Hacking My Half-Million Dollar House

Living in a house has always been my preferred lifestyle choice, and getting paid to live in my house is even better.  When I moved down from Michigan, I had already been researching my area for 8 months.  The houses were extremely expensive, so I intended to get roommates to help with the cost initially and figured a partner could split the cost with me later.  The roommates turned out to be a disaster, and only brought in $1200/month anyway, so I decided a change was needed.  I tried hosting in my house for AirBnB in June, and found that it was far preferable to roommates, so I invested in the necessities to turn it into a solid business.

The Set Up

My second house was an upgrade: 2,300 square feet with 4 bedrooms and 3 full bathrooms.  My attached master suite (bedroom, bathroom and three closets) is in the back left corner.  The other three bedrooms and two bathrooms are in the front right corner of the house, completely opposite my bedroom.  The middle of the house is an open floor plan containing the kitchen, living room, dining area, and a desk and piano in the back sun room.  The laundry machine is in the garage.  I allow guests full private access to the living areas when they stay with me, mainly keeping to my bedroom and the back porch or doing outdoor projects.  I tried to set up the house with hosting in mind, going for the minimum amount of easy-to-clean furniture and the minimum amount of clutter.  Most decorations are hung on the walls.

Getting Ready to Host

I bought a code lock, a key lock for my bedroom door, some bathroom basket supplies, extra towels, mattress pads, sheets and comforters.  Most of my furniture was free from Craigslist.  I even found fancy pillow-top king sized mattresses.  I also had some neighbors give me furniture, and I bought things at a discount during sales or from IKEA whenever possible.  Normally people would already have all that they need in their house, but I had just moved in after selling all my furniture.

Any fabric furniture I found was deep cleaned with my Bissel before being brought into the house, and I still regularly clean it every few months.  The joys of used things when managing your OCD…

September 2016 – August 2017 Finances

ItemCost Notes
Interest$11,355.773.75% 30-year-fixed loan, only a year in
Taxes$8,085.98I live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, FL.
Home Insurance$2,765.27
Flood Insurance$1,456.00House is in Flood Zone A – extremely grateful for this during Hurricane Irma
$29,563.00 Total Fixed Cost
Electric$2,011.01Slightly higher than it would be if I was living alone
Water/Utilities$2,089.97Slightly higher than it would be if I was living alone
Pool Care$190.57Chlorine and other chemicals
Lawn Care$15.00Gas for my push mower
$4,509.65 Total Variable Cost
Total Cost$34,072.65
AirBNB Income$35,271.70
$1,199.05 Positive cash flow
Extra Cash$1,199.05
$7,099.02 FINANCIAL GAIN**

Not to mention I WAS ALSO LIVING IN A HALF-MILLION DOLLAR HOME and saving almost 90% of my take-home salary from my day job (even after all my traveling and my truck purchase).  I cleaned the house about once a week, did maintenance and upkeep, managed the calendar, and answered any questions the guests had.

**Not including:

  • Cleaning supplies. I purchased generic brands in bulk and on sale.  OCD life means the cost was likely a wash.
  • Soap/toiletries, paper towels (one roll per group), and toilet paper (max 8 rolls per group, or 4 per bathroom). Also purchased in bulk on sale. If guests go over, they have to purchase more.  Guests regularly leave soap and toiletries (including expensive stuff I’ve enjoyed using), food, alcohol (also expensive kinds), beach stuff, and other miscellaneous items, so it evens out for the most part.  Some items I’ve kept or put in the baskets, and some I’ve passed on to friends or in my Buy Nothing group.
  • Worn out/damaged items. I’ve had to replace lightbulbs, towels, sheets, and other items, but it’s usually something I’d be replacing anyway or guests will pay for the replacement if they’ve damaged it.  I find a lot of spare supplies for free on Craigslist as well (like extra sheets) and store it in the empty bedroom closets until needed.
  • General maintenance or upgrades. It’s “an expensive hobby” of mine that I really enjoy.  The general assumption is 1% of house value per year on maintenance costs.
  • Start-up costs. Start-up costs were a one-time thing, but most people would already have most of the items I needed and my numbers likely won’t be useful.
  • July/August 2016, my first months as a host.   I didn’t quite know tricks to hosting at that point (renting whole house minus my bedroom, minimum 3 days, etc.) so the first two months aren’t a particularly useful measure of anything.

A “Normal” Week

Guests usually leave Sunday or Monday, so I start the evening they depart doing two loads of laundry – one load of white towels with bleach and one load of colored sheets, plus whatever extra laundry I have from my own clothes in whichever load it belongs.  During the approximately 4 hours that the laundry is going, I clean all 3 bathrooms and the kitchen thoroughly, move back any furniture or items that have been misplaced (minimalism helps!), vacuum the whole house, and wash all of the floors after if needed.  I make the beds and put the towels in the closet when the laundry is done.  I then have a lovely clean house to myself almost the whole week. Often I host game nights, do any food prep, or do projects around the house.  On Thursdays, I mow the lawn and clean the pool before jumping in to go swimming.  Usually my next round of guests will arrive Thursday or Friday so I’ll change the code lock and do any last minute tidying the night before they arrive (although there’s not a lot of it when you have OCD and live alone). I send them the door code the morning of their arrival.  Even if they’re in the house during the week, I’m at work all day anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.  Some of my guests have stayed over a week, which means more money and less work.

Weekends are “Dorm Life on Steroids”

I usually take advantage of the weekend to travel or to plan my next trip, visit friends, or catch up on bills, mail, magazines, reading, etc.  While guests are staying, I use my private exterior doors that open onto the back porch.  I also have a lock on my bedroom door going into the house, so I won’t have any unwanted visitors in my room.  I have a private bathroom with walk in shower, a king sized bed, three closets, a dresser, a mini fridge in the corner, and a drawer full of disposable plates and utensils for when I need them.  I keep spare cleaning supplies in my bathroom and a spare vacuum in my walk-in closet just in case.  I like to go out with friends (not all of them are frugal) so the nights I have guests are great nights to do it.  I equate it to a luxurious dorm life.

When It Comes to Guests…

Some of my guests are a lot of fun and want to hang out.  Others didn’t read the ad, which specifically states the house is my primary residence (in capital letters with asterisks…) and that I might be using my private attached suite depending on my travel schedule. Interactions with the guests are minimal, especially since I have code locks and don’t need to be there for check in.  Many guests are in town for events, so they’re gone most of the time, too.  I’ve had some annoyances (getting woken up at 7am by a toddler banging on the grand piano directly outside my room isn’t a good way to wake up) but the annoying guests always leave, and overall it’s easy money and easy “roommates.”

When It Comes to Privacy…

I am busy doing my own thing.  I have so much going on!  I don’t care what my guests are doing as long as they aren’t breaking things.  I keep anything private or important locked in closets or in my bedroom.  Sometimes my guests don’t respect my personal space (for example, they’ll peek into my windows in the back).  I understand their curiosity since I know a 26-year-old single woman living in a giant house alone is a little odd, and they don’t necessarily even know whether or not I’m there since I gave them a code to get in.  I go out to say hi and welcome them if I see them peeking in, or I stay at a friend’s if I feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t happen often.

When I Don’t Feel Like Hosting…

I don’t!  I blocked off two weeks in September when my dad came to visit, time over holidays to host friends and family, my birthday week, and other various times when I wanted a break.  I only open the calendar 2-3 months in advance so that I know I won’t need the house, but it still fills right up.  I won’t host more than one group a week so that I don’t have to stress about cleaning the house immediately, and I won’t accept bookings for less than three nights since I feel like it’s otherwise too much work.  I feel like it’s a great balance for my quality of life, which is more important than money.

I did capitalize on high season (March) and hosted 7 groups, basically flipping the house in one to two days in between each group.  It brought in a lot of extra money that I saved to pay off the rest of my 401k loan.

The Reason My House Hacking Works…

A single woman and her dog can easily manage in a (not really that small) small space.  When I add in a partner, it will be more difficult and likely stressful to continue. (Two people, one bedroom… people do it, but do I want to do it?  Not really.)  Anything is doable for a short time, but the long term consequences could be very draining.

I genuinely enjoy house projects, which I prioritize during the week or tell guests about beforehand if doing over the weekend.  Therefore, a bigger house with more maintenance isn’t daunting.  I am often able to fix things myself so I can coordinate around the guests easily.  It takes time to learn how to DIY, but it saves a lot of money.  This is true of home ownership in general.

I enjoy putzing around the yard, planting flowers or tending to my vegetable garden, although not a requirement of home ownership.  These things I can do regardless of whether or not I have guests.  I save it for the weekends for the most part.  If I tired of the yard work, I’d hire it out for $100/month.

How You Can Start…

Sign up for AirBnB and read over the tips for hosting in your own home.  You don’t have to go full throttle.  Instead, you could try one weekend a month, which could bring in extra money for you to plan your own travel adventure.