Generating a side income through Airbnb
I first setup my Airbnb account in 2011 as Hilary, Oliver, and I set out to travel around Europe for 5 weeks. Since then I’ve stayed at dozens of Airbnbs and loved all but one (unfortunately it’s not an interesting story).
Over the years I’ve always wanted to see the other side of it as a host—not just a guest. Though at the same time I didn’t want the potential life disruption renting out a room in our house, and it never seemed worth the effort to rent out our entire house while on a trip. So it never happened.
A few months ago we bought a small farm—4.6 acres in the middle of the city, but it feels like the country. Hilary has always wanted to have a homestead with farm animals and she finally got her chance. We’ve got lots of fruit trees, raspberries, a large barn, and no shortage of space. Best of all it’s still only 15 minutes from downtown Boise.
The guest house
One of my favorite things about the property is a small guest house on the other side of the orchard from the main house. It’s 550 square feet and has a small kitchen, living room, and even has it’s own little driveway and parking area. Basically everything you could want except for a washer and dryer.
The place was pretty good, but still needed some help. The floors were a mix of old carpet, linoleum, and tile. The kitchen counters and cabinets definitely looked dated. And there was room for it to be a one bedroom place, instead of a studio if we just built another wall and added a door. The wall is done, but the door will have to wait until a time when we have a gap in our guests.
With family members coming in from out of town to stay with us for a month I didn’t have time to finish everything, but we got enough done that it was quite livable. Really we just had painting the cabinets and some other finish work left to do. Though it meant that I had to find a last minute solution for new countertops. I was able to buy butcher block countertops from Lowes for about $300 and install them in half a day.
The day after our family members went home I decided to list it on Airbnb. It was a Saturday night and we were leaving the next morning so I put the new listing live and went to bed. Since we didn’t have any reviews I started the price low at $50/night with a $25 cleaning fee. Then once we had a few reviews I planned to raise the price to closer to $70-75 per night.
Note: This place is super easy to clean, so the $25 cleaning fee is probably a bit high, but my idea was that I want to allow one night stays, but encourage a few nights. Including the cleaning fee it would be $75/night for one night, but only $58/night for 3 nights.
The listing was live by 10pm on Saturday night and I went to bed. When I woke up the next morning I saw that 30 minutes after listing it someone booked it for Sunday night, then 30 minutes after that someone else booked it for Monday night.
I was really surprised by the demand, then I remembered…the eclipse. Monday morning would be the total eclipse. In Boise it would get to 99.4% totality, but you could drive 45 minutes to get to 100%.
I had spent the last few days making our plans to go camping during the eclipse as well as to rent out our guest house on Airbnb. But for some reason had not made the connection between those two things.
When I looked on Airbnb for other properties available during the eclipse it was insane. Basically nothing was available and the little that was left was a guest bedroom for $300, an small house for $900, and then our guest house for $50. Oops. No wonder it was booked so quickly. I could have easily charged $200-300 a night and had it booked quickly (if anyone says I’m good at business, you can use this as a counterpoint).
Our first guests
Since we were headed up camping for Sunday night we didn’t meet our first guests. They checked themselves in and out quietly, then we paid the cleaning fee to a friend to clean the place and swap out the sheets (I did have to hurry out Sunday morning before we went camping to buy a second set of sheets).
Then other than a small mixup with the keys the second guests checked in smoothly. Both were out of town families who last minute needed new accommodations for the eclipse and were thrilled to find our place at such a good deal.
While camping we had a booking request for a month, but I declined it since the rates were still so low since I wanted reviews. An entire month booked to one person wouldn’t get me the reviews or make as much as I wanted.
Note: check your monthly discounts. I set ours at 35%, which sounded like a good number until I saw the numbers from a booking and it was less than I wanted to make. After that booking I dropped the discounts down to 10% for a week and 20% for a month.
After declining that booking I worried that I had made a mistake when we didn’t get any bookings for a couple days. Then one came in to book for two weeks, and another for one night just before that.
After those bookings I raised the price a bit more (up to $70/night). Then the guest staying two weeks asked to extend it for another month. Oddly enough the day I was talking to them about that someone else requested it for a month as well, which I declined since I figured the priority should go to the person already occupying the house.
So far we’ll have earned $2,611 from Airbnb once these bookings finish. Not too bad for our first 7 weeks. Ideally I’d love to get the rates higher and be making about $2,000 a month with more shorter bookings, but I’ve heard from a few friends who host on Airbnb that the summer is the busiest time and it starts to drop off after that. Plus there really is quite a bit of competition for places in our price range in Boise (and many are closer to downtown).
This latest month-long stay was $1,607, so that is a good chunk of money for the month. Our mortgage (including taxes and insurance) is $2,644, so it’s nice to have our little guest house paying well over half.
Overall the Airbnb has been a great experience. Having an entirely separate guest house means we barely interact with the guests. The remodel projects are really fun and I like continually improving the house—though it’s been booked so much I haven’t had a chance to keep doing projects on it like a sliding barn door for the bedroom and painting the kitchen cabinets.
If this continues to go well I may consider building a tiny house and parking that on our property to rent out as well. Mainly because I always wanted to build a tiny house. Though with everything going on in life right now, that may be a few years off.
Excited to see what the next year holds!
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