Meet the DC couple who run 60 Airbnb listings

Lara Hawketts and Alejandro Fuentes Gonzalez.

There is a listing on Airbnb that offers a lot for people looking for temporary digs in DC. The house, which promises “Country elegance in Washington, ”Is“ open concept ”and“ vibrant, ”teeming with red brick walls, hardwood floors and a“ darling outdoor space ”conducive to healthy activities like“ chilling out on warmer evenings ”and ” to remember “. The list does not include one, two, or three, but six different photos of a chic and modern kitchen flooded with light. The photos show a trio of tea towels arranged such on an elegant worktop.

The Airbnb is minutes from the Capitol and costs guests $ 149 per night. A photo shows the hosts Lara and Alex smiling side by side, perhaps in contented contemplation of their many five-star reviews: “Lara and Alex have a lovely house in the cutest part of town,” writes one happy customer. “Lara and Alex’s place is perfect!” writes another.

But this house is not Lara & Alex’s. Or Lara’s, or Alex’s. The 59 other Airbnb listings they manage don’t make up the largest active housing portfolio in Washington, either.

“It’s interesting how customers assume this is our property,” says Lara hawkett, the founder and CEO of Sweet Town House, a local Airbnb property management company. “It’s very funny,” she adds, laughing.

What Hawketts thinks even funnier is the trajectory that culminated in his presidency of the district’s largest Airbnb empire. Hawketts, 43, moved from London to DC in January 2009 to help open a DC office for a UK consulting firm. She soon found herself buying a house, and back with her now husband. Alejandro Fuentes González, 49, whom she had met a few months earlier.

In February 2009, just a month after Hawkett’s arrival, the vicissitudes of the Great Recession had demanded his job. Fuentes Gonzalez, a trained chef from Mexico, also became unemployed during this period. To make his mortgage payments and keep his recently purchased home in Brookland, Hawkett decided to list his vacant basement unit on Airbnb, with help from Fuentes Gonzalez.

“We didn’t know what to expect, and it was amazing because we had just had a solid reservation,” said Hawketts. “Few people were doing it back then, and we were charging incredible amounts of money.”

The Airbnb cash injection helped keep the couple’s heads above water as they found new jobs, but they never left the home-sharing platform for good. In May 2009, they founded Home Sweet City. In 2015, Hawketts and Fuentes Gonzalez were able to quit their jobs and work for themselves full time.

Today, Home Sweet City employs five more people and supports a constellation of contractors, from air conditioning repairers and locksmiths to landscapers and cleaners. By far the company’s most popular service is the full-service “hands-free” property management package, in which owners hand over their keys and Home Sweet City takes care of the rest. This means staging the home (Hawketts and Fuentes Gonzalez only work with fully furnished homes), facilitating professional space photography, listing the unit online, handling guest requests and reservations, providing cleaning and linen services, etc.

“There’s a lot to do,” says Hawketts. “Sometimes it feels like we run 60 mini small hotels across the city. There is so much involved.

Every day, Hawketts and his team roam the hundreds of messages they receive from potential guests around the world (the average on busy days is around 500 messages). Fuentes Gonzalez’s team is more itinerant. They spend the day driving around town, checking properties, doing routine housekeeping, picking up and dropping off laundry, and more. their two young children from school in the afternoon. What they love about the job they have created for themselves is flexibility.

In early 2017, the DC Council held a strained hearing on a bill regulating home sharing services. While the bill came to nothing, it set the stage for the housing sharing debate that took center stage last month.

At the end of September, it was announced that a revised roommate bill written by the president Phil mendelson would be considered by the Council. The bill would prohibit landlords from renting second homes on a short-term basis and limit the number of days of primary home rental to 90 per year if the landlord is not physically present inside the home. Although the Council gave its preliminary approval unanimously to the bill on October 2, a final vote was unexpectedly delayed two weeks later due to last minute budget concerns.

Few have followed the Council’s roommate procrastination any closer than Hawketts, who has been at the Council building frequently since debate on the issue began almost two years ago. When it comes to the latest version of the bill under consideration, Hawketts is adamantly opposed.

“Well, I think that’s ridiculous, quite honestly. If someone owns property, they should be able to do whatever they want with it. I think it’s extremely restrictive, ”she said. “It’s just very motivated by hotels, and it just seems extremely unfair. It does not mean anything.”

Hawketts, however, points out that she theoretically supports renewed efforts to regulate short-term rental space in DC. In fact, MPs on both sides of the debate tend to agree that the regulation of some sorting has been a long time coming. DC, after all, is by far the largest colocation market in the region, with around 7,000 rentals listed on Airbnb. Unlike almost every jurisdiction in the Washington area, however, the district has yet to enforce housing sharing regulations.

In Hawketts’ view, the regulations should affect “the people who turn condominiums into mini-hotels”, not operations like his. “We don’t have owners who have, say, six houses that we manage. We don’t tend to like this scenario, ”she says. “Often it’s a couple who have their two previous houses and we run one of them or it’s a couple who are abroad and we run their residence here.” Hawketts says Home Sweet City works with members of the military, foreign service people, business people who travel often, professors, doctoral students, and more. That’s a lot of what Hawketts calls “passing professionals”. Homes, she says, are a mix of primary and secondary residences.

If Mendelson’s bill passes the game will be over, good night and thank you for playing for Home Sweet City. 75 percent of Home Sweet City’s roster inventory would evaporate, Hawketts said, and layoffs would be inevitable.

“It’s pretty scary. This is the scariest thing that has happened to us since I lost my job in 2009, ”says Hawketts. “We started this business at a time in our lives when we were under pressure and with no income, and here we are again nine years later having built this successful business and the city is trying to take it from us. . So I feel very sad about it.

Of all the DC Airbnb hosts, only relatively few are as affected as Hawketts and Fuentes Gonzalez. According to DC Policy Center, there are only 40 other hosts on the platform with more than six listings (for comparison, there are over 2,600 hosts with a single listing). Commercial operators like Home Sweet City make up only about 11% of DC’s hosts. Their properties, however, account for 30 percent of the listings.

Supporters of Council legislation (the hospitality industry, community groups, and other service critics like Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway and FlipKey) argue that the growth in short-term rentals is worsening the city’s affordable housing shortage. . By limiting the supply of housing available to longtime DC residents, it is believed that services like Airbnb are driving up the cost of renting, especially in wealthier neighborhoods where roommates tend to be the most common. popular.

While Hawketts isn’t convinced by this argument, she makes a notable concession when asked what would happen to the properties she manages if services like Airbnb didn’t exist. “That’s such a good question,” she said. “I think the majority [of the owners] would probably be long term rent. But she doesn’t think it would have much of an impact on the overall rental market and cites a Airbnb report which says its listings represent a negligible percentage of DC’s housing stock.

Ultimately, whatever the regulatory landscape, Hawketts hopes to adapt and hang on to their business in whatever shape circumstances demand. “Who would have thought? We say that all the time. Like, who would have thought we’d be running a business out of this? It’s been a real journey and a lot of hard work and we’re so proud of what we’ve built, ”she says. “And that’s why it’s so frustrating to feel like it could be taken away from us.” But not without a fight, that’s for sure.

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