Starting a Bed and Breakfast in Your Home
Fifteen years ago, my husband and I renovated the ground floor of our historic home in South Carolina with the intent of having an apartment available for aging parents. There are five rooms; 2 bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, a living room with a fireplace, and a bathroom (with only a shower and double sinks) at the end of the central corridor that divides the rooms.
This ground floor space is about 2 feet below ground level and had dirt floors. We did not use it except for a small laundry area. The renovation was highly successful and we kept it simple. We used matte tiles for all the floors, counters, and for the shower, so these surfaces are easy to clean. The appliances were simple and we put the refrigerator, television, and dishwasher behind cabinetry in keeping with the historic character of the property.
When we finished, it turned out that our parents did not need it. Close friends of ours who were running a bed and breakfast in a separate building on their property suggested that we start up a similar business. The process took us about 6 months and we are still in business.
Permits and Other Preliminaries
- The very first step is to determine if there is a market for your B&B in your area. We live in a highly-trafficked tourist destination and are ideally located in the historic district with restaurants and attractions all within short walking distance. If you want to be really busy, all you have to do is charge a low tariff. In our case, we charge top dollar and are not booked way in advance, which is exactly what we want. We do use the space ourselves and have family and friends stay as well. I suggest going on line to find out how many B&Bs are operating in your area, then calling to find out if the owners would share information and let you come visit.
- If you are sure you want to investigate further, contact your municipality or county to find out what permits are necessary. Obtain a copy of any ordinances pertinent to starting a B&B on your property and read it carefully. You are going to need a business license and be aware that you may have to pay business personal property tax on every item in your B&B space. Our property is depreciated over a 30 year period. We also have to pay an annual solid waste recycling & disposal fee.
- In addition to permits, there may be other requirements. We are required to provide at least one off-street parking space for our guests. We also have to pay a 4% accommodations fee that is split by the city and the county. This is charged to our guests and is listed in our policies.
- You may wish to contact an attorney about legal matters pertaining to running a Bed and Breakfast.
- Insurance is expensive, can be hard to find, and is absolutely necessary. We have been fortunate to have a policy just for the B&B added in to our entire home and auto package.
- I am a former banker and used to keep my husband's books before he retired, so I do all of the bookkeeping and take everything to the accountant's once a year. You need to decide how you will handle this aspect of the business. I also use Quicken...Quick Books was too complicated for me. The best advice I can give is for you to have a bank account and credit card solely for the B&B and to set up a separate account with the grocery store if applicable.
- There are lots of unexpected expenses associated with this type of business, so you need to factor in a generous 'miscellaneous' category. Be sure to at least write out a budget for the business based on low volume. It took a couple of years for us to become established, which we fully expected.
We were extremely fortunate to get a listing in the Frommer's guide for our area. You cannot pay to get included in Frommer's; it is similar to an award. We were also written up in an issue of Travel and Leisure as one of the top 10 B&B's in the area. This sort of advertising is invaluable and can happen when happy guests write reviews online and spread the word.
Our city has 2 independent referral services with websites and very busy phone lines. Our service charges a percentage of all the business they send to us, but this is how we get the majority of our bookings. The other service we use is bbonline.com, a national referral service. They charge an annual fee for a listing on their website. Both of these services offer a wealth of information, ideas, and general guidelines for running a successful business and can help you set your prices. Our local service has excellent magazines and brochures on the area available to us at no cost and sends out a monthly newsletter with everything from advice to recipes.
Of course, word of mouth can be one of your best sources for referrals. I contacted some of our local hotels and asked them that if they were full, would they please consider sending us some overflow. I also told everyone I know that we were starting the business, had business cards printed (free at Vistaprint.com) and left them everywhere. I also included our website in a lot of my email correspondence.
Your local Chamber of Commerce or Bureau of Tourism may have displays for brochures and you can always ask to leave brochures at many local retail establishments, including some restaurants. Don't forget the state welcome centers on the interstates.
By the way, be very careful about screening your customers. There are quite a few email scams out there. Someone, frequently from overseas, will request to book all your rooms for one or two weeks and you end up losing not only money, but other bookings you could have had during that time frame. Luckily, I am not sure how it works, as I have never dealt with these scammers.
Getting set up
If you have made it through all the above hoops and still want to go ahead, here are some guidelines for equipping your B&B.
- Bedding and linens must be high quality. There are good sources on the internet, but I prefer to go to a discount store such as Tuesday Morning and pick out the linens. White is wonderful because it can be bleached. Mascara and lipstick stains occur frequently on pillowcases. One friend of mine puts separate baskets of white facecloths in the bathrooms that are designated for make-up removal. I only use 100% cotton linens and yes, I iron the top sheets and pillowcases. I also use pillow covers under the pillowcases and change the linens down to the bare mattress on a frequent basis. We use posturepedic mattresses, and have never had a complaint. Be sure to use waterproof covers on the mattresses, under the mattress pads.
- Soap has to be changed all the time, so a friend and I split a huge order of individually wrapped small soaps. This has worked well. Rather than put out those little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, I simplified by filling two brushed aluminum pump bottles with these hair care products (bought in bulk from a beauty supply shop) and putting them on the shelf in the shower. They have lasted for years.
- I do keep a bathroom cupboard of supplies and items our guests may need. There is an iron and a small ironing board, a hairdryer, and a magnifying mirror. I also keep extra feminine products, toothbrushes, toothpaste (samples from your dentist work well), hand lotion, and lysol spray.
- Guests really like refrigerators. We have room for a full-size one and I always keep bottled water available in addition to the usual breakfast supplies of coffee, teas, milk, cream,juice,fruit, breads,muffins, yogurt,jams, hot and cold cereals, frozen waffles, etc. We only provide a continental breakfast and guests just help themselves, but sometimes I take special requests or put in hard-boiled eggs or a particular type of cereal.Occasionally I make ham biscuits or other items they can heat in the microwave. My signature treats are good muffins.
- I like to set the kitchen table with silver utensils, linen napkins, and pretty china, but paper napkins are probably just fine.
- Our referral services state that we must offer cable television and an internet connection, which we have. I keep a stack of movies that I have picked up at yardsales and Goodwill that our guests can watch and we also have a small collection of classical music.
- We have kept decorations to a minimum.....guests tend to spread their stuff everywhere, so there's not much point in cluttering surfaces. I do keep playing cards and postcards in a drawer and put current magazines on the coffee table. The kitchen does have a gas oven, but we cannot allow cooking for insurance purposes, so it is turned off. There is a microwave, a coffee maker, and an extra smaller coffee maker for those who might want to make decaf. There are plenty of chairs in the apartment and lots and lots of wooden pegs inside each small bedroom closet.
- I enjoy putting fresh flowers from our garden in the bedrooms and the bathroom. Fresh fruit is usually in a footed bowl on the table. Other small luxuries I provide are terry cloth bathrobes, but no slippers. Umbrellas are available and so are lots of maps and guidebooks. I have asked many of the local restaurants for their menus and have assembled these in an album that guests love to peruse. We do not make restaurant reservations for our guests, just suggestions.
- Remember that you are going to have to be there to greet guests and to see them off in most instances. You also have to choose a time to straighten the rooms, make the beds,clean the bathrooms,and change the towels on a DAILY basis, unless your policy is stated otherwise.
Next: The Nitty Gritty
If it turns out that you enjoy this hub and find it useful, I will continue writing and will be happy to go into much more depth and detail about interacting with guests. I am happy to take questions about getting started.