Former YMCA Camp in Rensselaer County Now Renovated Lakeside Airbnb

Christopher Woodyard and his partner, Austin Nelson, have always wanted to own a home. They just didn’t know when that time would come.

But after spotting a listing for a large lakeside property – and in serious need of attention – in March 2020 in Rensselaer County, he was struck.

Time and time again, images of that big brown log cabin came to mind. After several visits to the site with real estate agents, he and Nelson bought the house in 2021 and began what would become a year-long renovation bargain.

The two still remember their first impressions of the house.

“It was almost like walking into an (empty) convention center…really big and where you can put all these tables and chairs and define the rooms to make it feel…comfortable,” Woodyard said.

The house was a large open space with almost no definition, no stairs. Nelson and Woodyard remember climbing an aluminum ladder just to get between floors.

In its previous life, the property housed a YMCA camp before becoming a ramshackle shell of a structure where local high schoolers used to party, according to Nelson.

One of those bunk beds still stands with decades-old camper notes. And while strolling through Averill Park, some people stop Nelson and Woodyard to rave about the good times they had there back in the day.

Nelson said there was a lot of interest in the house, but he thinks people were afraid to jump. Admittedly, it was a first. But Nelson and Woodyard thought it was worth it.

They immediately started renovating the house. A builder came on site to help them imagine what the space would be like. The couple also used an app, 3D tracking planwhich allowed them to build plans.

The walls have been moved to give the kitchen a view of the lake and the hallways have been planted in open spaces to create separation between the rooms. They added a deck off the kitchen, then redid a waterfront deck at the Burden Lake home. Just as they finished part of the renovation, the two said they wanted to do more. After finishing the tedious work, the couple decorated the house with furniture mostly borrowed and used by their families, along with a few new basics.

Most of the house was completed last summer. The only part that remains unfinished is the basement. Woodyard and Nelson plan to tackle it in a few years.

Living further away – they are based in Hoboken, NJ – has made it difficult for the two to oversee the renovation on a day-to-day basis and what they thought would take three months has taken much longer due to a series of unforeseen ‘surprises’ during the process including water damaged siding on the house which nailed down over two months.

Woodyard said supply chain bottlenecks, labor shortages and unforeseen expenses were further delaying the renovation schedule. According to Woodyard, the couple spent almost the entire cost of the home, more than $600,000, on repairing the property.

“One of the hardest things for us was really dealing with our emotions,” he said. “We went there thinking we had a three month schedule and every time something new popped up it would cut the wind from our sails a bit.”

Since the end of the renovation, the couple have transformed the site into an investment property by listing it on Airbnb. Depending on the season, they charge between $599 and $700 a night and have a steady stream of weekend guests, Nelson said.

“There’s a sense of relief that we’ve made it through to the other side, but there’s also this joy that we get to be able to reflect on all the work that we’ve done,” Woodyard said.

He and Nelson celebrated the achievement by taking time to enjoy the property this summer, making fires in the yard and boating on the lake. Woodyard said he learned a lot in the process and has a newfound appreciation for the home since learning that few homes are on the market in Burden Lake.

They’ve realized most in the area are passed down between family members and now they, too, have a wonderful property in a welcoming community to do the same, Woodyard said.

The house received strong traction as a rental, but Nelson said they were trying to figure out their next steps as they began to consider owning it after getting to know the community better.

“We’re a bit torn,” he said.

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