- Alexi McKinley rents her house and lives in a trailer in her driveway for a few weeks each month.
- His family earns up to $9,500 per month from vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.
- His advice for setting up an Airbnb is to use bright, clear photos and prioritize good communication.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Alex McKinleya 26 year old businessman in Marysville, Washington. The insider verifies his income with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
In September 2018, I was fired from my job as an account manager at a cybersecurity-consulting firm and started as a corporate sales manager at a Marriott hotel. I learned about hospitality, revenue strategy, where to network, contracts and negotiations, and that client experience is everything.
In January 2020, I took my maternity leave and never came back. My husband is self-employed and supports us through his construction and tractor-services company.
Scaling back on a single salary wasn’t easy, so I started a consulting business and started posting on social media about my cystic-acne journey, which grew into my TikTok following 480,000 followers.
We also started renting out our house to earn extra income. Now we spend about two weeks per month living in our trailer so we can rent out our home on Airbnb and VRBO.
Our average nightly rate is $600 in peak season and $450 in off season. In our first year of short-term rental housing, we almost completely replaced my previous corporate income of $45,000. Here’s how we set up the business.
After we got married in 2017, we bought a 2008 18-foot KZ Coyote for $7,000 before our annual camping trip with friends
We primarily use this trailer for camping, but we lived in it for a few months while our house was being built.
By the time the next camping trip rolled around, we were expecting our second child and needed something that would accommodate the four of us. We are specifically looking for a trailer with a bunk house and a closed door, so it feels like we have two bedrooms.
In October 2020, the perfect trailer appeared on Craigslist: a 2018 32-foot MPG travel trailer. We toured it, immediately fell in love with it, and bought it for $23,000 the same day, thanks to a loan from my grandparents.
In July 2020, my cousin told me about a family he knew in Alaska who rented out their summer home and made $60,000.
We thought that sounded like crazy money, and we really needed the income at that point. This is the middle of the pandemic and the future is uncertain. Our goal is just to pay off our monthly Airbnb loan.
Airbnb requires five photos to get started. We use iPhone photos for our listings, and the key is to make them as clear, clean, and bright as possible. We upload photos to Airbnb and VRBO and set the listings live. Forty-eight hours later, we received two consecutive weekly bookings, and our mortgage was paid for the month.
We furnished each bedroom with new sheets, new comforters, matching bed frames, and decor. We went to Costco and bought new pots, pans, utensils, a container of paper towels, and water to stock the fridge. We bought packages of sponges, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and blow dryers for the bathrooms. Whatever we replaced found a new home in the trailer, which was nice because it already felt familiar when moving.
We moved all of our personal belongings into the locked master bedroom or the garage, which we used as personal storage. We simplified the house and removed anything that was weak or important to us. We cleared out the pantry and refrigerator except for things like flour and spices.
I create systems for our everyday items that travel back and forth, like a shower caddy for skin care, oral care, hair products, and accessories. We carry all our clothes back and forth in giant reusable grocery bags. We only pack what we want depending on how long Airbnb guests stay.
The last step is to clean the house from floor to ceiling. Our first renters told us we had the cleanest rental they’ve ever lived in, and that’s still a common response in many of our reviews today.
Setting up Airbnb and VRBO listings is easy
The first thing they want to know is how many beds, bathrooms, and bedrooms you have, and what amenities you provide. What makes you unique in the area? What to do locally? All of this determines how you stack up against your local competition.
I recommend theming or branding your home. Our house has a theme of “The Woodlands PNW,” which combines local culture, herbs, and a general woodiness. You don’t have to start with everything set up, painted, or perfect. Start with what you can afford and keep adding as your income increases. My husband and I reinvest everything back home. It will also increase the value of your home if you decide to sell.
I prefer Airbnb because it seems to have my back as a host. For example, we had a couple of guests join unauthorized parties, and Airbnb was more helpful in resolving the issue than VRBO.
Your cover photo and listing title should highlight your most exciting hobbies to attract potential visitors.
We have a covered outdoor living area with a fire table and a hot tub that guests can use year round. Give guests a detailed description of what they can expect from the second they enter your home. Expand on what makes your space special and answer any questions people have.
When it comes to price, search for Airbnbs in your area. Who are your competitors and how do you stack up? Does your listing get you clicking? Be realistic about where you sit in the market and price yourself according to the low or high end of that spectrum.
It is also important to create a revenue strategy for weekends, holidays, and booking discounts. I learned how to do this when I worked at Marriott. We sit in meetings every Tuesday looking at our competitors’ rates, evaluating what events are coming up in the local area, what travel holidays are happening and moving our rates accordingly. . All of this can be set up automatically by Airbnb.
I don’t mind living in our trailer, but it can be cramped
None of our guests seemed to care that we were in the way, and most of them invited us to join them on the back patio. My husband usually joins them, but I’m more of an introvert and like to be away for business.
We need to be strategic about using space when we can. I do all my work in my car or at Starbucks. My husband cooks outside on his Blackstone. We bought things to stay organized like a hanging jewelry holder and bins for pens, notepads, letters, and my makeup. We have a place for everyone, but we still dance with each other.
There aren’t many places to go, the walls are very thin, and sometimes going outside isn’t an option, especially in Washington’s rainy winters. It’s also difficult not having a washer and dryer. We took our laundry to all our friends and family’s houses and washed the dishes.
One of the best things about this business is that we get to travel a lot. Last year we traveled to Nashville, Maui, Huntington Beach, New York, Idaho, and Arizona.
On average, we make anywhere from $3,000 to $5,700 a month, with our highest month being over $9,500 in July 2021. Our mortgage is $2,700 a month, so it’s always covered. We pay our cleaner $150 per turnover, but sometimes we do it ourselves to save money.
Here are my top-3 pieces of advice for new hosts
- Good communication will save you in the long run. Be transparent about what your listing offers, your expectations as a host, and what guests should expect from you. Responding to criticism and bad reviews. Setting up an automated-message sequence will save you time, make your visitor feel supported, and promote good communication.
- Don’t skip the thoughtful details. A handwritten note, welcome gift, extra toiletries, and even a nice scent can make all the difference. People want to know what they’re getting into, and you set the tone from the moment they read your description. Adding extra touches when they arrive at home will enhance your guest experience.
- Find a good cleaner. Especially if you plan to travel while having guests in your home. They should be able to do a walk-through, damage assessment, and report back between visitors. This can be critical if something happens between guests and it is not caught.