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Airbnb: The cheapest real estate in Wellesley?

airbnbAirbnb, the startup that helps people find relatively inexpensive and sometimes pretty unusual places to stay, has begun making its mark on Wellesley. Figured you might be wondering about this if you come across the new Airbnb promotions that are part of its first big national ad campaign, which kicks off this week.

Wellesley is pretty limited when it comes to accommodations for visitors outside of excess room in mansions and the facilities at Wellesley College and Babson College. So Airbnb — which lists about a half a million properties all over the world — is proving to be a nice fit for some who want to stay in town for a brief period and for those with room to spare that want to make a few extra bucks and meet some out-of-towners.

When we looked on Airbnb we found several Wellesley homeowners willing to rent out a share of their homes to travelers, with prices for private rooms ranging from $65 to $150 per night. We attempted to contact a few of the homeowners renting out their places, though the only one who got back to us right away said she has only rented out her place once and it happened to be to people she had a neighborhood connection with (it went fine).

airbnbPerhaps those renting out rooms on Airbnb are trying to keep a somewhat low profile, though it’s easy to check out the properties by poking around the Airbnb website.

We first started wondering about whether Airbnb had come to Wellesley after reading about an Airbnb-related controversy in Brookline, where a resident was under fire from neighbors for attracting a steady stream of visitors to his house via what turned out to be an Airbnb listing.

We asked Michael Grant, Wellesley’s inspector of buildings/zoning enforcement officer, about whether he’s had any Airbnb-related questions from residents and he said he hasn’t yet. He said property owners using Airbnb should be fine as long as they comply with local zoning bylaws, which vary by district in town. “The town’s zoning bylaws do allow for a Bed and Breakfast to be run in a single residence zone but it must meet the definition/regulations of a home occupation and family.  There cannot be separate cooking facilities as this could make it a separate dwelling unit pushing the property into violation,” he says. “I would recommend that anyone that contemplates doing any change to the use of their property contact the Building Department so it can be discussed to make sure [changes] will comply with the Zoning Bylaws of the town. Many times when a violation is discovered we find the owner of the property did not do their due diligence before commencing.”

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One Comment

  1. Steven Unger
    Posted December 17, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    airbnb presents itself as a leader of the “sharing economy”. But consider that the renting guest pays airbnb at the time the reservation is made, but airbnb pays the host when the guest arrives. No one seems to notice that a big chunk of airbnb’s profits must come from the interest they earn on the guest’s money that they hold for days, weeks or months. Earning interest on the other people’s money? Sounds pretty corporate to me. (Perhaps airbnb should support the sharing economy be donating the accrued interest to charity or using it to support micro-lending.)

    Be that as it may, I do believe that a homeowner in a residential zone should be able to rent 1 or 2 bedrooms to guests for less than 30 days at a time. To do so the homeowner should pay a modest annual license fee (say $100 per room) and collect local lodging tax, and be required to be present during the guests stay to supervise the property and the guests. Such airbnb listings typically have nightly rates below those that can be offered by local hotels.

    However, the problems with airbnb come when the homeowner does not live in the property and is therefore not able to supervise the property or the guests. These include apartments, condos and houses where the owner or a manager does not reside. Is there an emergency plan in case of a fire? Do the neighbors have a phone number to call if the unsupervised guests get out of hand? Do apartment neighbors or the condo association know that keys and access codes are being given out to short-term renters? And some of these rentals have high rates of $200 to $800 per night. These owners have decided that renting for short-term stays is more profitable than month-to-month rentals However, such short-term rentals deplete the local rental market. When a residential property goes “commercial” in this way there must be more demanding requirements for licensing.

    I live in a Portland, Oregon with a population of 800,000. There are over 1,000 airbnb type listings and many are not owner occupied and rent for $150 per night an up – high for Portland. Portland is losing over $1,000,000 a year in lodging taxes and license fees. This is because airbnb pays lip service to helping municipalities enforce local codes. The problem is that enforcement of local codes is currently “complaint driven”. So some property owners get shut own while others do not. To be of assistance airbnb should provide sufficient information to the municipality so that the municipality can identify and contact those who list properties. (This could be limited to the name, address, phone and e-mail associated with each listing.) Currently it is impossible to do get the identifying information necessary to file a complaint from the airbnb website except to pretend to be a potential guest.

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