact with the chemicals

Me: What do you recommend?

Guest: Hallo we think about changing to hotel and refund apartment

This is not good! This is an unhappy guest, and I know a bad review is coming. The best I can hope for is that he won’t leave a review. Often when a guest threatens to leave, the best option is to call their bluff:

What you saw are almost certainly Palmetto Bugs. I’m sorry you saw them. Florida is a semi-tropical environment, and you are right at ground level. So there are inevitably some bugs.

If you want to move to a hotel, I will refund the remainder of your stay.

And then I didn’t hear anything more from him. Imagine my surprise when he left this review with five stars in all categories!

Nice apartment in a central location, Matthew answered us quickly and competently and questions / suggestions were all answered immediately or the next morning and implemented. (Translated from German)

I think the keys are:

  • Respond very quickly. I manage to respond to almost all emails within minutes. It takes a certain kind of personality to be always on and always responsive. Airbnb isn’t for everyone, but for me this comes very naturally.
  • Actually fix problems. Guests are paying for a service, and they expect quality. They are very understanding when there are problems, but only so long as you respond quicky.
  • Simple, direct communication. I don’t think guests care about lengthy (and frankly phony) apologies and polite phrases. You’ll notice above that I only apologized once. That’s not because I’m stingy with apologies or can’t admit that something went wrong. It’s simply because I was focused on the solution.

Extra Cleaning Tasks

We all know that the cleaner is supposed to clean after a guest departs, so that the home will be ready for the next guest. This web site is designed to manage that and make it as effortless as possible for the owner.

But there’s more than that. Often there are additional cleaning tasks that are infrequent but that need to be scheduled. Right now these have to be handled outside of the app. I usually just send me cleaner an email: “tomorrow when you clean at 1204, could you clean the laundry room, too?”

It would be great if these could be schedule within the app and then be visible on the cleaner’s calendar.

A Missed Cleaning …

As an Airbnb host, there are few things I fear more than a missed cleaning. I have 17 apartments live on Airbnb and over 1,500 guests hosted. It has happened. And it will probably happen again, despite everything I do to prevent it. But I’m continually trying to improve my operation, and recognizing that things could go wrong is actually the first step to reducing the chances of screwups.

Just managing the cleaning calendar is a lot of work. To automate that, I created this website: http://SimpleBnb.Cleaning.