FARGO - Since 2008, Airbnb has been gaining momentum. In fact, the site that provides a platform for people to rent bedrooms or entire homes earned Fargo and West Fargo hosts $319,400, with nearly 3,500 guest arrivals in 2017 alone. (Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota combined earnings totaled $29 million in 2017.)

Andrew Young, 28, and his husband, Jeremy, 26, of Fargo decided to list their properties on Airbnb in November 2016 after using the platform themselves. While they used to rent out the guest room in their own home, the couple now owns three units on Roberts Street in downtown Fargo. Their most popular space - a 1,250-square-foot loft formerly owned by former KVLY news anchor Stephanie Goetz - was featured on House Hunters in January 2013.

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"We bought it and rather than renting it, we thought, 'Let's just put it on Airbnb.' That way we can have it available when our family's going to be in town and create some income for it when they're not," Young says.

Their loft rental alone generated nearly $25,000 for the couple this past year.

"For us - with Jeremy on a school teacher's salary and myself, an entrepreneur that's not yet taking a paycheck - that's the income we depend on to fund our electricity and lives right now," Young says.

How it works

Described as a "global travel community that offers magical end-to-end trips, including where you stay, what you do and the people you meet," the Airbnb app and website connects hosts with potential renters, offering travelers accommodations beyond hotels.

"One of the very unique things about Airbnb is that if you host and open up your home, you keep 97 percent of the earnings," says Jasmine Mora, the Airbnb press secretary for North and South Dakota.

Before they even began experimenting with Airbnb, the Youngs knew they wanted some control over their rental spaces. It turns out, the site had that.

"Airbnb hosts have a lot of autonomy and freedom. They get to price their listing at whatever amount they'd like," Mora says. "You can do an instant book or you can communicate with guests before they book. You can screen (guests) and ask questions, as a host. We have a lot of tools on the platform that allow you to be in control."

Hosts renting out their home can include cleaning and service fees in their pricing, stick with a flat rate and/or escalate their prices based on demand (i.e. local events, holidays or other factors at play). Hosts can also set check-in times that work around their busy schedules.

"Because we both work, if you book our property check-in time is 5 p.m. or after. And you can set that," Young says. "People still book it."

Reviews make up a large part of Airbnb - both the host and guest rate each other.

"We rate on check-in and how tidy they leave the property," Young says. "We don't expect people to leave it clean but we really value when people leave it in a condition that makes it easy for us to clean."

Seniors are also discovering the benefits of hosting their properties on Airbnb as well.

"In North Dakota last year, 13 percent of hosts are 60 years or older. That's because people are finding creative ways to take advantage of the sharing economy, as they should," Mora says. (Meanwhile, seniors made up 24 percent of hosts in South Dakota.)

"People use the income they earn on Airbnb in all kinds of ways," Mora says. "Some people use it to go on their own vacation. Some people use their earnings just to help maintain the home. For others, it's just to pay the bills."

Knowing they wanted to create an experience for guests, the Youngs purchased furniture that fit the look and style of the space.
Knowing they wanted to create an experience for guests, the Youngs purchased furniture that fit the look and style of the space.

Creating an experience

With a background in marketing, Andrew Young knew the couple would have to be intentional with their rentals if they wanted to cater to the the millennial generation who enjoys an experience.

"It's like real estate: you don't just put your home on the market and hope it sells," he says. "You have to put some work in behind doing it."

From decorating for the holidays to providing local products from Dot's Pretzels to local wine and beer from Drekker Brewing Co. and Fargo Brewing Company, the Youngs stock their properties with the kind of local flair they would enjoy if they were guests.

While it was expensive to furnish the loft on Roberts Street with locally made pieces that fit the look and theme, it was worth it, Young says.

"Our favorite Airbnbs when we travel are ones that are unique and thoughtful," he says.

That's when they had the idea to feature art from local artists including Rando, Tyler Gefroh, Brittany Haaland, Spencer Johannes and Brent Lake (with tags attached).

"We've sold a number of art pieces that way too," Young says. "It's nice because you can feature Fargo talent, Fargo space - it's in the heart of downtown. But for us, again it was important to create a Fargo experience."

3 musts when hosting

Here Young offers tips for locals interested in renting out a private room or their entire home on Airbnb.

  • Insure your property. To protect yourself from damages (think: red wine stains on furniture and broken decor), Young recommends taking out a short-term stay insurance policy for a few hundred dollars per year. "It's hard to get compensated for those types of things," he says. "Now we know if that horror story does happen, it's covered."
  • Develop an internal system. Whether it's a checklist or sheet of paper, write down what you need to do to get ready for guests and how you need or want to change your home or space to prepare for that. The Youngs created a "home scene" vs. "Airbnb scene". "That way we knew when we had someone checking in that we had a process: put jewelry and watches in closet, make sure linens are clean, make sure guest bathroom has towels, two washcloths," he says. "We wanted to create a controlled experience so that every guest that was coming was having the same experience. We also have small, subtle procedures we've put into place to protect ourselves."
  • Read private reviews. "What's really great is when a guest leaves a review - they leave the public review and a private review. Some of our best insight has come from the private reviews," Young says. "When you do start hosting, because you are new, you might make a few mistakes, so don't take private reviews personally." In being consistent with the process, you can get an accurate perspective from reviews on what needs improvement and what doesn't.

Stay tuned for a second article about renting Airbnb that will publish on April 1.