Jerome Van Wert and Stephen Mulrooney lived in their exquisite 104-year-old Hyde Park area home for seven years before deciding “it was kind of a crime not to make use of it more.” And so they signed up to be Airbnb hosts in Kansas City.
It felt strange handing over their house key to their first guest, “a stranger from Florida,” a man who also was a first-time Airbnb user.
But a year and half later, Van Wert and Mulrooney said they have only good things to say about renting two second-floor bedrooms, one of them a beautifully appointed suite with private bath, kitchenette and private porch.
The men offer two of about 460 lodging opportunities available in the Kansas City area through airbnb.com, an array that includes a Frank Lloyd Wright landmark house, a basement “boudoir” that looks like an explosion in a crayon factory, and rooms that offer “flying beds” suspended by chains from the ceiling.
There are sleek, high-rise condominiums, tidy bungalows, an entire small hotel, rooms in mansions, and even just a mattress in a living room among the offerings.
Half of the listings are for private rooms in people’s apartments or houses, creating a new mindset for renters and owners who open their once-private homes to people they don’t already know. For Van Wert and Mulrooney, the adapting was easy.
“We had to stop worrying about what guests might do, what they might take,” Mulrooney said. “And we’ve never, ever had a bad experience. We’ve met some of the most amazing people.”
In fact, Van Wert said, many guests have left as friends: “For us, our experience has been that you don’t go to visit, you go there to live…We’re sad to see some of them go.”
Since signing up for Airbnb, they can recall only one weekend with no guests. They’ve had some long-term guests, such as student interns or workers holding temporary jobs, who have stayed for weeks. But that requires booking far ahead. As with many Airbnb properties in the Kansas City area, rave reviews pile up on the website.
“We are here to be their personal concierge, but guests also can be as private as they like,” Van Wert said. “We give them both of our cellphone numbers so they can call us any time.”
The men said they also embrace the housecleaning and other duties associated with keeping the facilities ready for guests.
“A lot of guests tell us the pictures don’t do it justice,” Van Wert said, “and some say we don’t charge enough.”
The small guest room, with a private bath, lists for $49 a night; the suite, outfitted like any four-star hotel, lists for $79.
“That’s enough for us,” Mulrooney said. “People don’t realize that Airbnb allows more people to travel, to stay some place for $49 or so a night versus $129 in a hotel room.”
Other Airbnb sites involve little to no owner contact. They simply offer lodging locations or amenities that are being chosen by some of the approximately 23,000 Kansas City area Airbnb guests a year.
Erika and Brian Rodgers looked at all the Kansas City-area Airbnb pictures online. It was the clean, spacious, industrial vibe of the Studio Lofts@Grocer’s Warehouse that caught their eyes, partly because the space reminded them of Brian’s former loft in the River Market.
The former Kansas City residents, now living in the Detroit area, made their third visit to the Airbnb apartment at 3612 Karnes Blvd. this summer and plan to return whenever they visit Erika’s family.
“It feels like we live here,” Erika said. “We were drawn in by the pictures, but it’s been really convenient, and we like not having to deal with a front desk or hotel maids coming in, and we can come and go as we please.”
The two medical professionals, who haven’t used Airbnb in other cities, quickly listed what they liked at their Airbnb choice. No parking fees compared with hotel stays. A quiet location across from Roanoke Park but just minutes from downtown or the Country Club Plaza. Easy access to nearby Interstate 35, a plus because their relatives live south in Olathe and north in Weston.
The couple paid $140 a night for the industrial chic room, with a mini-fridge and microwave, washer/dryer, and access to an exercise facility and community room. It wasn’t a cheap choice, they acknowledged, but it was the right choice for them as well as for dozens of other couples and individuals who have signed the room’s guestbook since it opened in February.
The Airbnb units in the Grocer’s Warehouse — two suites at the outset and a third just added — were planned from the beginning, when Jesse and Matthew Hufft decided to transform part of the former Wolferman’s bakery plant into the offices of Hufft Projects plus a row of apartments along one end of the building.
“Initially we thought of it because Hufft Projects has a significant number of clients coming in from out of town, and we thought it would be wonderful to be hospitable enough to put them up in our own space,” said Jesse. “We also figured that tenants of our one-bedroom apartments might want to use the space when relatives come to visit.”
Indeed, that happened. Jesse said every tenant has used the Airbnb rooms to put up family or friends.
But the best benefit, Jesse said, is tapping “into the Airbnb community, which has been a completely positive experience, with pleasant people who are happy to be here, whether they’re en route to somewhere else or exploring the city.”
Rachel, a 28-year-old single woman, travels frequently as a certified public accountant. She’s used Airbnb only once as a guest elsewhere, largely because she has so many hotel points. But her single Airbnb experience helped cement her decision to become an Airbnb host.
For security reasons, she’s not sharing her last name or exact location for this story, and she said she pays attention to the personal information about guests that is available to hosts on the Airbnb site. Also, former hosts can rate guests, just as guests can rate hosts.
“Initially, I was going to (rent the spare bedroom) just when I wasn’t there,” Rachel said of her apartment in the vicinity of the University of Kansas Hospital. “But I’ve ended up being at home about 50 percent of the time.”
She’s hosted one summer intern for a multiweek stay and also hosted short-term conference attendees and weekend leisure travelers. Generally, she asks for $35 or $40 a night. She lets guests know that “any of my kitchen things are open for them to use. I stock coffee, granola bars, water bottles and basic bathroom amenities.”
Initially, “I was hesitant to rent to a single man, so the first time I had my boyfriend with me,” she said. “But I had another guy who stayed two weeks. I was gone a lot, but I haven’t had any problems. For me, everyone has been respectful and never left the kitchen or the bathroom a mess.”
Rachel said she has been surprised that almost all of her visitors “already have a plan and know what they’re doing” and haven’t relied on her for advice about restaurants or traveling within the city.
For Willie Dugan, owner of The Rieger Hotel at 1924 Main St., Airbnb is his preferred use for the historic property in the Crossroads Arts District. The Airbnb location sits atop The Rieger restaurant and Manifesto speakeasy, which are tenants in his building.
Through Airbnb, Dugan rents the upper floors — sleeping up to 12 — to a single patron at a time, be it a wedding party, a family reunion or a business.
“I saw the ability to bring guests together, who could retreat to their own rooms but have common memories to share in a single location,” Dugan said. “We’re now in our third year. We got our first guest almost immediately, and I’m full now like six months ahead of time.”
The Rieger/Airbnb facility recently posted a minimum price of $575 a night with a two-night minimum. Since the cost often is shared among guests, the per-person rate goes down. The Rieger, like many Airbnb spots, uses dynamic pricing that can fluctuate based on demand and popular destination times.
“Now, with a streetcar stop right at our front door, it’s pretty awesome,” Dugan said.
Airbnb in KC
Number of active listings — about 460
Nights hosted per year for a typical listing — 59
Types of space offered — 47 percent entire home; 50 percent private room, 3 percent shared space
Average length of stay — about 3 nights
Number of inbound guest arrivals per year — 23,000
Annual earnings for typical host — $5,400
Average host age — 41
What hosts pay to Airbnb — 3 percent of rental income