- Dennis Shirshikov is a 32-year-old Airbnb owner.
- He started out cleaning his property himself, but it quickly became a headache.
- "If losing out to competitors means I'll be less stressed, that's OK with me," he said.
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This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Dennis Shirshikov, a 32-year-old Airbnb owner who has a property in Whitney Point, New York, and charges a higher-than-usual cleaning fee. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Two years ago, I noticed a lot of people I knew were listing their properties on Airbnb. It was in the middle of the pandemic, and I started to hear that people didn't want to stay in big hotels and were nmore eager to rent out homes or apartments.
My wife and I recently bought a former bed-and-breakfast in upstate New York
We decided to turn it into a single-family home that we could rent out on the platform. We bought the property because of the location. It's near state land, and it offered us a lot of options in terms of renting it, listing it on Airbnb, or potentially renovating and selling it.
We had moved from New York City just a few months before buying this property. We noticed that people would travel to the Whitney Point area for retreats and events like weddings or conferences, or for seasonal activities like fishing or snowmobiling. So in 2020, we started renting out the property on Airbnb.
We initially did the cleanings ourselves
At first, my wife and I fully managed the property. Not only did we handle the bookings, but we also did the cleaning ourselves.
Since we were a new property, we were eager to get reviews. We kept our cleaning fee low, around $75 an hour, and we used that money for supplies to clean the property ourselves.
That quickly became a headache, especially as we started having back-to-back bookings
Having to go clean the property interrupted our week and our full-time jobs. We'd have to spend three to four hours at a time away from work, where I'm an editor, to make sure the property was spotless before the next guest arrived.
While some guests left the space in decent condition, other people left it a mess. I found myself getting more frustrated with having to do this work and decided it made more sense to up the fee and hire professionals.
In 2021, we decided to raise our cleaning fee
We went from around $75 per stay to anywhere between $200 and $400 per stay. The fee varies based on the time of year, and it can climb to $400 during summer, in part because we have a pool that requires maintenance between stays.
We've also noticed that people stick around the house more when the weather is nicer, and they leave more dirty dishes or trash around the property. In the winter, people seem to leave the house more to go to the ski slopes.
There are a handful of reasons why our cleaning fee is so high
First, it's a large property. Not only does it have five bedrooms and two baths, but the entire property is 1.5 acres and the home is more than 2,500 square feet. It can take a cleaning crew anywhere between two and three hours to clean this property, depending on how efficient they are or how many people come to clean.
Because we live in such a rural area, there aren't too many options for cleaning services. So we have to pay a premium to get a good, reliable, and sometimes last-minute crew to come if needed.
We also decided to raise our fees because we heard a lot of complaints that Airbnb hosts were asking guests to clean up the space before they left, like taking the trash out, putting things in the laundry, sweeping the floors, or doing the dishes. We didn't feel like that was something we ever wanted to ask our guests to do, because it puts a damper on their experience and isn't something they should have to worry about.
We charge more than competitors, and that's OK
When looking at nearby properties, their cleaning fees range from $100 to $150.
We might get fewer bookings than other properties nearby, though we don't have a way to really know that. We've found that in the past two years, we've had repeat clients, which shows us that people tend to be happy with our property and the up-front costs they pay to stay there.
If losing out to competitors means I'll be less stressed, that's OK with me. I'd rather not have to worry about dipping into profits to pay for cleans and instead charge a higher fee.
People can leave the place a mess
Since this is the first Airbnb property I've run, I learned pretty quickly how dirty people can leave the space.
In addition to garbage everywhere and furniture being moved, there are often stains on the sheets, cracked dishes, or missing kitchen supplies. I guess some people feel like they clean their own house all the time, so when they go somewhere else, they can take a break from that responsibility.
Once we walked into the house after a guest left and saw that a wall was broken
We never figured out how it happened, but there was a giant hole in the wall separating the kitchen and the living room, so rather than repairing it, we took the entire wall down. It worked to our advantage because it made the room feel larger.
When that happened, we were new Airbnb hosts, so we decided to just handle it ourselves and not ask the guest to pay for the damage. Now we might do things differently and either submit an insurance claim or even reach out to the guest.
We're not running an Airbnb in a high-traffic city or area. Our property is very rural, so for the most part, we've noticed that the guests who stay at our property respect the place.
How much we pay the cleaning crew varies
We pay the cleaning crew anywhere from $150 to $300 per service, depending on how much cleaning is needed. They're independent contractors, so they set the rates.
It's more expensive if we need more people, a faster turnaround, or a one-off deep clean after a particularly bad stay.
If there's any leftover money collected from the cleaning fee that Airbnb guests pay, we keep that in a revolving fund that we use to replace broken items so we don't have to charge guests for those things — whether it's cracked dishes or decor that was knocked over by accident.
We mostly break even and rarely have any leftover cash in this fund by the end of the year.
Having a clean property matters more than anything
Before most people book an Airbnb, they usually read all of the reviews. If someone reads that the sheets were dirty or the guest was required to do a light cleaning before checking out, it could impact whether or not a person stays at one location versus another.
Reviews drive bookings, and we want people to leave our property feeling like staying there was everything they'd hoped for, without having to worry about a messy space or doing any of the cleaning themselves.
The property costs money to maintain
There are a lot of costs that come out of our pockets as Airbnb property owners. For example, we pay a mortgage and property taxes on the house, and we're responsible for keeping everything running, including things like heating and HVAC. Most of the profits we make from renting this property go straight back into maintaining it.
We hope to continue to rent this property and make income from it
We don't think it will ever fully replace the money we earn from our full-time jobs. But we do try to save some of the money we make for our own travel, mostly local spots like the Adirondacks, where we stay also in Airbnbs.
When we do, we're happy to pay a higher-than-normal cleaning fee because we know it means we're set up for a good and effortless experience as guests.