It’s Thursday morning, and I wake up to find ‘Damilare doing my dishes. It’s only a teapot and a potato peeler, but I practically have to pry the sponge from his hands.
“You’re our guest! You shouldn’t be doing our chores!”
“I don’t mind!” he says. “Thank you for letting us stay with you!”
‘Damilare — that’s short for Oluwadamilare — grew up in Nigeria and now works as a dance instructor in the suburbs of Chicago. His fiancée, Abbie, flew in from Ohio so that they could spend the weekend together in the city; she’s at the kitchen table answering emails and sharing my pot of hibiscus tea. We’re chatting about work, life and love like old friends. A few days ago we didn’t know each other.
Mornings like these are the best thing about being an Airbnb host.
I used the room sharing service for the first time a few years ago when my husband, Max (who was then my boyfriend), decided we should take a last-minute trip to San Francisco. It should be noted that our week-long Californian invasion would begin on Thanksgiving Day. Translation: We would be in San Fran for Black Friday. Our quest to find a hotel room in our price range was laughably unsuccessful, and we considered cancelling the trip. Then I remembered “that Airbnb thing” which Max had mentioned in conversation a few months before.
A few minutes later I had a profile and our search took a miraculous turn. Ryan, a software developer, and his wife were going to North Carolina for Thanksgiving and were renting their entire one-bedroom apartment — just a few blocks from Golden Gate Park — for the bargain price of $35 a night. Needless to say, we had a terrific time and splashed out on a flash wine pairing dinner the night we got engaged.
We’ve been Airbnb hosts for a little more than a year. We rented our studio apartment in rural West Michigan almost as an experiment — “Yeah, right! Like anyone would want to come here!” — with great results. When we were gearing up to move to Chicago this spring, it made sense to look for an apartment with Airbnb in mind.
Our target neighborhoods — Wrigleyville, Lakeview West and Roscoe Village — are popular, and property gets snapped up quickly. Apartments with two bedrooms and two bathrooms kept appearing on our radar (many with exposed brick and hardwood floors, which I’m a complete sucker for). We loved them for the character and the space, but the rent was at the top of our budget. We knew that we’d love to be able to continue hosting on Airbnb. It would be easy way to meet people in a new city, and renting a spare room would make it easier to afford the kind of property we wanted in a desirable neighborhood.
We cleared it with our landlord, and a month after we moved in, our listing went live. The next day we got our first booking. We’ve been booked solid ever since.
Today we’re hosting Keegan, who’s from Iowa, and his friend Stephanie — they’re out exploring the city. When they leave, Clotilde is arriving. She’s French, and she’s spending her first night in America with us en route to her job placement. The next day, Danielle and her 15-year-old son are driving in from South Carolina after delivering some rescued pit bull puppies to their new owners. Lauren and her boyfriend, Chris, are coming at the end of the week; they’re from Arizona, but she’s been in Chicago doing improv comedy for most of the summer. On Saturday, Josh and Alexis are coming to attend a baby shower nearby and wanted a place of their own to stay.
We’ve told our family and friends about what we’re doing, and they have the same basic reaction: “You let strangers stay in your house?!”
Yes. We do, and we love it.
As a host, I get to meet great people from all over the world and help them make the most of their stay. I can easily justify spending money on decorating — “This will make the photos on our listing look amazing!” I gather feedback and think of ways to make the experience better for future guests. I get to write, design, plan and organize. It’s great!
Except when it isn’t.
There’s a ton of tedium involved in hosting. We wash the sheets and towels, vacuum, take out the trash and clean the bathroom after every departure. The common areas have to be kept spic and span or we risk a bad review. We sometimes miss movies and tentative dinner reservations because a guest’s plane is late. We haven’t had the place to ourselves in what seems like forever.
At the end of the day, though, our guests give us perspective. ‘Damilare and Abbie just got engaged, but they’ll spend most of the next two years apart, including their first year of marriage. ‘Damilare accepted a place on a two-year master’s program in Europe, which will affect his Green Card eligibility.
Because they love each other, they’re determined to make it work. When we consider that another couple is facing the hardship of spending the first year of married life on separate continents, we realize that our perceived inconveniences (missing a 7 p.m. showing of The Bling Ring and not being able to walk around in our underwear) aren’t really that big a deal. ‘Damilare and Abbie are just two of the 30 guests (and counting!) we’ve met since we began hosting. Everyone has a unique reason for coming through our door and a story to tell.
We don’t see hosting on Airbnb as letting strangers stay in our house. We see it as welcoming friends we just haven’t yet met.