I own an Airbnb ‘Dome House’ in Joshua Tree for extra income

  • Stephanie Monroe owns an Airbnb “dome home” with her husband in Joshua Tree, California.
  • They bought the house in 2020 as an additional source of income to supplement their full time jobs.
  • It takes 10 hours of work a week from each of them, and they say it’s far from passive.

This narrated essay is based on a conversation with Stephanie Monroe, owner of Airbnb in Joshua Tree, California. Insider verified its Airbnb earnings with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I have a background in law and my husband has a background in engineering and construction. But in 2020, we decided to own Airbnb and purchased our “Serenity Dome House,” as we call it, in Joshua Tree, California, just before the pandemic, as a deferred retirement job.

In 2020, our revenues increased by approximately 60% compared to the previous owner’s 2019 revenues. In 2021, our revenues increased by 87% compared to 2019. Today, we tend to increase by approximately 55% compared to 2019 for 2022.

We live in San Diego and wanted to be within a two hour drive of the property. We searched the surrounding SoCal areas and found that Joshua Tree was a good place to look as there didn’t seem to be as many rentals and hotels at the time. I really wanted a domed house because I liked their architecture.

There were only a handful of domed homes on the market when we searched, but what really drew us to this one was that it doesn’t have a second story or loft. When you walk in, it’s a 1,000 square foot circle with a high ceiling. Looks like it has a bigger capacity.

Joshua Tree also had a lower buy-in than other Southern California locations.

At the time, the area had a much lower supply of rentals, so you could get a higher rate per night due to demand. It changes quickly.

It was difficult for the host, especially because I had to learn how to be a host and have guests during COVID-19.

During the pandemic, everyone was running to rural areas, so the demand was extremely high. Investors began to arrive, jostling to buy every property and land to be developed. As a result, the offer is really saturated.

Now people are starting to do international and major city travel. The demand here has dropped and that has really changed the competition. There is also a lack of long-term rentals in Joshua Tree, so there is a labor shortage. People move because they can no longer afford the region.

Now you can’t find house or pool cleaners, and everyone is fighting for the limited supply of labor. This makes accommodation very difficult.

Despite all this, our house is fine

We think it’s because of its unique features. We see more bookings during Spring Break, and we’ve been busy all summer as well. In August, bookings seem to drop a bit, then pick up again in September and October. Then it slows down, but holidays bring renters towards the end of the year.

During a weekday, we charge approximately between $395 and $450 per night for up to eight people and $950 for up to eight people on weekends. We charge an additional $50 per night per person after eight people. The maximum is 16 people.

We have found in this area that if you don’t have a pool you are dead in the summer. We recently added a heater in the pool to keep it a bit busier and to be able to charge higher rent per night out of season.

My husband and I shared the work. We both wear different hats and then we also share some of the hats. We each work about 10 hours a week on things related to the home. I think if we took away some of the extra stuff, like managing the social media accountswe could significantly reduce our hours.

We also don’t have a property management company, which makes hosts more time-consuming.

In addition, we have done a lot of renovations and decorations

We built a two bedroom addition to the dome house from the ground up.

The dome can sometimes be difficult to maintain because there are so many different units involved, such as the swimming pool and the jacuzzi. Unfortunately, guests also damage things. We were lucky and didn’t have any big blowouts, but we had to fix gates, doors, paint and decor. We also had to replace the television in each unit. However, we now buy higher quality items so they last longer.

We have also installed things that help us manage ourselves easily, such as air conditioning which we can control remotely and a remote type lock so that we do not have to drop off the keys for new customers.

Sales have fallen since COVID-19

I do a lot of analysis to determine our nightly rates. I look at Airbnb and see what other people are charging, because in Joshua Tree especially – compared to other parts of Southern California – it seems like hosts are adding one amenity after another. For example, hosts will add a hot tub, then someone else will add a pool, then someone else will have a pool and outdoor bar.

Customers who book now are more price conscious. There is much more price competition today than before. It fluctuates monthly depending on the time of year, so I never just set the price and leave it.

Since we took over the property, we have thought a lot about how to make it better and more profitable. For example, the house had a very high electricity bill, so we added solar panels. The decor also looked like the previous host had gone to the thrift store and bought a bunch of different items that didn’t look the same so we got rid of all that and made sure everything was ok in the whole property.

We tried to reach a wider audience instead of just the hippie crowd. We wanted to appeal to families, yoga retreats and other special events like birthday parties. Advertising to a larger group via social media has really helped, especially since almost all of our bookings are for some sort of special event.

We always see Airbnbs mentioned as “passive income”, but there is nothing passive

Even if you simply turn the property over to a property manager, you are still paying bills. You may not be available 24/7 for guests, but there is still work to be done.

I think that’s why a lot of hosts are drawn to it. They say, “Oh, it’s passive. It’s so easy for me to do it. Anyone can do it.” A few years ago buying in was easy, but with today’s prices you really have to be strategic to win money. In the market, if you buy at current prices and pay a property manager, you probably won’t see a positive return.

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