Podcast - Into the Airbnb

Into the Airbnb EP 13: ‘International jungle’ 1BR with 80% occupancy rate in Washington, DC

Welcome back to another episode of ‘Into the Airbnb’. Today I’ve spoken to an interesting Airbnb host named Becky. She’s been an Airbnb host since 2011. And now she has four listings that are managed completely remotely, where she visits those properties only once a year. She is now hosting guests in her living room in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington DC, which covers her monthly rent. So we are going to talk more about this specific listing in this episode.

This episode is brought to you by Airbtics, a precise Airbnb analytics platform. If you’re just getting started with Airbnb and want to find out objective information about occupancy rate and daily rate of your area, this is the app for you.

What was your first Airbnb rental? 0:54
Airbnb listing in Washington, DC 1:21
Buy-to-rent or rent-to-rent Airbnb properties? 5:20
Managing other Airbnb listings in Texas and San Francisco 5:20
Breaking even: Airbnb rental property monthly revenue 9:27
Occupancy rates: pre-COVID vs post-COVID? 14:09
Creating a unique experience for guests 16:20

What was your first Airbnb rental?

Becky  0:54  

My first Airbnb rental was in San Francisco, California about 2011. One bedroom studio in an apartment complex with probably 50 units in Nob Hill, which is about a 10 minute walk from downtown San Francisco. It’s probably about 100-year-old building one bedroom studio with a Murphy bed but a hot tub.

Airbnb listing in Washington, DC

Jae Seok An  1:21  

Hmm, interesting. So yeah, I saw that you have a very interesting listing right now in Washington DC, where you’re actually staying as well. So when did you start that listing?

Becky  1:33  

I started that back in September. So very recent, probably less than a year and the reason why I started that is because I was in between jobs and I wanted to supplement my income. But I wasn’t expecting any hits because I thought who would really want to stay at an Airbnb in a shared one bedroom den, thousand square foot. So if I wanted to make a listing, the only thing that I had going was a good location right I’m about two blocks away from the mall all in free museums and so I had to really think about my listing and how it’s going to be different from everybody else. So that was just recent and then since then I’ve sort of, you know, became a super host I’ve gotten a bad from that have gotten my incredible reviews, etc etc. So yes, that’s my shared shared I call it the title is international jungle stay

Jae Seok An  2:35  

Yeah, international jungle is because you have like, unique items from all over the world. So what kind of items do you have in that house?

Becky  2:45  

Yeah, so I have kind of mix of both. So I bring things from all over the world from from my travels. So I have things from beautiful paintings, you know, kind of memories from travelling, but it covers a wide range from countries from Middle East, you know, from Africa, to China to Asia to Morocco, so it’s kind of part of the experience so it’s relatable to a lot of international you know, travellers who want to come here and that’s the kind of the first thing that they connect to. The second thing I think I do really well is because I call it a jungle I bring the earth inside my apartment so if you come into my apartment and you see for my pictures it’s not a standard you know Airbnb house with a you know, with a bed and a couch and you know, that amenities actually sell the jungle part, which is all the beautiful plants that I bring from all over the world. So when you come in and looks like a tropical paradise. I even have a hammock that you can sleep on in the living room that goes wall to wall. And then I have things from the earth like I have pillows, like pillows made from you know, beautiful from flowers and then I have a little water fountain. I even have an herb garden and like things that are made out of reclaimed wood out of art so if you can sense it you know when you first come in you really sense…  the most commented things on my Airbnb is ‘Wow Becky, it’s so Zen in here’.

Jae Seok An  4:19  

So ‘Zen’… Z-E-N, what does that mean?

Becky  4:25  

Zen, it’s like very peaceful and spiritual.

Jae Seok An  4:28  

Yeah, okay. Yeah, I see. Right. I see. 

Buy-to-rent or rent-to-rent Airbnb?

So, you started this Airbnb listing in September. So did you just rent this place to do an Airbnb or did you buy or how did it work?

Becky  4:44  

I actually I’m a renter in my place, and so I rented my space, but I happen to live in a condo that you can also there’s also owners. So yes, the other properties I own or I mean are 100% ownership, this is the only place I rent because I actually work

Jae Seok An  5:02  

Yeah. Okay, interesting. So, did you move in first or did you start Airbnb, like as soon as you start living [there]?

Becky  5:11  

I moved in first. I’ve been here for about four years and then I started Airbnb, but I had an Airbnb before that, and then I decided to list my place.

Managing other Airbnb listings in Texas and San Francisco

Jae Seok An  5:20  

Right? So you are managing, like Airbnb in different locations like Texas and San Francisco?

Becky  5:29  

Yes, yes.

Jae Seok An  5:30  

Okay. So do you have any like, how often do you have to visit those Airbnb listings in San Francisco and Texas?

Becky  5:43  

Actually, not that often. The reason why I say that is because my Airbnb usually gets booked, you know, like almost a over 90%, sometimes hundred percent. So I would say Texas, I go about once every three months to six months. And then in San Francisco, I go maybe once a year.

Jae Seok An  6:06  

Once a year. And the property has been remained, like, properly cleaned and everything right?

Becky  6:13  

Yes. I have a whole turnkey operation. Very easy to do. Started in San Francisco and yeah…

Jae Seok An  6:23  

How does that work? Do you work with like, third party agency? Or do you do it yourself? Like, did you hire cleaner privately?

Becky  6:31  

I actually like doing it myself, because I like to know the quality of the service. So it’s kind of like a test thing at first. And so like, for example, in San Francisco, I wanted to find out who would be a good cleaner, someone who’s reliable, right? Consistent. And so it really started with that. I think you can hire a third party, but I just don’t know any third parties out there. So it depends on what you need. But you know, for example, the one in Texas. I kind of gotten, you know, like a good cleaning service that between two, two people right, two kind of companies, small companies. And the rest are like if anything needs to get fixed, I really have one person that I completely rely on if I need to. So it’s actually very manageable. I do things like I have a keyless entry, as well in my property. So I don’t even have to be there. I just open the door by my phone.

Jae Seok An  7:28  

I see and everything is like automated so you don’t have to be there at all. You can do it remotely. 

Becky  7:36  

Yeah, yes. And it’s not. It doesn’t work for everybody. But it has to be it depends on the property, I think.

Jae Seok An  7:42  

Right? Have you ever had any kind of incident where you really have to visit there?

Becky  7:48  

I do when it’s like in between, like renovations. Yeah, I’ve had one incident. So when I actually come down to Texas, just to make sure everything was good, but actually haven’t had any really horrible guests. Actually, I actually, I actually clean my guests a little bit as well. You know, I don’t I don’t, I’m a little different cuz I work remote. I mean, I’m a remote. So I, every time I list my properties, I always don’t do an automatic booking, which doesn’t work for me. Right? I do it where I actually allow them to ask for it. Then I pre-approve by looking at their listing I actually asked, I normally have kind of my own criteria, you know, for, for picking people. Most of the time I pick them. Yes, it’s a yes. But, you know, there’s there’s one or two red flags that I don’t you know, pick the, I don’t accept it, but it just really depends. Like zero. Like, you know, no history. It’s like renting with someone with no rental history.

Jae Seok An  8:53  

Right. So don’t accept if someone doesn’t have any history.

Becky  8:57  

Yeah, I’m probably more leaning on the No, you know? And then and I think that’s just worked out for me, yeah. 

Jae Seok An  9:07  

I see do you ask any, like a follow up question before? Like to screen the guests? 

Becky  9:14  

Um, the only thing I like to know is like, who’s coming and how many guests. Really basic and the reason why, you know, and it’s really more for curiosity and nothing more.

Breaking even: Airbnb rental property monthly revenue

Jae Seok An  9:27  

Okay. I see. All right. So I think what people, the audience are gonna be really interested. Is that how much you’re actually making from your own rental property? Because you’re living there and how much is your rent per month?

Becky  9:43  

Yeah, sure. My rent per month is 1850.

Jae Seok An  9:47  


Becky  9:50  

Ah, so that’s not including utility. So I would say breakeven like 2100, right. 2000-2100, just depends on utilities. I make a range when I’m listing it for myself, just outright with myself. It’s about, I list it for about 120 per day, which is about you know, I think over $3,000 right? 3700. And when I’m here as a shared, which is the majority of time, it’s about, I put it in a $70. And that’s about 2100. So I pretty much I’m sorry, 70 to $80 per month, I’m sorry, per for the rating. So I definitely break even on the low side, or I make a little bit of a profit. Does that make sense?

Jae Seok An  10:41  

Yeah, that makes sense. So breakeven means that your Airbnb revenue or profit is going to cover your rental completely. That’s the breakeven for you. Right?

Becky  10:51  

Yeah. breakeven like it. But based on like, um, you know, based upon, depending on what my goal is, right, so I think they’re breaking even, and I have increased it as well. So it depends on seasons off, right? Yeah. So what might give you that number is on the very low side, right? I’ve actually listed it for, you know, 80 to $90 per day shared, and it’s, it covers it, it depends on also on, if I want to be here 100% right, depends on the occupancy. So it actually works out well. And, and given the test market that I’ve been doing this since September, it’s actually working out well. But I’ve also underpriced myself, you know, so I’m learning as I go, right. So I’m giving you early market data.

Jae Seok An  11:36  

Right. So until now around how many like percentage of the days that you’ve stayed there while Airbnb guests are there?

Becky  11:48  

I was saying the percentage, I would say, mean shared or are shared. I would say 70% I’ve stayed here when it was a shared listing.

Jae Seok An  12:04  

I see and rest of the 30% or you’re, you’re away.

Becky  12:11  

Yes. And it’s usually the ones that are like, booked over a week. Does that make sense? I’ve had bookings. We shared you would be surprised for over a week. And I might just kind of leave for you know, a couple days and, you know, go somewhere else.

Jae Seok An  12:28  

I see. So do you like, sounds like you decide your travel plans based on the Airbnb bookings you get?

Becky  12:39  

Yes, I do.

Jae Seok An  12:40  

Okay, I see. That’s, that’s really smart and interesting that that concept can work. So you’ve been breaking even, like for past, since September. And okay.

Becky  12:55  

Yeah, yep. And some months I like even make more, right? Just depends on the request and when right so I kind of, I kind of also do test things on Airbnb, the code smart pricing on there as well. So you can figure out you can put that in advance in your calendar and you can see people coming in and requesting your Airbnb instead, right? So I kind of do that as well like putting it out a month or two out, just to see. And then I adjust my kind of just my, you know, what I want to do, it just really depends. It’s really interesting because like, with all the data analytics now, I mean, that helps. However, you know, I can’t predict when people want to stay, but I do. I do can control what I can control with my listing.

Jae Seok An  13:43  

I see. So, do you also do cleaning yourself for these property?

Becky  13:50  

Yes, and no, most of the time I actually hire somebody. And honestly, it’s not really much difficulty in cleaning this this place. You know, it’s not a huge house, but most of the time I hire somebody and sometimes I don’t. But definitely It comes with a, you know, if you look at my pictures, it looks super clean. Right?

Occupancy rates: pre-COVID vs post-COVID?

Jae Seok An  14:09  

Right. Yeah. Okay, great. All right. So also wondered, so since September, how many of the night? Like what was your occupancy rate? I’m talking about like before the COVID-19.

Becky  14:24  

When people I would say meaning, I would say it was probably around 80-85%. It was, it was pretty good. Actually, it was pretty decent. And then COVID, obviously nothing, right? I actually unlisted it. But I also listed it recently as 100%. You know, you can take it over. Okay. And so, I’ve gotten one or two inquiries, but not a lot. I think we’re still in that situation a little bit. People aren’t ready to travel so much.

Jae Seok An  14:56  

Right. Okay. That’s clear.

Becky  14:59  

However in my other properties, like in Texas, people are ready to travel there, you know, it’s really state to state. So I’ve got 100% occupancy there, like 90 to 100%. It’s very high, because everyone wants to move there or, you know, or, you know, depends on the city. So it’s very interesting. It’s different.

Jae Seok An  15:18  

Right? So, what’s the situation in San Francisco in contrast to for in comparison to Texas?

Becky  15:29  

San Francisco right now is actually 100% occupied, I’ve actually had very long term folks that want to stay there and a lot of travellers want to stay there for business or like for work, you know, the inventory and go other properties are very high. There’s little more restrictions in terms of like how you list specifically in San Francisco with occupancy, tax, you got to list it as a business. So it’s a little bit more challenging, right. But I was kind of grandfathered in and done it for 10 years, that my listing has been UP for 10 years, but so my listing there. The difference is it’s I have someone staying around for the next six months. So I don’t really have to worry about and part of it is because I’m just not a lot of inventory. I have a really good listing and the way I listed it, you know, people kind of scoop it up. I’ve got it scooped up in about a day.

Creating a unique experience for guests

Jae Seok An  16:20  

All right. Yes. Oh, what’s the like unique things about that? The property in San Francisco like, how did you do differently?

Becky  16:30  

Yeah, so I listed… Well, it’s a one bed.. it’s a studio apartment with a Murphy bed and one of the things I listed it was the features of the apartment. So like gingerbread, I listed two things that are unique. I have a hot tub there. Yep, I have bamboo floors and a beautiful kitchen where you right near a farmers market. So I kind of talked about… I give a little glimpse of, of what the user can use the apartment for, right. It’s great location. You’re trying to town you can cook big meals. You know, there’s a it’s beautifully decorated as well in terms of like the furniture in there as well. So what’s unique about that we, we it’s right near Nob Hill. So there’s a lot of history to the building as well. Going the elevator right in there. You have to go into one of those gated elevators. So you pull like a ricochet elevator. Right?

Jae Seok An  17:25  

Okay, like you have to like open the elevator

Becky  17:28  

So I actually show pictures of that look like you’re walking into a building that is like 100 years old, but has modern features in the middle of Nob Hill. So I kind of listed it like that. You know, I have a church like stained glass windows in my apartment, like as one of the door features. And so I show those little things that yeah, I think they really appreciate that. It’s very unique to San Francisco. You know, when they think about San Francisco, they think of those big beautiful houses. So like the gingerbread shells is very unique to San Francisco, I’m 10 minutes away from a lot of different things. So you don’t need a car and you don’t need, you know, you don’t need to use public transportation. I also leave things like little things that make it easy for them to get around. Like I leave them a subway card, road, free subway car, they put money on it, and it’s very convenient by it. So they, they make it easy. I put a little book of history of San Francisco in the house. And so they kind of know what to do. So it’s just little things like that, but I think the key is is you know, great pictures indication of like what benefits are there and you know, and kind of envision what their stay is like already. Does that make sense?

Jae Seok An  18:54  

Yeah, that makes sense. So like you described it really like in details, showed the pictures which They’re like, description as well.

Becky  19:02  

Yeah, you can put a manual together and all my properties, I put a manual in the bottom Where, where, you know, I describe like things. So things to see things off, I do it a little bit further. For example, in DC I have a separate manual for best top 10 Instagram pictures in DC, and I throw it show the pictures and they it’s like a little scavenger hunt. So they get to go do that. And so, you know, I was gonna do that for San Francisco. Just go next, but someone’s staying there.

Jae Seok An  19:31  

Yeah, I think that Instagram is a really good idea. But are there like specific demographics that are more interested in your, like, style? 

Becky  19:44  

I would say yes. So for example, the demographics like in DC is definitely the short term vacationers who want to visit DC. You know, I get a lot of the folks that are here for business short term conferences. We get a lot of that, you know, two, three days stay. In Texas, I would say it’s more people, you know, moving there, like short term stays that are moving. They’re in transition in their house. You know, they’re either transitioning to a city or they’re transitioning in between homes. So I, that’s why my bookings are up a month, two months 100% occupancy, right, but short term. And then San Francisco, I would say, it is definitely more of a long term stay, I would say. And partly because of their strip, you know, it’s just a part of the restrictions to this, the inventory is different. And so I have a lot of folks that are wanting to work there. Find a place so I provide them a you know, I provide him a place to stay for a couple for a couple months and they end up staying almost like a long term lease. I don’t really have to worry about that. Does that make sense? 

Jae Seok An  20:55  

Yeah, that totally makes sense. Yeah. And earlier you’ve mentioned that you are looking for new properties to on Airbnb. And what areas are you looking for? And what kind of criteria do you have?

Becky  21:10  

So my next criteria actually feels like is is I want to do. I think the next big thing for me is doing a even more unique experience like, like a teeny home or tree house. So I’ve been looking at properties that have that, like potential or, or like a place where it’s near certain features or location where people go down there, travel will be a short term stay. Yeah, it’s also a part living in that space like it but it has to be a unique space. It’s not going to be any house that I buy, it’s going to be I might build it or I might come up with a different concept. It’s going to be either a tree house tiny house, with like, with smart home features, like

Jae Seok An  21:58  

I see, are you thinking about any like location, location-wise?

Becky  22:04  

Yeah, I actually have been looking at warmer locations. I’m going to try that next. So I’ve been looking down and I just started so I’ve been looking down and actually like Carolinas Florida that area.

Jae Seok An  22:16  

Yep. Yeah. I see. Yeah, I also wanted to ask you this since you are sharing your leaving space with on Airbnb guest as well. Like, not all the time, but like, 70% of the time. How do you find it?

Becky  22:39  

Um, you know, I didn’t have any expectations as ever, maybe it’s gonna be a little bit, you know, a, you know, an adjustment. But it actually has been such a positive experience. And the reason why is because I’ve met people from all over the world. From like minded travellers. You know, who love You know, the most most of them are foreigners international because I book as an international jungle, I do have a Americans as well but it it has been so positive. I’ve met people from you know, come here for their conferences, I just have very unique jobs, from all walks of life, different age groups, we’ve had meals together in our kitchen, you know, it’s not a requirement, I say that I’m not going to really be here and vice versa, but if it happens to be that way, great. I’ve actually been their Uber before where they’re, you know, where they, you know, didn’t know how to go to the Monument. So I gave him a ride, you know, like things like that experiences. It really has evolved and I didn’t expect anything from it. But the appreciation that I get from just I think that there is a hospitality component of it. You know, it depends on how involved you want to get. But the reviews I’ve gotten have been like ‘Becky’s been the best host I’ve ever had’ or like This and that I think it’s part of the experience. So it really depends, but it’s been extremely positive some of the guests, I still keep in touch with as well. So I hear from them a lot, you know, when we keep in touch on Instagram. But I have had, I have not had any bad experience, if anything, it’s been only positive. You know, and very unique and people that I think the best part is that these people I would never meet in my daily life, you know? Yeah. So I think the most unique person I’ve met was someone who came here to look at who’s coming here for the Smithsonian. Right? And he’s here. He specialises in dinosaur bones, photographing them. You know, he’s like a scientist. So he was coming here to photograph these ancient bones that he had to report back to his nonprofit. So the times that I we spoke, it was about these dinosaur bones that he was looking at, I would never met him on the street.

Jae Seok An  25:00  

Yeah, that’s the kind of experience that you can only get by doing this kind of like, rental house.

Becky  25:07  

Yeah. And I love it. So, you know, it’s it’s you gotta have you have I think it has to be a unique, unique stay.

Jae Seok An  25:19  

Yeah, yeah. So you also told me that you are doing a side business where you help other Airbnb host to have some like unique decorations and items.

Becky  25:36  

Yeah, I have two things that I do to help other Airbnb hosts I, I do I do digital design websites so I actually do a direct booking website for them. If you need it, you know, that’s a supplement to Airbnb. It offers them an ability to control their website, their booking their content and come up with those are the best… The customers that I have are the ones that can’t come up with the content or don’t know how to go about that. And so I, I built this custom based website for them. That is easy. They can do direct billing, direct bookings, all from their phone, his mobile app and also direct, I suppose, do their search, search engine optimization. So it lists them on a high ranking if they do that. The second part I do is, kind of new, is curate my Airbnb, which is really the curating the like the furniture, the pieces in your home, like little things that you can purchase that might make your Airbnb a little bit more, you know, interesting. So that is coming to play. And it’s, it’s funny, it’s a request that I’ve had from some of my customers saying, ‘gosh, Becky, I wish I had your ideas of this’. XYZ or whether it’s furniture or things like that they could purchase it because I purchased it from my website. That makes sense? 

Jae Seok An  27:02  

Yeah, that makes sense. And I’m just curious, like, what kind of tech stack do you use to build a customised website?

Becky  27:11  

I actually use, what do you mean tech stack?

Jae Seok An  27:14  

From hosting to from building like WordPress…?

Becky  27:18  

Yeah, I do. I actually do a couple I can do a Wix, WordPress or I can do you know, there’s so many that you can use a GoDaddy you can do a couple, it just depends. This depends on the customer and how complex they want it right. They want to let you know you can do that on WordPress pretty quickly just depends and it also depends on the on how, how much they want to manage, right or how easy it is to manage. So I try to tailor it towards that.

Jae Seok An  27:48  

Right? So do you also listed your listings on your personal website, private website?

Becky  27:55  

I have only for my DC, I don’t need to do yet for my Texas in San Francisco, so right I but I will. So depending on what happens in the future with Airbnb, I might do that on separately just as a test. I mean you have nothing to lose, right? Yeah, yeah. Nothing to lose.

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