• Suzanne Noble

To Airbnb or not to Airbnb...that is the question

I’m one of the 6m homeowners in the UK, over 50, with at least two empty bedrooms. Like many of my generation, the rooms became vacant when my kids left home. Within six months, both were listed on Airbnb, providing me with an income that enabled me to start a new business without immediately requiring a full-time salary.

Living two stops from a mainline station in London, it took a matter of weeks for my rooms to get booked and within 6 months, both were both operating at nearly 100% occupancy. This was five years ago at a time when Airbnb was not nearly so established in London and still considered somewhat of a novelty experience.

My guests were mostly curious about the concept and delighted to be living in a real London home. Courteous and respectful, adventurous types, I imagined that prior to discovering Airbnb they might have sought out quirky guesthouses rather than stay in the big, chain hotels. Over the course of the next few months, I met many with whom I kept in touch. Some, like myself, were hosts in their own country and we enjoyed swapping stories about our respective experience of being part of this burgeoning, exciting new business.

As much as I enjoyed meeting guests in the early days of hosting, my enthusiasm for the daily changeover quickly waned. Operating one room on Airbnb was manageable, even if the one-day bookings didn’t generate much profit with all the washing and cleaning products I had to use. Managing two rooms was a different story and any dreams I’d had of eventually retiring to run a small boutique hotel somewhere warm, disappeared, once I realised the considerable amount of time that looking after two or more guests entailed.

As Airbnb’s reputation grew, so did the type of people that used the service. The early adventurers who were nearly all happy just having somewhere clean and cosy in which to sleep turned into many more who expected 5* hotel service at hostel prices!

On a typical day, I might be giving out directions to how to get to most of London’s major landmarks, rushing off to the pharmacy to support one guest who developed ‘gout’ overnight (!), replacing pillows to satisfy demands for feather over foam or any other number of questions for which I was expected to know the answer. I’ll never forget the woman, in her 30s, who drank a full bottle of red wine before stubbing a rolled-up cigarette on my entrance hall carpet and then missing the toilet when going for a pee not once, but twice. Or the man who thought it appropriate to leave his bedroom door wide open as he slept in his boxer shorts. Others just ignored me completely.

Thankfully, a year into my Airbnb journey, fate intervened in the form of a friend of a friend looking for a room to rent. I considered the loss in my rental income and giving up some of my privacy and decided that, on balance, it made sense to turn over one room to a long-term lodger than to carry on hosting the two rooms.

That was two years ago and I haven’t looked back since. Despite knowing very little about my home-mate, as he’s now referred to, we are similar in many ways. We both grew up going to international schools but come from a North American background. Both of us have an interest in ‘startups’ and experience of that ecosystem. We both enjoy the occasional nice glass of wine and sometimes cook meals for each other. On the flip side, we keep completely different hours with my home-mate liking to go to bed past midnight and me asleep usually by ten. He’s a thinker; I’m a doer.

Our situation may not be 100% perfect but the benefits of sharing my home with someone my own age, on a long-term basis, outweigh the precarious nature of being a London based Airbnb host. While the recent events have led me to think just how lucky I am to be in the fortunate position of not having to rely completely on Airbnb for my income and having the company of someone with whom I live that has now become a friend.

While hosting on Airbnb undoubtedly suggests there’s a high degree of flexibility regarding how much or little the room is occupied, market demand and circumstances have a major impact on bookings. Over the past five years, the price of my room has dropped by over a third to the point where the difference between taking on a long-term lodger or remaining on the platform was negligible. Factor in the cost of constant washing, changing sheets and being a part-time concierge, tour guide and housekeeper and having a lodger actually looks like the better deal.

For those who live alone and are self-isolating, how many would prefer now to be living with someone with whom you could share a meal and a bottle of wine, rather than stare at an empty room while waiting for the lockdown to cease? Putting aside the financial aspect, a long-term compatible lodger can provide companionship, a laugh at a time when we all could use one, help around the house and cuts down on the daily chores.

In these challenging times, when many of us are going to be forced to change our behaviour, perhaps for good, I’ve come to the conclusion that being an Airbnb host is not a sustainable way to generate an income or even that much fun.

What seemed a reliable way to make money in the early days, now feels more challenging whether it’s because of regulations on the service being imposed by governments around the world or because of situations like the coronavirus over which we have no control. Right now, I expect that many others, like me, with spare rooms, are being forced to reconsider how those rooms are used in the future.

If you’ve also come to the realisation that living with a home-mate is the way to go, not only for a stable and steady income but because in giving someone else a home, you’re potentially making a new friend, then Silver Sharers is here to support your decision and help you find someone compatible with whom to live.


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