Before the pandemic, Ms. Zima mostly catered to business travelers. But with business travel down, anything goes. At a seven-bedroom shared house she manages, one guest, a middle-aged man, decided to parade around in a Speedo, then tried to get back into the hostel after his stay had ended. “Seriously, almost anything can happen,” she said.
Ms. Zima added that many guests expect white-glove service. If someone finds stray hair in a bathroom, brace yourself. “People can’t handle finding a hair,” she said. “You would think that hair is super poisonous, or contagious. Hair is a problem that nobody really thinks about.”
Guests also arrive looking for an experience. Think tree houses, yurts, houseboats. New hosts have to be ready to level up. “You have Instagram. You have HGTV shows. People want that dream,” said Evelyn Badia, who has been an Airbnb host since 2010, and now also runs The Hosting Journey, a website, YouTube channel and podcast to educate hosts. “They don’t have it in their houses, right? But they want to get to a home and be wowed.”
Of course, some newcomers have a natural knack for the hospitality business. In June 2020, Jeff Dickerson and his wife, Tracie Howard Dickerson, listed the two-bedroom treehouse that Mr. Dickerson built himself outside Atlanta, Ga. The treehouse, which is behind their home and adjacent to a 2,500-acre nature preserve, has been booked almost constantly ever since.
“We initially thought maybe on the weekends we’d have people wanting to come out and hike and explore,” said Ms. Dickerson, a novelist. “This month and next month every available date is booked.”
The couple hired a property manager to handle the listings, but Ms. Dickerson is all about the flourishes, leaving bottles of wine and personal notes for guests. Last winter, she wanted to make the space feel cozier, so she bought some fuzzy socks, rolled them up and displayed them in a basket in the living room.
“I thought it was crazy,” said Mr. Dickerson, a communications consultant. “A basket of fuzzy socks? Really? We have to get a basket of fuzzy socks now? And then the reviews came in.”
The socks were a hit. After that, he knew better than to doubt his wife’s instincts.