Be Our Guest
For years, travelers have had few options for overnight stays. Either book a hotel or check into a bed-and-breakfast. Today, there’s another option, due to websites like Airbnb or Vacation Rentals By Owner (vrbo.com). Travelers can rent an entire house or just a spare room for a fraction of the cost of a hotel stay.
This type of arrangement can be a huge money saver for travelers, and it provides significant income for property owners.
When Toby and CrystalRae McPherson moved to the outskirts of Weatherford, Texas, 20 miles west of Ft. Worth, last summer, the ranch they purchased came with a guest house. They were newlyweds, with a blended family consisting of six children, mostly adults. Since they had recently combined households, they had enough extra things to completely furnish the guest house, which they thought would be ideal for when their children visited.
The McPhersons learned about Airbnb from a friend and decided to try it.
“We only have family coming in three or four times a year, and the rest of the year it’s empty,” Toby says. “Why not make money on it?”
Since Weatherford is known as the cutting horse capital of the world and because of the proximity to Ft. Worth, the McPhersons thought their location would be ideal, especially since they could provide stalls for guests with horses and a fenced-in yard for guests with dogs. They signed up last fall and have been extremely pleased.
CrystalRae says getting set up with Airbnb was easy, and it cost nothing. The website allows owners to set house rules and a nightly rate. The McPhersons charge $90 per night for up to five people, with reduced rates for longer rentals. They can also block off certain dates when they want to use the house for their own visitors.
Guests pay Airbnb before arriving, and 24 hours after checking in, the money is deposited into the McPhersons’ bank account. Guests are charged a 3% service fee by Airbnb, and there is no exchange of money between the owners and renters.
One of the hallmarks of Airbnb is its review system. Guests review the property and owners, and owners can also comment on the renters.
“We were hesitant at first because we didn’t know who we’d be getting, but everyone’s identity is verified and that brings a sense of security,” CrystalRae says. “The public’s general comfort level with online booking and financial transactions has gotten a lot better. Now with Uber, a stranger picks you up in their car. People trust the process.”
Open for Business
They had their first booking within a week to a group from Los Angeles. “They were a hoot,” CrystalRae says. “They didn’t know what to do on the ranch. We took them out and let them feed hay cubes to the longhorns, and they thought they had died and gone to heaven.” The guest house has been booked 60% of the weekends since being listed.
Toby enjoys talking to guests about the ranch. “Most people who live in the city don’t understand how we live in the country,” he says. “This is our way of giving people a better understanding of ag and ranching. We’ll show them the Angus cattle and tell them that’s where their rib-eye steaks come from.”
Some Airbnb owners offer breakfast to guests, but the McPhersons do not. Between running the ranch – which includes registered Texas longhorns, beef cattle and a few show cattle – and CrystalRae’s job as a surgical assistant and Toby’s job as a truck driver, there isn’t time. They do provide carry-out menus for nearby restaurants, and guests can prepare their own food in the kitchen.
Should you Become a Host?
The first step in listing your property is making sure it’s legal in your area. Property owners within the city limits likely have more red tape to deal with than rural residents, but all property owners are subject to state and county taxes. Check zoning laws, business license requirements, and taxes. In some areas, Airbnb calculates, collects, and remits taxes for the owner.
Make sure you have adequate liability insurance and property protection coverage. Airbnb automatically provides hosts with insurance and a guarantee of up to $1,000,000 to cover damages that may be caused by guests, but this doesn’t replace the need for a personal policy.
Take a look at what other rental properties are going for in your area to get an idea of what you should charge. Write a welcoming description of the property and share the types of experiences your guests can expect in your area. Add photos that showcase the property well. Then, sit back and wait for the reservations to start coming in.
The McPhersons are pleased with the additional income and ease of doing business with Airbnb.
“I don’t foresee us stopping for a long time,” CrystalRae says. “It’s a lot easier than we thought it would be.”