Making a Living With Airbnb

Making a Living With Airbnb

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The so-called sharing economy of Airbnb has nothing to do with actual sharing, as in a traditional house swap in which money is not exchanged. Travelers pay hosts for accommodation, and Airbnb matches supply with demand, collecting fees from both guests and hosts that range from 3 to 12 percent on every booking.

Though Airbnb includes insurance for hosts with every stay, the policy has numerous exclusions, and Airbnb requires a host to file a claim within 14 days of a guest’s departure, or before a subsequent guest arrives, whichever is sooner. Then there are the risks of running afoul of state or city regulations, which generally prohibit short-term rentals of fewer than 30 days if a host is not living in the apartment or house.

“I was very nervous the first time,” Ms. Badia said. “But like I said, Ted was wonderful.” Her house is on a quiet street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, not far from the restaurants and bars on Fifth Avenue. The two-family home, a duplex topped by a private apartment, is an ideal situation for a host. Through Airbnb, she rents out the upstairs two-bedroom, which she used to rent to a long-term tenant, and she also rents out a room in the downstairs duplex that she calls home. It’s so ideal that Ms. Badia, 50, says she grosses nearly $100,000 each year from hosting. But her financial life was not always so lucrative.

In 2010, Ms. Badia’s career as a freelance commercial producer cratered. Undercut by younger producers willing to work for less, her income dropped more than 50 percent. When she did her taxes for the year, she discovered that she had worked a mere 20 days. “That was a big reality check,” she said. “Hosting on Airbnb wasn’t a choice. It was decided for me.”

“This is the sad part,” she added. “I tear up because I get emotional about it, but you’re lost in your house, saying to yourself, how am I going to keep my home?”

The long-term tenant, who had been paying $1,600 a month for the upstairs apartment, had moved out. Rather than replace her, Ms. Badia calculated that more money could be made using Airbnb. She currently charges $169 per night for the two-bedroom apartment, which has a kitchen, living room and bathroom. In the downstairs two-bedroom duplex where she lives, she rents out the extra bedroom for $99 a night. All of the housekeeping between guests she does herself.

“Sometimes I hear people having sex in the other room,” she said. “It’s O.K. I have earplugs.”

“Hosting is a journey,” she added. “First, the host is nervous to start, then they’re excited, then they see the money.” But when the host comes across a bad guest or feels taken for granted, she said, “they say, ‘Oh my God, I hate these people.’”

Donna Deans with her Airbnb guest Matias Ruiz at her home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Credit
Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Despite the good income she earns through Airbnb each year, Ms. Badia does not feel financially secure. Much of the money she earns goes back into the house for upkeep. She also needs a financial strategy to make it through the slow months of January, February and March.

“And you have to deal with the fact that you’re going to live with strangers for the rest of your life,” she said.

In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Donna Deans, 63, plans to use Airbnb to fund her retirement. For $80 a night guests can get a queen-size bed and a futon in Ms. Deans’s second bedroom. Like Ms. Badia, Ms. Deans is a host out of necessity.

“I always thought I was going to work,” she said. “I was never going to retire. Only old people retire.” But now Ms. Deans, who sells furniture on commission for a retailer in Brooklyn, has decided she wants to retire at 66.

A self-described introvert, and a one-time “Jeopardy!” champion, Ms. Deans earns enough from her commissions to meet monthly expenses but not much more. In a busy week, she can make up to $560 from renting out her extra room. Her first guests were a couple from Belgium. Ms. Deans was so nervous, unsure of what level of hospitality the guests would expect when they arrived, that she went out and bought too much food. “I overdid it, but they were so nice and chill,” she said. “I’m lucky I never had bad people.”

Never? “Well, the weirdest thing that happened was the father-son duo from Italy,” she recalled. “They sat around in their underwear watching soccer. I was like, O.K., I guess it’s all right. After they left, the house smelled like feet for two days.”

Hosts rely in part on Airbnb’s guest reviews to decide whom to allow into their homes. Ms. Deans spends a lot of time emailing with guests, largely trusting her gut to screen out potential bad actors before she lets them book.

She turned down “a bunch of college party guys” and was suspicious of “two girls who were almost 18 and their mothers said they could come to New York.” She also says no to people who have “ridiculous requests, like ‘Can I smoke weed in the room?’”

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