Styling your Airbnb for Profit with Keith Chen, Managing Director of MORC Interiors
In this interview by Meredith Cowley, Short Term Rental Property Entrepreneur, Airbnb Host and Custombnb Business Owner, Keith Chen, Managing Director of MORC Interiors shares his journey on how his career started as a civil engineer but now helps investors transform their empty houses into beautiful spaces. Keith shares his wisdom and insights into the world of interior fitout services and how to style a property for Airbnb. What works and what doesn’t.
Let’s dive in for loads of practical and helpful stuff on:
- The biggest mistakes people make when designing and styling their properties for Airbnb.
- How you can optimise your space using interior design ideas to maximise profits.
- Budget ideas and advice for those starting out.
- Recommendation on suppliers to get your furnishings.
- How you should design/style your property.
- How to to create ‘Instagram-worthy’ spaces in a property.
Q: How did you get into an interior fit-out design company?
I started as an engineer; I started my business 5 years ago. 3 years before that I was working as an engineer. I kind of enjoyed the work but one thing I found was I was unable to use or find the areas where I can explore the creative side of me, I couldn’t really express my creativity and I really liked property as well. So, I thought what can I do to try and explore that.
So, one day, through different jobs, I thought, “you know what, let’s start this business” because I found that in the property industry, many homeowners were buying their new home, getting their properties and when they get into their new home it’s completely empty and they had no idea how to furnish it. I thought we can do a good job in helping them provide this service, turn-key service to help them from planning to delivery to install to styling, do everything in one package in a turn-key service so they don’t have to lift a finger.
“Many homeowners were buying their new home, getting their properties and when they get into their new home it’s completely empty and they had no idea how to furnish it.”
So, by doing that we started to get some traction. But within our first year of business, we got out first Airbnb property which was really exciting because it felt like that was an avenue where we let our creativity go a bit looser or get more creative in that area because at the end of the day, we are trying to design something that would really attract more guests to come to the property which will be a better way to return for the investors as well. So that is how we got into the whole interior fit out and interior design space.
Q: What do you love about designing short term rental spaces?
As I mentioned it really gives us the opportunity to be creative, I can tell my designers “Here’s the brief. As long as it’s within what the clients are looking for, you can be as creative as you want.” At the same time, we try to talk to clients and try and say hey if you do this or try this idea, you will be able to get these kinds of results. So far in the past, we’ve been able to do that for all our clients. We’ve done an Avengers, Marvel Themed Airbnb before that did very well. We did a Harry Potter Airbnb that did very well as well. Obviously, we did not do any last year because of covid but we did try different themes and ideas especially anything from pop culture as well because that kind of showcased and blends together our creativity and passion for what we love and what we want to do.
Q: What do you see as the biggest mistake that people are making when designing and styling their properties for Airbnb?
To start off with the most basic, just talking about furniture, furniture is like the backbone of setting up your property for Airbnb. And one of the biggest mistakes a lot of people make is, they want to save money, and that is fine, that’s important – I understand that people want to be cost effective, people have budgets to follow BUT the mistake is that some people just go for the cheapest furniture because they try to save as much cost as possible and what tends to happen, is that the furniture breaks down very quickly but most importantly, people when they are looking for bookings, people are very smart, nowadays people can tell if the furniture is good or if it’s going to break down easily.
“One of the biggest mistakes a lot of people make is, they want to save money, and that is fine, that’s important – I understand that people want to be cost effective, people have budgets to follow BUT the mistake is that some people just go for the cheapest furniture and the furniture breaks down very quickly . People are very smart, nowadays when they are looking for bookings, they can tell if the furniture is good or if it’s going to break down easily.”
And I think if you have a second-hand couch that was 10 years old, that has clearly got scratches, marks or even worse maybe breaking apart as well and you didn’t change it and you’re trying to attract guests, then one you’re not really going to attract a lot of guests, two, even if the guests do come and stay in your apartment or your property, they’re not going to have a very good experience and you’re going to not have good reviews.
And reviews are very important in Airbnb, the moment you have a couple of reviews that’s enough to start deterring people away, or start getting them to think twice about whether they want to book your property as well. Because they are going to go, am I going to have a good night’s sleep? Because the bed looks a little bit dodgy, or it’s sinking a little bit in the middle, or parts of the bedframe are breaking, is the whole bed going to break apart when I sleep on the bed.
So, our advice to all our clients is to really invest in your furniture, especially the main big items – your dining table, your sofa, your bed frame, your mattress – those are the big items that you don’t want to skimp on and save cost on. Once you start getting good reviews, more people will come, your Airbnb property will grow!
“Really invest in your furniture, especially the main big items – your dining table, your sofa, your bed frame, your mattress – those are the big items that you don’t want to skimp on and save cost on.”
Q: How do you think people can optimise their space using interior design ideas to maximise profits?
First things first, what’s really important is to understand your space. Number one, go draw a floor plan, measure every room – the four corners of every room so that you know what you can and cannot fit. So you know whether you can fit a king- or queen-sized bed in the bedroom. It’s so important to know what you can and cannot do in your space.
And number two is really knowing your demographic. If your property is in the bay side vs CBD, you know you’re going to get more, well one if it’s a house as well, you’re going to get more families, right? So, then you have to also take into account, we’ll if you’re going to be attracting families, are they going to have babies, kids, should you have baby chairs? Or cots available? Not to say that you should have it there the whole time but at least available to set up if someone is asking for it and it’s something you can also mention in the Airbnb listing as well.
Once you know the type of demographic you are trying to attract, then just furnish accordingly. Making sure you fit the right furniture in the right space, the right sizing for the right demographic, right guest.
Q: Have you got any budget ideas and advice for those starting out about, say a 2-bedroom apartment in Brunswick to furnish that adequately?
For a 2-bedroom apartment in Brunswick, just for furniture itself I would say probably budget safely $5,000. And then for appliances, it depends if you already have plans but usually your typical fridge, washer, and dryer you can add up anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 for brand new. Then you have to look at getting all the accessories, probably budget about $2,000 as well and most importantly styling, which is what’s going to personalise and really add the colours and to really attract people, for a 2 bedroom you could probably safely spend about $10,000.
Q: Any suppliers and places that you would recommend we go to if we were going to get our furnishings brand new?
We go to all 20 suppliers all around Australia – wholesalers and retailers as well depending on the need of the client and the property. But usually, something that is usually accessible to anyone that has really good design, and quality and doesn’t cost too expensive as well. Focus on Furniture would be really really good (they should probably pay me to mention this). Brosa is also really good, they have a wide range of really good designs that don’t cost as expensive as Coco Republic for example. So, Focus and Brosa would be really good. Ikea is also really good if you have small sized properties because Ikea have really good space saving furniture options.
But my advice is don’t go for the cheapest item, do a bit more research, look into the materials they use for each item. We do sometimes use Ikea for that odd space lay-out or that little spot where you just need something that fits really well, or that is suitable. Ikea has just a wide range of different kinds of furniture items that can really help especially with saving space. So, you can probably style with those.
Q: Do you have a favourite failure or bad story in interior design?
I don’t think I would consider this much as a failure, but the Avengers apartment that we did, it was such a massive challenge for us mainly because it was only one week to find a property before the launch of the Avengers movie and want to time it that way. So, by the time we find a client that left us with only 3 days to renovate, furnish and video the whole apartment. I would not recommend to anyone doing that that is a massive failure on the project management side and interior design as well I think, there was a lot of ideas we wanted to do but we couldn’t because of the time constraint and some ideas that we did, like people say that they looked amazing, but I think there were some areas that we were lacking and could have a lot better. The apartment still did well, but after we renovated, furnished and filmed the whole apartment, I was sick for like the next week. I think my team had to take a break as well because it was just a monumental task to do. That would be a bit of a failure that always comes to mind.
Q: Is there any kind of order or structure to the way you should design/style your property?
After measuring and drawing out a floor plan, we always recommend to our clients to come up with a vibe board or mood board of all the types of styles, the furniture and any little design ideas that you have into just one board so you can see, and for each room as well you need to break it up into your living, dining, bedroom, study, nursery as well just so you know the vision you want for each space and for your home. Once you start with that, you have a reference point to start going shopping with. When you go into Ikea, which one if these items suit this look that I’m after, or something that is suitable or if you go online shopping, you have this board to be able to keep referencing from and see what is suitable.
“After measuring and drawing out a floor plan, we always recommend to our clients to come up with a vibe board or mood board of all the types of styles.”
You can also check the budget as well to see if it fits in your budget, so definitely have a budget from the start and try to at least cater 10-15% over budget, because sometimes all these unexpected things you may uncover during the whole process.
“Have a budget from the start and try to at least cater 10-15% over budget, because sometimes all these unexpected things you may uncover during the whole process.”
And lastly and most importantly, when you are also running your budget, have a deadline of when you want to finish your property, when you want to have everything done so you can start marketing, start taking photos – and when you have your deadline, you know when you are ordering furniture that it has to arrive before then and then you can just work back to make sure everything is arriving on time into what you and your designer have planned for.
A piece of advice as well, if you are furnishing an apartment, please call the building manager and book the lift in advance that is one of the most important things when organizing your delivery and try to give at least 2 to 4 weeks buffer in booking a lift – because the last thing you want is you’ve organized everything and then the lift is completely booked out and you can’t bring anything up to your apartment – that’s very important.
“Have a deadline of when you want to finish your property, when you want to have everything done so you can start marketing.”
Q: Any examples of places you’ve stayed or styled that stood out?
When I think of holiday homes that I’ve stayed in Airbnb, would be one is in Mornington Peninsula, some of the houses there so spacious but so well furnished and equipped with all your cutlery, with sufficient seating, the sofa is big enough for like a family of five or when there are at least ten people and everyone had at least a bean bag to sit on. It was big enough, had a big TV, beds were very comfortable, and it was furnished very well. Maybe because I am a designer, I was able to really pick out what went well but at the same time there are some properties I stayed in that didn’t do too well, I don’t think you really need to be a designer to even notice that.
There was one we stayed in earlier this year, the bedrooms were furnished very well but the sofa was, you could tell it was very old and it had a smell – you could tell they had dogs but what was really bad was, one of the cushions, if you lift it up the frame underneath it broke through. That just goes to show how important furnishing and just up keeping your property as well just making sure that it’s clean, it’s well-maintained. If you have pets that’s fine but just make sure that the furniture is also protected in a way.
Those are examples of good and bad properties I’ve stayed in.
Q: Any ideas to create ‘Instagram worthy’ spaces in a property?
For the Avengers property, we did do like a mural of The Hulk, that was really cool – it was a feature for that apartment. If you can’t do that, you can definitely really look around your house. You can find what are some not too personal items that are unique to your property that you can use as a, kind of like a feature for your property as well. For example, one of my friends is a pianist and she’s got a mini grand piano in her apartment, and she goes “Oh, will people find this annoying? Will it just take up too much space? Should I put an armchair?”. I’m like “No, don’t, if you google or look on Airbnb properties in CBD how often would you find an apartment that has a mini grand piano?”. That in itself can be a feature or kind of a selling point and something that can really attract guests. That’s something really different and obviously you can do a lot more and most importantly make sure that your property is all set up. Something like that can really be a great selling point and a really great picture to take for your Instagram or that’s Insta-worthy.
- Furniture is the backbone of setting up your property for Airbnb. You must invest in your furniture and in choosing your furniture, don’t go for the cheapest item. Do a bit more research, look into the materials they use for each item, pick a good design and quality that doesn’t cost much.
- Reviews are very important in Airbnb. Good reviews will attract more people to book your space, a couple of bad or not so good reviews will drive potential guests away.
- Understanding your space is key! Draw a floor plan and measure the four corners of every room so you know what you can and cannot fit.
- Know your demographic and furnish according to the type of demographic you are trying to attract. Make sure you fit the right furniture in the right space, the right size, for the right demographic and for the right guest.
- Mood boards are the perfect jumping off point for any design project and the most efficient way to share your vision on how you would like your space to look and feel like.
- Have a budget from the start and try to at least cater 10-15% over budget for unexpected things you may uncover during the whole process.
- Have a deadline – so you know when you can start marketing and ordering for furniture, making sure everything arrives on time.
- Keep some not too personal items that are unique to your property that you can use as a feature or selling point to take great photos with which are Insta-worthy.
It is undeniable that the competition for Airbnb and other short-term rentals has never been greater. Making your Airbnb property stand out from the others can maximise your earning potential and build a solid reputation as an Airbnb host. But turning your Airbnb into an inspiring space doesn’t have to be a costly exercise, it all starts with proper planning and execution, the more energy you put into these the more fruitful your Airbnb income will be.
Keep in mind that quality furnishing and strategic planning is the heart of every successful Airbnb business resulting in higher rental returns for your investment property.
And if you style your Airbnb right – your guests will naturally do your marketing for you.
Check out this Virtual Tour of one of the properties we worked on:
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