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I make $30,000 per year renting my DC flat, and I’ve dropped every listing platform but Airbnb — here’s why

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Cari Shane in her AirbnbCari Shane in her Airbnb.

Sam Parven

  • Ten years ago, writer Cari Shane paid $645,000 for a two-bedroom, one-bath house in Washington, DC.
  • She wanted supplemental income and decided to list the basement on Airbnb, Vrbo, and other platforms.
  • In the years since, she’s done away with all but Airbnb. She writes why.

In 2013, I sold the Montgomery County, Maryland home in which I’d raised my three kids. I was divorced and thoroughly sick of the exhaustingly car-centric suburbs, and as a former city kid who was raised in Manhattan, I decided to hightail it to Washington, DC.

After months of searching, I used the money I made from my house sale to purchase a $645,000 two-bedroom, one-bath house with an overgrown courtyard and a collapsing detached garage. 

I was working as a public relations executive at the time, but I wanted out

The job paid the bills, but it was something I referred to as “the dark side.” I wanted to go back to freelance writing, but I feared I couldn’t earn a sustainable income.

Cari Shane's DC flat

Courtesy of Cari Shane

As I walked around the basement of my 1910 row house, so shallow that I could poke the ceiling with my finger without even extending my arm at 5-foot-4, I wondered if it could be dug out and brought up to code to be a rental property.

I was well aware that “English basements” were a popular and affordable rental option in DC, made even bigger by transient residents who come and go with presidential and congressional administrations. At the time, the going rate for a two-bedroom basement with a kitchen was $1,200 to $1,500 a month.

If I could find renters, I could gross as much as $18,000 a year, if not more — enough to leave PR for good.

Cari Shane's DC flat

Courtesy of Cari Shane

The problem was, I also needed to house my three kids (two of whom were in college at the time) when they were home for vacations, and, in the future, when they would visit me with their families. 

Though I didn’t know anyone with an Airbnb, I’d been reading about the concept

It had launched five years earlier in 2008 and was different from the well-established Vrbo, a company I’d used to book family vacations. 

While Vrbo catered to those seeking an entire home for a short-term rental, Airbnb’s niche was renting rooms within an occupied home. I did a little research and found a few folks on my new street who were renting their basements on Airbnb.

Cari Shane's DC flat

Courtesy of Cari Shane

I immediately realized that creating a short term rental property in my basement was the answer to my problems. I could invite guests to stay in the basement and, when my kids visited, I could block guests from booking those dates so my kids would have a space to live.

When my renovations were complete in April 2015, I listed my rental basement

I joined right in the middle of the vacation rental market boom, listing my rental “flat” (sounds better than basement) on Airbnb, Vrbo, and Turnkey by Tripadvisor. According to research by iProperty Management, the rate for short term vacation rentals increased 240% from 2011 to 2019 and 86% of consumers surveyed say they plan to book a short term rental some time in 2022.

Cari Shane's DC flat

Courtesy of Cari Shane

Dubbed “Cari’s in the City,” my flat has two bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms separated by a kitchen and living area. A door that locks off access to the second bedroom means I can rent it as a one-bedroom with kitchen and living area, while using the second bedroom for one of my visiting adult children.

I can also rent it as a two-bedroom with a kitchen and living area and a king bed that can convert to two twins, which is perfect for parents traveling with kids. 

My rental income is different each year

I’ve fluctuated from nearly $33,000 in a banner year to as little as $11,000 during the pandemic. The difference between an average year of about $24,000 and a banner year earning more than $30,000 is the number of two-bedroom bookings I get.

Cari Shane in her AirbnbCari Shane in her Airbnb.

Sam Parven

In late March through July and then again in September and October, I charge up to $350 per weekend night and less for weekdays for my two-bedroom. For my one-bedroom, I charge up to $250 a night and less for weekdays. I also accept dogs for an additional fee of $25 a night, a key differentiator from the other thousands of rentals in the area.

After years in the rental market, I only use Airbnb

I initially listed Cari’s in the City with Airbnb, Vrbo, and Turnkey by Tripadvisor, but I’ve done away with all but Airbnb for three reasons. 

  • Traffic: In the four years that I used all three listing services, more than 95% of my reservations came from Airbnb, around 4% came from Vrbo and less than 1% came from Tripadvisor (and, if I remember correctly, that guest ended up canceling). It’s interesting to note, that of the six times that I listed my entire house as a short term rental, Vrbo is where I got 95% of those bookings. Because Vrbo launched as a short term house rental, as opposed to room rental, this makes a lot of sense.
  • User friendly: Not only do I find it easier to work with the Airbnb platform as a whole — listing my information, details about my neighborhood, specifics about the one- and two-bedroom flat with photos — I also find their calendar easier to use. I also like being able to track my views and see how much money I’ve made for a month or a year. It’s possible that the other platforms provide this service, but I either never found their “insights” dropdown or I never had enough traffic to bother checking.
  • Host earnings: Since I rent the extra space in my house for extra income, the financial aspect was a powerful decision maker on what site to keep using — especially because the bookings weren’t pouring in through Vrbo and Tripadvisor was a non-starter. 

Plus, I care about the host fees. Airbnb takes a flat 3% off the top of each reservation. It’s more complicated for Vrbo hosts who need to choose between two fee models.

Cari Shane's DC flat

Courtesy of Cari Shane

Back in 2015, the first model included a flat annual fee of $349 (it’s now $499); with that option, Vrbo took no additional percentage from a host’s earnings from a booking. The second choice for a host was to pay nothing up front to use the platform, but give Vrbo 10% of the proceeds from each guest’s stay. 

By 2018, I’d done away with my Vrbo account altogether

When I first launched my rental side-hustle, I paid the annual fee for Vrbo and did so for two years. But then, as Airbnb grew in popularity, my bookings on Vrbo started decreasing. 

Cari Shane's DC flat

Courtesy of Cari Shane

In 2017, I stopped paying the annual fee and opted for the 10% fee model which, in the end, just wasn’t worth it. I already got so much traffic from Airbnb, and it also took so much less. My Tripadvisor account was already long gone.

It seems to me that Vrbo caters more to travelers, charging them less, percentage-wise, for the privilege of booking through their system; Airbnb seems to favor the host. 

Cari Shane's DC flat

Courtesy of Cari Shane

The extra time it took to update information and concerns manually wasn’t worth it, and the algorithm that connected each platform’s calendar — a booking on Airbnb would automatically block the calendar on Vrbo and vice versa —  wasn’t working properly. It was a headache that didn’t warrant the minimal traffic and even more minimal bookings I was getting.

That said, if I ever do list my whole house again for a short-term rental, I will definitely list it on Vrbo. It’s the right site to use for listing a whole house, but not as much for a room rental.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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