One of my favorite hobbies is putting units and homes on Airbnb to yield 2-3x premium rents . . . and the best prep I had was running a CCRC.

By Jacquelyn Kung

As many of you know, I used to be associate executive director of an Erickson CCRC/Life Plan community. It’s been one of my favorite roles.

Today, one of my favorite hobbies is putting units and homes on Airbnb to yield 2-3x premium rents. It gives me great joy to see my five-star host ratings on Airbnb — and how I beat the competition with the highest scores in my local areas.

My friends ask me all the time for my thoughts and tips, and I tell them that the best prep I had was running a CCRC. So I thought I might share here how I managed it, along with what we changed for the “new consumer.”

Install a Great Team

The biggest lesson I learned managing a retirement community is how critical it is to have a great team. It translates into high occupancy and delighted residents and family guests. 

For my Airbnbs, I have the magic trifecta:

  • My assistant Mary runs guest services
  • Our handyman Tony serves as our house manager 
  • Tony’s wife Juliana does the cleaning

Plus, they draw on others in the community as needed to provide for great experiences. 

For many senior living locations, the magic trifecta is:

  • Executive Director
  • Nurse
  • Marketing

Plus, they lean on others in the community to provide great dining experiences, transportation and general services.

Empower a Can-Do Attitude

Being “mayor” of a retirement community means you must have a can-do, customer service-oriented attitude. But you are only one person, so you need to find ways of imbuing this can-do attitude throughout the team. 

In my retirement community, we empowered our 1,000-person staff with finding ways to delight residents. One night, a resident yearned for pistachio ice cream. A sous chef had finished cutting and prepping his station, so he made a quick trip to the local market. Boy, did we have one delighted resident that night.

In my Airbnbs, I empower my team to delight our guests. Given she runs guest relations, I asked Mary to find ways of saying yes to guests if it doesn’t decrease revenues or profits (so she politely declines all those requests for discounts — though they usually end up booking anyway because of our 100+ five-star reviews and superhost status.) 

At this point, Mary also feels empowered enough to create and implement fixes when we mess up (like when our A/C wasn’t turned on during a hot day before a guest arrived, when a guest complained about the parade of ants in the dining room or the million other mess-ups that happen in daily operations). 

For instance, Mary dreamed up the idea and worked out a deal with a local bakery for guests to go there with their name for a special deal. Mary sends that offer, plus a heartfelt apology when we mess up — and guests love it. Mary also created processes for A/C, insect management, and so forth — basically, she does more than I ever would have done myself.

Add Unique Touches

I’ve learned there are two types of special touches: those that you build into processes and others that are unexpected for the individual resident or guest (like the pistachio ice cream example).

My retirement community had operating standards with checks and balances built in — to ensure good resident and family experiences. Having stayed at hundreds of Airbnbs, I quickly saw that many of them glum towards a standard. Good sheets, towels, and access are standard. 

So for our Airbnbs, we created an operating manual and set of checklist processes that elevated the experience by a few notches:

  • A week before check-in, guests receive a detailed email with plan A, B, and C for accessing the house (to alleviate the biggest fear of an Airbnb guest, which is not being able to get in). In it, we also link to a welcome book with local tips. 
  • Guests receive a bottle of wine and chocolates upon check-in. 
  • Mary makes a check-in phone call at 10 a,m. the day after check-in to see how the stay is going and if the guest needs anything else. 

Guests love this over communication and the feeling of being cared for.

Adapt: Think and Rethink Who is Your Consumer

Thinking like a guest . . . 

In the case of Airbnb, the consumer would otherwise stay at a hotel or other Airbnb (and retirement community residents would otherwise stay at home or move into a competitor.) To make sure we are filled up six months in advance in our units, we add “pull” factors to our places to attract guests:
  • Garden chess. We put a giant chess board in one Airbnb home as we wanted non-partiers (seriously). It’s unbelievable how many chess champions have stayed with us. 
  • First timers. We noticed that most of our guests tell us that this is their first time using Airbnb. We specifically market our home on Airbnb to those types of guests, and it helps that so many guests say in their reviews that their first time using Airbnb was a great one. 
  • Smart home. Many guests have told us that this is the first time they tried Chromecast, August Lock or auto-flush home toilets. Apparently for guests, it’s a great way to “try before you buy.”
  • A deal for a night. Everyone loves a deal, and in Airbnb’s platform, this promotes your place to past viewers of your home. The occupancy gain offsets the one-time deal.

Turning conventional thinking on its head. 

Recently it dawned on me when thinking about Airbnb: “new consumer” not only means our residents and guests — but also the members of my team. With so many choices for work, it’s critical for me to attract and retain a great team, especially if I look to grow.

Just as with managing a good retirement community, I see my team as “new consumers” and vital to the success of our Airbnbs. I do frequent personal check-ins with them. Mary has told me that running our Airbnb guest relations is her favorite task as an assistant. Tony recently told me his family took a vacation to Tahoe with his extra earnings — and booked an Airbnb because he’s seen the difference his work has made for our Airbnb guests. Isn’t that great?

Concluding Thoughts

What features and benefits differentiate your community to the types of residents that you would like to attract? What can we do to attract those who have never lived in a retirement community before? Please leave your thoughts below!