Janis and her husband, Jeff, in Montreal

Thanks to Janis Chan of travelonthehouse.com for this guest post.

I laughed when I read Josh Gondelman’s satirical article, “Welcome to Your AirBnB,” about the ultimately awful short-term rental. But it’s not entirely funny. We once stayed in an apartment that was full of cat hair, even though we’d explained we were allergic to cats, and so crammed full of stuff we could hardly put ours down. After two very uncomfortable nights, we moved into a hotel, despite the cost. We never did get our money back but it was a valuable learning experience.

Of course, you would NEVER force your guests to stay in a place remotely like that…but Josh’s spoof is a good reminder that we don’t always think about what our guests need and want. Getting your home in shape for your guests takes some work – a little or a lot, depending on the size and condition of your home. To keep the job from feeling overwhelming, stay organized and focus on what actually needs to be done. Leave extra time for the unexpected, like the washer breaking down the day before guests arrive (it happened to us). A last-minute rush will leave you exhausted, and that’s not a great way to start a trip!

The question is, what do you need to do to prepare your home for exchange and short-term rental guests? What don’t you need to do? Here’s a snapshot of what we typically do.

Make Sure it’s Safe

A window that doesn’t open is one thing. A window frame that falls onto your hands when you open it is another. You don’t need to repaint your walls (unless they’re disgustingly dirty) or replace a shabby sofa (unless the springs are poking out), but replace or remove that rug you keep tripping over and the lamp that sparks every time you turn it on.

Repair and Replace

There’s a real upside to welcoming strangers into our home couple of times a year: it motivates us to fix leaky faucets and broken window screens, replace burned-out light bulbs and pillows that are losing their stuffing – all those pesky tasks we never seem to get around to doing. Schedule time to get your home into shape by dealing with things that need fixing and replacing.

Provide the Basics

Guests don’t want to waste their valuable vacation time shopping for essentials. We make sure they have fresh hand and bath soaps, enough toilet paper and paper towels for their stay, new kitchen sponges, cleaning supplies, laundry soap, and dishwashing liquid.

It’s also annoying to move into an exchange or rental home and find only one towel per person, not enough blankets for all the beds, no coffeepot or frying pan, and only three plates. Help guests enjoy their stay by providing the basic things they will need.

Clear Away Clutter

We’re not neat freaks. But we don’t like living with other people’s clutter when we do a home swap or stay in a rental home, and we assume our guests don’t want to live with ours. So when we prepare our home for guests, we cull the stacks of old New Yorkers, Wired magazines, Room and Board catalogs, and newspapers we’ve set aside to read “someday,” throw away almost-empty shampoo bottles and cereal boxes, and clear the shelves of unnecessary bric-a- brac. In fact, getting our home ready for guests is a great motivator to get rid of some of the clutter accumulates while our backs are turned!

Prepare a Welcome Packet

Guests need certain information at the ready: the Internet access code, where to put the garbage, and who to contact if something breaks. They also need to know about your home’s special quirks. For example, we want our guests to be careful when they use the washer because the laundry sink backs up and floods the garage if the nylon sock we use as a filter breaks. People who are unfamiliar with your area also need to know where to buy groceries, find a pharmacy, use the public transportation, and more. We give them a packet that includes essential information about the house and sometimes includes extras such as maps, restaurant and takeout menus, brochures from local attractions, transit schedules, and more.

Clean House!

In my opinion, the one unforgivable sin is to greet guests with a dirty home. If they want nothing else, your guests want the home to be clean. Scum on the bathtub, a gritty floor, soiled sheets, and an inch of dust on the windowsills is a real turnoff.

As soon as we’re packed and ready to leave, we clean the house thoroughly. We put fresh sheets on the bed and fresh towels in the bathrooms. Do the dishes and put them away. Clean the refrigerator and the countertops. Scrub the toilets and the sinks. Dust everything, even way up in the corners where the cobwebs collect. Vacuum and mop. We want to greet our guests the way we want to be greeted, with a sparkling, squeaky clean home.

One Last Tip: Remember That Your Home is Not a Hotel!

Guests know the difference between a home and a hotel. When people choose to stay in someone’s home, they understand that not everything will be perfect. So don’t waste time trying to make it perfect. It’s okay to aim for “good enough.”

Janis Chan’s site, travelonthehouse.com, provides information, tips, advice, and more to help people make travel affordable by exchanging or renting out their home. Check it out!