CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Would you open your home to a complete stranger? How about renting a room for a couple of nights to someone passing through town?
The website that caters to such questions, www.airbnb.com, started simply enough. The folks behind it rented air mattresses in their homes to guests going to a conference. It has evolved since then with a wide variety of properties around the world.
Right now, there are more than 80 properties listed in Charlotte, ranging from rooms to an Airstream travel trailer to entire houses. And for some, this type of hotel alternative began long before news of a political convention coming to town.
“The house was built in 1920,” Melanie Graham said, describing the bungalow she rents out in the Wesley Heights neighborhood. “When we were young, 16 or 17, we would come here and visit his Aunt Elsie.”
The home passed down a generation to Aunt Elsie’s brother. He has since passed away, and now the Graham’s are keeping it in the family. Last July, they turned into what it is today, a vacation rental.
“For a single person traveling into the city we start at $75 and basically they have their choice of either master suite,” she said. “If you’re travelling in twos, maybe you and a colleague, the rate goes up to $90 and each one has their own individual suite and bath.”
Graham advertises the home on vacation rental websites, including airbnb.com.
“The really good thing about airbnb is they make a really good effort of keeping the anonymity between the guests and the location of the property,” she explained. Basically, guests make an offer. You decide if you can accommodate and if the dates work out. Then, airbnb.com handles the money. “The day after the guest arrives. My experience has been that the payment is in the bank account the next day,” Graham added.
The San Francisco-based company now has offices around the world, with rentals in more than 19,000 cities and more than 190 countries. It is free to list on the site, and a professional photographer is sent out to take pictures.
Company spokesperson Emily Joffrion explained who pays after that.
“Hosts pay a three percent fee and that goes toward the credit card charges and guests pay between eight and 12 percent based on the price of the accommodation,” she said.
The experience so far has been great for Graham, who also rents her home in Belmont called ‘The Villa at Waters Edge.’
And she’s finding travelers are coming from near (South Carolina) and far (Europe).
“The people who left last week were from Canada. They were here four days and I’ve also had some people from the U.K. who stayed,” she said. “You have that ambiance of a place that is not your home but feels like home.”
Both of Graham’s properties area already booked for the Democratic National Convention in September.
But if you want to be successful on airbnb.com, you’ll need a good reputation as well. The website allows both guests and homeowners to give reviews. One word of advice, if you live in a condo and/or governed by a homeowner’s association, make sure they allow for short term rentals. You’d hate for your guests to get kicked out.
While Graham has two properties, NewsChannel 36 also met a local developer now renting out 13 condos in buildings he controls in Myers Park and Dilworth.
Look for his story and the lessons he’s learned, Tuesday on NewsChannel 36 at 4 p.m. and on WCNC.com.