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Podcast - Into the Airbnb

Into the Airbnb EP 14: Successful long-short rentals in Savannah, GA

Welcome back to another episode of ‘Into the Airbnb’. Today’s guest is Julie from Savannah, Georgia State. It’s a coastal city on the ocean between Florida and South Carolina. She currently runs 19 Airbnb listings, a mixture of mid-term rental, corporate rental and short-term rentals, but all on the Airbnb platform. So Julie shares about how she has built a direct booking website without technical knowledge and shares a great tip on how she managed to get plenty of bookings through a direct booking website. This episode is sponsored by Airbtics, a precise Airbnb analytics platform. So if you’re just getting started with Airbnb and want to find out about objective information about occupancy rates and daily rate of your area, this is the app for you.

Summary
Which year did you start running your first Airbnb? 1:03
How many properties are you running? 5:44
What platforms do you use for your rental home listings? 8:41
How do you market your rental home listings? 13:20
How do you decide the themes of your rental homes? 19:07
What are your top challenges in running Airbnb rentals? 23:43

Check out Julie’s personal website: https://sidwashere.com/

Which year did you start running your first Airbnb?

Julie  1:03  

I started in 2017.

Jae Seok An  1:07  

Right. And what was your motivation for starting it?

Julie  1:12  

Well, I wanted to get.. we had some real estate and we wanted to buy long-term rental properties. So we bought two, my husband and I, when I say we, I’m speaking about my husband, we bought two and then we weren’t able to buy anymore, you know, you have to have a down payment. And I said, ‘What can I do?’ And we had, we had what we called our guesthouse on our property. And I, my husband and I just happened to be on a road trip together. And we were listening to a lot of books and podcasts as we drove. It was quite a long drive. And we heard someone speaking about Airbnb and I had heard of it, but I really had never considered it and so I said, ‘hey, what if we start you know, Airbnb out our little guest house and then we’ll use the money to buy more properties’. And so that’s what we did. We said ‘Oh, no one will ever book this house’. You know, this is kind of crazy. But it went really well and we actually loved it. I loved being a host it was like a duck to water as soon as I started, you know, hosting I just I loved it. So that’s how we got started and then I said, ‘Oh, I want to do more of these’. So…

Jae Seok An  2:26  

Okay, so ever since then you bought new properties, just to run on Airbnb?

Julie  2:34  

I did start doing that. Yes, we ended up taking two houses that we already had and making them into Airbnbs, one of them was my guest house. And then the third property that I put on Airbnb, I actually started seeing I had so many people contacting me wanting it for longer stays like travel nurses, and other people moving different things. And because the house was right next to my house we had just never really been super interested in having long-term renters there just because we, you know, enjoy our privacy and we enjoy using the home for family and things like that. So I said, ‘Well hey, I see a need here’. So the next I bought the next rental house that I bought, I actually bought it just specifically for the purpose of longer stays. So we bought it and rehab and I really enjoyed all the process and it’s in Savannah. And the third property I’m speaking about and it’s actually out of the tourist section so you cannot get a short-term rental licence in this area, which I was okay with because I really kind of envisioned the house the whole time as being for more like a corporate rental or like a long-short. So I put it on Airbnb and a few other sites and it has been booked ever since. It’s been a great purchase for us. So I’ve actually kind of spread out I do quite a bit with vacation rentals, but I also have you know for several years now I have several houses that I do as corporate rentals are, I call them a long-short. So it’s a long term, short term stay. So 30 days or more 30 days is the minimum for several of these homes. Um, but I’ve had a lot of people stay two-three months, I actually have a company that has leased one of my homes. They’ve been there over a year and I’m expecting them to be there another six or seven months. And I really enjoy that there’s a need for both. So I really enjoy the furnished rentals.

Jae Seok An  4:27  

Yeah, so you mentioned that you have like long, long-short rental, which is 30 days…

Julie  4:34  

Minimum of 30 days. That’s right.

Jae Seok An  4:36  

30 days. Are they only on Airbnb?

Julie  4:39  

No, I actually I get a lot of direct business. And we have a lot of military here in Savannah. We do some travel nurses as well. And then we actually have a very strong movie industry here at entertainment. Um, the crazy thing is one of my markets is there. A movie studio actually right down the street and so they’re always needing housing. So I actually work with a lot of different industries. I’ve worked very hard to build up these contacts but um, you know, when these guys come to town, they need three or four, seven houses. And so I’m able to provide a lot of that and that’s also helped me get owners to manage for because they like, they like having it furnished and it’s, you know, you better make better money than a long term renter. But also, you know, they’re there for two/three/four months, and then they head on and the property is well cared for and stuff like that. So I actually work with quite a few industries that way as well. But I do put things on Airbnb, and vrbo and my own website, and then I just, I do a lot by hand, I guess.

How many properties are you running?

Jae Seok An  5:44  

Okay, that makes sense. Right. So like, right now, how many properties are you running? And how many of them are you doing the like co-hosting and using either strategy to manage?

Julie  5:59  

Okay, eight are mine that I have purchased, you know as an investment properties and then I have a total I’m gonna say 19 listings so I have, you know, I manage for other people which I really I really enjoy both.

Jae Seok An  6:16  

Right. Yep. And out of those 19 listings, how many of them are minimum 30 days?

Julie  6:26  

That’s a good question. I’m going to say 12.

Jae Seok An  6:31  

Okay, so most of them are actually pretty long term stay.

Julie  6:35  

Yes, I just have seen there’s just been a big need the more. I always short on houses Sometimes though, I will have a couple of vacancies that I hate that. But a lot of times like in the moving season, I’ll have a waiting list. We have a lot of military here as well. And you know, they it’s great because they can stay with us while they wait to move out of town or in town. So yeah, I kind of do both. And then one thing that was kind of neat was, you know, during the whole COVID crisis, they shut down short-term rentals. And I don’t know if you experienced that where you are, but I’m in Georgia and our governor, you know, kind of in late March, she said, ‘No more short term rentals, no more vacation rentals, or whatever, until the end of April’. And so, of course, I was dealing with quite a bit at that time, I was under a lot of stress. And I for some reason, I just never thought about turning off the listings for the vacation rentals. And we got several bookings in Savannah in the Historic District, which is where the tourists go, and of course, the owners were very concerned they didn’t want to get in trouble. And I said, ‘Look, I’m not a quitter’. We need these bookings. We had very low income, little very little income for those vacation rentals, the suburban homes and suburbs did very well but it for the vacation, you know, area of Savannah and so I said, you know ‘There’s a way around this’. So I contacted each guest. And I said, ‘Hello’, you know, ‘we’re so glad you booked with us’, you know, as of course, they all know what’s going on. And so I said, ‘Would it be okay with you if I extend your stay to 30 days at no cost to you?’ And they said, ‘Oh, sure,’ you know, it didn’t hurt them at all. So I just added on the extra days to their stay at zero charge. And then we were technically within the law. And you know, it also saved them on taxes too, because that move them to a longer term stay, but the owners were very happy. They were very happy just to make, you know, those bookings and be able to honour them. So it’s kind of a nice to be able to switch back and forth.

What platforms do you use for your rental home listings?

Jae Seok An  8:41  

Right, right. I see. That’s interesting story. You’ve mentioned earlier that you also have a personal website to get the bookings. So what kind of website is it?

Julie  8:56  

I use a channel manager called Your Porter which is fantastic. I also created the main website that I use, like if someone calls me directly, I send them a link to the house that’s available for longer stays. And so I actually created a website and I manage it myself on through GoDaddy. Are you familiar with GoDaddy? 

Jae Seok An  9:16  

Oh, yeah, that’s the hosting website. 

Julie  9:20  

Right, they did a great job for me. They helped me create it, it really wasn’t that bad. So I created my own website, because I had my home section by areas of Savannah. So I’ll, I’ll say, you know, what kind of area you’re looking for how many bedrooms and then I’ll send them links to each house. But then I can also take direct bookings on my website because of the Your Porter functionality. They, they kind of manage my listings, but they also create as part of the fee. You get a free website where guests can book directly, so it’s been a great – I guess I do both.

Jae Seok An  9:53  

Oh, I see. So you’ve built a website using the Your Porter service. They’ve built a website, like to generate it.

Julie  10:01  

Well, I built a website on GoDaddy originally and then I link when it when I have a button that says book now and you click on that it goes over to the Your Porter website where they can actually pay and book the home. So it’s kind of a hybrid. I don’t know, maybe I do everything the hard way. I’m not really sure. But it works for my system, because like I said, someone don’t like let’s say, the tourist, the bureau will call me and say we’ve got a movie coming. We need four houses. And I will send them links to several links to my website. I’ll say this one’s available. This one’s available. This one’s available, send it to your director. Tell him to pick one and then I’ll get it set up and each page is for a house. I have a page for each house that I manage. And that way they can see the pictures, they can see the price, they can see, you know, everything. So it’s been very helpful to have my own website other than just the Your Porter is just pulled from the Airbnb listings, but that doesn’t exactly, you know, show them everything.

Jae Seok An  11:03  

Yeah, I think that’s a good strategy that you have your own website. And whenever you see one like specific house, you just link it to the Your Porter, those listing website, personalised, direct booking page. 

Julie  11:19  

Exactly. And it’s very much tailored for what I wanted to say versus Airbnb, you’re kind of stuck with their, their setup, which is fine. I mean, you know, but I like, like the Your Porter is just pulling from my Airbnb listing. But when I send them directly to my site, I can show them, you know, everything that I want them to see and it’s organised a little bit better. I just have a lot more control. So…

Jae Seok An  11:43  

Right. And did you have to hire a web developer to build a website on GoDaddy?

Julie  11:49  

I didn’t they, they actually helped me they have templates. And of course, you know, just like everything else. There’s a lot of work in the beginning to set it up. But it really wasn’t that bad I enjoy technology and so they helped me get set up. I think it was maybe $20-25 like it really was not a tonne of money and I’m gonna say maybe I don’t even know what it is a year maybe $150 a year to host my site like it’s really affordable. I have been happy I sound like a GoDaddy salesman, but whenever I get stuck on something, I call them and they help me for free. You know, so I as far as financially I don’t think it’s bad. Is it the most amazing website? No, but it works for my business and I try to you know, tweak it a little bit and I don’t have a lot of fancy stuff on there. I’d like to add like a local Savannah weather thing to it, but I can’t you know, it doesn’t have a tonne of capability, but I’ve been really happy with mostly the price like if I can keep my expenses low, then I can make more money, you know, and I don’t want to work hard to just pay everybody else. So I appreciate GoDaddy and Your Porter as well, I pay $7 per house. So it’s just very affordable. I used to use a much more expensive management, property management. And I’ve been very happy with the switch. I’ve cut my costs by about 60-70% with that.

How do you market your rental home listings?

Jae Seok An  13:20  

Right. And how do you do marketing? How do you find the people to directly book on your website?

Julie  13:29  

You know what, I have really, I have really worked in around town, just kind of getting my name out there. Once I had one house and I started getting calls. And I said, I need a few more houses. So like I said, I built that way. And then I just started it’s a lot of word of mouth. But I did register my business, you know, with the different movie industry sites, there are a few that they use. But yeah, I’ve just kind of, I’ve just learned as I’ve gone, but haven’t been moving people in the travel industry, and then the military, you know, they, once you kind of get your name out, they’ll spread it around. I do have a lot of business cards, I hand those out to anyone that sounds interested, you know, real estate agents, there’s all kinds of different people you can market to. It’s not easy. The easy way, honestly, is putting up that listing on Airbnb and vrbo. And they do bring you people, but I have found it very valuable to also have, you know, people sending me business, and I always meticulously, I send out thank you cards when someone sends me a booking and I’m talking someone that’s gonna stay with me for several months. I’m not talking about a weekend where I’m going to make $80 you know, but like, if someone sends me a family that’s going to book with me for a couple months, I go, I get them an Amazon gift card or I go get them like a $50 gift card to the tanger outlets. We have a lot of outlets. So I have I do feel that that’s important to always write a handwritten note and say, thank you so much, you know for sending these people and that has actually paid off in spades because that person then goes and tell someone else Oh hey, you know You need housing. These guys are she’s great. And you know, I really try to appreciate my referral sources.

Jae Seok An  15:06  

Right? Okay, then, um, how about these? Like, let’s say there is someone who just moved to your town in Savannah. So that person doesn’t know anybody but when that person wants to run Airbnb in your area, and but let’s say how can they get the direct bookings? What would you advise them to do first thing to get started with word of mouth strategy?

Julie  15:35  

One person with one house just new to the area? I would say if I was brand new to the area and I had one house, I would put my house up on the OTAs which is the outside travel agencies. I would put it up on every website. And then I would put my website up in the house and I would ask the guests ‘Hey, next time book with me directly’. Like usually that’s like the quickest way is to say Hey, tell your friends you know, and then you spread it out all like I’m in Savannah, which is a big tourist, you’re in London, you know like you tell all your friends Hey, if you know anybody coming to London, please give them my website I’ll make them a great deal they can stay with me like you have to put in that footwork at the beginning. Sites like Airbnb and vrbo make it actually very easy on us because they do all that work for us. But it really is possible to get direct bookings and people are seeing the value but you do have to kind of put in the footwork upfront but once you get a few people that talk about you and share your spot, you know it does get easier you can also do an Instagram profile and I really have been meaning to do this. But you know, you can do like a wall in the house or something that’s very photographable and put a hashtag your unit. I know a lot of hosts that do that very successfully. And there are a lot of artists that will do some great stuff for you. One of my listings, it’s called Summertime I just had to do I’m big on themes. I did a watermelon theme for this house because it’s an old house and I said, let me take this negative and make it positive. So I’m just gonna really push like how awesome it is to be an old house. So I said, this is gonna be called Summertime. I did an old not a brand new actually a red glider, which is a very old kind of thing. I put a big glider on the porch I put watermelons everywhere, and I hired an artist to do these insane watermelon murals and she really enjoyed it. But I’ve had a lot of feedback from it. And a lot of people have enjoyed the social media aspect of being able to, you know, have this giant slice of watermelon, you know, in their picture. So it’s been there are a lot of different ways you know, to do that you just have to create a little bit of buzz about yourself. But if you love what you’re doing, it’s really easy to talk about it all the time. And I mean, I am always telling people how excited I am about doing stuff, you know, this is crazy. I was working on this house, I call it the Tiny Seahorse. It’s 600 square feet. I was so excited about this house, I could not be quiet about it, blah, blah, blah. I’m in Alabama with my son at a baseball tournament talking about it. And I actually ended up meeting a realtor from my area, and she has sent me so much business and it’s just because I couldn’t stop talking about how excited I was. And she was like, I just I love that you love what you’re doing. And I actually know someone who needs something. And so you know, if you’re excited about it, and you’re passionate about it, which I definitely am, and people pay attention and they really enjoy, you know, staying with someone who’s enjoying what they’re doing. But if you hate hosting, they’re going to know and if you love hosting, they’ll definitely know.

Jae Seok An  18:45  

Right? I see. That’s a good tip that you should really love and enjoy. What you can do as an Airbnb host.

Julie  18:55  

Make it fun, like it should be fun and creative. That’s one thing I love about this space. It’s very creative, I’m able to just kind of go crazy like I have a different theme for every house and I get really excited about it.

How do you decide the themes of your rental homes?

Jae Seok An  19:07  

So you mentioned about watermelon theme. What are those seem like? What’s the theme of the themes? What kind of themes do you have?

Julie  19:13  

No, it’s a very creative process. When I get a house, I pray over that house and I think about that house. And once I figure out my theme, like the Tiny Seahorse I know that sounds ridiculous. We’re on the coast. So everything here is very coastal anyway. But this house again, the negative was the house is 600 square feet. It’s very small. It’s a two bedroom house. The hallway between the kitchen and the living room is 26 inches wide. Okay, this is like if you are a heavy person, you won’t be walking in the house. It’s really small. But I was like how can I take this negative and make it positive so I named it the Tiny Seahorse so I wanted the small the word you know, like a small word of the name so they would know and then I brightened it up with white and then I just threw little seahorses, everywhere. I just think it just turned out really cute. I made it like a beach bungalow theme, if that makes sense because people are used to little beach bungalows being very small and kitschy and so I actually had a really good time with that theme. But every like I said, every house I do, I kind of, I just really submerge myself into it and have a good time. I am definitely not an interior designer or anything but um, I just have a lot of fun with it. I have another house I have. It’s called the Starfish House. That’s probably our best Airbnb that I own. And I mean, it’s like a starfish threw up in there. There are starfish everywhere, but it’s just so beautiful and calm and coastal and, and people really love it. I’m really proud of it.

Jae Seok An  20:42  

Right? Oh, yeah, I can even see that in the starfish house. You have like starfish shapes. Everywhere?

Julie  20:51  

Right. It’s everywhere. It’s awful. But to me, like if you’re staying in an Airbnb, you’re just there for a few nights or a few weeks or a few months. It’s a vacation rental. So it’s tend to be shorter stays. But to me, I want to stay in something that I wouldn’t normally live in like the Summertime with all the watermelons. No one wants to live in a watermelon house forever, but it’s really beautiful and comfortable and unique, you know, for a short term stay. So just like that’s why, you know, no one goes, Oh, I can’t wait to go stay at a motel six. That’s a very basic, you know, inexpensive hotel here. It’s fine to stay in. But you don’t talk about that to your friends that are you don’t take pictures of yourself with their logo. So I want to create an experience where they go, That was really cool. You know, I have a house called Cake. It’s the theme is cake. And there’s cake everywhere. Like I just tried to have fun. Yeah, I was gonna end it let them eat cake, but I ended up just naming a cake and there’s cake and donuts and cupcakes just everywhere. It’s really fun.

Jae Seok An  21:58  

Yeah, I think that’s really inspiring that? Yeah, you make it like, you make a theme. And you actually make it very special because each vacation rental that people want to stay once a year, twice a year.

Julie  22:09  

Exactly, exactly. We want it to be memorable. And I am proud. I’m really proud to say that I think this is the highest compliment. I get a lot of repeat customers, a lot of repeat guests, and that’s such a big deal to me. I know they would not come back and stay with me if they hated it. And I’m really, really proud to say that I’m not trying to brag, but I am really proud to say people I’ve had just in the last couple of months, people going, Oh, it’s booked. I wanted to stay next week. And I’m like, Oh, can you adjust your dates? We’d love to have you. You know, it means a lot to me. It really does.

Jae Seok An  22:45  

Right? Yeah, that explains why you’ve like how you managed to get your website working like direct booking working, because people love it. So they’re going to visit again. They’re going to tell the people and that explains.

Julie  23:01  

That’s true. But you know what word of mouth is huge. Seeing out a house on a website is it’s okay. But when someone tells you they do a good job, you’ll be very happy there. That’s a big deal. You know, that’s really the best form of advertising is that word of mouth. So, and one of the ladies that sends me a lot of the movie people, she told me, she goes, you always get my people taken care of. She said, these other companies that are bigger than you are on my list, and she said, they just kind of act like they don’t care. And she said, Every time you get people what they need, and I that’s why I call you first and I’m like, Thank you like I work very hard for my success, but I am really proud of that. You know, it’s I enjoy it.

What are your top challenges in running Airbnb rentals?

Jae Seok An  23:43  

Right? Yeah. So let’s wrap up with the last question. What are the top challenges about running Airbnb for you?

Julie  23:55  

Top challenges. I’m sorry, I don’t have a quick response. There are always challenges. You know, definitely when things break, it is tough. And it is impossible. I had a water heater stop working, and I can’t make a guy up here today and I want to, but they had to wait a day and I felt terrible. Um, but you know, there’s always stuff definitely comes up even though we try to be perfect, but I am probably an over apologizer and I have really found that if I’m telling them I’m so sorry. You know, I apologise like 28 times, and I do my best and I keep communicating with them. But that’s probably the toughest because I want their state to be perfect and you just can’t always deliver that I mean stuff does happen. And I and I have to say if you don’t mind my throwing in one more story. One of my proudest reviews honestly is the first review I ever got on my Starfish House. We were in the middle of rehabbing it, it was nowhere near ready. It didn’t even have a kitchen sink. And we had a huge hurricane hitting Florida Hurricane Irma. And it was coming right for Tampa. And I said people are going to need this house because people were evacuating like crazy. So I put it on Airbnb the Starfish House my second Airbnb that ever did. And I didn’t put the price for a house. I think I charged maybe $135 a night and this is for a three bedroom home. Right? It was pretty good sized house on five acres. And I said look, it’s not ready. I had mattresses on the floor. I don’t even have beds, okay, I got mattresses. I had one couch. And as people were evacuating Savannah, I was at Home Goods buying sheets like it was kind of crazy, but I just had a feeling someone’s in this house. And I was very upfront with them. It doesn’t have a kitchen sink. I hadn’t had a chance to rip out the bathroom yet. Like it had an old bathroom. I said but there is a washer and dryer there is electricity, there’s running water, there’s beds or sheets, you know. So I had two families in there actually for this hurricane. We lost power. So I ended up with my home and then the two homes nearby which are both there being these I had three or five families, I want to say I was responsible for no electricity. We’re in the middle of a hurricane. We’re kind of on the outer edges of the hurricane. But we got through it. We took generators, we’re taking care of our guests. I mean, we did everything we possibly could. And we got five star reviews for our people. Like I, I was so proud of that, like the guy wrote me just the nicest review and I was like, Oh, my word, the house that didn’t have a kitchen sink. And I got a five star review, but I really did my absolute best for the people. And they knew I was not trying to take their money I just wanted to get keep them safe, you know, for the hurricane and I was I’m just really proud of that. So stuff can happen where you don’t have a kitchen sink and you can still take really great care of people. So you know, just don’t ever give up. Keep being a hustler. I’m a hustler.

Jae Seok An  26:48  

Yeah, that’s nice story. Thanks for sharing.