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Podcast - Into the Airbnb

Interview with an Airbnb Host from Salisbury, North Carolina – S2 EP55

Welcome back to another episode of Into The Airbnb, where we chat with Airbnb hosts about their short-term rental experience.

Our guest for today is Laurie Barwick, who owns and manages two listings in Salisbury, North Carolina. She started by running a wedding venue in her family house premises until she noticed there was a high demand for the big house to be rented as well, that’s when she decided to put it on Airbnb. It has been six years now and she’s doing great by renting both her old family house and doing $65K a year and a cottage on the same land, doing around $20k/year. Join us today to hear more about this amazing host’s story and experience.

This episode is sponsored by Airbtics, short-term rental analytics for high return investments, comprehensive data for insights, ideas, and inspiration. Go to app.airbtics.com to find precise Airbnb data such as occupancy rate, revenue, average daily rate, and so on. So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

Into The Airbnb Podcast S2 EP 55: Airbnb as a side hustle turns into the main business doing $83K with two properties in Salisbury, North Carolina
airbnb revenue hosting in salisbury

Delia:

So can you tell me how did you get started in Airbnb or in short-term rentals?

Laurie Barwick:

Yes, so I kind of came to it, probably a little bit less usual than some. It’s a bit of a long story, but I’ll try to summarize it. We have a property in Salisbury, North Carolina that’s on 130 acres with a historic farmhouse. And it was my parents home and my father passed away, and then my mother got ill. And we were trying as a family to think of ways to keep the property in the family because it was very important to us, but also be able to take care of my mom properly. And so we started trying to figure out what were ways to support the farm and pay the bills. So I came up with the idea, this is about 6-7 years ago, I came up with the idea of a wedding venue. So we started a wedding venue, I knew nothing. I was a speech pathologist and I’ve kind of put that to the side and started researching and learning all about weddings and venues and how they run. And within two years of that we were up and running and paying all the bills, so that was pretty great that it worked so well. But in addition to that all my brides would always say, “Can we please rent the house and stay in it for our wedding with our bridal party or our family?”, so I was like, “Yeah, we could do that”. So I just said to make it easy, I’m going to list it on Airbnb and VRBO to take some of the work out of it on me. So taxes are out and everything’s taken care of. And I listed it and I opened a few extra dates just out of curiosity and all of a sudden we started booking every day that opened and I could not believe it because I was like “Who’s coming to Salisbury, North Carolina and wants this big house?”. My husband, I also have a cottage on the property that we, it’s historic cottage, we had moved on to the property and renovated years ago, 20 years ago. So we started opening that up as well and that doesn’t rent as well because it’s not as big a house, but it rents as well. So we have been very successful and we no longer really doing weddings. We may do one every now and then, but now our bread and butter is the Airbnb, which has been wonderful.

Delia:

Oh I see now, that’s a very interesting story! And by any chance, when you open up the Airbnb, like profile, where you catering to those people who wanted to do both the wedding begging and also stay in your place?

Laurie Barwick:

That’s kind of how it started. But then as I opened more dates other than my wedding dates on the calendar, I would get bookings for other things. People come into town for family reunion, someone wanting a big house so they could have a big family, multigenerational reunion and be all in one place. Then we have a really nice wedding venue down the road, so I had called them and spoken to them and said “We’re doing a lot of Airbnb now and know that if your people can’t stay at your place, please let them know we’re here”, so we host a lot of their people. And they’re are having weddings of that venue, they’ll come and stay at ours. And a lot of times they’ll do like a rehearsal dinner at ours, you know and then have the wedding at the other venue. So that’s worked out really well to just try and make context in town to tell people what we’re doing.

Delia:

Okay, I see about that. And I previously interview people in North Carolina that was like starting an Airbnb, but he also got requests to do big gatherings or weddings even in his like backyard. Do you also get that kind of requests for gatherings and all of that stuff?

Laurie Barwick:

We absolutely do and so what generally happens with that is I’ve just talked to my people because this is a historic house, it’s a family home, so it’s pretty special to us. So we’re kind of careful about all that. But we do charge an event fee and I usually just talk to them about what they have in mind and then we work it out from there. But yeah, we do allow them, we do that, what type of events and how big and that type of thing.

Delia:

I understand now. And can you tell me a little bit about the market you’re currently in, is it like popular with Airbnb, short-term rentals, any kind of rentals, really?

Laurie Barwick:

There are some in our area. It’s not a huge, it’s a small town in North Carolina with about 30,000 people. But it’s very close to Charlotte, which is a big city and Winston Salem, and Greensboro. We’re kind of right in the middle of all that. And our town hosts some pretty neat things. We have a drink culture one that’s very, very popular. It’s a soft drink, and they do a big festival every year for that there. It’s a historic town, so there’s a lot of historic things that happened there. And so we do get draws from that. We also have a couple of colleges in town, so we also have those drawls. But like I said, it can be anything from a girls weekend to a family reunion to Gosh, it’s just been a little bit of everything, it’s been pretty interesting. It’s not been one thing or another. It’s been a multitude of different types of renters. I’ve even had a renter that found us on Airbnb because he likes to try new places, from Pittsburgh of all places, which is very far away and he’s coming again this summer, this will be his second time and he just loved it so much. His family came for a week and they just thought it was the greatest thing. We have an inground pool, so it’s it’s a beautiful property. It’s really spacious and lovely. So they now this will be their second year. I’ve got people that are coming back on their third and fourth visits. So we do have a good bit of repeat business, which is been very nice as well.

Delia:

Oh and why do you think that’s happening to your listing?

Laurie Barwick:

I think because I think we are a little bit less usual than some because you’re coming you’re getting 130 acres to walk around on, you’ve got an in ground pool, you’ve got in the fall beautiful leaves, beautiful land, fireplace in the house, that wood burning, big kitchen, really nice to cook in, lots of space. So I think it’s just appeals to people and it’s just a little bit different. It’s not the beach, it’s not the mountains, it’s like a little farm vacation, but it’s not a working farm, it’s just land, but it’s very pretty. And I think people just enjoy the peace and quiet and being with their people.

Delia:

Okay, that’s really nice! And you told me previously that you get every kind of guest, so if I were to ask you what typical demographic of guests you get, you won’t be able to tell, right?

Laurie Barwick:

Not really, I would say it’s bigger, the house sleeps 10, so it’s usually families or multi generational families or friends, groups of friends that are tend to be a little older, usually, you know, 30 and above, like women who are gotten babies and husbands and want to go away for a weekend, a long weekend and just be together. So it’s a little bit of everything. It really is.

Delia:

I see, so you have hosted every every kind of guest. And have you got any particular like problems or challenges with any guest so far?

Laurie Barwick:

We have had one and I’m very happy to say in six years only one and that was just a very unfortunate event. It was a guy that I had talked to extensively, and I was allowing him to have a moving up party for a group of children and parents during COVID because school wasn’t in and they wanted the kids to have some type of party. We talked extensively. It’s a long story, but they weren’t going to really stay in the house overnight, they just wanted to use it but still pay for overnight and I made some exceptions for him after many, many conversations and it stormed that day, they sent all the children home and the grownups promptly texted every friend they knew and had a giant party in my house, unbeknownst to me until the next day, and they did about $5,000 with damage to the property. Yeah, not to the house per se, I mean some things like stuffed up toilets and that kind of thing, but it’s mostly outdoor, they drove cars on my lawn and you know broke landscape lights and ran over a pipe that drain the well. But Airbnb, I will say we were very prompt and we got our evidence to Airbnb right away. I called them immediately as soon as we knew what happened, took pictures, did everything properly and Airbnb, I think reimbursed us within four days for all but about $150. So we were pretty pleased with that.

Delia:

You deal with that directly through Airbnb?

Laurie Barwick:

I did. Yes. Through their resolution center.

Delia:

Okay, so that help you a lot, right? You didn’t have any kind of inconvenience with the Airbnb team?

Laurie Barwick:

No, not at all. They were actually very helpful. I mean, they are pretty thorough about what they want from you as far as receipts and pictures and proof. But I can’t blame them for that because you can’t just reimburse people for just what they say you have to show them what it was. So I thought they were really reasonable and very helpful to me.

Delia:

How did they feel with the guest? Do you have no idea if they by any chance canceled him?

Laurie Barwick:

I feel that blocked him. I don’t know, but I feel sure they blocked him. I can’t imagine for a second that, you know, they’ve let him stay on the platform at least and I certainly gave him a review that wasn’t five stars.

Delia:

Yeah, I get it. I completely get it. And when that happened to you, how did you feel? Did you feel like you might have to leave Airbnb like, it was really emotionally, did it break you?

Laurie Barwick:

It didn’t break me, it was just really, really disappointing, especially because I’ve had so many conversations with this guest and had been so explicit in what we allowed and didn’t allow. So that was very disheartening. Yeah, it stung for a little while, but it made me a better host because of that a little bit harder, when I have a feeling maybe something maybe lurking in the request, so I tend to bet a little bit harder, you know, I have a caretaker that goes to the property quite often because of the pool. So he’s always on the lookout as well, he doesn’t invade property, he stays away from them. He just goes and treats the bowl and cleans it. But you know, it’s nice to have eyes on the property occasionally, but ever all, I would say it has not changed my perspective because I think bad things happen and luckily, it’s, knock on wood, that’s hopefully going to be our worst story.

Delia:

What do you feel that you learn from this experience?

Laurie Barwick:

Just like I said, to be a little more careful about the questions you ask to groups wanting to come in and use the property and making it very clear to them, they’re not allowed to have a big party and you know, all those things, and that there will be consequences, like fines. So I’m just more explicit now. I think my house rules are more organized and straightforward, so they’re easy to understand. Just things like that.

Delia:

Yeah, I completely get it. So that’s the lesson you learned from that. I think you were doing like really great when it comes to your Airbnb, just like this things can happen like you just said, right?

Laurie Barwick:

Right. We can’t control everything in this industry. So I just chalked it up to experience and I’m a kind of a fast learner. If something happens, I’ve learned from that and I move on. I don’t dwell. So I kind of just keep going.

Delia:

Okay, yeah, that’s pretty good for the industry you’re in because sometimes you hear stories about Airbnb hosts that went through the same thing as you but were like completely destroyed, didn’t want to make Airbnb again in their lives. And I completely get it from their side as well, you know, but there are things like you can’t help in this business.

Laurie Barwick:

Right, really. Exactly.

Delia:

Well, now I’d like to move on towards the numbers you’re making if you don’t mind sharing that with us. Would you mind sharing about how much is your monthly and annual revenue since you’ve been already doing that for a whole year or more, right?

Laurie Barwick:

Six years.

Delia:

Six years now? That’s great. Can you tell me a little bit about the revenue you’ve been perceiving through Airbnb?

Laurie Barwick:

Yeah, I think monthly, it depends on the month. So our high season is generally April through October. And then pretty quiet usually, we a lot of times we rent the house out over Thanksgiving to a family like an extended family. Sometimes we’ll rent after Christmas, but not often. And then it’s pretty quiet again until April, we’ll have a few here and there. And then once we get into May-June, we start getting back to back bookings pretty much through August and then we’ll get several in September and several in October. Monthly, it depends, but I will tell you our gross revenue last year was $65K, so we were pretty pleased with that and that’s just one house. So the cottage rent separately from the main house and it is significantly less because we rent it a good bit less.

Delia:

Do you know why do you rent it a little bit less? It’s just people not looking for that kind of small place?

Laurie Barwick:

I think the appeal to in our house is having that big house with lots of space to spread out in and the cottage is wonderful, but it’s more of a small house. And it’s one-bathroom, it’s charming and pretty, but it’s not on the big expanse of land, sitting up on a hill like the other house. What happens a lot of times people will rent the main house and have more family or friends and then will rent the cottage as well. So that’s when we tend to rent more when a really bigger group wants to have both houses.

Delia:

And how many people do the cottage sleeps?

Laurie Barwick:

It sleeps eight and the main house sleeps ten. But the cottage is just, it’s very quiet and sweet with one bathroom.

how much can you make on airbnb

Delia:

Okay, yeah, I get. It still sleeps many people! And can you please tell me how much yearly revenue you do with that one cottage in comparison with the bigger listing?

Laurie Barwick:

You know, that’s a good question. I haven’t looked at it recently, I would guesstimate $20K or a little less possibly.

Delia:

Per year?

Laurie Barwick:

Yes.

Delia:

Okay. And most of those are like the ones you told me like, they come in like, really, really big groups of people and they just have to rent both of them?

Laurie Barwick:

Right. And I will say, sometimes we’ll get like a small family with two small children. They will rent the cottage because they don’t need all the space at the main house, so that does happen. But it’s just probably 50/50 that type thing versus also renting in addition to the main house.

Delia:

Yeah, that’s right! And about the revenue you’re getting involved, you told me $65K in the bigger one and $20K in the cottage, were those the amounts that you were expecting to do with this rentals?

Laurie Barwick:

It’s interesting because when we started six years ago, I never thought in a million years, we would get to this ever. Because our family still uses the property as well, so we don’t have dates open 24/7 because sometimes family wants to use it because it’s also a vacation home for us. But had no idea we would do this well and it’s been really nice, because it really does. It’s a big piece of property with a lot of upkeep and the house is an older historic home, which you know, there’s a lot of upkeep. So we’re been able to do that and keep it in tip top shape, which has been nice.

Delia:

Yeah, that’s really nice. And when you started six years back, would you were like, you just started with Airbnb because you thought it will be convenient for the wedding venue thing? Or do you also get to make market research to see how the property would do on Airbnb?

Laurie Barwick:

No, back then. Honestly, I was such a newbie, I didn’t know even how to go about that other than looking on Airbnb and VRBO to say what else is in my area? And what is their pricing? You know, I did that kind of research. But I certainly didn’t do it because I thought we were going to, you know, do this well. I did it originally as a convenience for the weddings so that people could rent. And it would be easier on me to rent it that way than having to go directly through me and file taxes and hospitality tax and all that.

Delia:

Yeah, yeah, I completely get it. When you started, were you pricing your listings competitively against other similar rentals near your area or in your area?

Laurie Barwick:

So yeah. So what I did was, I would look at the thing that would be the most comparable, which there were hardly any that were comparable, because we are very different from most and I priced above, I was probably the most expensive in the area. But I decided it was worth it because of the type of property it is and the amenities that had which were bigger and better than anything else I’ve seen in the area and that’s formula has seemed to work well for us.

Delia:

Okay, yeah, I completely get it. Now you’re keeping that same formula?

Laurie Barwick:

We still, I mean, I have noticed it’s been interesting to watch, I’ve noticed some of the Airbnbs have gotten more expensive near me and I don’t know if they saw my pricing and started to up theirs. But yeah, so they have come up in some of their pricing, but I still think we’re near the top. But like I said, it’s a very unusual property comparatively to anything else around me, so.

Delia:

Yeah, I see now, I completely understand. And still you being like the highest end property in your area, people still choose you because you have these really unique things to offer, like the size of the listing and the pool you told me about, the fact that the area is really, really big.

Laurie Barwick:

Yes. I think that’s it and I do think that I really enjoy the hospitality industry, enjoy people and I really get a lot of satisfaction out of them enjoying our place and loving it and feeling like I was helpful to them. So I think a lot of times, I put a lot of extra effort into being a really good host about answering questions, telling them where to go eat dinner, where they can get a caterer, you know, all those kinds of things. And you know, I’ve even helped somebody who’s also repeat, this is probably their third year, they come every year to celebrate their daughter’s birthday and the first year, they want to know if I knew anybody who had pony rods nearby and I helped connect her up with someone that would bring a pony on to the property and let them do little pony rides for their nieces and nephews and daughter, so that was fun. So I tend to try to go out of my way to be helpful to my guests and I think they do appreciate that.

Delia:

Yeah, I also would agree with that because when a host is like communicative and also is able to help a guest in their needs, despite it not being like the main thing they have to do is like real nice that people can potentially get back to you and people tend to also enjoy the stay because you are doing those extra things for them.

Laurie Barwick:

I agree. Yeah, I agree. I agree. And I tend to get reviews, saying things like that, which I really appreciate. And then that makes me feel happy that I hosted that way because I felt like they had a good experience.

Delia:

Yeah, also, I’ve seen that this whole industry seems to work more for people who do really enjoy hospitality, rather than the people that choose to do it as purely as business.

Laurie Barwick:

I agree. Yeah, I think it’s really important to keep your professionalism, but also treat people like you would like to be treated, if you’re staying somewhere. That’s how I try to anticipate needs, as far as the comfort level of the house and the amenities we provide in the house and then also try to bring the friendliness and the “How can I help us? Do you have any questions?”, you know, to it. And I think if you treat people with that kind of respect and kindness, generally, not always, you will get that back or that’s hopefully the thought, right?

Delia:

Yeah, that’s right. And have you got any experience with guests who didn’t like when you were really friendly and approaching with them?

Laurie Barwick:

Yeah, I don’t really feel like I’ve had any negativity from it, maybe not quite as reciprocal or as communicative, which is fine too because everyone’s different and maybe they don’t want to chat. I don’t bother them, but I usually text them after check in the next day and say, “I hope you settled in and you have everything you need. Let me know if I can answer any questions”, you know, just that general stuff. If they don’t ask anything else, then I tend to leave them alone, so they can enjoy the vacation.

Delia:

Yeah, that’s right, as well. So all these revenue you make with the house, does that help you with, you know, your own living costs? Or do you purely invest that in your Airbnb, like in your business growth again?

Laurie Barwick:

I pay myself a little. But primarily, it goes back into our property because it is family owned and as I said, the whole purpose originally was to make this not a family burden financially, and to keep it in our family for generations and that seems to be working at the moment. So it does, a lot does go back into it, but I do get paid a percentage.

Delia:

Okay, yeah, that’s really nice though. And one thing that I’d like you to tell me about is if there has been any particular challenges that you have encountered as an Airbnb host, maybe with the Airbnb platform, maybe with your guests?

Laurie Barwick:

Yeah, so pretty much, I would say the most challenging aspects for me, and I’m sure this is probably for a lot of hosts is when something goes wrong that’s out of your control. For instance, the power went out, well, we have a well system. So when our power goes out, not only do they lose electricity, they also lose water because the pump can’t work. So that’s been challenging at times. And of course, you’re scrambling trying to make it okay, and you’re, you know, in touch with the guests, and you’re in touch with the electric company, and you’re trying to do what you can, but some things are just what they are. I have had really lovely guests that have been pretty darn nice about the things that have happened, they’ve been understanding, I’m sure they were inconvenienced and a little disappointed at times. But those are the stressful times is when something like that happens or we had last summer for whatever reason we had torrential rains for like 10 days straight, and our pool balance got out of, the chemicals got off balance, and the pool was a mess and we were working day and night trying to correct it and we had guests there with children who wanted to swim. So that was heartbreaking to me and I offered them a refund, not for the whole place but partial refund. I’ve offered several different things which they were very candid did not pick me up on it, but they were just, you know, I tried to make it as right as I could under the circumstances. But those things are few and far between luckily.

Delia:

I understand the things that frustrate us the most sometimes are the things that we can’t control. And luckily your guests have been very comprehensive with that because there are some guests that might not be.

Laurie Barwick:

Right. I’m very fortunate, I really feel overall that I’ve had some really pretty awesome guests. So I do appreciate that.

Delia:

Yeah, that’s right. And now I just realized that I didn’t ask you about this, how do you typically screen your guests so you can ensure that they are the right demographic and also the right type of guests you’re planning to get?

Laurie Barwick:

A generally you know, if they just say is your home available or I’d like to stay there I usually at before accept or decline,I just ask more questions. I say “What brings you to the area? Who will be traveling with you?”. I ask some questions and most people give more information but the ones who don’t give me a whole lot, I generally get a feel for and usually, I’ve had pretty honest guests that will say, “We’re attending the festival and such and such and we’re bringing friends” and then I’ll say, “Well, you understand, we have a strict no party rule in our property. Please understand that before you proceed with booking”, and then they a lot of times will go away, which is fine because they realize, “Oh, she’s not going to allow that. So this probably isn’t the right place for us”. So I just tend to ask questions and make sure that I’m comfortable with who they are. And I like to see that they have some reviews obviously, that helps me know that they’ve traveled and used Airbnb, and they’ve had been reviewed by other folks.

Delia:

And do you at any, like point of their stay? Do you get to meet them?

Laurie Barwick:

So generally, I do not. I do not live in town. But I have a wonderful, wonderful person that is my cleaning person that kind of preps the house, and does check out for me, and then I have a caretaker. So between the two of them, generally, my caretaker meets them at some point because he’s there to take care of the property. He does a lot of mowing and cleaning up, if there’s a storm, and he’s always working on the pool, so he generally meets folks. And I always tell them ahead of time that “This is his name. This is the kind of truck he drives, he won’t be there a lot. He won’t disturb you, but just know he’s there to do this or that” and everyone’s been pretty good with all that. So.

Delia:

Okay, that’s pretty amazing then. And lastly, I’d like to make you one last question, is there any particular tips that you’d like to give out for other Airbnb hosts?

Laurie Barwick:

Yes. I think the most important things are anticipate your guests needs. Make it a stay, like you would like to receive. Make your place comfortable like you would be if you were staying in someone’s home. Be kind, be courteous, be professional, even when your guests is not professional and they’re not kind, don’t stoop to that level. Always keep your head above water as far as being professional with them. That doesn’t mean cave in. But it just means handle it as diplomatically as you can if problems arise because I think that will go a long way for your reputation and your property if you handle things always positively and professionally.

Delia:

Right. I completely agree with that. Those were really amazing things. So that would be it for today. Thank you a lot for your time, for the story you shared with us and also for the tips. It has been really amazing to hear about your story and your journey!}

Laurie Barwick:

Thanks for interviewing me, I appreciate it.

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