COVID-19 has hit everyone hard. One area of real estate investing facing particular difficulties right now is the short-term rental (or Airbnb) branch of investing.
In some markets—true vacation rental markets—short-term rentals have been around for decades, predating Airbnb, VRBO, and in some cases even the internet itself. In most major metropolitan markets, short-term rental and Airbnb investing is a new-school strategy as of the past 10 years.
Diving even deeper, within this branch of investing are many subsects and strategies. Some investors acquire short-term rentals as a way to turbocharge their cash flow in order to scale their portfolios more quickly. Others create entire jobs and businesses without actually purchasing properties in a method called “arbitrage.” This method is executed by renting another investor’s unit through a long-term lease, and then, in essence, sub-leasing the unit by hosting it through the major short-term rental booking platforms.
Whatever the method or market of the investor, all short-term rentals have one thing in common: dependence upon the travel industry.
With COVID-19 bringing the travel industry to an immediate and grinding halt, short-term rental investors have been left to employ their cash reserves (a subject for another blog post) and to get creative in terms of getting “heads in beds”—a phrase commonly used in the industry that refers to bookings and occupancy.
Depending upon the type of market (metro market or true vacation rental market), investors and hosts have had to rethink their marketing in the era of coronavirus. Below are three tips for hosts to earn income off of slow or empty short-term rental units during the pandemic (assuming the host’s specific market does not have flat out short-term rental bans in place).
Target Traveling Medical Professionals
Renting to traveling medical professionals is an especially viable option for large metropolitan markets. Traveling nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals often need medium-term housing on a one- to six-month basis and have a housing allowance or stipend from their employers to pay for such.
Doctors and nurses are being flown into the COVID hotspot markets to help bolster the local medical talent and infrastructure as coronavirus cases have overwhelmed the medical communities in certain metro areas. There are a number of websites available to owners where they can advertise their units to traveling nurses and doctors.
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Convert to Medium-Term
I know several investors whose entire business model is centered around medium-term corporate housing. Similar to the traveling medical field, many executives need medium-term housing for one to three months to work on company projects at offices in different cities. This strategy is best suited for metro markets. There are many websites for owners to advertise their furnished units for potential executive medium-term renters.
By the same token, vacation rental owners can market their units to remote workers who can work from anywhere with an internet connection. Advertising a strong internet connection, a designated workspace in the unit, and other work-from-home amenities will be attractive to potential remote work guests.
If your market has a temporary ban on short-term rentals, make sure to check the number of days that constitute a short-term stay (30 days in most cases) to ensure that your guests are meeting the minimum standards
Convert to Long-Term
This isn’t a tip that any short-term rental investor wants to hear, and in many markets (including my own), it’s not feasible. However, signing a medium-term lease or a month-to-month long-term lease is a good way to garner some steady income for a period of time in order to evaluate the medium- and long-term effects of COVID on your local market.
Playing the Long Game
In the long run, most short-term rental investors are accustomed to fluctuating tourism seasons and, in turn, fluctuating monthly income. If there is one thing that COVID has shown us, it’s the importance of having three to six months of cash reserves with which to weather unforeseen short-term rental storms.
I am also a big believer in a well-diversified portfolio. I keep my personal portfolio at around 25% vacation rental and 75% long-term rental. This way, I am juicing my investment capital with the significantly higher short-term rental income, while not being completely dependent on my vacation rentals.
While short-term rentals have been the most heavily affected area of real estate investing, in many markets, they are a proven and lucrative investment model, often producing between two and five times the cash flow of long-term rentals. COVID-19 is a black swan, once-in-a-lifetime event.
While an uncomfortable realization at best, coronavirus has pushed us as short-term rental investors to decide whether we want to base our investment choices off of the 99.9%-of-the-time scenario or the 0.01% of the time scenario. To be honest, neither is a wrong decision—it’s up to the individual investor to decide the level of risk and potential reward that they are comfortable with.
What are you doing with your short-term rental properties?
Let us know in the comments below.