FARGO — While stay-at-home orders effectively wiped calendars clean of events and vacations for millions of people around the world, it seems that more and more folks are starting to getting comfortable with the idea of a little break from their homes.
In an article written for CNN's business section, Airbnb — a San Francisco-based homestay platform — reported a surge in bookings through its website. In fact, the U.S. alone had more homestay bookings between May 17 and June 3 in 2020 than in the previous year. A sure sign that residents are just itching for a little getaway.
"It was very slow for about two months in the height of (coronavirus)," said Jeremy Young of Fargo. "But it's filled back up almost to where it was before. We're getting a lot of bookings every day. I think today we just got two new ones for later this month."
Jeremy and his husband Andrew list several units on Airbnb, including four in downtown Fargo, a few by North Dakota State University and one in downtown Minneapolis.
The couple began listing their properties on Airbnb in late 2016 — first renting their guest room in their own home, followed by other properties as they acquired them.
"We love to host family and friends, and sometimes, you know, you value your own space, especially as you grow into an adult," Andrew said. "But we didn't want that to prohibit us from having family and friend around. So we thought, 'Hey, let's get this place next door, we can have it as kind of a guest house. And in the interim of it not being used, or if it's not ever used, then we'll put it on Airbnb.'"
The Youngs said their initial Airbnb listings were kind of an experiment. They went into it thinking that a few bookings would be a great place to start.
And then it grew.
"Airbnb is a great opportunity for us," Andrew said. "Of course, that translates to revenue. But it also translates to us getting to have...I mean how lucky are we that this is considered a guest house? And it's because of short-term stay platforms like Airbnb, VRBO and Homeaway."
The Youngs aren't the only ones taking advantage of the short-stay platforms. Fargo-Moorhead alone has over 50 properties available to rent, ranging from trendy downtown lofts and condos, to basement apartments and even entire houses — at price points that fit almost every budget.
"I try to make it so all they'd need to bring is their clothes and medicine," said Kathy Paradeis of her basement studio guest suite.
She started listing through Airbnb in April 2019, and her calendar began filling up immediately — before she was quite ready even.
"I was running around crazy trying to make sure it got ready," she said. "It's really done OK every since."
Featuring space for up to three guests, Paradeis's rental features everything someone might need for a quick getaway. The yard has patio seating and a fire pit and also includes a hot tub that guests are welcomed to use, all surrounded by strikingly beautiful flowers and lush greenery.
"When I was in the market looking for a house, I purposely was looking for something that I could rent out," Paradeis says. "I wasn't originally thinking Airbnb, I was just thinking of a space that I could rent to help cover the mortgage kind of thing."
The guest suite stays pretty busy year-round, even when the coronavirus threatened to slow things down.
"Because of COVID, my calendar got cleared," she said. "Everything cancelled. I mean, I had a lot of bookings, and I was kind of excited going into the year with them already to see how it would go, but everything cancelled."
But she said things have picked up quite a bit, just not as far into the future. She's gone from a blank calendar to having bookings out through the end of the month.
'Prettiest Airbnb in ND'
Twin sisters Mikala and Rachael Steenholdt renovated the mother-in-law suite on the back of their 1912, single-family home, with the help of their dad, starting in 2015.
After the renovations were complete, the sisters began renting out the unit to traveling healthcare professionals and began listing on Airbnb in 2016.
"Airbnb kind of just took off," Mikala said. "So we decided to put our main house on there, which Rachael and I were living in at the time. It's a three-bed-two-bath, and we were in the process of fixing that up and renovating it with our dad. So we did that, and we've been (renting through Airbnb) ever since."
The 400-square-foot converted mother-in-law suite features a sofa bed and a double bed, along with a kitchen and separate, keyless entry. Attached to the suite, the main house, which was featured as the "No. 1 prettiest Airbnb in ND" by Architectural Digest, has room for up to six guests — with pets being welcomed in all units.
The pair also purchased a triplex home on North University Drive in Jan. 2019 to rent out through Airbnb. The triplex has room for three guests on each floor.
And furry friends are always welcome.
For the Steenholdt twins, comfort is essential. Homey touches can be found throughout all of their units, helping guests feel at home, even when they're away from their own homes.
"People can always go to a hotel," Rachael said. "But they choose (Airbnb) because it feels like home."
'5-star Flat in the Heart of Fargo'
If Midwest hospitality had a face, it would look like Jay Nelson.
He and his wife Kristi bought their home in the mid-1980s and began listing one of their upper-level apartments on Airbnb in May 2018.
"We like to think of it as that old saying: under-promise and over-deliver," Nelson said. "And what we show, we really try to excel at."
Featuring a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment on the second floor of their home, the Nelsons offer guests a slice of Fargo-living in everything they do for their guests. From stocking the refrigerator with Fargo-goodies, to leaving their "Fargo-favorites" recommendations for guests who want them, the Nelsons strive to create a space that is as welcoming and beautiful as the city it's located in.
"We try to make it feel like home," Jay said.
'Trendy Downtown Condo'
Located in the heart of downtown Fargo, Jeremy and Andrew Young's private studio apartment features a bit of Fargo everywhere you turn.
Art made by local artists (that's for sale) adorns the walls of the spacious downtown loft, while a queen bed stars as the center of the room under beautiful, 15-foot ceilings and exposed brick walls.
The Youngs welcome guests with their own brochure, created specifically for the space, that features information about the area and even some of the hosts' favorite places to visit.
And if you're looking to get into the homestay business, the Youngs have a few tips.
"Number one is make it special," Andrew said. "Make it unique. Take advantage of the idea that somebody is going to be there for one night, two nights only. Make it something you really love and really embrace the idea that people love staying somewhere they would never ever stay somewhere else."
Andrew also says to consider using quality products that can withstand wear and tear of daily life, as well as give guests the option of keyless entry — to eliminate interaction.
But his final tip?
"This is something that we actually haven't done but have talked about it," he said. "Go stay in an Airbnb in your (own) town, especially if you're considering it, to see what it's like to treat yourself."