With the start of the summer season nearly upon us, more and more country-house owners are dipping into the short-let scene, finds Roderick Easdale.
We just can’t get enough large properties on our books,’ says Camilla Shaughnessy, founder and director of Eventful Stays (0333 800 1330; eventfulstays.com). ‘We saw a 300% growth in business in 2014. Country properties that can accommodate 12–24 guests are most in demand and these get booked up early, particularly for events such as Cheltenham and Henley.’
Eventful Stays will rent out someone’s home for short-term lets for parts of the year. The original idea was to tie this in with national annual events held locally, but it’s morphed into people booking for their own personal events, such as birthday and Christmas celebrations. ‘Most people don’t have a house large enough, so need to rent somewhere that can accommodate, say, 15 people,’ points out Miss Shaughnessy, who started out by renting out her own house, decamping to the annexe when she did so.
Airbnb (www.airbnb.com), which specialises in short-term lets in people’s homes, also started out with two of the three founders renting out their own accommodation. In this case, it was the floor of their San Francisco loft space equipped with three air mattresses. From this humble beginning has grown a multi-national company with more than a million listings worldwide. Twenty million guests booked through Airbnb last year.
‘Our owners are motivated by a variety of reasons,’ explains Miss Shaughnessy. ‘The financial return is obviously one aspect. Those with large, beautiful properties can expect to earn anything from £1,600 to £3,000 for a two- or three-night stay, depending on the size and facilities. Some owners use this to pay for the upkeep of the building to allow them to carry on living there. Others simply want to have their home occupied in their absence. And some do it primarily for the fun of it.’
John Seymour rents out part of his property through Airbnb. His house has been home to the Seymour family—as in Jane Seymour, wife of Henry VIII—since it was built in about 1690. He takes delight in ‘sharing with guests from all over the world our family history and home. It provides us with income and interest’.
One advantage of renting through these two companies is that the guests expect to come into a family home with photographs on the mantelpiece—and all the rest. ‘Just clear some wardrobe space and a bedroom drawer or two’ is Miss Shaughnessy’s cheerful advice.
Another plus point is that you can choose when and how often to rent it out. ‘Ideally, we ask the owners to make their property available for a minimum of 20 weekends or eight weeks a year. But this isn’t always possible,’ says Miss Shaughnessy.
Airbnb is ‘completely flexible’ as to how often you make your home available. It handles the payment and holds the money until after the guest has checked in. Airbnb will also verify guest IDs and provide £600,000 of insurance for hosts. After the stay, both host and guest can post reviews of each other on the Airbnb website.
Frances Pearce Gould rents out two rooms in Harston Manor in Cambridgeshire, parts of which date from the 16th century. ‘We were told about Airbnb by our children, two of whom are also Airbnb hosts. Our large house isn’t fully used as our children have flown the nest and it’s expensive to keep it going,’ she explains. ‘The best part of the experience has been the wide range of interesting people we’ve met. The worst part has been the odd week when I’ve had several people staying for one night only and the turnover can be quite exhausting. I should have introduced a cleaning fee earlier, to cover the costs of one-night stays.’
Her advice is that ‘it’s best to start with a low price, obtain some reviews and then put the price up. We’ve learnt and improved our service as we’ve gone along, such as provid- ing dressing gowns, toiletries, irons and hairdryers. We often have breakfast with our guests and help them to plan their day—this makes them feel welcome’. The whole household ends up with a role in the hosting— ‘all the guests seem to like our dog,’ Mrs Pearce Gould laughs.