As a long time Airbnb host and world traveler, I’ve stayed in my fair share of vacation rentals. Second only to the incredible (and free!) pet sitting opportunities, Airbnbs are my favorite places to stay! I love them because they let me: A. See how the locals live, B. (Usually) meet locals and get insider tips and tricks for the area. C. Cook at home; and most importantly, D. Gain insight on areas I can improve my rentals back home.
Recently, I made a last minute trip to Redding, CA, a small town in a Northern California valley near Mt. Shasta and Lassen National Park, and needed a place to stay a couple of nights while visiting family. I was road tripping with my boyfriend after Burning Man, and really wanted a comfortable, private spot to decompress from the festival. I had been to Redding a bunch of times before and had even lived there for a few months in 2010, to help my Dad settle in when he first moved out there. I had always seen the town as lacking a bit of charm, as the community seemed to value big box retailers and strip malls over quaint, mom and pop shops. I could honestly say I didn’t have high hopes for what I might find in the way of Airbnbs, but boy was I wrong!
As some of you know, I am a big time real estate geek. I own 5 homes in two different states and can spend many evenings trolling Redfin.com until my eyes are dry and bloodshot. I also have strong opinions about what makes a home a good investment (which is rarer than you think) and love to see ways that people can make their primary residence work for them, rather than the other way around. I get so inspired by creative housing and love figuring out ways to make a home self sufficient, if not, income producing.
Enter Liz, my Airbnb Superhost in Redding. Not only did she blow me away with her adorable, well appointed, guest suites: A & B, but the layout of her home also really expanded my mind to what is possible in the rental market. I know that it is a layout I will recommend and try to copy for years to come. I am super excited to do this interview (for all that I can learn) and to share the possibilities with all of you.
ZM: Hey Liz, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me, I really think my readers, as well as myself, have a lot to gain from seeing how other people make this short-term rental business work for them. Can you tell me a bit about how you first learned about Airbnb?
LY: It’s my pleasure, Zeona.
I first became aware of Airbnb a few years ago when I opened a cleaning business that serviced many private homes, and in the process was hired to look after and care for different homes/guest houses that were being used for the sole purpose of renting through Airbnb. I would clean the homes, wash linens and prepare the beds, and sometimes buy groceries to stock the kitchen in these homes.
ZM: So you were already essentially running Airbnbs and saw that it was easy enough to do yourself. What made you take the leap to doing it yourself? (Lots of people get stuck on a good idea but can’t take the leap).
LY: The defining factor in taking the leap was really just the fact that doing Airbnb was born of necessity. We were crammed into a small rental and for approximately 3 years prior talked about how much we really wanted to become homeowners. In order for us to pay a mortgage we knew we needed to increase our income. We also knew that doing Airbnb would do this for us.
ZM: When you were looking for places to buy, were you specifically looking for a home with in-law units/separate suites or was this something you had to add on/create?
Because I wanted to close my cleaning business but still be able to generate an income that could help pay a mortgage, We were in the market for a home approximately a year before we found this one. We were specifically looking for a home that either had an in-law unit already in place, or something that required a minimal amount of work in order to get it ready to use as an Airbnb unit.
Through my cleaning buisness I saw very quickly the income that could be generated by using a home for Airbnb, so every home we looked at was with the potential of using it as such. As you know, Real estate in California is no joke, so we required a home that could accommodate a family of 5 plus generate funds!
ZM: People ask me this all the time: How did you analyze your property to figure out what it could make? How accurate were you? Any tips for people starting out?
LY: Because of my experience running Airbnb guest houses prior to purchasing this home we knew what sort of income a suite such as ours could generate per night / monthly. We were quite accurate in our estimate and are making what we had expected. My suggestion for someone starting out would be to peruse Airbnb rentals in your own town to see what your competition is, which homes seem to be the hot spot, and why. If you figure out the why you can replicate it at some level for your own place.
I realized that in my town the hot spots were small guest houses with only 1 bedroom. These places were booked full almost constantly, while the larger homes with 3 bedrooms or more were filled less often and had a lot of empty days throughout the month. The reason for this was because in my town we had far more groups of one or two people coming through, and the larger places just weren’t needed.
ZM: Are you able to provide us with a rough sketch of your home’s layout? And tell us what makes it unique?
LY: We purchased a 5 bedroom, 3 and ½ bath home in the spring of this year. The original home was built in the early 1950’s and over the years had had several pieces added on to it. It’s like a U shaped home with the original house being the bottom half of the U. The top 2 pieces of the U have been turned into a master bedroom/bathroom, each with their own private entrance and each with a kitchenette area supplied with a mini fridge, microwave, coffee pot, tea pot, etc.
One of our favorite parts of the home is the open floor plan in the main house, the old hardwood floors throughout, as well as the many windows provide us with great natural lighting year round.
ZM: Did you have to officially register the guest suites as separate units with the city? I always wonder about permits/subdividing for multi units. For example, if you go to sell it in the future, is it seen as a single family home or 3 units now?
LY: Every city has their own set of rules. We are not registered as separate units but as a Vacation Rental. This was the only way we could have an unlimited amount of nights rented out. If we sell it in the future it will be sold as a single family home. Unit A is separated from the main home only by a set of doors. Unit B is separated by one small wall, strategically built in such a way that it can be popped out and both suites will be easily accessible through the main home should we ever choose to stop using them as rental units.
ZM: What have been the pros and cons of this set up?
LY: I can honestly say there have been very little cons for us, other then sometimes needing to remind the kids to keep the noise down.
The pros are the fact that I get to be a stay at home mom. I’m here when the kids get home from school and I get to be involved in ways that I didn’t before.
This property is generating enough income that it pays our mortgage and then some. And I get to meet people from all over the world!
ZM: As a personal fan of interiors and design, I really noticed the thought put into the renovation/build of the space as well as the wonderful, seemingly high-end decor in the home. Where does your design sense come from? Do you have favorite stores or design rules that you can share with my readers?
LY: Where does my design sense come from? I honestly don’t know! Haha.
I grew up in the country with a bunch of siblings and can remember as a young teenager going out into an old barn on our property and decorating a room in there. We grew up quite poor and because of this I was forced to be creative with whatever I could find on the farm, cast off pieces of old tools were scrounged and re-purposed for art. This definitely has influenced my creative side, from my first bedroom to my first apartment and now my house. I have always loved designing and creating beautiful spaces. I have no hard or fast rules for design. I would say my style leans more towards a farmhouse style and if you design with rough woods you should balance it out with soft textures. I love clean lines but not harsh ones. I think a room should exude warmth and character and that when you step across the threshold it should be a place where you feel like you can let out your breath, relax, and let down. As a hostess I do my best to provide exactly this for my guests.
ZM: If you don’t mind sharing, how much did you spend on building/renovating the units? What features/design touches did you know that you needed to include and why?
LY: I’m lucky to be married to a master craftsman who is incredibly gifted with anything he does, whether it is building furniture, or the renovations that were required to get the units ready.
Because of the way the home was set up, they required minimal work, although we did some painting and a few other aesthetic updates, and Because we were able to do the work ourselves, we were able to keep the renovations as well as the furnishings for each suite at $1500-$2000. This number is per suite and includes the renovation, as well as all the furnishings.
ZM: From the photos on the listings I see that the two suites were furnished similarly. When we stayed in one of your units I was looking around and although some pieces might seem to come from target/ikea, the king-sized mattress and leather chair seemed to be expensive pieces. Did you have a budget in mind when you started furnishing? And where did you get those amazingly soft pillows? (We were obsessed with them and had to buy some similar ones when we got home.)
LY: My husband crafted the king size headboards, the night stands, the table pieces as well as the backboard for the art. He has been amazing at taking the designs from my head and making them into real tangible pieces.
Also, I love finding unique furniture with lots of character in hard to find places, so some of my furniture was found at an old Auction barn or purchased second hand from reputable sources.
Although I did find a few items at Ross, Tjmax, and Target, the majority of the linens, towels/washcloths, and pillows were purchased at Costco. You can purchase large quantities of good quality linens here. I decided to go with white because it feels so crisp and fresh. Also, I am a clean freak, and when I travel, I need to know that the sheets are clean, and since you can’t hide any sort of dirt or stains with white linens, this was my revolt against any system with less than stellar sanitary methods!
ZM: Do you have any plans to have more rental units in the future or is this plenty to keep you busy?
LY: As for now, we are staying busy with our suites, but we would definitely consider opening another home for rental purposes in the future.
ZM: Would be open to sharing how much time a week it takes and how much income it produces on average a month? Readers, please keep in mind that it is a little difficult to measure time spent with guest messages coming in randomly throughout the day and note that earnings are seasonal and fluctuate. A rough average is fine.
LY: A rough average on time spent preparing the rooms as well as communicating with guests would be approximately 10 hrs a week. Average income in a slow season can be just under $2000 and on the months we’re booked completely full up to $4000 a month. This number reflects the combined income for both suites.
ZM: Anything else you would like to share?
LY: If you have a dream, go for it!
Buying this home was a pretty big investment for us, because it required putting all of our eggs into one basket, but I can tell you the risk has been worth it. Not only do we get to own our own home but the rental units have done incredibly well for us and we love what we do!
If you would like to get in touch with Liz for design consultation or otherwise, her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org