How one man turned a cheap Craigslist castle into a thriving Airbnb
- Robert Smith bought a castle near Asheville, North Carolina for $375,000 in 2008.
- After years of renovations, Smith has opened the castle to travelers booking rooms on Airbnb and Vrbo.
- Smith isn’t worried about a downturn in business as one-time stays are all the rage on short-term rental sites.
Robert Smith found a castle on Craigslist.
In 2008, while looking for a log cabin near Asheville, North Carolina, Smith was amazed to see a 15,000 square foot property for sale.
“Everybody loves a castle,” Smith, 57, told Insider. “I immediately called the real estate agent, and she said he was still available. We went there that day and went to see him.”
Smith bought the castle with his brother, Jim, for $375,000. (They run a security systems company, SecureOne Protection Services, in northeast Florida.) It was a robbery, he said, but he knew he had a lot of work ahead of him.
“He was in a pretty tough condition,” Smith said. “There were no light fixtures, all the AC condenser units were gone, there were weeds everywhere, it needed painting – it needed a complete overhaul.”
Renovating the castle, then called Castle Inn, became his passion project.
“I’ve always been into architecture and my family has always been into construction,” he said. “The castle has practically changed my life because I’ve been going there every month since day one.”
Smith invested millions of dollars in renovations that lasted eight years and named it after him: Smithmore Castle. He finally decided to list his eight rooms on Airbnb and Vrbo in 2019 after successfully renting out the property for weddings the year before.
The money spent was worth it, he said, and the revenue has increased every year.
Smith has broken down what it takes to turn a dilapidated castle into a luxury hotel in the hills of North Carolina.
Smith has turned the dilapidated castle into a loan for travelers
Smithmore Castle is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains on 121 acres of land. Smith’s initial purchase was for just 3.46 acres of land, so he purchased neighboring parcels to fully realize his vision.
“I had to replenish all 100+ acres over the years,” Smith said. “It took millions of dollars over time to put it back together and refurbish it, furnish it and make it functional again.”
Smith lives in Neptune Beach, Florida, a beach town 30 minutes east of Jacksonville, and lived there when he first purchased the castle. But he made regular trips to North Carolina to lead the renovation.
“I was spending 10-14 days a month up there. It was practically a 50-50 house for me,” he said. “At first we just slept on mattresses on the floor because we only furnished it in 2014.”
Smith did most of the work himself, he said, from buying “large” furniture to installing light fixtures.
“I’m quite skilled,” he said. “I’m a bit of a plumber, carpenter and electrician.”
He listed the eight bedrooms on Airbnb and Vrbo
During the summer of 2019, once the castle was presentable, Smith decided to list its eight rooms on Airbnb and Vrbo.
“I thought, ‘We’re monopolizing this beautiful property for all of us,’ so we had to share it with the public,” he said. “It would be nice to start making some money, because it was just a money pit for 10 years.”
Smith added perks and amenities — like ax throwing, cooking classes and etiquette classes, plus access to hiking trails and rafting — to help his castle stand out from the crowd. all other castles for rent.
“We had about a 500% increase in bookings from 2019 to 2020,” Smith said. “And we had about a 40% increase from 2020 to 2021 and about the same from 2021 to 2022.”
Some Airbnb hosts have reported a slowdown in bookings since spring 2022, encouraging fears of an “Airbnbust”. However, most experts attribute the slowdown to an increase in the number of Airbnbs competing for travelers, rather than a lack of demand from travelers themselves.
It seems that unique stays on Airbnb — from a converted school bus has a Little house to shipping containers – still attract bookings despite worrying economic conditionsso Smith said he wasn’t worried.
“We’re taking in a higher customer base, so we may not see a drop,” he said. “They will continue to spend money if the economy slows down a bit, so any slowdown hasn’t been seen yet.”