Back in October, Katie and I arrived here in Uvita ready to take a solid couple of weeks off from work to relax before we really started to dive into projects and improvements on the property. As you’ll learn from the stories in this post, we had the opportunity to get our hands dirty much more quickly than we originally expected. In the process of learning how to be Airbnb property managers, we’ve dealt with a few unexpected scenarios that have taught us a lot about what it takes to own property, which we both aspire to do in the future.
In this post, we take you through a few of the unexpected events that tested our mettle and increased our experience and comfort with property management. To be clear, we are extremely grateful for this opportunity and we know that we have significantly helped the future versions of ourselves that do own property through the experiences we’ve had here. But, we also think a few of these stories are pretty funny, so we want to share!
Side note: Please take some time to learn about us and understand why we’ve created this site. We are always on the lookout for new opportunities and we believe in the power of win-win situations to improve life on this planet for all! Please don’t hesitate to Contact Us if you have any questions or want to talk about how our future plans may align.
Down Goes The Rancho
It was approximately two days into our stay here and the rain was pouring down. We knew it would rain a lot when we first got down here. That wasn’t the problem. In fact, we quite enjoyed the excuse to stay inside, read a good book, and enjoy the sound of the rain falling on the tin roof. We got quite a bit of reading done in the first couple of months down here.
But on this day it was raining particularly hard. It was coming down by the bucket load, to be more precise. We were sitting in the kitchen, maybe even talking about what we would prepare for dinner that evening. It was towards the end of the day, so the lighting was getting low. All of a sudden, we heard a tremendous crash and bang outside in the front yard of the property.
We hustled outside to see what all the commotion was and found that the “temporary rancho” that was serving as a combination carport and workshop had finally lived up to its temporary nature. The whole structure had sort of slid sideways and down as I’m sure one of the supports has succumbed to the movement of the mud it was previously relying on.
Fortunately, the structure had only just clipped the car that was underneath it, resulting in minor damage to the rain shield over the driver’s side window. The previous property manager, who was still living on the property at the time, came out shortly thereafter and we all sort of looked at each other as if to say, “Well, there’s nothing we’re going to do about it until the rain lets up,” and we all returned to the comfort of our domiciles.
The next day, I went out and helped him and his friend deconstruct the rancho and pile the leftover two-by-fours and sheets of zinc roofing in separate piles. This was the start of the collection of materials that would result in the compost shed, raised garden bed, and basurero, but for now, it was all just in wet piles.
So, what did we learn from this first experience? The most important thing I take away from it is: You can’t overestimate the importance of setting a solid foundation before building up! And, as I would later find out when I went about repurposing all of that wood, it’s not nearly as easy to take nails out as it is to drive them in! (which is why I used screws for much of the construction I did on the property)
One night earlier this spring, we crawled into bed just like any other night. Although, now that I think about it, this night was different because it was one of the few nights this spring that it was raining as we went to bed. But, being lovers of rain, we quite enjoyed the sounds of the splatters on the rooftop as we shut our eyes and nodded off.
Now, this evening was also unique in that Katie had actually gone to bed quite earlier than normal. We were both experimenting with a coffee cleanse at the time, which made us a bit low on energy and experiencing dull headaches until we got over that three-day hump. But this was still during that initial three days, and it had become easier to crawl in bed at 6 pm than to tough out the discomfort.
Around midnight, Katie woke up to showers of sparks raining down from the rooftop of our house. The sparks were intermittent and accompanied by loud cracks of sound. She shook me awake, much to my dismay, to inquire as to who might be setting off fireworks from our roof in the midst of a Costa Rican downpour. Yes, it was still raining quite hard and I was perplexed by what the sparks could be coming from.
All I could think was that there was somehow a live wire sitting on the tin roof, but there was no electrical running over our roof that could’ve fallen onto it. Nevertheless, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to let it go on, even with the vast amount of rain keeping anything nearby from catching the sparks, so I grabbed an umbrella and headed down to the yard to shut off the power to the entire property. This was the best solution we had until the rain stopped, the sun came out, and we could explore further.
The next morning was clear and yes, indeed, the sun did come out. Via a series of tin roof sections, I was able to climb up to the top of our roof to inspect the source of the sparks. What I found were a set of electrical wires coming out of the roof and spilling onto the tin. The exposed wires were about six feet in length, but they were originally put in place for a solar water heater that had yet to be installed.
Upon closer inspection, I found that the hot leads on the wires hadn’t been wrapped separately and, as a result, they were touching to create an arc that then produced the sparks. I am still a relative novice when it comes to electrical issues, but fortunately, our Airbnb guests at the time had a bit more experience. So, we wrapped the leads separately before wrapping them together and then securing the entire cluster of wires to the exposed tubing so that they weren’t just lying on the tin roof.
While the mystery was gone at this point, we had certainly learned an important lesson: When something goes haywire with anything electrical on your property, it’s really good to know where you can shut off power to the entire property until you can figure out the problem. This event also caused us to evaluate the individual breaker boxes within each of the houses, which we proceeded to label much more thoroughly than they had been!
Many Airbnb hosts probably know the anxiety that sometimes creeps in when anticipating the arrival of new guests. Your preparation checklist runs through your head a dozen or more times as you make sure everything is neat and tidy for your next arrivals. And that anxiety only grows when your guest’s ETA passes and you haven’t heard any updates.
That’s what happened to us as we prepared to welcome our guests for the Envision Festival. Envision is a week-long festival that takes place just north of us, in Playa Hermosa. It includes music, art, herbal medicine workshops, and much more. Some of its founders have ties to the early days of Burning Man.
If you ask around in the community, there’s a pretty decisive split between how people perceive and prepare for festival time. About half of the people don’t want anything to do with it. They shut up the doors to their Airbnb or rental properties and don’t open them again until 90 percent of the festival-goers are long gone. The other half looks forward to it every year. Either they attend the festival as guests, teach yoga or other workshops at the festival, or simply enjoy a little economic boost from the increase in visitation to the area.
It was our first time being here when the festival came to town, but we decided to raise our rates and see who wound up booking. We received a booking for two guests well in advance of the festival, so we were excited to meet them and get some updates from the local festivities.
This year’s festival began on February 27th and ran through March 4th. Our guests were scheduled to arrive on the 27th and stay through the duration of the festival. Two days before they were set to arrive, I had reached out to let them know we were looking forward to hosting them and that we were available to answer any questions they might have. I received a message back that they’d be in touch if anything came up and then…nothing. Crickets.
The day of their arrival came and went without hearing a word from them. We reached out again to make sure they didn’t have any trouble finding our location and to express our hopes that they hadn’t had any delays in their travel plan. We heard nothing back.
As the next day progressed, our neighbors reached out to see if we had any availability at our location for the nights of the 2nd through the 5th. Seeing that we hadn’t heard anything from the guests that booked, we started seriously considering if we should allow them to stay starting on the 2nd. I perused through our guest’s Airbnb reviews and found that he had canceled last minute on another occasion, but been kind enough to still pay for the listing in full.
We began to wonder if we might be experiencing a similar occurrence. As what was supposed to be the second day of their stay drew to a close, we embarked on a mission to further understand Airbnb’s cancellation policies, which we found to be vague, at best. We ultimately resolved to wait another twelve hours and, if the intended guests hadn’t shown up by the morning, then we would go ahead and rent to the other couple that had reached out through our neighbors.
We made this decision around mid-afternoon and forgot about it. We went about finishing our work day and preparing our dinner. Shortly after 7 pm, a car rolled into our driveway and out popped our guests. They had experienced a flight delay, they said, but never explained why they hadn’t reached out to let us know they’d be a day late. The rest of their stay passed uneventfully, as we were on very opposite schedules.
We learned from this occasion that it pays to understand Airbnb’s cancellation policy thoroughly and to know the differences between the Flexible, Moderate, and Strict policy options that Airbnb gives you. We also learned that, despite the opportunity to actually fill the house if guests cancel, Airbnb still pays out the full amount of the booking if a guest doesn’t cancel before the approved window, depending on your cancellation policy choice. So, despite the urge to want to fill the listing, you’re better off to just pocket the money and let the existing listing run its course.
With the way our property is laid out, the two houses sit up on the hill and the low-lying flat area in the front is the best place for planting fruit trees, root vegetables, and herb gardens. These things, obviously, need regular water. So, when the property was built a spigot was installed on the side of the driveway furthest away from the house. The location isn’t ideal, but it makes the lower area accessible for watering with about 60 feet of hose.
One beautiful January morning, I went out to water the garden before the direct sunlight hit everything for the day. We had yet to connect the second length of hose that now gives us full reach to the extent of the lower portion of the property. As a result, I was stretching the existing length of hose to try to reach the further regions.
As I struggled to reach a particularly inaccessible patch of black beans, I felt something give behind me and I lurched forward. I dropped the hose and looked back to see a strong fountain of water pouring out the spigot. “Uh, Katie!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. No answer. “KATIE!!” I screamed louder hoping she hadn’t fallen back to sleep. “Yes,” came her response. “Um, I need you to come down here….like now!”
I had managed to put the PVC piping that had burst at its previous seal back in place to keep the water from leaking too much, but it was taking all of my concentration just to hold that in place. And I knew I couldn’t keep that up all day. How do I turn the water off? I had never had a true property walk around to learn about things of this nature before, so this question hadn’t seemed of much importance until that moment.
Katie had run down and I talked her through how to take over holding the PVC pipe in place while I found a wrench and inspected the two concrete boxes that I had previously seen at the corner of the property. There were two boxes, which was slightly baffling, but I opted for the one closest to the road, as I assumed that would probably be where the water was running in from the city. Sure enough, under the box cover, I found a water meter and a convenient switch to turn the water off to the entire property. So, I did.
Not more than 10 minutes later, as I was engineering a temporary fix to the PVC piping using PVC cement, our Airbnb guests walked up from their morning run. They were dripping with sweat and surely anxious for a shower. “So, we had a little pipe burst issue this morning,” I explained, “and it might be a few minutes before I can turn the water back on so that you guys can shower.”
Their reaction was lukewarm, but one of them actually took a closer look at the fix job I had done. It being my first time working with PVC cement, I just wasn’t sure how long I’d need to let it set up before attempting to turn the water back on. This is when I was courteously informed that there is something called ‘PVC Primer’ that is supposed to go on before the PVC cement in order to prime the PVC to be more receptive to the glue.
Having been unaware of the existence of this mysterious primer, I had simply used what I thought would be most applicable (and what was conveniently available in our bodega). But he also informed me that PVC cement sets up almost immediately. So, we removed the clear tape that I had used to hold things together while the cement set and gave it a try. Sure enough, things held as they should and we haven’t had another problem with a leak at that location since.
For any aspiring Airbnb property managers out there, though, this was a trial-and-error lesson in the importance of knowing where the water shut off to your property is long before you actually need to use it!
Word of mouth is the strongest marketing tool. If that’s true, how do you get word of mouth recommendations when you’re an Internet-based operation? Through guest ratings. The property we manage is listed on Airbnb which is a platform built around ratings. We rate guests and guests rate us. Because of the personal nature of home-stay hospitality, these ratings carry a lot of weight.
It was important for us to get good ratings so that our house looks desirable for future guests. Before guests arrive we always double and triple check to make sure everything was spick and span. We even left coffee, tropical fruit, and friendly welcome letters to ensure the house felt like home. We enjoy greeting our guests, answering any initial questions and orienting them to the nearby attractions. We do all we can to make sure someone’s stay is comfortable.
One thing we have learned from the past few months of property management is that you can do all of these things and still not receive a five-star rating. Mostly, our Casita was docked for location. Each time we were not sure why, as we think being equidistant between the town center and the beach is a fantastic location. This experience taught us to detach from the outcome. We can do our very best as hosts and still not receive a perfect rating, which usually has nothing to do with us.
Our desire to have a good rating stems from our need to compete with other Airbnb listings in the area. They have been on the market for years and therefore have hundreds of 5-star ratings, whereas we only have a handful from our 6 months on the market. Again, it’s about detaching from the outcome. People are still booking our house and loving their stays. Some people leave amazing ratings while others leave nothing at all.
As a property manager it’s important that you do your best but remember to focus on improvement instead of setbacks. Each one of these not-so-stellar ratings helped us to be even MORE clear on our Airbnb listing. Now, we updated our listing to clearly explain our location, recommend guests have cars and aired on the side of being overly clear. In doing this, we continue to attract guests who want the exact experience we are able to provide.
The Slow Life Guides
If, after reading this article, you’re interested in becoming an Airbnb property manager and hosting people from all over the world, click here to learn more!
When we wrap up our time here in Costa Rica, we will be moving back stateside for the foreseeable future. After a spring road trip and some time in Lake Tahoe for the summer, we will be settling in Santa Cruz, California for the next four years as Katie pursues her degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
We would love an opportunity to help manage another Airbnb and work on property improvement projects like this one! If you’re interested in speaking to us about such an arrangement, shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We love the idea of leaving places better than we have found them and know that we can provide considerable value for the right property owner. If that’s you, we look forward to hearing from you!