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Podcast - Into the Airbnb

Interview with an Airbnb Host from Ludowici, Georgia – S2 EP36

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

In this episode, we welcome Jessica Fontenot-Simms, an Airbnb super host from Ludowici, Georgia, who rents two bedrooms in her primary residence. Today, she’ll tell us about her story and journey on Airbnb and how to make out of short-term rentals a source of passive income.

This episode is sponsored by Airbtics, short-term rental analytics for high return investment, comprehensive data for insights, ideas and inspiration. Go to app.airbnb.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 36:
$20K Passive gross income in 2021 renting 2 bedrooms in her Primary House
aribnb hosting tips ludowici

You can also listen to this Into The Airbnb Podcast Episode on Otter.

Delia:

So can you tell me how did you get started with Airbnb and short-term rentals?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

So my husband is active duty in the army and we used to live on Post and we obviously couldn’t do Airbnb there. I also happen to get into an accident in our apartment on Post and the trauma of that, that I just couldn’t stay there. So then we began house hunting and we found our home last year and I just had reconstructive surgery when we moved in. So I knew I’d be out of work for a while and I was also finishing up with my bachelor’s degree. So we decided to utilize the other two bedrooms in our home as a source of additional income and that way, it kind of doubled into me having something productive to do in my spare time. It was it was really fun putting together the rooms and finding little complementary ways, I could enhance them for my guests and stayed in Airbnb ourselves in the past, some that were really lackluster. So I knew that I could offer an affordable accommodating stay that was unmatched when compared to places we’ve stayed in the past. And given our age, we’re both 23 now, but given our age, when we were dating and all of that, we couldn’t stay in hotels because we weren’t old enough, so Airbnb was our go to, if we could find them.

Delia:

So have you been an Airbnb user since the very beginning of it?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

No. So we actually moved into our house a little over a year ago and we’ve been doing Airbnb since then.

Delia:

So around 2021, right?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Well, we moved into our house last year in 2022, early last year. This year is 2022. I’m sorry, 2021, yes!

Delia:

And how has been your hosting experience, purely after the pandemic?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

How has been my hosting experience during the pandemic?

Delia:

Purely after the pandemic. I mean, how was this situation during the pandemic when you started doing hosting?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

I mean, surprisingly, the world didn’t stop, you know, I mean, everyone still had things to do. Everyone still traveled for work. We have a fiber plant down the road and they employ a bunch of interns from a college out of Florida, that’s where quite a few of my guests have come from. Then military families, especially being between that plan and a military installation, they’re going to travel regardless, we’ve had plenty of military members stay here as well waiting for housing. So I mean, we haven’t lost business just because of the pandemic. We’ve just taken extra precautions to make sure the rooms are clean and sanitized and that our guests have, you know, things like hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes if they need them.

Delia:

Okay, that’s great. So it wasn’t that bad when you started hosting, right? It was actually going down, right?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Right. No, not at all. I mean, we made a decent bit of money just passively doing this.

Delia:

Okay, that’s great. And when you both bought the house, were you already thinking of doing Airbnb with it?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

We had actually discussed doing Airbnb before when we were living on base, but like I said, you can’t have a business like that when you’re on Post. So we had discussed it before and it was always kind of like in the back of our heads. if push ever came to shove and we needed extra income we do it. But now it’s kind of just like, we do it passively and it gets us by so.

Delia:

Okay, and if it’s not too personal, can you tell me if it has help you pay, for example, the mortgage of the house you bought?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

So actually, we don’t really rely on Airbnb as a source of income for our mortgage or anything like that because with my husband being in the military, we already get benefits that pay for our mortgage essentially. Like I said, it’s just extra income for us and we just kind of put it up into savings or buy this and that. Now the Airbnb money has, in a way, provided for us to have the nicer things in life. So we’re very fortunate to that fact, but Airbnb does not provide our bills for us.

Delia:

Okay, I understand. And can you tell us a little bit of what are the benefits on mortgage that you have as your husband being in the military, in case other military families are interested in doing Airbnb as well?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Well, other military families know that they get a stipend, if you will, to pay for rent or mortgage wherever they decide to either live on post, rent a house off post or buy a house. We chose to buy a house because typically mortgages are cheaper than rent. Whoever may be listening that’s in the military, is aware of the fact that they get a stipend for their housing. Of course, you know, Airbnb, helps with bills if we need it, but mainly most of our Airbnb money goes into just our savings account or like I said, buying our shed outside or putting a down payment on a new vehicle, it doesn’t really pay for, you know, our utility or gas or water or mortgage.

Delia:

I understand that completely. Thanks for sharing that with us! And can you tell us with the current state of your market, how is your Airbnb business doing?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

You know, in the year that we’ve been doing this, we haven’t had but probably one slow season and that was really strictly our fault anyways, we had blocked out our calendar to allow her family to come stay with us for a couple of weeks to visit because our family start to narrows away and from the time of like, March through September, we’re completely solid booked out. Then we may have one or two slow seasons in between and that may last a month or so. And in that time, we normally we’re not really bothered by it because it’s nice to have the house to ourselves every once in a while and take that little hiatus. But other than that, we typically have guests come and go, especially during the summer months. The plant up the road is hiring for the interns and military families are taking leave or coming in waiting for housing or family members are coming in visiting military members. So we stay pretty solid booked out.

Delia:

Okay, so summer is high season for you, right?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Oh yeah, 100% and then we’re perfect relative distance between Brunswick and the Jekyll Island area and Savannah and the Tybee Island area. So it’s not too far from the tour side of everything to really make a huge difference in our numbers.

Delia:

So you have a good location, then that’s great! And can you tell me during the high season, how many minimum nights do you keep?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

So for the high season, usually, this is the second year in a row that we’ve had our long-term stayers, like I said, like right now, for example, I have a guest, who is interning at that plant. So she is here all summer as a long-term guest. So all of my nights are booked out for the next three months. And the gentleman that’s in the military, he’s actually here on a contract to work on the base as a civilian contractor. So he’s also booked out through September. So all of our minds are absolutely booked.

Delia:

Oh, so you have not, for example, one week minimum staying, like two days, is usually long-term, right?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Not usually, I allow for long-terms, I’ll bet the guests who may acquire to stay long-term and if I’m comfortable with their stay, I’ll allow it. But we do have guests that travel overnight or a week or a little bit longer than that.

Delia:

And so it’s more usual to get short-term stays, right?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

During the slower or off seasons, yes, we get short-term stays.

Delia:

Okay, I see and for example, for the longer stays, what kind of background check do you run on your guests to be comfortable with them for, you know, all these time they’re going to stay at your house with you?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Right. So obviously Airbnb has their own parameters for allowing people to create accounts and that’s, you know, uploading a government issue ID, etc, etc. I particularly that my own guests and just ask, you know what their reasoning for coming into town is, how long they’ll be staying. Usually they’re all pretty responsible. They typically give me straight up answers on what they’re doing here, why they’re coming here, what their workday is going to be like. A lot of my guests aren’t here throughout the day, they’re working all day and then they’re here in the evenings. But if I get, you know, even an ounce of uncomfortableness, I won’t accept it just because, you know, this is my whole my investment if I don’t really find a good reason for you to be here, if you’re already asking for certain amenities or discounts or stuff like that, you’re kind of taken away from the fact that other people realistically should be here.

Delia:

I understand. And with the current Airbnb policy, do you think this is going to be harder to do for you?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

So far from what I’ve heard, with them completely revamping their policies and procedures, it is taking a hit on a lot of hosts. However, I’ve already learned from my mistakes and I’ve had to change my cancellation policy to strict or non refundable and that gives them a discount for their stay and I’m perfectly comfortable with that discount. But I’ve had numerous guests requests to stay and then leading up to that reservation, even just as much as hours before they’re supposed to check in, they’ll cancel and they get all their money back. And that money is not there anymore that you’re relying on or you’re expecting to come in, so I’ve tailored my listing for that reason. So I do have a strict non refundable cancellation policy. However, I understand that there are circumstances that would allow or allow for a refund and I’m understanding of that and I’m more than happy to come to a resolution with any guests that may be having an issue or extenuating circumstances that may or may not be covered by Airbnb.

how much can you make on airbnb

Delia:

Yeah, I understand. And what would be, for example, the reasons for you to accept to do a full refund of the stay or even half of it?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

For example, there was a gentleman who requested, I think it was like a month long stay if I’m not mistaken and he booked it without realizing that the listing was non refundable and he decided that he was going to speak with his superiors to make sure that the contract wasn’t deed viable and that he would be here that day, so he said because he wasn’t exactly sure. He booked that reservation and then realize it was non refundable and he had to cancel it. I did give him probably about 75% of his money back, which it wasn’t, it wasn’t too much and he was happy that I was able to do that and I was more than happy to do that for him. But when you’re expecting money to come in and you’ve had those days blocked for X amount of days, you could have booked them within that time. And, you know, like I said, I’ve had people cancel last minute and it’s unfortunate because you’re expecting that money, not that you’re necessarily relying on that money, but you’re running a business. There’s been other times too where, you know, I’ve got a guest that had to leave suddenly or had to cancel because a contract cancellation or work cancellation that I would be more than happy to refund them based on the dates that get rebooked and I did that quite a few times for guests as well.

Delia:

Now, I would like to ask you of your open calendar days, how much would be your occupancy rate during, you know, the lower season and the high season as well?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

So percentage was, during our high season, our occupancy rate is 100% without a doubt. But in the slow seasons, we may typically have at least one room booked out and whether that’s lodging overnight for a few days or just for a week or two for family that’s just visiting or individuals passing through. Then again, you know, we may cancel or we may block out the dates for a week or two for family to come in or visit. But you know, the additional income pales in comparison to just a couple of weeks of downtime with your loved ones. So that’s the great thing about this industry is that there are no commitments to each particular dish. You’re not dealing with a roommate, it’s strictly business, you can block dates, take a hiatus, have some extra spending money and everything’s still okay. It’s a fantastic source of passive income, if you don’t mind doing what we do, I’m sharing.

Delia:

If you don’t mind talking about numbers, can I now, how much would be your revenue? It can be either monthly or annual, whatever you want to talk about.

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

For example, because I changed my rates often, just when I noticed that, obviously, supply and demand, right? So if you know that you’re picking up on the summer season, you’re gonna raise your rates a little bit, you know, that slower seasons coming, you’re gonna drop your rates a little bit. For special circumstances, especially for military members, I really try to utilize a military discount because, you know, we’re a military family, ourselves. And for, you know, health care workers and people of that nature, you know, cops, military members, nurses, I try to provide discounts and I really don’t tell them that I’m providing a discount, but I’ll kind of adjust their nightly rate, so that they save a little extra money. So it wouldn’t really be accurate to tell you how much I make monthly because I do change my rates every now and then. But just a really rough, gross income of last year, for example, we made almost $20,000 and that was just like I said, passively.

Delia:

Passive income during, you know, whole year, right?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Right, that was about what we made last year.

Delia:

Okay, those are good numbers, to be honest. And what about your expenses? What kind of expenses do you have, you know, like precisely for Airbnb? And how much would them be, you know, yearly?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

You know, I don’t really factor in expenses necessarily, just really for the simple fact that, for example, last year, Airbnb didn’t have, from what I could tell a security deposit option. Now Airbnb implement security deposits, which is great, great, great tool, getting money from a guest that you don’t technically receive, but if anything, were to happen, damages, anything of that nature, you are able to delve into that money to replenish whatever was lost. I don’t have a budget for like detergent, you know, toilet paper or anything like that. That’s just neither I don’t own multiple Airbnbs where I have to budget my monthly expenses. I just kind of roll with it. So.

Delia:

Yeah, I can really understand. And can you talk a little bit about your experience as homesharing host? How is your experience with homeshare? How do you deal with it? Have you had any problem? Or anything you can really tell us like generally.

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

So I wasn’t going to talk about this, but I’ll go ahead and say my piece about it and it’ll be very controversial and that’s okay because at the end of the day, this is my home, this is my investment. We don’t plan on staying here forever and I want to be able to sell our house and we move back to where we originated from. We have to take into consideration the fact that my husband is in military, at any given point in time, he could leave me for nine months or two weeks, I’m also disabled, I’m pregnant, I’m a female and I’m allowing strangers into my home. So we do have security cameras set up outside the premises of the doorbell and two in our living room. Well, one in our living room and one of the kitchen and it’s very, very controversial. But at the end of the day, those cameras protect me from liability, protects my guests in case anything were to happen and at the end of the day, they have saved me on many occasions. We had a guest, for example, said that they tripped in the, I think they said something about tripping over a chair in the dining area and you know, the cameras, they didn’t catch anyone tripping. I’ve also had a few guests trip over certain stuff in the living room, like a dog bed and tried to get a full refund for it and it’s just like, the cameras caught you not paying attention and you’re trying to you know, get a full refund because of your ignorance. So, as controversial as it may be, my cameras serve a purpose. I’m not sitting there watching my guests all day. I don’t have time to do that. I’m here most of the time, so I don’t need to watch my guests and it’s just a little ridiculous and redundant to have to say that everywhere you go publicly, you’re videotaped, you’re monitored. Even if you go to a hotel, you’re monitored. And it’s important for hosts to know that they should be allowed to protect their investment. These cameras, like I said, have caught numerous instances in favor of me. Just like, I’m sure there’s a bunch of hosts that may have situations where guests won’t leave. We’ve had a few guests, who lately told us to house the next guests coming in after them in another room that was already booked and, you know, we wouldn’t have known that they were still here had we not had those security cameras up. So they do help no matter what other people might think.

Delia:

Yeah, I understand why he’s controversial, but I also can fully understand why you have them. Like I can comprehend 100%. So guests usually agree with these, right? When they book your place, right?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Oh, yeah and you know, I’ve never had a single complaint from any guest. Honestly, I don’t even think that they really care that they’re there, they don’t acknowledge them at all, really because I mean, it’s not like they’re right in your face or they make any sort of noises or anything like that, you know, they’re in the corner, you don’t really see them, they’re kind of out of the way, out of your mind. I mean, you know, you don’t really have time to sit there and watch what people are walking around your house doing. When you get a suddenly notifications of movement a day, you’re not, you’re not sitting there watching it, you just want the notifications to stop, really. But I just think it’s a little comical that the argument is perceived by stalkerish or stalking your guests is kind of weird.

Delia:

Yeah, it’s kind of weird, but I can see why people would think about it. Not every host is, you know, in your position in there are some hosts that like use the cameras to do, you know, not weird stuff, but definitely would check a lot more on their guests, right?

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

100% and it’s really, really weird. I don’t even think even as much as I agree with my house having cameras, I know that I wouldn’t want to be watched or perceived as me being watched in another Airbnb. But when you’re home sharing and I’ll say this, if I had a house that, you know, we didn’t live in, I’d probably put up, you know, outdoor cameras and stuff, but I don’t think I’d worry too much about putting cameras in the house. But since I live here, since we live here, this is our home. It’s really just a matter of liability and protection for us.

Delia:

Yeah, I fully understand and thank you a lot for talking about this. So we’re running out of time. So lastly, I would like to ask you about the challenges that you have encountered as an Airbnb host and also for you to share some tips if you have any of them, for other people who might be interested in running home sharing listings.

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Sure, yeah, the biggest challenge for me that, I’ve come in contact with the very, very few people that you can just never really please no matter how affordable your unit is, no matter how many small sentimental touches you add, no matter how nice the conversations are, no matter how accommodating you can be, there will always be those that you just can’t satisfy and that’s okay. We’re, you know, we’re all in the hospitality business here and that’s one of the negative consequences. But it’s really important for other hosts to know that it’s your business, your investment, your home, your rules. I encourage all hosts to stick to their rules. It’s always great to offer a little discount here and there be nice and many people taking advantage of those acts of kindness ended up being some of the worst type of guests, destroying comforters, asking for a refund because the temperature isn’t just to their specifications or, you know, just outright lying about you and your listing and you have to be prepared to combat those kinds of individuals. So those have been some of the most negative experiences, but they’re very few and far between. We don’t deal with those very often. Then tips, most seasoned hosts know that they’ve had to adapt our listing to reflect challenges that they’ve come across in the past, things like adding new rules, discontinuing old rules, improving your rooms for the guests, changing old habits like using white towels to finding something more stain resistant or easier to clean. One of the things that I’ve adapted that’s been my favorite so far is changing our lock system at our front door. We’ve integrated from having to give out individual keystore to ouy guests and having them lose them all the time to investing in one of the Schlage encode locks. So I can put up to 80 combinations in there, I can have it on a schedule, you know, it gets deleted after the guest leaves automatically, I don’t have to worry about it. It’s done and over with. It’s really important for hosts to be able to run their business smoother and save as much money as possible even if you’re operating only one Airbnb, rising inflation costs are hitting everyone right now. Many seasoned hosts typically run more than one Airbnb will tell you that that’s just the cost of business, just move on and forget about it, but running one will have you protecting your investment a lot more closely. And other hosts do typically make enough money to just chalk it up to a loss tower or ruin parachutes and just go out and buy more. But there’s nothing wrong with starting an air cover request, replace lost merchandise that came out of your own pocket or, like I mentioned before, accepting a security deposit for instances as such and you know, things happening in your house is going to happen, but you can be prepared for it and you can replenish those things and fix those things and it’s all materialistic, but if you can help run your business smoother and run it more efficiently and more cost efficient, you got to get thing going, passively, at least.

Delia:

Yes I fully understand and that is a great tip and it’s the first time hearing about it in all of my interviews. Yeah, it’s my first time hearing about it, so it’s great that you’ve talked about it. So thank you a lot for your time and for your tips. Thank you for sharing your story with us! And yeah, that’d be it for today.

Jessica Fontenot-Simms:

Okay, thank you so much for having me!

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