Millennial couple earn passive income by renting homes on Airbnb

Last September, wedding photographers Adriana Krause and Stephan Alvin did something unusual. They bought a second home during a global pandemic.

The House, a cabin in Oakhurst, California, is their company headquarters, located near Yosemite National Park, where they hold small ceremonies. When they’re not in California, they’re in Rio de Janeiro, where they bought a flat in July 2020.

Krause, 29, and Alvin, 38, split their time between the two cities. When they are in one place, they rent the other on Airbnb. The resulting income, in just nine months: $18,000. The majority of that revenue comes from their Oakhurst cabin, which took in $13,000 after listing the property in late July, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

“It took months of work to make both places feel like home,” Krause told CNBC Make It. “But now we only work one hour a week.”

This hour is spent confirming reservations and coordinating cleaning staff to ensure properties are ready for the next guests. But the hustle and bustle on the real estate side is risky and expensive business. Together, the couple’s homes will cost about $487,000 between renovations and two mortgages, according to Krause.

Krause and Alvin’s photography business specializes in small ceremonies and runaways in Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park.

Stephan and Adriana Photography

While revenue from Airbnb bookings has yet to cover home prices, Krause says the couple – who earned $215,000 from their photography business last year – are on track to cover their bills, and more. Profits pending, they have a big plan: once their second home is paid for, they intend to use this passive income to travel.

“It’s both a safe and crazy way to start a business because no one really wants to rent where they live,” says Krause. “But we’re both willing to take calculated risks, and the rewards have been pretty huge.”

A three bedroom condo in Rio

Krause and Alvin met while working as skaters for Disney on Ice. In 2018, they retired from showbiz, got married, and moved into an apartment in Fresno, California near Alvin’s family. Within a year, they launched their wedding photography business.

Krause and Alvin performed at an ice show in Brazil in 2018. They skated with Disney on Ice for six and 11 years, respectively, and visited every continent except Antarctica.

Stephan Alvin and Adriana Krause

Living in Fresno while working hours in Yosemite National Park and Sequoia wasn’t exactly convenient, and Krause says the town “never really felt like home.”

“Business was good in 2019, and we put all that work into making 2020 great,” she says. “But when the pandemic happened, we were like, ‘Why are we living here?'”

The couple pooled their life savings to buy the Rio condo, previously owned by a friend, for the equivalent of about $127,000, Krause says. Due to forest fires and snow, they do not book wedding sessions during the summer and winter months. So they bought the three-bedroom condo as a place to stay to spend those six months, just steps from the beach and near Krause’s family.

Krause and Alvin paid for their three-bedroom condo in Rio before buying the Oakhurst cabin.

Stephan and Adriana Photography

While in Brazil, they use their time to edit photos, update their website, and enjoy vacations. The money they make during their photography season is enough to sustain them through their offseason, Krause says.

Since listing the condo on Airbnb in November 2021, Krause and Alvin have earned $5,600 from six visits — an average of one visit per month before the couple moved back in.

A one bedroom cabin outside of Yosemite

The couple kept their apartment in Fresno as a temporary base in the United States while looking for a replacement closer to work. They wanted to keep renting, Krause says, but the charm of the one-bedroom red cabin drew them in and convinced them to buy it as a second home.

The cabin cost about $325,000, plus an additional $35,000 over six months to renovate it, repair water damage and decorate it, Krause says. Even once it was habitable, she adds, she spent weeks adding personal touches and taking virtual classes to learn how to monetize both properties on Airbnb.

Krause paid for virtual classes to learn how to monetize his Airbnb listings. She says the tutorials have taught her list a high security deposit, otherwise you risk “attracting people who won’t take care of your home.”

Stephan and Adriana Photography

In just five weeks on the rental platform, the cabin has already earned the couple $13,000.

Now that both houses are up and running, Krause says expenses are minimal — mostly because she already pays for things like internet, shampoo and toilet paper as a resident. Cleaning staff is a notable cost: around $50 per session in Rio and $126 per session in Oakhurst. The Rio condo gets cleaned two or three times a month, and the Oakhurst cabin gets cleaned two or three times a week, Krause says.

Airbnb also takes a 3% fee from each booking, which reduces profits. But Krause says the platform’s ease of use kept her from thinking about signing up with competing sites like VRBO, which charges hosts 3% payment processing and a 5% commission.

The couple say they use their money from Rio for cleaning costs, bills and cosmetic upgrades to both homes. Proceeds from Oakhurst’s cabin go into their savings and travel fund, which will pay for a planned trip to Honduras in November.

Plus, still living near Krause or Alvin’s family is a “greater reward than money,” Krause says.

“Listing these homes wasn’t about the money, it was about being able to spend time with both of our families,” she says. “We are lucky to have the money to live our lifestyle in two different places, but having the opportunity to be close to both families is what makes us work so hard.”

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