From Airbnb host to landlord: Real estate investors weigh the impacts of COVID-19

For one Seattle home owner, the longer-term math means stability in uncertain times

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If you hit the road this summer, are you more likely to choose a hotel or a vacation rental? New data from a June Harris Poll COVID-19 Tracker finds that Americans planning their next leisure trip are far more likely to stay in a hotel than an Airbnb or other vacation rental home (45% vs. 14%). This has a direct financial impact on short-term rental investors, and Zillow data suggests more may be shifting their homes from vacation spots to longer-term rentals to get more predictable cash flows.

portrait of mother and father sitting on a couch holding their newborn son

Eric Triebe with his wife and newborn son

That was the case for Eric Triebe, who took his Seattle home off the Airbnb site and created a listing on Zillow for the partially furnished four-bedroom house. “From our list date to when we had the lease signed was three and a half days,” says Triebe. “Having that year-long lease really gives me peace of mind.”

Triebe initially became an Airbnb host in June 2019, after he and his wife moved from their home in the hip Capitol Hill neighborhood to a larger one with a yard, south of downtown Seattle. He says the vacation rental income was considerable in the warm summer months. When the pandemic hit, reservations plummeted: Triebe hosted only two visitors between February and April 2020.

“We weren’t making any income, and we still had a mortgage,  and there was no end in sight from what we could tell with the COVID situation,” Triebe says. “We also had our first child — a boy — in February, so overall, management of an Airbnb property just wasn’t sustainable for us long term.”

Eric Triebe’s rental listing on Zillow

Zillow data suggests other investors may have pivoted like Triebe in the initial weeks of the pandemic. 

The number of furnished listings on Zillow doubled from March 2020 through the end of April 2020, from 4.7% of total listings the first week of March to a share of 10.9% the week of April 26, 2020. 

The share of Zillow listings advertising a short-term  lease (six months or less) also saw a spike: From the week of March 1st up until April 12th the seasonally adjusted share of short-term rental listings on Zillow spiked by more than 30% to 6.3%. That share has since fallen to 5.4%.

For Triebe, the transition from host to landlord was straightforward. He listed his property and screened tenants with Zillow Rental Manager, a set of tools for landlords and property managers. “It was easy for me to be able to respond on my phone to inquiries, and it was great to also have all the renter contact information in the desktop application.” Triebe also used Zillow Rental Manager to sign the lease and collect rent online. “The whole process was integrated. It was almost done before it got started.”

With a full-time job, new baby and new yard to landscape, Triebe has no plans to start a rental property empire. But he says he could see moving back into his Capitol Hill home when he and his wife become empty nesters a couple decades from now.