Aaron Shekey works from his house in Northeast Minneapolis, but that’s not how he’s paying his mortgage this month. He’s getting the money from renting out an extra room to strangers with Airbnb.
The do-it-yourself room and home rental service launched in 2008 and now has more than 1 million listings worldwide — more rooms than the world’s largest hotel chains. Airbnb allows both homeowners and renters to temporarily rent spaces, from a clean couch to an empty house, and hundreds of Minneapolis residents are taking advantage of the service.
Rather than find a roommate, Shekey uses the service to keep his spare guest room filled most days during the Twin Cities’ active summer months. Having a rate far below the typical hotel room around downtown Minneapolis also helps attract guests.
“It’s between having an empty room or having people in the room with zero mortgage,” he said. “It’s an absolute no-brainer.”
While not every Airbnb host is as ambitious as Shekey, there are hundreds of listings across the city with residents renting out their extra space for just a few days a year or even months at a time.
The process is as simple as uploading details and photos of your space and responding to guests. Airbnb does take a cut from hosts’ earnings — Shekey said the site takes just $2 of his $60 daily rate.
Rather than find a roommate for his spare bedroom, Aaron Shekey rents it out to Airbnb guests.
Jenna Johnshoy, a resident of Windom Park, started hosting a couple weekend guests each month with Airbnb in January to start saving for her and her husband’s second home. They rent out a second bedroom that they plan to convert into a nursery later this year, but in the meantime it has allowed them to put away some savings.
“I just thought it would be kind of fun… and also we like meeting new people” she said. “I think it’s fun to host.”
Johnshoy also took advantage of an Airbnb offer to send a professional photographer to take pictures of the space, which they provided free of charge.
Summer Grimes, who lives in an apartment in the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood, likes to travel and uses Airbnb to earn extra money and subsidize her trips. An hour or two after she posted a listing, Grimes began receiving messages about the apartment, and she had her first guest.
“I treated them like a guinea pig to see what it would be like,” she said. “I like that the home I’ve built will help someone have a good Minneapolis experience.”
When she’s traveling, Summer Grimes lets people stay in her apartment with Airbnb.
Though giving strangers a key to your home may worry some people, some hosts say they have very few, if any, problems with guests. Home or renters insurance can cover accidents, and Airbnb guarantees up to $1 million in property protection. The biggest worries come from family and friends, hosts say.
“It’s a big curiosity for everybody who finds out that I do this,” Shekey said. “When I tell people that it has paid my mortgage this month they’re like, ‘I get it now.’”
Grimes said Airbnb’s verification systems, which verifies things like phone number and social media, and other people’s profiles, which contain reviews and pictures of themselves or even their own space, put her at ease.
However, the sometimes-awkward meeting and hosting of strangers can have its own challenges.
“I think what can be weird is… when you get off on the wrong foot, such as when they say they’re going to be there at 6, but they show up at 1 a.m., drunk, which has happened,” Shekey laughed.
Though the term bed and breakfast inspires images of amenity-laden getaways, the reality of many Airbnbs is less extravagant. The hosts that spoke to The Journals said they provide clean bedding, Internet access and towels, but unlike hotels they typically clean the room and linens just once per stay and some may not provide toiletries, let alone meals or activities.
Some hosts will spruce up their spaces with welcoming touches and treat Airbnb as more of a business. Johnshoy has Minneapolis travel books and guest book available to guests, and Grimes is planning to commission an artist to draw guide of Minneapolis. Hosts can opt to write some expenses into their taxes or factor them into their rate. Airbnb also provides tax forms.
Jenna Johnshoy began renting out a spare bedroom with Airbnb to save money.
Using the service allows hosts to provide a uniquely local experience and become ambassadors for their city, Shekey said. Part of the draw is differentiating your home from a cookie-cutter hotel room.
“Every hotel room is the same… A Hilton is a Hilton. It’s kind of like going to Paris and only eating at McDonald’s,” he said. “An apartment in Paris could not be more different than [my] house.”
Local hosts have some tips for starting your own Airbnb listing:
Communication is key: Shekey said most issues that people have with the service is a lack of communication. The app allows guests to quickly book rooms and hosts can answer questions as simply as texting through Airbnb. Establishing home or building rules is important if you have boundaries. This could mean enforcing the terms of your lease or renter’s agreement or various rules based on your family, lifestyle or landlord. Grimes said sharing some details about yourself and developing a rapport with guests makes it more comfortable when you give them a key. And make sure to review guests and hosts to pass on your experience.
Let guests guide their stay: “I let guests set the tone if they want to interact with me,” Johnshoy said. Some guests may want to spend time with the host, while others may want nothing to do with them. Guests may also want recommendations for restaurants or activities, but it can stop there— hosts aren’t required to provide meals or extras.
Stay in an Airbnb as a guest: Booking a space on a trip was a good opportunity for Johnshoy to pick up her own tips and tricks, she said. Viewing the experience as a guest could help you craft your own listing or come up with ideas for your space.
Just try it: There’s little risk in trying out Airbnb because there’s little to no startup costs, Shekey said. Your first time can be a learning experience.
Photos by Eric Best, Airbnb or submitted images.