Airbnb from a South African Perspective: Living Rent-Free in Cape Town

Wednesday Wisdom: Living in Cape Town (or any big city for that matter) is no joke in terms of costs, especially when it comes to renting a decent apartment. So the fact that we are currently living in an amazing Sea Point apartment, in a great location and virtually spending no money at all sounds a bit crazy, right? Wrong.

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone.

Basically: Hosts list their residential accommodation – whether it be an entire home/ apartment, a private room or a shared room – on Airbnb for short-term rental. Guests in search of short-term rental accommodation browse listings and make bookings online. Simple.

Sign Up Now and Receive Credit

If you sign up using the link below Airbnb will give you $25 credit to use on your next trip. Try it now!

Sign up now!

How to Live Rent-Free

After using Airbnb on my trip to London and Dublin last year, I was determined to test it back home in our new Sea Point apartment.

MVP-ing it

We used our spare room in our previous flat as an office and as such would need to spend some cash to set up our second bedroom for Airbnb. Having spent way too much time reading Mashable and The Next Web articles, I decided we should MVP* it, i.e. we would create a listing and see what the response is before spending any money on the second bedroom.

*minimum viable product

An Airbnb listing includes:

  • a description  of the listing which includes details about the space, the neighbourhood, what the guest will have access to, how to get around, house rules, etc.
  • photos of the room, the home/ apartment and the area
  • some idea of prices and availability
Airbnb Listing View

Our Airbnb Listing

We moved our bed into the second bedroom, added a few pieces of essential furniture, scatter cushions and bedding and snapped the room. Within a few hours we were ready to list.


The result – validation – there is demand for our spare room:

  • We listed the room on Friday, 31 January 2014.
  • Within an hour of listing we had our first inquiry.
  • Within a day our first booking.
  • Within three days our first guest arrived

Setup Costs

The upside of listing a shared space on Airbnb is that you have most likely already set up most of the communal spaces and amenities (like wi-fi) – so the only setup costs relate directly to the room.

  • Luckily we had a spare bed in storage (R0)
  • Two extra sets of keys/ access tags (R280)
  • New bedding/ duvet (R1,955)
  • New towels (R380)
  • Reading lamp (R199)
  • Side table and dustbin (R239)
  • Throw (R150)
  • Plant (R160)

Total Setup Costs: R3,363

The Numbers

Since listing we have had three guests so far, with our fourth guests (a Canadian couple) checking in tonight:

  • Guest 1: stayed for 6 nights and we made R2,669
  • Guest 2: stayed for 13 nights and we made R5,080
  • Guest 3: stayed for 2 nights and we made R1,118
  • Guest 4: checking in tonight and will stay for a month
    • Pro rate income for February: R9,009 * 3/28 = R965

Total Income from Airbnb in February: R9,832

Total Rent for our entire 2 bed flat: R10,500

Is it too much?

Is it fair that our guests end up paying our rent? I think it is. The alternatives including slumming it in a backpackers which will include sharing a dorm with strangers for R150 to R250 per night per person or splashing out on a hotel and forking out R1,000 to R2,000 per night per person. Given the alternatives, R450 per night for the room seems like a bargain to me.

Cool Features on Airbnb


Airbnb Calendar View

Each listing comes with its own calendar for you to manage your bookings. This makes it easy to block out your spare room when the in-laws are visiting. You can also adjust your day rate pricing within the calendar, by simply highlighting days and entering a new price – making it easy to optimise your income based on bookings.


Airbnb Reviews View

After each guest checks out, you have the opportunity to review them and they have the opportunity to review you. This is a great mechanism to build trust in Airbnb as a marketplace and to build trust in hosts/ guests.


Airbnb Guidebook View

Each listing has its own guidebook, where you can add the places you love and want to recommend to guests.  Nothing beats getting the inside scoop from locals.



Of course, living in South Africa adds a new dimension to the Airbnb experience – the concern about the safety. However, I feel that the security measures listed below mitigate this risk to a great extent:

Verified Online/ Offline ID

Airbnb Verified ID

You can require guests to have “Verified IDs” which comprises:

  • email address verified by clicking through on verification email
  • phone number verified by sending code to the number
  • social networks (Facebook, Google, LinkedIn) verified using API’s
  • reviews (either guest or host reviews linked to the profile)
  • offline ID verified by scanning a copy of your ID

In the end you still have the right to choose who stays with you. So even if a guest has a verified ID, you do not have to accept their bookings. You are fully within your rights to asks guests to tell you a bit about themselves and about the reason for their visit. And if anything feels off, I think you should trust your gut and decline.

Holding of payment

Airbnb charges the guests credit card at the time of booking and then holds this amount until 24 hours after the guest has checked in. This protects the host – ensuring that the guest will pay – and protects the guest – who can notify Airbnb if, upon arrival, they find the listing is not what they had booked.

Cancellation Policy and Security Deposit

Additional measures to protect yourself include opting for a strict cancellation policy, which will only refund 50% of the booking if cancelled more than 7 days before check-in (no refund after) and setting a security deposit, which is reserved against the guest’s credit card until after they have checked out.

Airbnb Host Guarantee

Airbnb Host Guarantee

Unfortunately this is not yet available in South Africa. But hopefully this will change once more people start using Airbnb here. The Airbnb Host Guarantee protects hosts against damage to their property by guests up to the value of $1,000,000 – making hosting virtually risk-free.


Another obvious concern, specific to those considering listing a spare room, is the effect this will have on your privacy. To be honest, I think having an Airbnb guest is a 100% better than having a roommate. Most guests will be visiting for a short-term – usually on business or on holiday. Both cases mean that they will hardly spend anytime in your space.

All three the guests we have had so far have been such a pleasure: literally waking up, having breakfast and heading out, only to return during the day to fetch things and then returning after dinner to jump in bed. We have even found that sharing a bathroom with the guests has not been an issue.


Once you have spent some time setting up your Airbnb listing, the work does not end there:

  • Responding to inquiries can take up a fair amount of time.
  • Corresponding with future guests to make arrangements for their arrival can also become complicated depending on the guest.
  • Being available and flexible around check-in and checkout is desirable but not always possible.
  • Ensuring that the space remains clean and that sheets/ towels are changed regularly can become an endless wash cycle.

Legal and Tax Implications

More on this coming soon – due to recent developments internationally regarding the legal and tax implications of the sharing economy I have decided to investigate this a bit further, in a South African context. Sign up to my mailing list to receive this post.


Airbnb hosting has opened my eyes to the potential of a “sharing economy” – where we better utilise the resources we have – focussing on access not ownership.

We win because we save on rent and get to make new friends from all over the world. Guests win because they save on expensive hotel costs and get to have a more real experience of South Africa and its people. Win-Win.

Sign Up Now and Receive Credit

If you sign up using the link below Airbnb will give you $25 credit to use on your next trip. Try it now!

Sign up now!