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The Definitive Guide for Airbnb Newbies

New to Airbnb and not sure where to start? Try these tips to help you through the booking process and land you the best-fitting accommodation and deal on your next vacation rental.

Read the Reviews

While home rentals can offer more than standard hotel rooms in terms of overall space and amenities, this also means a lot could go wrong. When it comes to staying in somebody else’s home, the most important thing you can do is take the time to read reviews from guests who have stayed there before. If you see negative comments about the property (especially criticisms that come up repeatedly), contact the host for more information, or play it safe and move on. While it’s riskier to reserve a home that has no reviews (which is often the case for newer listings), if the property is really striking your fancy, reach out to the host for more information and follow the next two tips below.

Pay Attention to Details

When you’re ready to begin shopping, start with a detailed search by using the filters—this will save a lot of time. Airbnb offers more than private houses, which many people aren’t aware of. You can also search for single rooms or shared rooms within a house, apartment, or B&B, so pay attention to these details when booking to avoid any surprises when you get there. If you are reserving a house, compare the number of guests you entered with the number of beds and bedrooms it has, because not every listing in your search results may work for you. Often times, if you’re traveling with a large party, the home will have a basement or loft with daybeds to accommodate extra people, but not necessarily enough bedrooms for every guest. Take your time when reading through each listing so you don’t miss important details like this.

RELATED: What’s the Best Way to Arrange a Vacation Rental?

Ask Questions

When it comes to spending your hard-earned money and time off, there’s no such thing as asking too many questions. This is especially true for home rentals because there are so many factors to consider before making a decision. Figure out what’s important to you in the rental home, for instance the layout, amenities, yard space, and surrounding area. Be sure to think through any concerns you have and formulate a list of questions to ask.

Contact the Host

Before launching into your laundry list of questions, contact the host and introduce yourself. While emailing is a good start, talking to the host on the phone is the best way to feel this person out and decide if it’s a good fit. Don’t be afraid to ask your questions freely and reconfirm what you’ve read online—this is expected. After speaking to the host, you’ll hopefully have peace of mind and a clearer understanding of what to expect when you get there. Connect with the host on social media directly from the listing page—this can add another level of comfort before you stay in his or her home.

Watch Out for Extra Fees

While a vacation rental is often times less expensive than a hotel, beware of extra fees charged by Airbnb and the hosts themselves.

Airbnb imposes a service fee of between 6 and 12 percent of the total nightly rate—this amount varies depending on the length of stay and the number of guests reserved. Think twice before cancelling, though—this fee is only refundable if the host cancels on you. Value Added Tax (VAT) is also calculated into the service fee for EU countries as well as some non-EU countries, and this amount can be affected by any modifications that are made to the reservation. Additionally, Airbnb charges a 3 percent conversion fee if the host’s location uses a different currency, so double check which currencies the host will accept before booking.

Hosts have the right to charge a cleaning fee that can run you $100 or more. If you’re only traveling for a weekend, check for listings that don’t charge one, regardless if you’re staying for two days or two weeks. Like hotels, some hosts also have extra person fees if you exceed a certain number of guests, so make sure you have an exact headcount before booking. Hotel tax (also known as occupancy tax, sales tax, or tourist tax) is a locally-driven tax on the rental of the room and has been popping up in a number of cities. It can be included in the nightly rate or paid to the host separately, so before reserving, contact the host to find out if you’ll be responsible for it.

Check the Help Center for more on Airbnb’s taxes and fees.

RELATED: Eight Essential Rules for Vacation Rentals

Know the Fine Print

Unlike many hotels that allow you to pay upon arrival, the majority of Airbnb hosts require a security deposit that’s calculated based on the total reservation. The cancellation and modification terms are also set by the host and vary in severity —the most flexible policy entitles you to a full refund if cancelled only one day in advance, while the strictest policy requires a 50 percent charge for cancelling with a week’s notice. The cleaning fee (if applicable) will be refunded to you, but the service fee is non-refundable unless it’s the host who decides to cancel (as stated above). Bottom line: Save yourself from any unwanted surprises by knowing the costs associated with changing or cancelling.

Look for Photo Verification

In many cities, Airbnb is connecting hosts with photographers who will take photos of the home that are later used on the listing. Keep in mind that professional photos are touched up, meaning the home might look slightly different when you arrive, but in general, it’s safer to reserve a home with photos that are Airbnb-verified.

Manage your Expectations

Assuming you’ve made your reservation, be open-minded and have reasonable expectations once you get there. Remember that it’s somebody’s home, not a 5-star hotel—if you’re expecting a welcome gift and housekeeping to pick up after you, Airbnb might not be the right fit. Every host has different rules and requirements from its renters, so it’s always a good idea to find out these things in advance.

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Olivia Briggs loves staying in Airbnbs when she travels. Follow her on Twitter @Olileibri

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