Barge? Historical landmark? Airbnb in Pittsburgh has a lot to offer

Hidden behind a fence in Highland Park is an unlikely urban resort where hosts Steve and Jody Choder welcomed the world to Pittsburgh.

Two vintage houseboats, a meditation treehouse, a swimming pool and a two-level koi fish pond dot the one-acre wooded property on the Allegheny River, which they purchased in 2001.

The meditation treehouse in Choderwood. Photo by Quelcy Kogel.

There they hosted a chef from Las Vegas on a food tour, a family from England on their way to a wedding, and a father and son from Mexico City in town for a Steelers game. And while Choderwood, as it’s called, is open for events, it’s also one of the more unusual Airbnb offerings in the area, with two bedrooms and both houseboats. The appeal for Choders as hosts goes beyond income.

“You meet so many interesting people and introduce them to Pittsburgh,” says Jody Choder.

When Greg Manley welcomes a traveler to his North Side home, he makes a point of showing them around the city, whether it’s an evening stroll on his neighborhood porch or a stop at the “lookout for a preview of the skyline.

“I try to encourage some interaction,” Manley says. “This is not just a generic beach front hotel. It’s a matter of sharing. »

Both properties are listed on Airbnb, the phenomenon of a website that offers short-term stays at properties owned by locals. Apps such as Airbnb and HomeAway have become major forces in the market and growing in Pittsburgh.

With just a few taps on a smartphone, travelers can book a room, house, fairytale cabin, castle and even an igloo in more than 190 countries around the world. Rentals range from a spare bedroom in an urban apartment for $30 a night to an empty house in Bora Bora for $9,300 a night.

The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2008 and was valued in June at around $25.5 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“It’s not hard to see why (services) have taken off,” said Matt Ryan, an economist at Duquesne University. “There’s the convenience of the app, plus users pay less.”

Not to mention the attraction of staying in a unique place and neighborhood often outside the hotel district with the possibility of discovering the city in a different way. It’s all part of the adventure.

One of two vintage houseboats offered by the Choders through Airbnb. Photo by Quelcy Kogel.

Over 300 Airbnb locations and 40 HomeAway locations are now listed in Pittsburgh and the selection continues to grow. Guests who have used the Airbnb app have traveled here for conventions, college tours, sporting events and business trips, according to local hosts. And they’ve stayed in a wide range of places, from a historic townhouse on the streets of the Mexican War ($83 a night with private porch and bath) to a National Historic Landmark in Fineview (pictured here at $56 night) to a private room at a three-story house in Oakland. All have four to five stars from hundreds of reviews.

Nertila Koni, 28, from New York, says she first used Airbnb when she traveled to Pittsburgh for a job interview. She found a room on the north side for $39 a night, in a three-story house with a view of the BNY Mellon Building from her bathroom window.

The owner was not home during her stay, but there were two other guests, French writers looking for a book.

“The idea of ​​walking into someone else’s house and sleeping in their bed was a bit scary at first,” Koni notes. “But the room was nice and it was certainly much cheaper than a hotel.”

While the number of rooms and guests in some Airbnb and HomeAway locations would rival that of a Bed and Breakfast, which are taxed and regulated by the government, the amenities are generally not the same. Koni says meals were not included in her stay and she did her own dishes.

There is no tax or business license in Pittsburgh associated with Airbnb. In fact, an employee of the Pittsburgh Business Licensing Office — where hotel and bed and breakfast owners pay for a license — has never heard of the service.

Hosts are solely responsible for paying federal and state taxes as a 10-99 independent contractor, per their agreement with Airbnb. So far, only a few US cities have passed laws to regulate and tax Airbnb. Philadelphia was the most recent.

In preparation for the pope’s momentous visit this month, the Philadelphia council has enacted an 8% hotel tax and a ban on rentals in most residential areas. Hosts can only rent a space 180 days per year.

The regulations will allow “more guests, more local expenses and more taxes to enter Philadelphia,” an Airbnb spokesperson said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has not expressed a public opinion on possible regulations in Pittsburgh, spokesman Tim McNulty said.

“Obviously we’re not there yet,” McNulty says. “Just like with ridesharing, we would like to work with the companies involved and the users to make sure we support the industry, but also to keep users safe.”

Regulations in Pittsburgh would likely emanate from policymakers at the state and county level, says Eric Montarti, senior policy analyst at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. Lawmakers must walk a fine line with the emerging sharing economy, which also includes ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, he notes.

“You don’t want to stifle innovation, but you don’t want to destroy the way of life of the people who live in the area either,” Montarti says.

A free service similar to Airbnb, but unaffected by regulations, is Couchsurfing. Hosts say they do it for the human interaction and adventure.

Manley hosted a “couch surfer” from São Paulo, Brazil, who in turn offered to return the favor if he was ever in the area. “It’s a certain type of wealth,” Manley says.

Although money is the only motivation for some hosts.

Oakland student Andrew Wells says the income helps. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Andrew Wells, 23, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, says the extra income from Airbnb helps pay the rent. Like many hosts, Wells is out of town when a guest is staying at his apartment and hasn’t had a problem with damaged or stolen property.

Jody and Steve Choder rely on the app’s rating system and phone conversations with potential guests as collateral. The couple booked 300 stays in 2014 and 54 stays in August with no intentional property damage or theft.

Manley, 30, says he’s stayed in more than 30 homes and apartments around the world as an Airbnb guest and never had a bad experience. In Fort Lauderdale, he and his girlfriend stayed with Mango Rob, who hosted backyard parties next to a garden under a huge mango tree.

“Part of his welcome included a lesson in how to properly cut mangoes and the right amount of rum to use for smoothies,” says Manley, who plans to host a Victorian Garden Party in October at his historic Fineview home. , the first built in the district.

Her thought ? New technology is reminiscent of old times. “It makes people more friendly and fearless,” he says.

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