SKY-HIGH RENTAL RATES &
INVENTORY SHORTAGES, OR AIRBNB
Until one year ago, I lived in a rented, three bedroom, three bathroom home in an artsy enclave of Los Angeles, California. I can’t tell you how much I loved this home. To truly understand why this home meant so much to me, I have to share some rather personal information.
My ex-husband was a sports marketing executive, who climbed up the corporate ladder by taking more advanced positions with new sports teams. As a result, we had to move a number of times. In all those years, I never felt like I lived in a real home because everything always felt temporary. Not only could we never settle into a home, the homes never felt quite right either. I realized later that it wasn’t the home, it was the marriage.
The collapse of my marriage totally destroyed me, both emotionally and financially, so a big reason why this home meant so much to me was that it was where I recovered from the devastation of my marriage and where I “found myself” again. Another reason why I loved this home was because it was perfectly configured to be an Airbnb.
The house featured an extension that included a living room, bathroom, master bedroom and large walk-in closet. The extension was built onto the front of the house, so as someone entered the home, the door in the foyer to the right went to the extension (later known as “my area”) and the door to the left went to the area that featured two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living area with a fireplace.
I lived in that house for almost three years before I became an Airbnb host. It wasn’t until I began hosting that I realized how ideal it was for me to have my own separate and private living space.
The house was the primary residence of a couple who had moved to Virginia for career advancement. I was hesitant to rent a house from a resident owner, as these types of landlords tend to want to move back into their home, and I only wanted to move when the choice was mine to leave.
Six months ago I got a call from a notable Airbnb executive informing me that my role as an “Airbnb Brand Advocate” had been noticed by several executives in the corporate office. The caller wanted to personally let me know that Airbnb appreciated the time, energy and resources I devoted to providing helpful firsthand host and guest tips, along with worldwide Airbnb listing recommendations to those who followed me as the self-appointed “Airbnb Expert” on social media.
I was touched by the news and set out that evening for a celebratory dinner with my son. Sadly, my happy mood was short lived. Two hours later, my phone rang. It was the home owners informing me that they were moving back, and I only had 60 days to vacate!
At this point, I had been an Airbnb host for one and a half years. During that time (and to this day), I read every single online article about Airbnb from around the globe. The majority of these articles report on, and theorize about, how Airbnb is being blamed for rising rental costs and housing shortages. I call the subject “The Airbnb Debate” and created a Pinterest board devoted to the plethora of news articles about the issue(s).
While I was aware of the global claims about housing shortages and insane rental prices, I was not sure how much of this information was hype and how much was reality. After all, when the almighty buck comes into play, people have been known to exaggerate. When I jumped on my computer to see what was available in my area, I was shocked by the lack of options and even more aghast with the prices landlords were asking.
My rent had not been raised in four years, which allowed me to save my Airbnb earnings. After my marriage wiped me out at the age of 45, I had been slogging away ever since to try and make my way back onto solid ground. Before Airbnb, I simply could never get ahead. Every time I would get ahead, something would happen to set me right back to zero again. There were many, many times when I had to rob Peter to pay Paul in order to keep things going. Airbnb was truly a Godsend. Even though I very reluctantly had to dip into my Airbnb savings a number of times, I was able to save $25,000 in the first year and was up to $40,000 after one and a half years.
I had experienced enough upheaval in my life. My son and I were not only settled into our home, we loved our community. My home was in the hub of the top dance studios in the world. As more dancers stayed with me, I continually honed my Airbnb to serve the needs of these young artists. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to move to a new area and then have to change my “brand” to fit a different “audience” (type of guest). For instance, I adore Santa Barbara, but if I moved there, the majority of my guests would be traveling retired couples. To learn more about why I wanted to stay in the community, please read my blog titled “And then came Airbnb”.
My home was cozy, comfortable and inviting and each guest room had its own private bathroom. While many Airbnb hosts and guests are happy to share a bathroom, my Airbnb catered to an audience who are willing to pay a little more for the privilege of not having to share a bathroom.
As I searched for a similar home in my neighborhood, I felt like I was looking for teeth on a hen. To make matters worse, homes that met with the same standards as the home I was in, featuring things like new appliances, ample space and gated parking, were not only few and far between, they were priced at more than double my existing rent.
I don’t know what I would have done at the time, had I not had my Airbnb savings to turn to. How else would I have come up with the required first and last month’s rent, along with a deposit that equaled a full months’ rent? Not to mention the cost of moving, including adding personal touches to the new home, such as paint, window coverings, etc.
I saw an ad for an open house for a home that had most of the features I wanted and was less than a mile from the one I was sadly having to leave. When I arrived, there was a line of more than 20 people waiting to tour the home. This was my first experience venturing out to “shop” for a new rental, and it totally freaked me out. The house scored quite high on all the things I wanted in a home aesthetically, but the rent was sky-high. I was so distraught at the thought of moving, and so worried I would not be able to find a suitable home in my area, that I told the landlord giving the tour that I wanted to fill out an application. It turns out that six other people said the same thing, so the house ended up in a bidding war which I finally won.
Once I moved from my perfect home, into my less than perfect home, I gave deeper thought to the theory of how Airbnb might be affecting housing inventory and the cost of rental units. After reading all the online articles on the subject, and after experiencing it firsthand, this is what I came up with.
I need to preface this by saying that this theory is based on what I call, “educated conjecture.”
I think that landlords started to hike rates, and a surge of people became Airbnb hosts at just about the same time. As landlords realized that they could get the higher rental rates, they continued to edge the costs up. As more people were finding it difficult to cover their rent, they turned to hosting on Airbnb to help make ends meet. At the same time, people who were living in rentals that were once regarded as priced “fairly,” were now regarding their rental as being a “deal” and weren’t budging. As people stopped moving, the inventory continued to tighten up. As the inventory tightened up, landlords continued to charge more. Since people could offset their rent by becoming Airbnb hosts, tenants could meet the demands of the new higher rental rates. It’s a question of supply and demand. If people are willing to pay, then landlords can continue to charge their rates.
In addition to this, some Airbnb hosts decided to leverage the Airbnb model into a full-time business. At the same time, landlords also realized that by turning their rental unit(s) into an Airbnb, they could yield more income from the property than if they rented the unit out on a permanent basis. This lowered the inventory, which continued to drive prices up and continued to (in many cases) force people to turn to the shared economy to supplement their income.
So in the question of what came first the chicken (Airbnb) or rising rents and tightened inventory (the egg), I would have to say it was the egg – but only by a hair. While triggered by the egg, the two quickly became simultaneous. To make matters worse The Airbnb “operators” (click HERE to read about Airbnb “operators”) who do not live in the homes they list on Airbnb, added to the tightened inventory and rising rents. In addition, as I say in my All You Need Is Love & Airbnb blog, I firmly believe that Airbnb “operators” take away from the optimal Airbnb experience.
I was recently asked by a reporter if I believe that Airbnb contributes to landlords gauging tenants? While my answer to that is “Yes, in part,” I don’t fault Airbnb hosts for not being willing to notably reduce their standard of living in order to “starve out” greedy landlords, with hopes that landlords will drop rental rates to a more reasonable level. I admire Airbnb hosts for their dedication, hospitality and hard work. I think it’s sad that as the “little guy” tries to get ahead, the government immediately sharpens their fangs and works on ways they can sink their teeth into Airbnb revenue. I’m annoyed with the Airbnb “operators” of all sorts who have become the bad apples that are spoiling the barrel for the rest of us. I love Airbnb, but I think that for the best interest of the majority of hosts (over 80% of whom live in the home they host in), Airbnb should eliminate Airbnb operators entirely. This would then leave that “non-hosted” short term rental market to companies like VRBO, who can then serve as the target for the media and political heat.
THANK GOD FOR AIRBNB
I am grateful for Airbnb on so many levels. I owe part of my recovery from the end of my marriage to Airbnb. Thanks to Airbnb, I found a new sense of purpose and my faith in humanity was restored after I experienced one sweet and kind guest after another. Without Airbnb, I would have never been able to finally get ahead financially. Without my Airbnb savings, I would have been completely overwrought when I got the sad news that I had to move and would have had to notably lower my standard of living.
Amazingly two of my Airbnb guests actually moved with me, and I have not had more than a few days without guests in my new Airbnb. Interestingly enough, my Airbnb also gave me a sense of continuity during the transition to my new home. Unfortunately, my Airbnb income is no longer being saved for my imminent retirement, or even tucked away for a rainy day. Instead, the revenue is being used in its entirety to supplement my rent, which is now more than double what it was in my previous home. I’m grateful that Airbnb allowed me to “keep going” and that I was able to avoid my life being entirely disrupted with something like having to move to a different neighborhood, etc. I now regularly spend time scouring the internet to find just the right home, that is priced more reasonably than the one I’m in. When I find that needle in a haystack, I’ll be sure to jump right on it and then pray that I can sit tight for a number of years.
With the new and unpredictable change in the American government (which affects the world economy) there is no saying what other factors are going to come into play. I just hope that there comes a time soon when the average person can make ends meet, and where hosting guests is done for the human and financial rewards and not from such a pressing need.