Long before Airbnb appeared on the scene, I had short-term housemates in my Silver Spring, Maryland house just outside Washington D.C. The idea was that a person could rent a cute little room with a shared bathroom for a short-term—two weeks to six months. My home was an easy walk to the Metro. I owe the idea to a scholar friend, who when visiting from out of town pointed out that lots of scholars come to Washington D.C. to do research. How much better to spend grant money on research rather than hotels! I shifted from long-term housemates because I had a partner who had moved in and I realized that it’s not great to live with a couple when you are the third housemate.
Since it was short-term, I was often in the position of interviewing potential housemates. That’s how I developed the model for selecting a housemate that is the core of Sharing Housing 101 and my book “Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates.”
Airbnb was founded the same year I started writing the book. At first, I thought it would be helpful to the movement to share housing. Fourteen years later, I’m very concerned that Airbnb in fact competes with long-term home sharing.
The Airbnb Advantage
For homeowners considering renting out a room or space in their home to make a bit of money, Airbnb makes it pretty easy. The online platform is user friendly on smartphones as well as computers. It is easy to list a space, manage the money, and communicate with potential renters. As a homeowner you can read reviews of potential renters ahead of time. Airbnb ensures that reviews are completed by requiring both homeowner and renter to review the experience. The fact that it’s a short-term stay limits the sense of risk. The person will leave at the end of their stay. These factors make Airbnb quite attractive as a way to earn some extra money with available space.
The Airbnb Disadvantage
Managing an Airbnb rental is a job. The homeowner must clean the room, clean the bathroom, wash the sheets and towels, put out fresh towels, and make the bed. The room has to be ready according to when the renter comes—there is no postponing when the work needs to be done. The guest needs to be greeted—unless the room has a private entrance and that entrance is unlocked.
While the app makes it easy for people to book a rental, the homeowner also needs to respond to queries, give directions, and arrange to be present when the guest arrives. After the guest leaves, each Airbnb host writes a review about the guest. (Airbnb locks the renters review of the room until the owner has submitted a review.) A friend who has an Airbnb room says, “I spend a lot of time messaging.”
The Housemate Advantage
Long-term home sharing has benefits that Airbnb by definition doesn’t have. Housemates can have companionship. How it works out depends on the people but if they like and respect each other it is natural and human to enjoy each others company. Whether it’s chatting, eating a meal, or or otherwise hanging out together it feels good. It’s good to have the spontaneous social connection. We are wired to like it. Living together creates easy companionship.
Help in maintaining a home can range from splitting chores to deliberate agreements to exchange low rent for tasks. Some homeowners are purposeful in wanting specific help—for instance, driving or shopping. And certainly unlike an Airbnb rental, housemates take care of of their own rooms.
Finally, while homeowners might not earn as much as they might with Airbnb, the income is reliable and steady.
The tricky part, of course, is how to find and select a compatible housemate. There’s no one app that does what Airbnb does— the closest is Silvernest. It works for people who are in locations that have enough people in the app to be useful. Nesterly also seeks to connect people. Not online but there are matching services in some parts of the United States. Here is the directory** of where they are.
Most of the time it is best for a person who wants a housemate to do the work themselves! It’s why we have the resources we have on this website to teach the process I developed so many years ago; it is efficient and made me feel safe. It teaches how to pay attention to red flags and where to stop an interview process. Here on the website we offer a Kit and the mini-course Shared Housing 101. Please check them out.
A housemate who becomes a home-mate can make all the difference in the world. A good home-mate brings the comfort of knowing of having someone who would know if we didn’t come home at night.
** I counted 52 programs listed – but I know that one of them no longer exists so I don’t know how current the list is!
Update: In 2023 in southeastern Vermont, we’re piloting a cash incentive program for local homeowners to earn income from sharing their home long-term (not from short stays). Read our post SHIFT – Why It Exists.