In our journey of building up a portfolio of properties in a handful of cities around the country that we run as short-term and mid-term rentals, as we both come from tech backgrounds, our core focus from Day 1 was to try to figure out how we can most effectively streamline the operations and automate as many of the functions as we can. We wanted to keep this as something that we could do in addition to our other work responsibilities and commitments, rather than becoming a full-time job in it of itself.
After 4 years of experimenting with various tools and building out our own processes, I think we’ve got a pretty good system going and I figured that it may be helpful to others who are also thinking about building out and scaling their own short-term rentals.
So below, we’ll just break down what we do exactly and which tools we’re using to host thousands of guests per year -- while doing it remotely and juggling other full-time work responsibilities.
Guest Communication Automation via Smartbnb - we currently automate about 90% of all guest communication utilizing a tool called Smartbnb. This is a tool that we started using virtually from day 1 and it’s been a game-changer for us. Between automating check-in and check-out communication and sending instructions and reminders to the guests, it can also answer common questions automatically, leave reviews, and much more. There are a handful of tools on the market that do the same thing, but we've been extremely happy with Smartbnb. It easily performs a job of a full-time person (if we had to do it manually). Our cost: $260/mo
Channel Management via Uplisting - as we promote our listings across multiple channels (Airbnb, VRBO, Booking.com), we use Uplisting to manage all of the calendars and pricing. It helps prevent double booking, update prices quickly and consistently across channels. Especially this year, with travel dynamics changing so much, we've found that it's really worth it to go beyond a single platform (e.g. Airbnb) and experiment with other channels. So this tool makes it really easy. Also, worth noting that we use Uplisting to actually provide our housekeepers with a real-time calendar of check ins and check outs, so they can easily plan their workloads. Our cost: $270/mo.
Price Management via Pricelabs - we manage pricing for our listings using Pricelabs which adjusts the prices depending on the demand and the pricing rules we set up. It helps to maximize both revenue and occupancy and does it all fairly automatically. We've experimented with a handful of tools for this task, including UseWheelhouse and BeyondPricing, but found this one to be the most robust one. Their interface isn't great, but the functionality is. Our cost: $80/mo.
Data Feed Email via GSuite - we have setup a central email account to which we feed information and emails from all of our marketing channels and accounts. Once emails land in the inbox, we then use filters to sort the emails, organize them accordingly in different folders, and then push them out to the next step (which we'll cover below). Our cost: $20/mo (could be free with just a regular account).
Email Parsing via Parseur.com - unfortunately, the platforms - like Airbnb - don't do a great job at providing exportable data to their hosts, so a lot of the information that we want to organize and measure comes in via emails. As it does, we then use a tool called Parseur to parse those emails and extract the data that we need. Once the data is extracted, we can then push it into a database, send a message in Slack with it, or slice and dice it in any way we want. For example, we can extract the Reviews data from review emails, Reservation data from New Reservation emails, Payout data from various Payout emails and then feed it into other apps or databases. Our cost: $59/mo.
Automation via Zapier.com - this is a pretty amazing tool that allows us to connect different applications together. For example, we can use Zapier to connect Parseur.com’s email parsing with Google Sheets or other database tools (we use Airtable). So, all of the information that we extract from emails, we can then push into a database where it gets further organized and available for review. Alternatively, sometimes we also extract the information and forward it to specific channels in Slack which allows us to keep a finger on the overall pulse of a business. Our cost: $49/mo
Communication via Slack - we use Slack for all of the internal communication with our virtual team and on-the-ground team (housekeepers and maintenance). While any tool can technically do the job (we’ve used WhatsApp for a while previously), Slack helps us take it to the next level. In addition to regular communication, we can set up automatic reminders for team members, integrate various forms, and even connect it with other apps. For example, we have a bi-weekly reminder that will go out to all of our housekeepers to have them submit the supply order requests. They just click a link and fill out a form indicating what they need. Once completed, it alerts our team and feeds into a central database for tracking purposes. Our cost: $45/mo.
Data Organization via Airtable - a good way to think of Airtable is as Google Sheets on steroids. It can do what Google Sheets does and then a whole lot more. We use it to track team’s payments, maintenance requests, supply order requests, claims with Airbnb and a whole lot more. We have data fed into Airtable from Parseur, from Slack and from other apps, where it then gets automatically sorted and organized, so we can easily run reports and act on it in whatever ways we need. Our cost: Free (we're using their free version).
All in all, these tools really make the day-to-day operations of our business much simpler. While we do spend about $800 per month on all of these tools, they collectively automate every manual process and make it much easier to add additional properties and scale without dramatically increasing our workload.
If you need any help with running an analysis on one or multiple properties, we’d be glad to help! Feel free to reach out at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.