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June 29, 2022 Real Estate

Leisure & Hospitality: Local Airbnb hosts find profits, compete with hotels in short-term rental market

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED A short-term rental property in New Haven called “The Bird’s Nest” is located in an 1876 brownstone.

For travelers and those who depend on travel to make a living, the last two years have been a slog, but not for Airbnb hosts who have found their rentals in demand during the pandemic.

The travelers they have been attracting prefer private houses and rooms over hotels.

Airbnb spokesperson Sam Randall said people are increasingly turning to hosting as a way to earn extra money. He points to a recent survey of Connecticut’s host community, which found that 45 percent of hosts do it to cover the rising cost of living. Another 40 percent said they host to make “ends meet,” and 35 percent said they do it to make extra spending money.

Connecticut Airbnb hosts since 2010 have earned nearly $280 million, Randall said. Last year, Airbnb operators in New Haven County made $14 million.

Among them is Pat Heavren and her husband Joe DeRisi, who run a Hamden property they’ve dubbed “A Restorative Stay in the Woods.” Heavren started renting out a room in her home when her daughter left the nest.

“I started in 2021, right at the height of the pandemic,” Heavren said, adding that she never had any trouble renting her property. Heavren was later recognized as a “super host,” and then as a “top new host,” by Airbnb. To achieve “top new host” recognition, superhosts need to achieve an average customer service rating of 4.9 out of 5.

Pat Heavren, named Best New Airbnb Host in Connecticut, rents out a room in Hamden with her husband Joe DeRisi.

Heavren rents the room for $65 a night.

“A $20 cleaning fee is attached to that and we do our own cleaning, plus there are taxes and a cut for Airbnb,” said Heavren, estimating that she nets about $82 for the first night and $62 for subsequent additional nights. She said that it’s nice to augment the couple’s income, but it’s also about sharing the beauty of their home and gardens.

‘Live and die by reviews’

Leslie Singer is another superhost who has been managing the “The Bird’s Nest” in New Haven, which she has listed on Airbnb since 2020, around when the pandemic started. She lives downstairs in the 1876 brownstone and is in charge of ensuring that guests have a seamless stay. The Bird’s Nest currently rents for $135 a night and, according to Singer, business has been booming.

She credits her background in copywriting, paired with her extensive travel experience, for her ability to attract business.

“People who came during COVID-19 did so to get out of the house,” said Singer, adding she also allows pets so that guests are able to get out and walk their dogs in the parks and not feel so isolated. Singer said she rents to people from Yale when they host reunions and during Thanksgiving and other holidays, but the majority of her business is from those who want a change of scenery.

“I get couples every weekend from New York City, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, you name it,” she said.

Singer has a few tips for anyone who may be interested in the short-term rental business.

“I’m on an Airbnb group with 35,000 members, and if you’re not discerning it can be a nightmare,” she said, mentioning that she’s on the Airbnb platform since the company carries insurance.

Singer said she charges a little more to attract a discerning clientele. “I want people who value aesthetics, ones who are willing to pay a bit more for it.”

“We live and die by reviews,” she added.

A Hamden property called “A Restorative Stay in the Woods,” is available for rent, offered by hosts Pat Heavren and her husband Joe DeRisi.

Another tip is to invest in a comfortable bed, couch and power strips for those who work remotely. “Don’t cheap out. Always be available and pay attention to detail. You get out of it what you put into it. You gotta work it,” she said.

According to Singer, platforms can work synergistically with one another. “I’m on Vrbo too,” she said.

This applies to hotels, as well. According to the May 2022 Hotel Tech Report, a hotel can increase short-term bookings by listing on the Airbnb platform, which is now delivering up to 15 percent of bookings.

Hotels vs. short-term rentals

Fletcher Williams, general manager at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, described COVID-19’s impact on the hotel industry.

“With the Northeast being the epicenter of the pandemic, it made it tougher for us and business travel has been slow to return,” he said, adding that leisure travel is making a comeback, especially during the summer months.

Williams hopes to see an increase in corporate business in the near future.

“We have 22,000 square feet of meeting space and a 9,200-square-foot ballroom, which is the largest within a 30-mile area, where people can enjoy a downtown urban setting,” he said.

Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the Connecticut Lodging Association, said that area hotels and short-term rentals have done better here than in other parts of the country, simply because New Haven is home to colleges and researchers. She said hotels are still eager to invest in the area, mentioning that the Hotel Marcel New Haven, part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, opened recently.

Meantime, New Haven County saw a 10 percent increase in bookings during the first quarter on another vacation rental home website, Vrbo, according to the company.

And looking ahead, July is the most popular travel month during summer, followed by June, then August in New Haven County, according to Vrbo.

The remote work trend also factors into short-term rental demand. According to Vrbo, approximately 44 percent of families are more likely to work remotely from a place that is not their own home.

Dan Driscoll, co-founder of Boutiq, a 2019 startup that uses machine learning algorithms to help real estate investors make investments in upscale vacation rentals across the United States, said that the pandemic pushed people out of cities. That has led to an increase in short-term rental demand, which had been on the upswing for a while, even before the pandemic, he said.

Randall, the Airbnb spokesman, said that as the weather warms, he expects demand for accommodations everywhere will grow.


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