I’ve been running an Airbnb business in Kuala Lumpur for five years now, and I have my fair share of bittersweet experiences.
If you’re lucky enough to have a spare property and considering running an Airbnb, I will be sharing with you ten common problems that you’ll most likely run into and how to deal with them like a pro.
Or should you just rent out your property with a regular 1-year tenancy? There is no one size fit all answer to this. Start hosting and see how much you can make for a couple of months, and see if you think it’s worth your time.
Let’s get started:
Not Knowing What Time Your Guest Will Arrive
Hotels have a 24-hour front desk, so it doesn’t matter what time their guest arrives as there’s always someone to greet them.
But if you’re planning to run an Airbnb business at an apartment or condominium, you probably don’t have a 24-hour front desk.
Can’t you just let the security guard check-in your guests? This is a sensitive topic. A lot of building managers won’t allow this for security reasons, and it’s not in their job scope.
Self check-ins are also out of the question. You’d never know who’s staying in your property.
I used to have guests showing up whenever they wanted, leaving me stuck at my apartment waiting for their arrival. Wasting time drives me nuts.
Solution: Communicate with your guests about their check-in time before they arrive.
Most of my guests are foreigners who fly in and make their way to my apartment from KUL airport.
From the airport, it takes them 2 hours to reach my apartment upon touchdown. So I can gauge their check-in time if I know what time they will be landing at the airport.
After every confirmed booking, I’ll immediately send the guest a standardized message to ask them about their landing time at KUL airport.
Here’s what part of my message template looks like:
From my five years experience, my 2-hour estimate of arrival upon touch down is 80% accurate with an error of +/- 30 mins.
Don’t be afraid of contacting the guest to ask them about their flight info. At first, I thought I was pushy.
But with a carefully crafted copy in my greeting message, most of my guest thanks me for being proactive, and it shows that I care about them:
I’m not sure what it is, but my AC draining system gets clogged up every five months or so.
When this happens, the water starts to leak from the indoor unit. It is an unpleasant experience for the guest and will also be detrimental to your floor (especially if its wood or laminated wood).
Solution: Call in a professional Air-Conditioning service company to periodically chemically clean each of your AC units:
The recommended interval is once every six months. But I still get leaks. Maybe it’s due to above-average dust in my area due to the construction next door and the city center location.
So I serviced it more frequently at around once every four months instead, and my AC leaking complaints dropped to almost 0.
WiFi Not Working
I get complaints that the WiFi stops working all the time. Not having internet in your accommodation while you are traveling is a major let down for most travelers (especially for the Digital Nomad crowd).
So you have to make sure the internet uptime is as close to 100% as possible.
Troubleshooting: Every time my internet is down, the light on my router that looks like the planet Saturn (to symbolize internet connectivity) will glow orange instead of yellow:
Causes & Solutions: Most of the time, it’s nothing serious. So here are the common causes and how you can handle them:
Loose Wire Connections
You should check this first. Sometimes, when my cleaner vacuums the back of the TV cabinet, she accidentally yanks one of the ethernet cables lose.
Solution 1: All you have to do is to reconnect the cables and make sure it’s secured. But what if the wires are disconnected, how would you know which port should the cable go into?
Before you face internet issues, it would be a smart idea to take pictures of the back of your router and modem as a reference to see the correct wire connections.
The Router Needs to Be Restarted
This one time, I got yet another complaint that my internet was not working. I’ve made sure all the connections were secure. But the internet symbol was still orange.
Solution 2: I called the internet provider (Maxis). The representative told me to restart the router and leave it unplugged for a minute and replug it back on.
I doubted the solution was that simple, but it worked! He said, from their records, that I never turned off my router for 143 days straight.
Wow, they can even know that? But yeah, he recommends everyone to turn off your router once a month so you won’t have this problem.
This one time, a guest brought over his PS4 and decided to plug the ethernet directly from my modem to his PS4.
He then configured my router settings, so he gets the fastest internet speeds. When he left, he didn’t reconfigure my router back to normal, and the internet wasn’t working.
Solution 3: I had to call my internet provider (Maxis) and had to wait four days for the next available timeslot for the technician to come over to reconfigure everything back.
I later learned that you could configure your router yourself with a laptop. Call the internet provider and say that you want to try to set things yourself, but get them to guide you step by step over the phone.
Guest Losing Their Keys
There’s always a probability that your guest will lose the keys. It’ll be annoying if they lost them and call you in the middle of the night to get in.
From my experience, most of the time the guests lose their keys in GrabCars.
Solution: Help the guest to calm down and call the GrabCar support line. With a little bit of patience, I will almost always get the keys back from the GrabCar driver. Give the driver a bit of tip, and everyone’s happy.
But let’s say the keys are unrecoverable. Then you have no option but to charge the guest to replace the entire lock of your door and new access card. Keep a locksmith contact handy.
Make sure you’ve written upfront of the penalty for the key replacement costs.
Here’s how much it cost to change my set of key locks:
- Wooden door lock (RM 150).
- Metal grill lock (RM 70).
- Access card replacement penalty (RM 100)
- TOTAL = RM 330
The guest needs to be aware of these charges upfront. It makes them more careful with the keys.
Protect your investment folks because your guest for sure won’t care about your property.
Stained linens are a prevalent problem. I don’t know what it is, but some people are just animals. Common stains on towels and bedsheets are:
- Food, particularly instant noodle curry (of all things).
- Blood (menstrual and cuts).
- Ladies wiping off their makeup on their faces with my towels.
- Mysterious brown stains on towels (skidmarks???).
Solution: The obvious solution is to use bleach and stain removers that specifically say on the label that it’s effective on blood (not all are).
Because I use bleach, I switched all my linens (towels and bedsheets) to standard hotel white. It’s boring but necessary:
Unauthorized parties are a common problem from local Malaysian youth guests. It happened to me twice.
Their modus operandi is always the same: They’ll book 1 room for a night usually on a Friday or Saturday. To avoid security guards from detecting, they’ll sneak in their friends one by one.
Solution 1: Make sure you clearly state in the house rules that the room is strictly for 2 persons only and no gatherings, events or parties are allowed. Here’s my T&C:
I’ll also remind them again through messaging when I ask for their flight arrival time:
All these precautions and warnings will work to deter most partiers. But nothing is 100%.
Solution 2: To drastically reduce your chances of getting them as guests, you can set your min night stay to two nights.
My Experience: This one time, my security guard called me when he discovered that there were too many people checking into my apartment and are causing noise and security problems.
I immediately came down and confronted the guest. I told them that they’d breached the contract (clearly written in black and white), and I kicked all of them out without much incident.
It sucks, but it happens, and you have to deal with it. Don’t make it your security guard’s problem as this will escalate into:
Complaints from Your Property Management
Not all Condominiums allow short term vacation rentals. You need to check with your building management first if short term vacation rentals are permitted to operate in your building.
Make sure you follow the rules set by your building management and always keep a good relationship with them.
If your guests have any issues or requests about their stay, make sure you are available to tackle the complaints or problems.
Too many cases like these will tarnish your relationship with the management:
- Host uncontactable, and the guest troubles the management.
- Problematic guests doing illegal activities/prostitution.
- Parties, alcohol, and drug users causing property damage & security concerns.
Solution: You have to be a proactive host. Attend to all problems and request professionally. It is your job to entertain requests, not the security guards nor the building management.
A friend’s condominium close to KLCC had too many irresponsible hosts that the building management made a firm decision to ban all short term rentals. You don’t want that to happen in your building.
Damaged property is what most owners pray would never happen. Here are my personal experiences throughout the years:
The Anti-Chopping Board Guy
This is a picture of my kitchen countertop. The guest was a carefree young man who cut his cigars directly on my kitchen countertop without a chopping board.
The Dripping TV Ramen
Here’s a picture of my carpet in front of my TV. The guest ate instant noodles while watching TV and drip the ramen sauce all over my carpet. Do you think they do this at their home?
The Curtain Yanking Toddler
I had a guest with a toddler who yanked my curtain and its railing off the wall. The dad then put the rod at my balcony behind my pots in a sad attempt to hide it.
The Disgusting Animal
I had 2 young girls who only stayed for 1 night. These ‘lovely girls’ left this kind of a mess at my apartment in a timeframe of not even 8 hours in total.
One of them even cut some sort of body hair (I hope it was her head hair) and left it on the coffee table for other people to see:
The Leaking Makeup Lady
I had an exotic guest who had tonnes of makeup products. All her make up bottles were leaking, and the chemicals reacted with my makeup table’s shellac coating. Resulting in the permanent stains above.
The Dirtiest Girl I’ve Met in My Life
Saved the best for last. This girl seemed normal on the first impression. When she checked out of my apartment, this is the mess she left. There seemed to be splats of dark spots everywhere I think from a dropped wine bottle.
She probably dropped the wine on the floor and the wine splat all over the place:
Must be quite some drop as the splatters almost reached the ceiling!
Here’s a picture of me using a steam cleaner to melt the wall paint to remove the stains:
She also melted some sort of wax and it dropped and ruined my carpet:
Solution & Prevention for Damages
Airbnb is the only platform that entertains damage claims. If you want to make sure that you’re covered, make listing your property on Airbnb your only priority.
The first stage of coverage is for small damages like my experiences above. You can make a deposit charge under the ‘Resolution Center‘ on Airbnb:
All you have to do is to open up a case with Airbnb and take pictures of proof along with the receipts for damage claims. There will be an Airbnb case manager that will intervene if the guest decides to ignore your damage claim request.
For more severe damage cost that is more than your security deposit, Airbnb has the ‘Host Guarantee‘ program, which is essentially an insurance coverage.
I’ve never been to this level, but a friend of mine got his TV stolen. He files the claim under the program and has the building CCTV footage to prove it and got compensated for a new TV!
Airbnb is the best covered OTA at the moment, but ironically, all the problems I’ve faced were from Airbnb guests.
It’s going to happen at some point in your hosting career. You have to be emotionally stable to handle the situation professionally.
Maximum profits require maximum exposure. This means promoting your property on more than just Airbnb like on other major Online Travel Agencies (OTA) like Booking.com, Traveloka, Agoda, CTrip, and Expedia.
More exposure also has a downside. You’ll face with the probability of double bookings.
Here’s what I mean:
Let’s say your property is listed on all the OTAs listed above.
Then, at this very moment, someone booked your property on Airbnb for a specific date, and coincidentally, someone from Booking.com also booked the same room on the same dates.
This is what is called overbooking.
Somone’s reservations need to be canceled and that somebody will be pissed.
You need to have a system that can manage your inventory on all OTAs.
There are SaaS (Software as a Solution) companies out there that specialize in hospitality inventory management. This software is called a ‘Channel Manager.’
There are so many to choose from. Just make sure they are compatible with the OTA that you want to list your properties on.
When I ran ten units, I used this company in New Zealand named STAAH. Here’s what the app looks like in action:
I paid around RM 150 a month for this service. It handles all my inventories, cancellations and alterations. RM150 a month to manage 10 properties and eliminate 99% of my overbooking headache is totally worth the price.
Oversupply & Price War
As in any other business, you can’t run away from the competition. As a matter of fact, you need competition to keep you from being complacent.
Competition is there to weed out the weak and keep you sharp in between the ears.
You’ll realize that these OTAs are great for helping you to promote and get customers, leaving you to run the day to day operations.
But what I’ve learned the hard way is that as an entrepreneur, your job is not to be too into the business like managing the day-to-day operations. That should be left to a staff manager.
Your job as an entrepreneur is to focus your time and energy on marketing and generating sales. Here’s a good representation of content marketing strategy (look at the right green triangle):
I started this blog initially as a content marketing strategy to promote more direct bookings to my apartments. It’s just now been repurposed to a personal finance blog.
This blog is still at the ‘awareness stage,’ and the only way I can earn people’s attention is to create helpful and searchable content such as the one that you’re reading now.
Summary – Are You Sure You Want to Be a Host?
So there you have it. Do you think you have what it takes to be an Airbnb host?
Don’t let this put you off. No matter what business you’ll end up running, you can’t run away from problems and competition. It is the parts and parcels of running your own business.
My monetary gains were more than the troubles it caused me. Also, I do get happy guests that leaves me with very kind comments and reviews that tugs on the heartstrings:
“Helmi is an excellent host, he welcomes you and gives you a detailed intro to the apartment and the surrounding area. Being able to buy a SIM card from him helped so much with using Grab and definitely made our travel so much easier. The detailed instructions made it very easy to find the apartment and have a look around the local area. The guidebook he has left with 5-10MYR journeys and 20+MYR journeys was also very helpful. The view of the KL tower at night was fantastic and the open space around the apartment block also allowed for an excellent view of an incoming thunderstorm with the clouds of rain moving in and a great view of the lightening. The train noise didn’t even bother us, to be fair you can hear it but I’ve heard a lot louder in hotels or other air bnbs, there are no horn noises just the noise of the tracks and train acceleration… But nothing to wake you or disturb a light sleeper! The apartment is well equipped and has everything you would need. Highly recommended and would definitely return if in KL again.”
David’s private feedback for you:
“Excellent welcome, hints and tips. You have the perfect balance of being a helping hand who is in the building, but also leaving us to it. Thanks so much for your helpful advice too, it really made our trip more worthwhile!”
Let me flex on another review for good measure:
All in all, an experience worth teaching in hospitality school.”
Hope this has been helpful. If you have other unique experiences that I did not list here, feel free to comment and share this to any of your friends who are thinking of starting an Airbnb business 🙂
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