How I tried to turn my home into a staycation goldmine

How I tried to turn my home into a staycation goldmine: With UK rental prices soaring, JANE GORDON called in expert help in a bid to squeeze every penny out of her country cottage. Just one catch — she had to move into the garden

  • Jane Gordon listed cottage in Henley-on-Thames on Airbnb for £195 per night
  • She enlisted help of Polo & Tweed to increase chances of becoming a Superhost
  • Among the advice given is offering guest local produce for a taste of country life

Fragrant lavender and rose bushes line the gravel path that leads to my Grade II-listed flint and stone cottage. It’s the very essence of a country retreat.

When I decided to list it on Airbnb earlier this year, I thought I’d be inundated with reservations and five-star reviews. The reality, however, is not so lucrative.

I blame a few careless errors — leaving a half-empty tin of dog food in the fridge, which didn’t go down well with vegan guests — as well as the odd calamity.

The worst review came after a burst pipe flooded the kitchen, resulting in me having to financially compensate my terrified guests and pay for an emergency plumber.

Jane Gordon enlisted the help of Polo & Tweed to turn her cottage in Henley-on-Thames into one of Airbnb’s Superhosts. Pictured: Jane and Alexandra Parker-Larkin

It was the pandemic staycation boom that prompted me to try to earn some extra money by moving into my summer house-cum-office and renting out my cottage. And I’m not alone in attempting to cash in on foreign travel confusion. Last summer, UK Airbnb hosts earned more than £225 million. Who wouldn’t want a slice of this seasonal pie?

But, as I was to discover, it’s not merely a question of running the vacuum cleaner around and washing a few sheets. It turns out there’s a strict hosting hierarchy.

If you want to become one of Airbnb’s Superhosts — a sought-after status earned through excellent reviews and bookings — you need to pull out all the stops.

So I decided to enlist the help of Polo & Tweed, a posh domestic recruitment and training company offering courses to help you ‘achieve Superhost status’. According to founder Lucy Challenger, the course was inspired by people like me deciding to list their properties.

After all, get it right and the sky’s the limit.

There are some very over-priced properties on other home-from-home sites. Vrbo, for instance, listed a caravan in Newquay for £3,000 a week and a five-bedroom house in Windsor for a huge £33,000.

By comparison, my three-bedroom cottage in Henley- on-Thames is a bargain at £195 per night (plus a £45 cleaning fee and a 14.2 per cent service charge to Airbnb).

To help me achieve my ‘full potential’, Alexandra Parker- Larkin, one of Polo & Tweed’s most experienced tutors, pays my ‘quaint and quirky’ cottage a visit. She arrives wearing a crisp shirt, tie, tweed waistcoat, spotless white gloves and a haughty expression.

Alexandra told Jane a successful Airbnb home has to be modelled on a five-star hotel. Pictured: towel etiquette

To say I’m nervous would be an understatement. She spends most of her time in grand houses, hotels and castles, training butlers, housekeepers and other staff in ‘silver service’ and ‘etiquette’.

Alexandra says: ‘A successful Airbnb home has to be modelled not on a common-or-garden B&B, but a five-star hotel.’ Gulp.

So will I pass the ‘white glove’ dust inspection? And what will she make of my disorganised kitchen cupboards?

It doesn’t start well as it takes me five minutes to let her in — my front door lock is prone to jamming. My first rap on the knuckles is an instruction to change my locks: ‘Or at least have a sign that explains it can be tricky.’

My second reprimand concerns my welcome pack. A Superhost, Alexandra informs me, would offer something a little less ‘amateur’ than my dog-eared pages detailing house essentials (wifi password etc) and local attractions.

‘You should have a bound folder,’ says Alexandra. ‘At least get these pages laminated, or iron them.’

‘Fresh flowers,’ she continues, ‘are essential.’ She produces some white lisianthus and attempts to teach me how to cut the stems ‘always diagonally’ and arrange them in the vase. ‘Change the water regularly, otherwise you will get a bacteria build-up.’

Jane (pictured) was instructed to give guests a ‘proper’ taste of country life with local produce in the welcome breakfast basket

Alexandra is big on bacteria. She is worried my fridge — particularly the huge number of condiments (next to the dog food) — might be a bit of a breeding ground.

She is also concerned about the state of my glasses, holding a crystal champagne glass up to the light and tutting. ‘That’s not my fault,’ I say defensively. ‘It’s how they come out of the dishwasher.’

‘Dishwasher?’ she gasps. ‘Never put crystal glasses in the dishwasher. They should be hand- washed so they don’t look dull.’

Suitably chastened, we move on to the welcome breakfast basket. This is one area I think I’ve nailed as I leave guests fresh croissants, sourdough bread, jam and free-range eggs. My piece de resistance is a big bag of Percy Pigs.

Even this fails her test. She tells me this is a chance to give guests a ‘proper’ taste of country life with local produce.

Meanwhile, I fail the white glove test so badly — there is a layer of dust on everything — that Alexandra has to get out a clean pair for upstairs.

In the master bedroom, she teaches me how to ‘properly fold towels’ (who knew?) by laying them on the bed and folding them ‘in thirds’ so they look ‘like they do in bedrooms at The Savoy’.

I get a couple of brownie points for my linen which is crisply ironed and ‘smells lovely and fresh’.

Alexandra rated Jane’s (pictured) cottage a five out of ten, because she needs to do a bit of decorating but said she could possibly get a seven or eight with some work 

Moving on to the second double bedroom, Alexandra points a white-gloved finger at a hole in the plaster (which I try to cover by piling on pillows). Some years ago, it was made by my son and a young woman during what we used to call a dirty weekend.

‘I can’t imagine what they were doing,’ Alexandra comments. ‘But you need to get that plastered.’ Things get complicated in the bathroom where Alexandra attempts to teach me to ‘properly present your loo rolls’. Since I have a basket of about 20, it takes me more than an hour to fold the end of each one so that the first sheet is neatly tucked in the way that they would be at The Savoy.

But by the time she has finished, we have, to my surprise, become new best friends. I ask her how she would rate my home — and my chances of achieving Superhost-hood — out of ten.

‘Right now I would give you a five, as you do need a bit of decorating. But with some work, you might get to be a seven or even an eight.’

Clearly aware of my disappointment, she adds: ‘But you know, from the outside it looks almost a ten. The walkway with all the lavender is quite lovely. It’s just getting beyond the front door that’s the problem.’

Superhost status may yet elude me, but at least I have changed the locks.

For details on the next Superhost course, contact poloandtweed.com

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