6 Key Steps to Building a Cabin for Airbnb Guests
If you’ve opened up Airbnb to dream about traveling to interesting places (haven’t we all?) you’ve seen tiny houses and cabins that are nearly constantly booked, and charging more than $200 a night.
If you’re a clever thinker with an eye for business, you’ve probably thought ‘Hey, I could put together a cheap cabin and start making some money like this.’
Well, you’re not wrong.
Getaway, a startup that builds custom cabins, raised a shocking $41 million in 2021 to build more cabins and rent them out at locations in the United States and around the world. People love staying in rustic tiny houses – as long as they are beautifully designed and in the right locations – and you can cash in on this trend by building a cabin for Airbnb.
If you follow these key steps, you’ll not only get a beautiful cabin built cheaply, but you’ll also be able to market it on Airbnb and get high occupancy rates and a good return on your investment.
1. Finding your Piece of Paradise
Location, location, location. This is the first thing Airbnb users think about. Your location will show up on a map, and if you are in the middle of nowhere it will be hard to charge high nightly rates.
Companies like Getaway target areas with plenty of tourists. After all, they are your customers. National parks and tourist attractions are naturally good spots, but you might also find a gap in the market in a less touristy area that still gets visitors.
The best way to check this is to look on Airbnb and see what other people are charging, and what their occupancy rates are. If other Airbnb owners are running profitable businesses in the area, why can’t you?
If you are building in your backyard, you need to make sure that there is a rental market so that investing in building a cabin will be worth it for you. If you are searching for land to buy, you have some more flexibility. You can look for plots of land that are cheap and available in areas where the rental market is good.
Building a cabin for Airbnb makes a lot more sense in areas where you know people are excited about paying high rates. Do your market research first.
Don’t forget about the dream and the vision, though. A beautiful piece of quiet land with a great view goes a long way in Airbnb listings and makes for happy and satisfied customers.
2. Researching Codes and Permits
Once you have a location, you need to make sure that you have all of the legal rights and permits you need to do the kind of construction you want to do.
Building a cabin for Airbnb can sometimes be a challenge legally. This is especially true if you want to build a really small cabin – which is key for builders who are on a budget and trying to keep things cost-effective. Each city or town has its own zoning laws, but many specify minimum square footage for houses where people are living.
Before you start drawing up plans, take a look at the local zoning laws and permitting restrictions. It might make a difference and affect the building a cabin for Airbnb plan. You might need to increase the square footage to allow for more space between the heater and a sofa, or between the bathroom and the kitchen. If you live in an area with flooding, high winds, or earthquakes, there may be special considerations and higher building requirements.
It’s easy to get frustrated with the red tape, and some people even find ways around these restrictions. However, you should follow the rules if you want your business to be successful. An illegal structure rented out as an Airbnb is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and you don’t want to hurt your reputation and risk your status as an Airbnb owner to save some money.
3. Preparing to Build
Once you have the perfect piece of land and you know that building a cabin for Airbnb is legal in your area, you need to prepare the land for the building process.
Chances are, you are dealing with land that is either forested or covered in debris and shrubs. If you got a deal on the land, or you are looking at your backyard, this is probably what you’re working with. You could clear all of this yourself by renting a chainsaw and a backhoe and going to it, but that would probably be a mistake unless you are a landscaper in your day job.
A land clearing business has all of the tools needed to turn a messy bit of forest into the perfect clearing for building a cabin for Airbnb. They also employ professionals who know what they are doing and can clear the land in much less time. A DIY project that could take you months could be knocked out by a tree removal contractor in a couple of days. If you can afford it, it’s worth it.
Now is also the time to think about the support systems that your cabin will need. If you want to charge high rates for a glamorous cabin, you probably don’t want your guests to need to walk to an outhouse in order to relieve themselves during the night. That means you need indoor plumbing and a septic tank. An excavating contractor can dig a private well for your cabin, and professional plumbers can make sure that your systems are reliable, legal, and up to code.
4. Building the Structure
Creating the cabin itself is a major project, but one that can come together surprisingly quickly with the right planning.
The term ‘cabin’ can include everything from a glorified shed to a small palace made of wood. The difficulty of this project can vary a lot depending on what you have planned. A person who knows their way around a drill and a circular saw can put together a tiny house in a month or less, but building a cabin for Airbnb that will command high rates and sell out consistently might take a little more work.
A custom home builder can take over if you don’t have the background to do all of the work by yourself. Even if you are building a small structure, it is rarely as easy as it seems and any error could end up costing more money later on, and affecting your Airbnb revenue. Hiring a contractor is a major cost, but unless you are a contractor yourself it makes sense. Building a cabin for Airbnb is an expensive investment in the first place, and you want the end product to be as valuable as possible.
During or before construction, you should have a details floorplan and know where the furniture will be going, where electrical outlets and plumbing fixtures will be located, whether you’ll have a tile floor or a wood floor, and whether or not you need a custom window or door. The last thing you want while building a cabin for Airbnb is to need to start drilling holes again to make room for new fixtures or need to adjust the sizes of door frames and windows.
Depending on where your cabin is located, you’ll also need to think about heating and cooling. If you’re only renting your cabin out in the summer, you might be okay without insulation, but you should give it some consideration. Insulation contractors can do the work for you to winterize the cabin, which could open up an additional six months of income. If you don’t insulate your cabin, it’s a major project to winterize it later on. If you live in a hot area or are renting your cabin out in the summer – will it be too hot for your guests to sleep? Investing in an AC unit could give you a major selling point.
5. Finishing your Airbnb Cabin
Once the structure of your cabin is solid you’re ready to start finishing it. This is where your creativity really comes in. Your design skills, and the way you decorate and brand your cabin, will have a huge impact on how much you can charge and how many bookings you’ll get.
Hopefully, you have kept a significant portion of your budget for this phase. An empty cabin still needs a lot of work.
For example, you need shelves and cabinets. A cabinetry services company can build the perfect cabinets for you and install them, so you don’t have to. Great looking cabinets, drawers, cupboards, and shelves elevate the look of your Airbnb and allow you to charge higher rates.
You can find great furnishings online, at reasonable prices. Allow time for delivery by ordering ahead long before you plan on opening your doors to renters.
If you’re not a design person, consider hiring an interior designer or asking a friend who has a good eye. Designing the interior is a big part of building a cabin for Airbnb, and it will impact your rates and bookings. If everything fits the brand aesthetic that customers are looking for, you’ll have people competing to book it. If you mix and match a bit of everything and cut corners when it comes to design, you could struggle to book it even if you’ve done everything else right.
6. Opening For Business
With a great location, a completed cabin, and all of the permits and requirements you need, you’re ready to list your cabin on Airbnb! Have a glass of champagne, and then get to work on making that listing.
Building a cabin for Airbnb is just the first step. Next, you need to start marketing, and that all begins with a killer listing that shows off all of your cabin’s best features. Fill out the form online and provide as many details on the cabin as you can. Do you have WiFi? Are pets allowed? Ideally you would have already thought of all these details, but if you haven’t it is okay to sort through them now. You just want to make sure that you know exactly what you are offering and charging before guests start arriving.
If you don’t know what to write for the listing itself, for the description of your cabin, don’t just fill the box with text and click okay. Take some time and think about it. If necessary, use AI copywriting tools like ChatGPT to write the listing for you. A great listing uses a little bit of imaginative flair to paint a picture for potential guests and uses welcoming and inviting language, like this:
‘Enjoy free Wifi, walk the extensive property and see birds and local wildlife, and see the stars through your personal skylight.’
Don’t be afraid to push yourself a little bit, and sell the property! Describe what is great about your cabin so that your guests can understand why they should book it.
When it comes to marketing, you can go beyond Airbnb, too. While most of your guests will probably find you through the website’s search function, you can post to social media, to your website, and to local classifieds and message boards in order to spread the word. You could even invest in custom signage that can be seen from the nearest road, to appeal to travelers who are in town or passing by.
Your Steps to A Successful Airbnb Cabin
Building a cabin for Airbnb is a dream that can turn into a profitable reality if you follow these tips. As Getaway has shown, there is a financial opportunity out there for people with vision, skills, and some determination. As long as you focus on creating the kind of cabin that people want to book in the locations they need, and you work with skilled professionals rather than cutting corners, this can be a fun and fulfilling project that will bring you additional income for a long time.