I'm a Kentucky-based Airbnb 'superhost' who's been renting to travelling nurses ever since the pandemic decimated my normal business

Dana McMahanThe carriage house Dana McMahan is renting out to nurses.
  • Kentucky-based Dana McMahan was worried that her Airbnb rentals would lose money during the pandemic, but discovered that renting to travelling nurses could offer a steady income while she came up with a new plan.
  • McMahan lowered the price of her two listings, advertised them on Facebook, and gave the property a deep sanitation before the first nurse moved in.
  • They were careful to check references before accepting applications, and set up electronic payments to avoid in-person contact.
  • Although she’d grown disenchanted with Airbnb before the pandemic, McMahan says she’s glad she decided to rent to travelling nurses, as the experience has been smooth so far.
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Like many Airbnb hosts across the country, I watched my earnings evaporate when the pandemic hit. As soon as cities started locking down, I closed the two listings I ran at the Victorian in Old Louisville my husband and I call home, cancelled all incoming stays, and issued refunds to the tune of $US7,000.

Dana McMahan headshotCourtesy of Dana McMahanDana McMahan.

We rely on income from those rentals (about $US30,000 a year) to keep up with the payments and upkeep on the sprawling 1887 home that we bought with the intent of Airbnb-ing from the beginning, so we couldn’t let them just sit empty indefinitely. With no way of knowing when the end would be, but not wanting to rent them out long term (and miss out if and when big events like the Kentucky Derby returned), we opted for a hybrid approach: longer short-term rentals.

To be more specific: renting to travel nurses.

I knew not everyone was comfortable renting to frontline health workers, but both our rentals are completely self-contained spaces with their own entrances and even their own HVAC, and we have masks and gloves to use when we go in afterwards.

We’d had a bit of experience with hosting a travelling nurse here and there in our Airbnbs, but that particular guest was only ever in town for a couple of days at a time. Most travel nurses, I learned through signing up for a couple of Facebook groups where travel nurses look for housing, have contracts that last about 12 weeks.

That seemed like the optimal amount of time to have some steady income while we tried to come up with a new game plan.

The carriage houseDana McMahanThe carriage house.

It was actually something I’d considered before for our off season in the winter, when occupancy rates drop pretty low, and had even gone so far as to list with an agency called Furnished Finder. That didn’t turn up any takers and required a subscription fee, so I didn’t continue.

This time, I dropped my price from $US1,500 to $US1,200 a month, including all utilities and furnishings, wrote a lengthy description detailing all the pros and cons of our spaces, and posted in two Facebook groups (both run by Furnished Finder) along with lots of photos.

The response was really good – it helps that the spaces are really cute, as they had to be for Airbnb.

The nurses seemed to appreciate the level of detail I provided; that’s a holdover from Airbnb hosting, where it’s always important to set accurate expectations.

Fairly quickly we had a potential long-stay guest for our carriage house, an apartment over the old stable (the garage now) on the other side of our home’s courtyard. We didn’t find anyone to rent the third floor apartment, probably because nobody wants to climb the vertiginous outdoor stairs every day for three months (I don’t blame them!).

It was this nurse’s first assignment (what a time to be doing this for the first time!) and our first time renting to a travel nurse, so I tried to be extra sure to practice due diligence. That went for both sides. The space was already clean from the last guest pre-lockdown and had been vacant for some time, but I gave it an extra round of sanitizing out of an abundance of caution.

We used the Cosy.co platform to process an application, credit check, and background check, and adapted a lease we had on file from when we’ve done long-term rentals in the space. We also checked references, which were great, and set it up so the nurse could pay us electronically via Cosy. It all went smoothly, and she told us she was very happy with the space when she checked in (I’m too much of long-time host to say “moved in”!).

I feel like we got very lucky to rent to a very considerate and thoughtful person for this foray into travel nurse hosting. We are a dog-friendly property, so I think (and hope) she was happy to be able to bring her adorable pup.

It’s really been the best of both worlds.

We’ve rented long term before, and I don’t really like being a landlord because hospitality is my passion. Renting to a visiting nurse still lets me feel like a host. I’ve tried to help her navigate the many lockdown closings and subsequent protests (again, what a momentous time for a first assignment!) and gotten to spend some time with her and her dog hanging out in our shared courtyard. And although much of the city was still locked down, I gave her suggestions for things that were still an option, like parks to explore with her dog and restaurants with great carry-out.

The shared courtyard outside the carriage houseDana McMahanThe shared courtyard outside the carriage house.

As for the money side, the income falls between long-term renting and short-term hosting. We would have been making around $US2,000 per month per Airbnb rental this time of year (before expenses like utilities and supplies), and probably less than $US1,000 for a long-term (unfurnished) rental. $US1,200 is on the low side between those two, but it’s been like a vacation from hosting with no worries about turnovers. Honestly, it’s been ideal, and we hope to continue even when travel picks up again.

There’s a potential downfall to renting to travel nurses, and it can be a big one: Nurses’ contracts can be cut short. This actually happened in our case, so the stay was shortened by about two and a half weeks. It worked out fine, though. I posted our rental again in the same Facebook groups, and in a stroke of perfect timing, a nurse coming for two months will arrive just a couple of days after the first one moves out.

I haven’t 100% decided to leave Airbnb because I like to keep our options open (and the money is better when things are good), but honestly I was a little disenchanted with the platform even before the pandemic. Our market was rapidly getting oversaturated and prices and occupancy rates were dropping. Airbnb was pushing hosts to lower prices further and further by offering special placement and promotions for drastic discounts that I wasn’t willing to offer.

With the rigorous (as they should be!) new cleaning guidelines, the time it will take to prepare for each guest will be hard to recoup with a cleaning fee – an add-on that guests already don’t like. But at least for the rest of this year (or as long as the pandemic lasts) I’m going to focus on renting to travel nurses.

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