These 4 Smart Devices Made Our Airbnb Party-Proof

Our vacation rental venture started as a romantic dream for my husband, a way to invest our savings in something other than the stock market. We’d never owned a home—we lived in a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco—yet we were wildly optimistic about our ability to turn it into a lucrative business that we could also enjoy for ourselves from time to time.


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Six years and three rental properties later, that pipe dream has turned into a real business for us. But it definitely didn’t happen overnight, and we made a lot of rookie mistakes that cost us time and money when we were starting out. Here’s how we’re now using technology to manage our investments remotely.

Noise and visitor monitoring

This mistake could easily put an end to our small, profitable vacation rental business, as our housing development has a “two strikes, you’re kicked out” policy.

Our first rental property is located in PGA West, a gated community near Palm Springs known for its world-class golf courses and resort-like grounds, making it a highly desirable retirement community. With many of our neighbors living there full-time, anyone running a vacation home like ours is already under extreme scrutiny, and it is important that our tenants are respectful and respect the community’s quiet hours.

In our first year in business, a neighbor called security on one of our guests who was playing loud music late into the night. The next morning, the guest assured us that he hadn’t even been outside the night before, let alone played loud music. The situation devolved into a “he said, she said” situation with no real resolution other than the fact that we were now one “warning” away from losing our short-term rental permit and potentially having to sell our investment property.

To prevent this from happening again, we have installed Minute noise monitor on our back patio. Unlike a baby monitor that lets you listen in on everything happening in the room, Minut only alerts you when noise exceeds a certain decibel level. This lets us get ahead of any neighbor complaints by contacting the guest directly to turn down the volume, and gives us a tangible data point to make our case for when we get another notification.

We also had a case at our second home in Coachella where the landlord decided to throw a spontaneous party without telling us in advance and then refused to host the whole event even though we had Ring doorbell that documented the onslaught of guests arriving at the door throughout the night. The undeniable evidence allowed us to file a claim with Airbnb and seek reimbursement for the damages incurred during that wild night.

Related: Airbnb bans security cameras in rental properties

Utility Cost Management

This seems obvious, but we started out as naive apartment dwellers — utility bills were included in the rent — and I’d only heard of smart thermostats through my previous job at CNET.

Our first guests left the air conditioning on at a cool 65 degrees (mid-August), and we didn’t find out until two weeks later when the cleaners, preparing the room for the next guests, went into the icebox. The price shock of the first electric bill forced us to “smart up” our air conditioning policy and swapped out the stupid thermostats for two Nest Thermostats.

Nest lets us remotely control the thermostat and set it on a schedule so that even if a guest manually adjusts it, it returns to our set range at certain times of day. We also included some energy policies in our lease that would discourage guests from unnecessarily cooling the room to arctic temperatures.

We took the same approach with our pool and hot tub, which have Pentair heaters that can be controlled remotely using the Pentair app. Unlike Nest thermostats, these heaters are not easily accessible for guests to manually control, so guests must ask the host to adjust pool and spa temperatures.

We also rely on software

Aside from the party stuff, the most expensive mistake we made was not adjusting our prices regularly. Starting without any reviews on Airbnb, Vrbo, or any other rental platform can be difficult for even the most impressive properties, so we had to set our rental price much lower than our competitors to make it more attractive.

As our listing started to gain a little more traction, people started booking future dates that we had carelessly put on the calendar at the same introductory rates we had started with. When we raised our rates, one guest had already booked the week of Thanksgiving for less than a quarter of what we had budgeted for those dates. We tried canceling and changing our prices, but Airbnb penalizes hosts for canceling reservations; if you cancel a reservation that you’ve already booked, you have to pay a percentage of the reservation, and Airbnb blocks those dates from your calendar so no one else can book at the new price.

This experience has forced us to regularly reassess our prices a year in advance, taking into account the season, holidays, and any major events that might increase demand. At our Palm Springs venue, two weeks of the Coachella music festival alone can generate enough revenue to cover half of our operating costs for the year. This helps make up for those slow months in the summer when we know temperatures can be in the triple digits overnight and the venue can sit empty for weeks.

We’ve automated many of our day-to-day pricing decisions using Beyond, a revenue management platform that uses algorithms to optimize nightly rates across all of our vacation rental platforms. The program takes a 1% commission on each booking and still requires some oversight from us, but with three properties and our regular full-time jobs to manage, it’s been a worthy investment.

Perhaps the biggest lesson we’ve learned from vacation rentals is that while they can be a significant source of income, they are by no means passive income. Even with experience and all the smart home gadgets and automation programs money can buy, they still require you to run them like a business if you want to make money from them. That, and you need to enjoy doing them at least a little. Otherwise, you’re better off betting on the stock market.