'Lots of work, a dead goldfish, and $2000: my experience as an Airbnb host'

Three weeks in Europe - it was our dream holiday. But it didn't come cheap, and we were leaving behind an empty family home. We would be paying to stay in other people's homes in Paris and Rome - why not see if other people would pay to stay in ours in Melbourne?

We listed our home on Airbnb but it wasn't until a week before our departure that the queries started to roll in. After declining one group that seemed too large for the house, and fielding a lot of queries that went nowhere, a local Melbourne family - elderly parents, adult kids - got in touch, wanting to rent for two weeks while they were renovating. They confirmed - our first rental!

Fran Cusworth with her 12-year-old son Redmond. Fran let out her family's Melbourne home on Airbnb to help cover the cost of a family holiday to Europe. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Fran Cusworth with her 12-year-old son Redmond. Fran let out her family's Melbourne home on Airbnb to help cover the cost of a family holiday to Europe. Photo: Paul Jeffers

With just a few days to go before we left, there was so much to do. Now not only were we packing ourselves and two kids, finalising work deadlines and confirming complicated travel plans, we were preparing our home for paying strangers. I bought new linen and storage cabinets. I took down personal items and stripped excess clutter from surfaces. I culled and culled, and cleaned and cleaned.

We sealed some wardrobes and drawers, but left many accessible, figuring we didn't have a lot to steal. I set aside one lockable room to pile precious things in and offered a neighbour some money to help with handing over keys and troubleshooting.

Minutes before we left for the airport, I realised I had left some medication we needed in the locked room - and the antique lock now refused to unlock. If we broke it, we'd have a whole new problem without time to deal with it, so we had to give up and leave. It was stressful, along with keeping the house tidy through the whirlwind of departure, and by the time we reached the airport I was wrecked, and fed up with Airbnb - never again, I swore.

But holidays quickly wipe away stress and I had forgotten the whole thing by the time we got a message from the tenants saying the goldfish had died - what should they do? A quick message to our neighbour and the tank was cleared away. The tenants were cheerful and friendly; all was going well at home and they were enjoying our book collection.

Days later I was sitting in a deckchair watching the Italian coast slide by when I received a query from a South Australian family wanting to rent somewhere kid-friendly.

I had already booked a cleaner, and our neighbour was able to handle the transition to a second lot of tenants. So now we were booked for the entire three weeks of our holiday!

I had a few fears. What if these people damaged things, or went through private possessions? What if they took the keys and copied them?

Arriving home after the trip, we opened the door nervously - but the house looked cleaner and tidier than normal. We received positive reviews online, except the first group gave a lukewarm rating on the house's cleanliness. Everyone has different standards on this one - I figured we had done our best. Part of the challenge of Airbnb is this sort of public scrutiny, which also offers some transparency and protection to both sides. We gave our tenants the positive reviews they deserved, and it was done.

Despite my pledge in the airport, I would do it again. After expenses, we cleared about $2000, and although the set-up was a lot of work, our home was all the better for it. Another time I might consider installing a passcode lock on exterior doors rather than handing over keys.

There is a lot of trust involved with Airbnb, and I know some people would never rent out their home to strangers. But there's money to be made, and also some heart-warming reminders that, by and large, most people are trustworthy.

This story 'Lots of work, a dead goldfish, and $2000: my experience as an Airbnb host' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.