There’s an invisible stream of money flowing through the city,” my friend said. We were at a party, guzzling sangria. “You just have to find a way to tap into it.”
He was right. My hometown, New Orleans, gets nine million tourists per year. While they’re here, they need places to eat, visit and sleep.
So I decided to put my place on airbnb.
I’d used airbnb before as a traveler on a trip to Toronto because it offered a cheap, personal alternative to a hotel. While the bed was comfy, the hosts hadn’t bent over backwards to accommodate me. There were dirty dishes in the sink, and their living room was trashed. Like, couch cushions removed and flung across the room and everything buried under clutter. I felt empowered by the low standards. My impression was, “I could easily make money doing this.” Several of my friends admitted to paying their rent with airbnb income. So I tidied my house, snapped a few photos and wrote up its key features.
I emphasized a few words: “spacious,” “private” and “your.” I was super honest about the place’s up- and downsides. We set our rates at $69 a night, a competitive price for the neighborhood. But days went by and nobody inquired. Was my house not good enough? Were travelers deterred by my lack of references on the site?
That’s when I saw airbnb offers free professional photography. I submitted a request, and within a day, a purple-haired, fae-like photographer named Kerry had gotten in touch. “I’m looking forward to photographing your Airbnb listing and helping you showcase your space,” she wrote. She came the next day, snapped photos and was done in 15 minutes. The next day, the set went live on airbnb. And bam, the floodgate opened. Within a few days, we had our first request: two young women from New Jersey stopping in New Orleans on a road trip to Austin, Texas. Pretty soon, every weekend was booked.
The guests have so far been incredibly pleasant, giving us everything from artisan chocolate chip cookies to art lessons, in addition to paying our nightly rate. Some like to hang out and join us on trips to neighborhood bars; other times, we hand them the keys and then never hear from them again. So far, the biggest inconvenience is lack of access to space. The house is only 1,000 square feet, and sacrificing the master bedroom and front porch take a bite out of the living area. It’s also a hassle to sleep on the twin bed in the spare room with my boyfriend. But overall, this is an easy way to make money literally in my sleep. Aside from the hour spent cleaning the house, washing sheets and towels and making sure there are empty drawers in the bedroom, it requires no effort.
There are some added expenses: greater utility use, more toilet paper. And then there are the hidden temptations: I’ve spent more than a small chunk of the income on improvements to the house, adding faster Wi-Fi service and upgrading our bedsheets, mattress cover and patio furniture. I’ve got my eye on a $300 set of Turkish towels, but the line must be drawn somewhere.
While short-term rental offer a great side line of income, I would never want to become dependent on it. First, tourism is very seasonal. Second, I worry that there will be legislation passed that puts a damper on the site. And third, I don’t want to always feel like a guest in my own home. I like having the ability to turn down requests because I feel like binge-watching Netflix in my underwear.
But for now, this is an easy way to pay the mortgage while meeting an interesting stream of international and national travelers.