Room rental service Airbnb an experience for guests, hosts alike
MOORHEAD - Dina Geiszler’s welcomed people from Switzerland, Australia and the East Coast into her home here – temporarily.
The 51-year-old Moorhead woman lists her “Minnesota nice” basement bedroom on Airbnb, a website where people showcase their available spaces and travelers book rooms from hosts.
More than 25 million people have stayed in rooms, houses and apartments registered through the San Francisco-based company.
Airbnb’s million-plus listings stretch across the globe to 34,000 cities, including Fargo and Moorhead. As of this week, seven rentals ranging in price from $55 to $150 a night were listed in the area on Airbnb.
Minneapolis boasts more than 650 listings, and New York City, like other global hubs, has more than 1,000.
Geiszler started hosting guests a year and a half ago after going through a divorce. Her sister-in-law mentioned that Airbnb was popular in Europe, and Geiszler thought she could make a little extra money renting out her empty basement.
“I have to admit, when I first started doing it, I thought, ‘Who in the world is ever wanting to come to Fargo-Moorhead?’ ” she says. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m never going to get anyone.’ ”
So far, she’s hosted about 16 people.
Two of her most memorable guests were experiencing Fargo-Moorhead before the FX series “Fargo” premiered. The East Coast writers wrote a series of articles for online magazine Thought Catalog based on their stay.
One post was called “7 Life Lessons We Could All Learn From the Midwest,” where they wrote a glowing review of their Airbnb experience, calling Geiszler one of the “nicest ladies” they’d ever met.
Then there was the Swiss photographer who came to the Midwest to photograph ghost towns, and the traveling nurse who is now one of Geiszler’s closest friends.
For Geiszler, hosting guests through Airbnb is a way to meet new people from around the world without leaving her home.
“It’s as much meeting people and having that adventure,” she says. “I’m not doing it as a money maker. I’m inviting people into my home, I’m not putting up a shingle and saying ‘room for rent.’ ”
‘New Age-wave of an old idea’
Across the river, Rob and Ali Burke share their home with guests looking for a place to stay, too. The Fargo couple listed their basement on Airbnb for the first time in August after learning about the service from a friend.
Like Geiszler, they wanted to use their extra space and meet new people.
“In my mind, it’s kind of a New Age-wave of an old idea. Before hotels happened, you would just travel and find friends and you would stay … I think it’s kind of a new wave of that, where you don’t want to stay in a hotel, so you stay with friends or people you find,” says Rob, 26. “It’s a new technological way of doing it.”
An adventurous couple in their 50s booked the Burkes’ basement a day after the listing went live. They were from Washington state and had been traveling the world living in Airbnb listings for two years while writing for the Huffington Post.
Primed from their numerous Airbnb experiences, the couple offered hosting tips and advice to the Burkes.
Recently, someone from Ireland booked the room for an upcoming conference in Fargo.
“The reason people travel with Airbnb rather than stay in hotels is, of course, one, it’s a little cheaper, but two, they want to meet locals and they want to talk and meet different culture and that kind of thing,” Rob says. “The big part is being open and willing and excited to talk to people and learn about people.”
Most guests stay a night or two, and the Burkes and Geiszler say their rooms are typically booked three to four nights a month.
Hosts earn their listing price minus a 3 percent fee Airbnb collects to process guest payment. Airbnb releases the money to hosts via PayPal, direct deposit or another electronic method 24 hours after the guest checks in.
Neither hosts have had a negative Airbnb experience, but they’ve had safety concerns.
To increase their personal safety, the Burkes and Geiszler require guests to become verified on Airbnb’s website by scanning their driver’s license and providing extra information about themselves, such as why they’re traveling to the area, their interests, history with Airbnb, etc. They also read the guest’s reviews.
Both hosts have rejected requests if they felt uncomfortable with information.
“I’m inviting them into my home, so I feel that I need to know a little about them. I go with my gut feeling,” Geiszler says.
Geiszler also notifies her neighbors and family when guests arrive, sets house rules and locks doors to areas where guests aren’t allowed.
But she doesn’t worry too much since she also stays exclusively in Airbnbs when she travels, preferring to immerse herself in the culture of a city by living like a resident.
“Instead of going to a hotel, where you’re a generic person and hang out in your hotel room, this gives you a chance to actually integrate with other people, get to know people you would never meet in your entire life and experience the city,” she says. “That’s what I love. That gives you a whole different experience when you’re traveling. And as a host, too, you get an experience.”
Neither Fargo nor Moorhead have laws in place specifically for Airbnb, but both cities have ordinances and zoning laws that might apply to renting out a room.
For instance, in Moorhead, an entire home must be listed as a rental property, even if the homeowner is renting out one room, says Mary Schmitt with the City of Moorhead.
A city ordinance in Fargo requires people that have “rooming houses to keep a registry of tenants and (to) make that available for inspection,” says Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson.
Questions regarding the legality of renting a room in a home can be directed to departments of Planning and Zoning in each city.
On its website, Airbnb states that it’s working with governments around the world to clarify rules so everyone has a clear understanding of the laws.
Geiszler is aware that there might be city laws that could apply to Airbnb rentals, and she’s prepared to ask for forgiveness.
“The reason why I haven’t really done checking much is, No. 1, it’s just a side thing for me. And for me, it’s as much meeting people and having that adventure with them,” she says. “I’m not doing it as a money-maker.”