Airbnb helped me stop hating my negative equity apartment
A year renting to tourists has been good to me. Is it all about to end?
Ceire Sadlier: “I bought the apartment 10 years ago in those heady days when banks were giving €390,000 mortgages to 25-year-olds who were on contract work”
There have been a number of worrying decisions this past week that could affect Airbnb hosts like me in Ireland. First, An Bord Pleanála backed a planning decision which prevents a property in Temple Bar’s Crown Alley being used for Airbnb purposes.
Continuous short-term rental of a residential apartment constituted a change of use, the planning authority said. I took brief comfort in their remark that “the board’s decision does not have automatic widespread applicability”, until the next story broke.
It said that the residents of a development in Spencer Dock, Dublin 2, a stone’s throw from my own Airbnb apartment, must stop using their apartments for short-term lettings.
Are we at the end of a golden age for Airbnb hosts? Are arrangements like mine now in jeopardy?
I have been an Airbnb host for more than a year now. Renting out my apartment to tourists on a short-term basis has been very good to my family because I can bring in a gross income of twice the amount I got in long-term rent.
I bought the apartment 10 years ago in those heady days when banks were giving €390,000 mortgages to 25-year-olds who were on contract work. When I see it written down, I realise I was just as stupid as the bank. I was in my 20s and had a lot of uncertainty in terms of employment. How could I ever have thought it was a good idea to get a loan of that size?
Negative equity money pit
I have spent most of the past 10 years hating the place. We had only lived there for 18 months before we moved abroad for work. The market was crashing so we couldn’t sell and the only option was to become landlords – something we never wanted to be.
Now back in Dublin, we are a family of four, and the 40m sq one-bed is not somewhere we can live comfortably. So we pay €1,650 a month to live in a 1950s council house in Donnycarney. Don’t get me wrong, Donnycarney is a fantastic place to live but it’s just a tad pricy on top of the mortgage for the money pit in town.
We could never just forget about the apartment. The rent has never covered the mortgage, not to mention the €200-a-month management fee, not to mention the life assurance, home insurance, property tax, maintenance costs and local property tax.
What am I forgetting – oh yes, the tax bill at the end of October on “the profits” from the year. These are joys of being a blood-sucking landlord.
Chicken and egg
I have worried that I am contributing to my own rental crisis, which means that I pay €1,650 a month in rent to live in what is classified as a “disadvantaged area”. Am I driving up the rent by doing Airbnb? Maybe. But I try to justify it to myself this in a few ways.
One, I am providing a valuable service to the tourism industry, which is important to the Irish economy.
Two, we are sick of the debt that this apartment got us into, and we will try anything to get out of it.
Three, I pay a lot of tax on my profits.
Airbnb has helped me not to hate the apartment any more. Although it takes a lot more work than being a long-term-lease landlord, I can now break even on the mortgage. The weight of the €75,000 negative equity hasn’t disappeared, but it does not sit in the front of my brain as much.
The black stuff
In August, an Airbnb host wrote in The Irish Times about being fed up of cleaning toilets to pay the mortgage. That is fair enough. There have been the few days I have cursed Guinness and the over-enthusiastic tourists whose digestive systems are not able handle the black stuff.
I have cleaned up after explosive bowel movements and vomits. I have recoiled at the sight of used condoms, balls of hair, bloody sheets and green tissues.
But guess what? I charge my guests a hefty amount to stay, plus a cleaning fee – and I have a pair of rubber gloves and a sense of humour. The nasty stuff isn’t a daily occurrence. The majority of people leave the place clean and tidy.
Just as a guest can review my apartment and my hosting, I can review them. But can you honestly say you’ve never left an old plaster in a hotel room or smeared makeup on a white towel? As a host, you have to be realistic about your expectations. Also, guests have been so understanding with me when things have not been perfect, it is only right that I do not expect perfection from them.
A community of lovelies
My guests over the past year have been overwhelmingly lovely. When I know that someone had a great stay, it really is satisfying. I was having a really miserable day once and went in to clean up to find a huge bar of Swiss chocolate and a lovely note from the guest. And when I Tweeted about it, Airbnb sent me a box of Butlers’ chocolates bigger than my car, and it felt brilliant.
Of course there are some unusual people out there. I think someone peed into the bucket in the cleaning cupboard once. There are people who seem incapable of using anything – from the key to the TV to the shower – and they need a lot of attention and pacifying.
There are disasters. A recent guest flew into a rage when the toilet stopped flushing on her one night. It took a few days to fix (boomtime-imported toilet drama) and I was a wreck over how the next guest would react. “These things happen,” she said, and I nearly cried with the relief.
It is a huge amount of work for the host. There is the cleaning, the administration and the waiting around for guests to arrive. It would not be so bad if I didn’t have to bring my two kids with me for most of the cleaning and waiting.
I think the formula really works when the guest understands that Airbnbs are not hotels, but the host appreciates that they are providing not just a room for the night, but a service to guests and, as such, should be communicative, provide a clean space and whatever help and advice you can give, within reason.
I do not have a capitalist bone in my body. So with this opportunity to make more money through my apartment also comes worry and guilt. I have worried that I am contributing to my own rental crisis. I have worried that I am contributing to the homeless crisis.
To a lesser extent, I have worried about whether I am contributing to the unhappiness of other residents in my building. Would I be annoyed if I were still living there and new people were coming in and out of my building all the time.
This bothers me a little less than the other concerns because when I lived there, our neighbours were eight young men who worked hard and played hard. Every now and then they would have all-night, all-day parties and laugh if I complained.
Now, even though I don’t live there, behaviour in the neighbouring apartments annoy me. On the balcony across the way, a group of students frequently smoke and throw their cigarette butts over the balcony on to a roof below. The apartment above ours has a cat that teeters out on the balcony ledge. There is a trail of an oily bike wheel on the hallway carpet leading to the neighbour’s door.
Others in the building do things that negatively affect my apartment, and I am not convinced that my guests worsen the situation for other residents. I am just about to welcome my 100th guest, and I have never had any complaints from neighbours.
On the rental crisis, am I screwing myself, driving up rents by taking my apartment away from a renter? Can this guilt be offset by a contribution to the economy through bolstering the tourism industry and giving (quite a lot of) money to the Revenue?
And what about the homeless crisis: does Airbnb exacerbate that? One night, I went into the apartment at about 9pm to help guests who couldn’t figure out the remote control for the TV.
It was the first night that winter was biting, and when I stepped out of the car into lashing rain I saw a woman asleep in a bundle of open sleeping bags under the Dart bridge. She was splayed like a starfish, conked out, a small smile on her face.
When I emerged from the building after turning on the TV for the guests, a man was snuggled in beside her.
Am I part of that?
I don’t want to own that place; I want to own a place I can live in. But the €75,000 negative equity, lack of permanent jobs and having no savings make that impossible.
At least now, as an Airbnb host, I can break even on the mortgage and other costs associated with it. Airbnb has helped me not to hate that apartment anymore. Let’s hope it lasts.