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When Anne Rosenberg saw a for-sale sign in the front yard of a charming fixer-upper in Moorestown two years ago, she knew she needed to buy it, despite having no plans to move off her Mount Laurel farm.

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Anne Rosenberg

Rosenberg, a 60-year-old retired surgeon, bought a 110-year-old home in need of serious repairs, surrounded by meadows and thick trees. Though it’s just a mile down the road from the area’s largest shopping centers, Rosenberg says the house’s appeal is the feeling it’s off the beaten path. By the time she’d devoted six months of time and energy to preserving the house’s antique charm, she’d fallen in love. When she listed the property on Airbnb, it quickly became clear others were falling in love too.

“When I first found the house, my plan was to flip it – fix it up and sell it,” Rosenberg says. “My son had just been to New Orleans and stayed at an Airbnb, and he said, ‘If you’re not sure you want to sell it, why don’t you list it as an Airbnb?’ Our idea was that people who would maybe want to be not so far away but feel like they were in a world apart would like this place. People loved it immediately.”

Airbnb – which stands for air bed and breakfast – was first founded in 2008. It’s an online network that allows property owners to rent space in their homes to travelers. Renters use Airbnb as an alternative to traditional hotels, often saving money and gaining amenities, like the use of a kitchen or backyard, that hotels don’t offer. There are more than 2 million rooms, apartments and homes in 191 countries available for short-term rent on the site. Using Airbnb, a traveler can book a night in a downtown condo, a castle, an igloo, a tree house and even an entire private island.

Rosenberg says her guests have ranged from families visiting the area for a few days to European businessmen in town for a conference and people coming for a procedure at one of the nearby medical centers. The house has also proven to be a popular location for small events like parties and some weddings.

“We’ve had some really charming people come for very intimate weddings,” Rosenberg says.

“Most have set up a tent in the backyard, and they’ve had a blast. It’s very private; you can make as much noise as you want and stay as late as you want. At a traditional wedding venue, you’ve got four hours and they start cleaning up around you. Here, you can keep the party going, and then the couple can stay and basically use the house as their honeymoon suite.”

While some may feel uncomfortable with the idea of having strangers on their property, Rosenberg says she’s only had one bad experience with an Airbnb guest.

“I’ve learned you need to be careful as a host when you’re talking to people about parties,” she says. “We had a guy call and say he wanted to have a 21st birthday party there. I was very tentative about it, but we told him the rules and we thought it would be OK.”

“I happened to show up in the morning and there was beer pong still set up, glass and cigarettes out by the pool, broken glass in the pool,” Rosenberg says.

“All of these were no-nos. We had to have the pool cleaned out, and the house fumigated because people had been smoking inside. It actually ended up costing me money to have the party there.”

Rosenberg takes a “live and learn” approach. She says she’ll continue offering the house to people for normal stays and events, as most of her experience as a host has been very positive.

David Siller, 36, is another South Jersey homeowner who’s had a positive experience as an Airbnb host.

airbnb-gleeson

Rosenberg decorates her rental home with unique antiques.

Siller, who is a farmer by day, taught himself construction after buying a Deptford house in serious disrepair. He rebuilt the home, installing raw wood beams and large windows throughout. While the construction was ongoing, he lived in the attic he’d converted into a sunny loft. Once the house was finished, the loft sat empty.

Siller posted the loft on Airbnb about three years ago, and it’s been booked fairly regularly ever since. Siller farms the property around the house, and he says travelers appreciate that the home is out of the way, but still very close to Philadelphia.

“People are attracted to this spot because it’s nice and quiet,” he says. “You can finish your morning meditation and then drive 15 minutes and be in the center of the action in the city.”

To get to the loft, guests must climb a wooden ladder that extends from a hole in the floor. Even though that information is included in his ad, Siller says some guests have still been taken by surprise.

“There have been a few comments,” he laughs. “Not everybody can make it up the ladder. For the most part though, people really enjoy it. I’ve only had one guest I really regret; he broke a window in the loft and then said it wasn’t him.”

Siller’s homestead has played host to people from all over the world, some of whom, he says, stay much longer than just a night.

“I’ve had people come and stay for a month,” he says. “That’s cool, because you really get to know some people. Meeting people from all over the world is great and knowing you could get a last-minute booking anytime is great motivation to keep the house clean.”

Many of the South Jersey listings on Airbnb’s website popped up last September, when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. More than 1 million people were expected to pour into the region, and homeowners hoped to take advantage of sold-out hotels in the city, offering space in their homes to visitors on Airbnb.

Sarah Gleeson and Mike England had that idea, but attendance at the papal events was lower than expected, and the guest room in their Collingswood home went unoccupied.

“We basically forgot about it for a while,” says Gleeson, 29. “Then about eight months ago, a guy was coming to see a show at the Scottish Rite Theatre and he booked the room.”

Since then, Gleeson says, bookings have been fairly regular.

“We had bookings all summer long,” she says. “It’s a nice way to make a little bit of money – we list the room for $75 a night. We’ve had people stay for all different reasons. One couple was here because the husband was interviewing for a job at Cooper. We’ve had some world travelers spend the night; they always have great stories.”

Gleeson and England provide access to their living room and backyard, and give their guests as much or as little privacy as they’re looking for.

“Some people you barely see, because they’re just in and out,” Gleeson says. “With other people we’ve hung out and shared a bottle of wine. We’ve met people we’ve formed relationships with and kept in touch with.”

While some travelers are more social than others, she says nothing has happened to turn her off from continuing to accept bookings.

“Nobody has been creepy, so that’s good,” she says. “We do still lock our bedroom door though. I’m not quite up to that level of comfort yet.”

In addition to being Airbnb hosts, Gleeson and England have been using the service to book accommodations on their own travels for years. Gleeson says staying outside of a hotel provides people with more opportunity to get to know the places they’re visiting.

“When you’re traveling, it can get kind of exhausting to live out of a hotel,” she says. “Sometimes it’s nice to stay in a place that feels a bit more like home.”

December 2016
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