Potential overnight visitors to Wellesley have always been faced with an accommodations desert, even before the old Wellesley Inn was torn down to make way for the residences of Belclare. Other than the 16 guest rooms at the Wellesley College Club and the 211 rooms at Babson College, there’s not much around for high-need times such as Wellesley College, Babson, Olin, and Dana Hall family weekends and graduations. So it’s no wonder that 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.
For travelers looking to feel home in their souls when they are on the road, Airbnb can serve as the antidote to stark hotel rooms. Increasingly, however, these savvy renters are looking for less of a crash pad situation and more of a boutique hotel feel to the places they seek. I sensed a cottage industry ready to crop up that would prep would-be hosts for maximum rental income, and so did Valerie Gates of Gates Studio Home. To get your home Airbnb ready, the Wellesley resident offers a design consultation for staging your home for maximum renter appeal, all while working with your existing decor.
Gates says today’s travelers want to stay in homes with signs of life, but only signs that hint at the life lived there. “You have to look at your space from the eye of a traveller. They want it to be cozy and comfortable, but they don’t want to see the pictures of your family and other personal items.” In other words, your paying guests want only to glean a few details from the stage you set, curated ideas that fit in with their fantasy idea of what it would be like to live in this place. Ideally, your home will look like a place where your guests could imagine themselves leading the gracious life that you do, a place where they and their travel companions can share days they will remember as delightful, relaxed, carefree. A place where deep sleep comes easy, and they awaken feeling mighty.
A tall order, indeed, but a fantasy world that Gates says is well worth the staging effort to create. And don’t forget the photos. Excellent photos of your space on your Airbnb profile are as essential as that Facebook profile picture of you from ten years ago. Put together with a little panache, Gates says you can definitely make a healthy bit of income on the unused rooms in your home, especially since so far the State of Massachusetts has not instituted a hotel tax on Airbnb hosts.
I may be preaching to the choir. When I poked around on the site, I found around a dozen Wellesley homeowners willing to rent out a share of their home or the entire place, with rates ranging from $167/night for a three-bedroom, 1.5 bath home that accommodates nine to $925/night for a four-bedroom, three-bath home that accommodates six.
There was certainly no shortage of glowing reviews about these Wellesley homes. One guest praised a home as “Really well outfitted for weekend getaway. Situated in the beautiful town of Wellesley, this house is highly recommended for any Babson alum or parents attending College festivities or anyone looking for a great house in the Boston suburbs. Had an amazing time!”
I know, right? I’ve lived here in the beautiful town of Wellesley for ages and I, too, have had an amazing time.
Michael Grant, Wellesley’s inspector of buildings/zoning enforcement officer says that property owners using Airbnb need only 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.”
It’s a commencement exercise that was not contemplated by an Emerson College student who earlier this year landed in hot water with school administrators when he listed his dorm room on Airbnb to help pay for school. I admired his entrepreneurial spirit, but Emerson College officials did not. They said that the student “violated the housing contract that undergraduate residents sign which prohibits students from subleasing or renting College housing units or beds to protect residents and the community from exposure to safety and security risks.”
No word on whether his guests’ reviews were glowing.