HOUSING SERIES: To AirBnB, or not to AirBnB?

In Magazine by Genevieve Joëlle VillamizarLeave a Comment

When you got it goin’ on, why not share? Photo, Tommy Sands

Mention AirBnB and stand back: Will listeners light up and share experiences, or rupture in wrath, frustrated with the impacts AirBnB might have on neighbor relations and rental markets?

It’s so easy to judge.

MaryAnn and Tommy Sands made the decision to go the AirBnB route last year. They own a three bedroom townhome near Bert & Ernie Park. It’s a tight ‘hood, in terms of good neighbors and square footage.

Everyone knows each other. They’ve watched each other’s marriages evolve or dissolve, kids go from single digits to teen years, to fledging the nest. They share dinners, garden plants, housesitting and landscape tasks, helping each other along in life. Parking is unusually tight, as a contained development with only 3-4 free spots. And yet, it’s a harmonious community.

In this September installation of the Housing Series, Bonedale | Amplified Magazine asks, Why rock that freaking boat?

B|AM: You both invest inordinate craftsmanship, skill, and intention into your abode. It’s quite a sanctuary to you. What made you open your private home to AirBnB?

MaryAnn: At the time we were both out on disability; Tommy permanently, and me for neck surgery. So, financially, it was necessary. Then there’s the fact that we live in an amazing place with a Sunset Magazine backyard and friends and family that don’t visit. Which is crazy!!!!

I think we thought about either getting a roommate or doing an AirBnB for more than a year and weighed the pros and cons of each.   If we could have found someone we knew and liked,  we would have done the roommate thing.  Somehow opening up our home permanently to someone who might not be the perfect fit didn’t sit well with us.  Where having a revolving door of strangers did??????  What???

Ever the host and livin’ in service, world traveler MaryAnn Sands enjoys downtime between AirBnB-ing and her lifelong career as a flight attendant~

B|AM: I know you love art, style, interiors, thrifting. What was your process for developing these spaces for people to feel welcome in a still-private home?

MaryAnn: It did take about 8 months of moving things or purging things we no longer needed or used in order to start out with a fresh canvas. Tommy handled repainting, updating lighting,  adding wood blinds for a warm feel to each of the rooms. Somehow it all came together even better than we had imagined– finding treasures at The Restore and thrift shops, on Roaring Fork Swap, along with pieces that I have found in my travels. I’m a girl that is always in search of a bargain!

B|AM: The cleaning part must be intense, constantly flipping rooms?

MaryAnn: When I first moved to Carbondale, I cleaned homes in Aspen for about 8 years. That taught me so much about what was expected of me if we were going to do this.  I’m also a flight attendant, so I’ve seen a few hotel rooms and know what I expect. One of our guests described our place as “sparkling clean,” so we make that our standard, and then add in extra comforts. Linens have to to be high-quality cotton with down comforters and lots of down pillows because you can’t have too many pillows! We provide cotton robes and towels for our guests that they can use either here or at any of the local hot springs. We also provide bottled water, chocolates by the bed, and a lint roller in case someone gets cat hair on them.

B|AM: AirBnB disgruntles some, namely renters or neighbors. What were your conversations with each other around this? How has it been for your direct neighbors– that you know of, anyway?

MaryAnn: We’re owner-occupied, so neighbors don’t have to worry about the revolving door of guests coming and going.  Our neighbors have been very receptive to us hosting for AirBnB– in fact, when we were brand new to AirBnB, we had a couple occasions of double booking.  Not sure what happened, but it happened twice.   AirBnB corrected the first one with time for the guests to rebook.  The second and last time it happened, however, it was New Year’s Eve. There were no rooms to be had– either at a hotel or AirBnB.   Our neighbors stepped up and offered space for our second guests. Our guests were dumbfounded! Being that it happened once, we had discussed a second occurrence with these neighbors, offhandedly– we didn’t think it would really happen! We still wonder what our review might’ve been if they were actually booked through Airbnb. Never heard from them again, but they have a crazy story to tell over their last New Year’s Eve!

B|AM: Even on holidays! What’s it like having strangers in your personal space?

MaryAnn: They are only strangers until we meet them.

When we were first starting the AirBnB it was awkward, but never uncomfortable. We have guests that have said the same thing. Never having rented rooms from AirBnB before, they also initially felt awkward. I think, though, from our reviews, we have made them all feel welcome. [Editor’s note: they’ve earned five stars, consistently~]

The story of MaryAnn and Tommy Sands’ home is one of agility and adaption – just as in life.

B|AM: How does this mesh with your day to day work lives? Time, energy?

MaryAnn: As I mentioned, I’m a flight attendant and have been for 29 years.  The first 20 with Northwest Airlines, then Delta, after the merger.  My job not only requires me to travel, but I have to travel just to get to work. Detroit is my base, so on my own time, I need to get myself to and fro.  ‘World traveler’ and meeting people has been my thing for almost three decades. It’s now fun staying home and meeting people from potentially all over the world. I am often gone more than I’m home, which leaves everything for Tommy to do– if you ask him what has changed most since becoming hosts, he would say it has turned us into maids. We might be maids, but we’ve got it down to a science– ample linens and supplies make it a lot easier.

Tommy worked for UPS for 12 years up until Christmas Eve of 2012 when he was hurt on the job. He’s been an UBER/Lyft driver for the last 2 1/2 years, giving people rides from Aspen to Denver.  He’s given many rides to DIA and Walker Field in Grand Junction, including several during the Lake Christine Fire when Aspen Airport was closed. If an AirBnB guest needs a ride somewhere, he’s almost always available. So yes, job and life experience plays a part. Customer service is key– reliability, dependability, flexibility.

B|AM: Have guests added to your lives in any way?

MaryAnn: It’s always fun interacting with guests.  Sometimes people just need a nice clean room and a shower for a night and don’t need to be entertained by a host.   Other times we have invited our guests to share cocktails/ dinner with us. Or while discussing where they should go on a hike, we all decide to go together.

Our guests are able to self-check-in, so we don’t need to be home.  Also, they can check in on the same day, from 1 – 10 PM.

We want the experience to be positive for all our guests.  Warm inviting rooms and bathroom that are sparkling clean.  Nothing less.  We invite our guests to share our space.  All living space–  including kitchen, laundry, living room, and backyard.

Oh, and if you play ping-pong? This is definitely the place to stay~

From housemate to life mate, cheers to a bonafide Vegas wedding~

It’s easy to leap to conclusions, especially with AirBnB amid a universal housing crunch. A little bit of backstory can often help us understand the motivations of others.

The unexpected realities of divorce and paying a mortgage alone nearly cost MaryAnn her home in 2005– untenable. She’s fiercely independent and graciously responsible. She knew immediately she would rent a room to hang on– but not to just anyone, especially in a Peter Pan mountain town. She put an ad in the paper, biding her time until a mature, responsible, likable adult showed up. Enter Tommy. For him, it was love at first site. For her, it was about keeping her house. Over the next six months, as MaryAnn flew military charters around the world, phone calls checking in on the house turned into actual conversations, until it was undeniable. Her friends’ teasing predictions came true. They’ve been married ever since.

Sidelined in both of their careers for several years, due to one damn medical issue after another, AirBnB offers a constant income stream, one that allows them to maintain their livelihoods, and add to their lives more than just financially. They both hustle and their efforts add a lot to other people’s lives. Isn’t that what we all want to do?