How I tried to turn my house into a vacation goldmine

Fragrant lavender and rose bushes line the gravel path that leads to my Grade II listed flint and stone cottage. This is the very essence of a country retreat.

When I decided to list it on Airbnb earlier this year, I thought I would be inundated with five-star bookings and reviews. The reality, however, is not that lucrative.

I blame a few reckless mistakes – leaving a half-empty can of dog food in the fridge, which vegan guests didn’t like well – as well as the bizarre calamity.

The worst criticism came after a burst pipe flooded the kitchen, forcing me to financially compensate my terrified guests and pay an emergency plumber.

Jane Gordon enlisted the help of Polo & Tweed to transform her cottage in Henley-on-Thames into one of Airbnb’s Superhosts. Pictured: Jane and Alexandra Parker-Larkin

It was the pandemic travel boom that prompted me to try and make some extra cash by moving into my summer house-office and renting my cottage. And I’m not the only one trying to take advantage of the confusion of overseas travel. Last summer, British Airbnb hosts earned more than £ 225million. Who wouldn’t want a slice of this seasonal pie?

But, as I was to find out, it’s not just a matter of running the vacuum cleaner and washing a few sheets. It turns out that there is a strict hosting hierarchy.

If you want to become one of Airbnb’s Superhosts – a sought-after status achieved through great reviews and bookings – you have to go all out.

So I decided to enlist the help of Polo & Tweed, a chic national recruiting and training company offering courses to help you “achieve Superhost status”. According to founder Lucy Challenger, the course was inspired by people like me who decided to list their properties.

After all, do it right and the sky is the limit.

There are some very expensive properties on other home-from-home sites. Vrbo, for example, put up for sale a caravan in Newquay for £ 3,000 a week and a five-bedroom house in Windsor for £ 33,000.

By comparison, my three bedroom cottage in Henley-on-Thames is a steal at £ 195 per night (plus a cleaning fee of £ 45 and a 14.2% service charge for Airbnb).

To help me realize my “full potential”, Alexandra Parker-Larkin, one of Polo & Tweed’s most experienced tutors, visits my “quaint and quirky” cottage. She arrives dressed in a crisp shirt, tie, tweed waistcoat, crisp white gloves and a haughty expression.

Alexandra told Jane that a successful Airbnb home should be modeled after a five-star hotel.  In the photo: the towel label

Alexandra told Jane that a successful Airbnb home should be modeled after a five-star hotel. In the photo: the towel label

To say I’m nervous would be an understatement. She spends most of her time in large houses, hotels and castles, training butlers, housekeepers and other staff in “money service” and “etiquette”.

Alexandra says: “A successful Airbnb house shouldn’t be based on a shared B&B or with a garden, but on a five-star hotel.” Sip.

So, will I pass the “white glove” dust inspection? And what will she do with my disorganized kitchen cupboards?

It doesn’t start well as it takes me five minutes to let her in – the lock on my front door has a tendency to get stuck. My first knock on the fingers is an instruction to change my locks: “Or at least have a sign that explains it can be tricky.”

My second reprimand concerns my welcome pack. A Superhost, Alexandra informs me, would offer something a little less “amateurish” than my scratched pages detailing home essentials (wifi password, etc.) and local attractions.

“You should have a bound file,” Alexandra says. “At least have these pages laminated or iron them.

“Fresh flowers,” she continues, “are essential”. She produces white lisianthus and tries to teach me to cut the stems “always diagonally” and arrange them in the vase. “Change the water regularly, otherwise you risk a build-up of bacteria. “

Jane (pictured) was tasked with giving guests a taste of country life with local produce in the welcome breakfast basket

Jane (pictured) was tasked with giving guests a taste of country life with local produce in the welcome breakfast basket

Alexandra is big on bacteria. She worries that my refrigerator – especially the large number of condiments (next to the dog food) – is a bit of breeding ground.

She’s also worried about the condition of my glasses, holding a crystal champagne glass up to the light and clapping. “It’s not my fault,” I said defensively. This is how they come out of the dishwasher.

‘Dishwasher?’ she gasps. “Never put crystal glasses in the dishwasher. They should be hand washed so as not to look dull.

Correctly settled down, we move on to the welcome breakfast basket. This is an area I think I have mastered by leaving guests with fresh croissants, sourdough bread, jam and free-range eggs. My mainstay is a big bag of Percy Pigs.

Even that fails its test. She tells me it’s a chance to give customers a taste of country life with local produce.

Meanwhile, I fail the white glove test so badly – there’s a layer of dust all over it – that Alexandra has to bring out a clean pair for the floor.

In the master bedroom, she teaches me how to “fold towels correctly” (who knew?)

I get a few brownie points for my laundry which is perfectly ironed and “smells nice and fresh”.

Alexandra rated Jane's cottage (pictured) at five out of ten because she needs to do a bit of decorating but said she could possibly get a seven or eight with a little work

Alexandra rated Jane’s cottage (pictured) at five out of ten because she needs to do a bit of decorating but said she could possibly get a seven or eight with a little work

Moving on to the second double bedroom, Alexandra points a white-gloved finger at a hole in the plaster (which I’m trying to cover by piling on pillows). A few years ago it was made by my son and a young woman during what was called a dirty weekend.

“I can’t imagine what they were doing,” comments Alexandra. “But you have to put him in a plaster. »Things get complicated in the bathroom where Alexandra tries to teach me to« present her toilet rolls well ». Since I have a basket of about 20, it takes me over an hour to fold the ends of each so that the first sheet is neatly tucked away as it would be at the Savoy.

But by the time she was done, we had, to my surprise, become new best friends. I ask her how she would rate my house – and my chances of achieving Superhost status – out of ten.

“For now, I would give you a five, because you need a little decoration. But with a little work, you could turn into a seven or even an eight.

Clearly aware of my disappointment, she adds: “But you know, from the outside it’s almost ten. The walkway with all the lavender is quite beautiful. It’s just beyond the front door that’s the problem.

Superhost status may still elude me, but at least I changed the locks.

For more details on the next Superhost course, contact poloandtweed.com

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