Over the last 6 months, we have started renting out our house, our primary residence that is, on Airbnb.com (as a marketing professional, I feel obligated to tell you how much I abhor their name, although I do recommend their services). We started because we happen to live in a town that has quite a few huge events (SxSW, ACL & the inaugural year of Formula 1) and some smaller events (usually UT related) and not nearly the hotel capacity to meet the demand during these times. We also happen to live centrally, an attractive proposition for renters. Due to the supply-demand ratio mentioned above, this has turned out to be quite a lucrative opportunity. In addition, we love to travel and love that our travels or weekend away ‘splurges’ are no longer splurges because they are paid for. Since we started this, I’ve been asked lots of questions by people who are rental-curious and also by those that think we are absolutely nuts to allow perfect strangers into our home. So I thought it might be helpful to create the definitive resource of “things to consider if you think you want to rent your home out to perfect, or not-so- perfect or you-want-to-believe-are-perfect-but-really-aren’t strangers.” Here’s what I’ve learned in the first 6 months of this adventure:
- You are probably more attached to your things than you think you are.
It is true that I do not feel particularly attached to my things. The first question people ask me when I say we are renting our house is “where do you put your valuables?” and my first question back to them is “like what?” I do not possess family heirlooms, I do not buy unique one-of-a-kind antique furniture pieces and I do not own fine china. I can hardly think of anything that the $1,000 deposit we require wouldn’t cover to replace or fix. While I have refrained from making circles with my thumbs and pointer fingers and staring into the distance with a meditation-induced trance, what I usually say next is, “I’m not very attached to my things.”
Well, upon arriving back to our home this last time, I opened a drawer and noticed a piece of my pottery was gone – a bowl I picked up at an Iranian pottery market in Kuwait during a trip in my 20’s. I rarely use the piece, but I do like it. More than I realized, in fact, because the moment it wasn’t there, my brain went a little frantic – What happened to my bowl? That is a UNIQUE piece….I bought that in Kuwait! I can’t replace THAT! How inconsiderate – breaking my pottery without letting me know?? What a shame! My pottery! Woe is me…my beautiful, forever lost bowl! Until I opened the dishwasher and found it in there. I’ve never put it in the dishwasher, assuming it not dishwasher safe, so that was risky, but there it was. It was fine. I was fine. I had to blush, even just to myself, thinking back to the “I’m not attached to my things” comments. OK, so I AM attached to my things. One just doesn’t realize until they are gone. So, you’ve got to be good with this. One day, my bowl from Kuwait may disappear or get broken by someone other than myself or someone I love. Now I’m at acceptance (yes, I am making circles with my thumbs and pointer fingers and staring into the distance with a meditation-induced trance), but this is part of letting others use your space.
After the ‘valuables’ questions, more often than not, the next question is, “what about artwork?” which frankly, I find an odd question. Fair enough – we have a couple pieces that couldn’t be replaced by the $1,000 deposit, but really, I can’t imagine this being the ploy for an art thief to disguise himself as a UT parent attending graduation on the off-chance the Miro he saw in the house picture is real and he plans to replicate/replace each item exactly, during the weekend he’s here. And a piece of art is actually something even I, the notoriously unobservant, would notice if it was gone. That seems awfully nervy for anyone to try to pull off. So this might be where some of my naiveté comes in handy because,
2. People do inexplicable things, and more than likely, you will never get an explanation.
We let a friend/babysitter stay in our house once while we traveled for the summer. We came back to some strange goop in one of the showers we never used that clogged up the drain. It was fairly easily cleaned up, but when we asked about it, she claimed to have no idea. That was someone we knew and trusted, so left it at that. But when it’s not someone you know or trust, you also have to be fine with leaving it at that. One of our renters left a door to the outside open – not just unlocked, but open, and also claimed to have no idea how that happened. Four of our forks and 2 steak knives (separate occasions) have gone missing. I’ve lived in my home for 6 years and never managed to lose any silverware or cutlery – how someone does this in a weekend is perplexing. These are things you don’t notice right away, and by far, the profits made from these ventures allow for the replacement of forks and knives, but it does make you wonder what people are doing. Which brings me to my third point.
3. You must have the stomach for never being fully informed of the goings on in your home
One of my pro-renting arguments was that you have conversations with the people. They contact you, you call them, they tell you about their plans, who they are visiting, who is staying in the house, their family history including which relatives came over on the Mayflower, etc. etc. One of our future renters just e-mailed us a picture of their family after discoving how much we have in common. With some, by the time they show up, you feel you’ve forged some sort of friendship, especially because you are letting them stay in your home! Yes, BUT, they do not necessarily feel the same about you. They may just see you as a home they want to stay in. So, one of my “friends,” while she shared details about her life (3rd and final daughter graduating from UT), what they were going to be doing at the house (small get-together of family to celebrate), she never did mention that they were going to have a band in the backyard. Now, there is no problem with this, exactly. We have ‘house rules’ set up that say no entertaining or noise after 10:00pm and they followed this rule. But when a neighbor told me about the sound check coming from our yard over the weekend, I felt embarrassed and frankly, betrayed that Renee never mentioned the band. Clearly, she didn’t want that idea of hers shot down so she just failed to mention it. I felt odd that a concert was held in my backyard and I didn’t know anything about it.
The other part of stomaching strangers in your home is just to know that every time something is misplaced, temporarily (or not) missing or broken, you will find yourself immediately damning the renters. Even if you live with small children that easily could break things and not tell you. Even if your husband puts the blender behind the cereal boxes on the opposite side of the kitchen. Even if you forgot that you lent that copy of Hunger Games to your mother-in-law. It’s all the renters fault. And this isn’t the best of feelings because, even for just one moment, you feel a little betrayed that someone didn’t tell you they broke something, that they didn’t care enough to put things back where they found them, that they didn’t respect your stuff enough not to take it. Until you realize the truth. Or not. At the very least, consider these little reminders that strangers have been in your home, so just make sure you really are OK with that. It’s kind of an emotional roller coaster that is not that big of a deal if you’ve got the stomach for it. If you think these things would upset you greatly, or even a bit more than a little, renting may not be for you.
For us, for me, I’m actually OK with all of the above. Otherwise, we would stop doing it. Like a scene from a Brady Bunch episode, my son once threw a ball in the house and it broke an antique vase that I bought on one of my travels to China. I was really sad about the broken vase, but I got over it. I was mad at him for throwing the ball, but I got over that too. Stuff happens – you just have to decide how much ‘stuff’ you can tolerate and by whom you can tolerate it. In short, Know Thyself.
To answer the very first question, we put all of our ‘valuables’ in our master closet, which is then locked. Everyone we know that rents has a locked space where they put the belongings that they don’t want people to have access to or to see. For us, more often than not, these items are training toilets and other kid accessories that our non-kid renters may not appreciate having around. Perhaps my list of items I put in that closet will grow as we continue to rent our home. Perhaps we’ll get the art-thief in disguise renter who ‘teaches us our lesson’ and we stop forever. In the meantime, and until Austin’s hotel supply increases (doing so as we speak) I’ll be enjoying our paid-for vacations and lump sums to put towards our mortgage. If you’ve been on the fence, I hope this helps. If you choose to do so, from one to another, happy renting!