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How to Live in Airbnbs for the Price of an Apartment Lease 2One key retirement question revolves around housing.

Where will you live? Will you stay where you are or move? If moving, within the same city or elsewhere? And what type of house?

We have been considering these questions as it seems absurd to have two of us and a cat live in a 3,600 square foot house.

As of now, our two kids, my son-in-law, and my daughter’s four cats are in the house and it feels barely big enough.

But eventually, they will all move out and it will just be me, my wife, and Zeus.

As we’ve been chatting about possible options, one question intrigues me: is there a way I could sell the house, invest the proceeds, and have them more than pay for us living somewhere else?

If we could do this, we would unlock the earning capability of a large, non-producing asset and potentially have extra income left over (not that we need it, but the concept does appeal to my financial sensibilities).

We could then move into a rental (apartment or house) or even live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, spending three months here, a couple months, there, etc. We could see the US and avoid all undesirable weather.

Now whether we’d want to do this or not is up for debate, but it makes an interesting idea to consider.

Running the Numbers

The subject came up recently in the Millionaire Money Mentors forums and I responded with this:

Personally my thoughts have wondered to the return I’m getting on my home and if I could/should sell it, invest the proceeds, and live a nomad life in Airbnb’s.

The quick, rough math would look like this:

  • House sells for $450k after realtor’s fees
  • I invest the $450k at 7% (I could get private loans at 10% or some syndication deals at higher than 7%, but let’s be conservative.)
  • 7% earns me $31.5k per year.
  • In addition, I save roughly $8k a year on housing expenses – taxes, utilities, insurance, maintenance, etc.

So now I have $40k a year to spend on rent and break even. You can deduct some for house appreciation but I’ve about broken even over time on selling houses (some up, some down) so I wouldn’t bank too much on appreciation.

It gets even better if I could earn more than 7%…

Of course there are a whole host of non-financial issues associated with this sort of change – lifestyle, flexibility, etc. that are hard to account for. But for now let’s just focus on the concept and see if it’s plausible. I’ll probably post more on this at a later time including thoughts on logistics (like how do you downsize from a 3,600 house to only stuff that’s mobile-friendly?)

The question then remained — could I get an apartment for less than $40k a year? I think I could (and likely have a good amount left over). But what if I wanted to be more flexible and live the nomadic life? Could I rent Airbnbs/VRBOs for the same as an apartment?

On the plus side, I thought I might be able to since 1) Covid has probably lowered demand (and thus prices) and 2) if we were staying long-term I could likely negotiate a preferred rate.

On the negative side, aren’t places like this (i.e. hotel rooms) ALWAYS more expensive than renting a comparable place in the same area? After all, you should get some break for committing to a year lease, right?

Around this time I saw some comments on Twitter from A Purple Life. She had been living in Airbnbs and made a comment something along the lines of “they cost the same as renting.” She also lived in Seattle, a high cost-of-living city, so her experience seemed very valuable.

I contacted her, asked if she would document her experiences for us, and that’s what we have below.

With that said, let me turn it over to A Purple Life and her thoughts on how to live in Airbnbs for the same price as renting an apartment…

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In 2015 I started to pursue financial independence with the goal of retiring in 10 years at the age of 35. However, through job hopping and domestic geo-arbitrage I was able to cut that timeline down to a little over 5 years.

As I went through my journey I cut my spending without decreasing my standard of living by moving from Manhattan to Seattle. I also used a sad truth about the marketing industry (that the only way to increase your salary substantially is to job hop) to my advantage and almost doubled my salary during this time as well.

As a result, I retired in 2020 at the age of 30. One of the main reasons I was able to do so was because I discovered some shocking truths about the US short-term rental market. With the rise of services like Airbnb and hosts wishing to have longer term guests and less turnover, it is possible to find monthly Airbnb rentals for the same price as your annual lease!

So let’s dive into how I discovered this, what prices I aim for within a city and how to ensure you get a great deal.

What Is Airbnb?

In case you haven’t heard of Airbnb before, they are a short-term rental platform that allows people who own properties or spaces to rent them out to the public. You can choose from renting entire houses (my preference) to just a room in highly desirable locations.

Airbnb provides an online platform you can use to assess potential places to stay and includes verification of the host’s information and reviews of their property by previous guests. In case anything goes wrong, Airbnb is there to help and can find you a new place to stay at no cost to you. Luckily, I haven’t had to use this option myself yet, but I have heard that their customer service is very quick and helpful in these emergency situations.

The Local Airbnb Experiment

My retirement dream was to be a global nomad who moves every 1-3 months across the country and the globe. According to other nomadic retirees the way to do that while keeping a tight grip on your budget is to rent an Airbnb. But, of course I don’t just take people at their word. In order to prepare for this life change my partner and I decided to test this theory out ourselves.

As I mentioned, we moved to Seattle in order to have an even better life than we did in NYC for less money. After the move we were curious if it would be possible to find a monthly Airbnb rental for the same cost as the average price of our Seattle apartment plus utilities (since utility costs are included in Airbnb prices). And I’m happy to report that we succeeded!

Apartment 1

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The view from our Seattle apartment.

Our apartment in Seattle was in an older building, had a little less than 700 square feet and included a coin-operated laundry machine in the building that we shared with the other units.

We rented this space for $1,790 a month. After adding in the cost of our utilities (electric, water, sewage, gas and WiFi) our costs came to about $2,000 a month. That’s the baseline we used to determine our ideal monthly Airbnb cost going forward in the same city.

Airbnb A

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Our first Airbnb in Seattle was in an even nicer location than our apartment. It was the lower level of a house, about 800 square feet and was located on a quiet street in a picturesque neighborhood. It had an outdoor area, a jet bathtub and an in-unit washer and dryer. That combined with a luxurious bed made us feel like we were living the high life.

The apartment was also walking distance to a lake with a gorgeous view of downtown Seattle and two blocks away from a main drag that had grocery stores, pharmacies, ice cream shops and anything else our heart desired. It was a very sweet setup and this Airbnb cost $1,904 a month.

Airbnb B

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Our second Airbnb was also about 800 square feet, located in a different quiet neighborhood and was a part of a converted barn that shared a wall with only one other person. It felt like our own little house with a porch and a yard.

In addition, there was a washer and dryer unit by our porch and a TV that came with all of the host’s streaming logins to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, Disney+ – you name it. This Airbnb cost $1,956 a month.

I wrote about my experiences in our first two local Airbnbs more in depth here if you’re interested, but if you just want the hard facts of how we were able to find short-term rentals that rivaled our annual lease costs, here are the details:

How to Find Reasonably Priced Airbnbs

There are just a couple steps needed to get a great price on an Airbnb.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse and Book in Advance

I have always loved planning travel in advance – any type of travel, from plane tickets to Airbnbs to moving trucks. Doing so usually allows me to get a better deal. For example, when we lived in NYC we knew our lease was up that summer and that we wanted to move to Seattle.

So I started talking to moving companies in January and learned that they have completely different winter and summer pricing in NYC. I also learned that I could lock in the winter price, which was almost half of summer price, if I booked during the winter. So I did it! I booked our July moving truck in January and saved thousands of dollars.

My experience booking Airbnbs has been similar. I started looking for our monthly August and September Airbnbs in December. I would check in to see what was available on Airbnb during those months every weekend. So when I saw what I knew to be a great deal pop up in January I immediately jumped on it and booked that apartment for August.

I did the same in February for our September Airbnb. As you can see these months I booked these apartments were before COVID hit the US and basically shut down travel so our costs were not artificially lower because of the pandemic.

Look for Steep Monthly Discounts

Many Airbnbs discount their price 40-50% if you book monthly, which can obviously make a huge difference in your total cost. Airbnb also has a feature that allows you to search for accommodations within the entire month you selected so you can see what the monthly prices would be comparatively across different apartments (example below).

This helped me know the total cost of each location including all taxes and fees before selecting our chosen accommodations.

In contrast, you can usually only see the nightly cost before taxes and fees.

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In addition to existing discounts, I have also been told that it’s possible to ask for additional discounts from a host before booking. I have yet to do that myself, but I have been told by my full-time nomad buddies that it’s possible and not insulting to try and ask for a reduced price if you’re staying a long time. So I might try that in the future to see if I can further decrease costs.

How To Determine Your Ideal Monthly Airbnb Cost

When I explained on my blog that my costs while living in an annually leased apartment and a monthly Airbnb were similar, people were understandably a little skeptical. How was that possible? Was I living in dilapidated Airbnbs?

No – they had nicer amenities than our apartment and outdoor space in quieter neighborhoods.

Were the two Airbnbs we stayed in outliers with costs that couldn’t be replicated?

I didn’t have hard facts on that, but I imagined our experience couldn’t be a total outlier so I went to investigate.

Numbeo is a fantastic website that crowdsources pricing information for cities all over the world and I love to use it to understand various costs in different parts of the globe.

Looking at Numbeo, the average cost for a Seattle apartment is $2,171.36 with a reported rent range of $1,700 to $2,725.

Our rent was $1,790, which is obviously closer to the lower end of the range. Adding our average utilities cost on top of that totaled about $2,000 a month so that was our goal when looking for monthly Airbnbs in Seattle.

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That’s how we determined our goal Airbnb cost (by setting our baseline as our cost of living in Seattle), but it’s completely possible to use averages from an area you’re not familiar with to determine what would be an ideal monthly Airbnb cost. You can then input that price into your Airbnb search as an upper cost limit to help find your next Airbnb.

In addition to helping me understand average rental prices in Seattle, I have also used Numbeo to compare my current city to one I’m visiting to set my overall expectations for cost. This can help you get a more comprehensive view of how costs could be different in a new city you’re about to visit.

For example, in 2018 I visited Singapore and wanted to have an idea of what I should budget for food. Compared to Seattle, takeout food in Singapore is generally cheaper, but beer for example is much more expensive. Knowing this kind of information in advance allowed me to budget accurately and set my expectations accordingly.

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I also used Numbeo when researching where we should move from Manhattan so I understood all the average costs involved in a new location. It’s a great resource for international and domestic pricing information that allows you to plan for your overall monthly costs since accommodation prices are not the entire picture.

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International Considerations

Another way to ensure that you can live in a monthly Airbnb for less than an annual lease back home is by going abroad. One of our plans pre-COVID was to use international geo-arbitrage to have the same standard of living for a fraction of the cost. There is a large part of the world where your dollar can stretch further than in the US.

My partner and I have already done this by renting Airbnbs for a large number of people during the last few years in countries like Thailand, Costa Rica and Mexico. For the cost of a hotel room in Seattle we had way more space and ridiculous amenities like a live-in chef, butler and cleaning staff. This is one way that you can get more bang for your buck if you’re looking for even nicer accommodations than your original apartment.

COVID Considerations

Now, of course, I can’t talk about perpetual travel without mentioning the pandemic we’re currently living through. Given how I went full hermit when the pandemic started in March and have only seen a handful of people outside of a computer screen, I expected to be very nervous about moving into different spaces during this time.

I can now report that after trying it a few times I am no longer worried about moving into new spaces frequently during the age of COVID because of the precautions that are being taken for short-term rentals.

In response to the pandemic, Airbnb introduced more cleaning procedures and the two Seattle Airbnbs we stayed in both have an “Enhanced Cleaning” badge, which means that the spaces are not just cleaned, but sanitized before we moved in.

Further, our first Airbnb told us that they were letting the space sit with the windows open for 72 hours before and after our stay to give any possible contaminants time to die out. Knowing these protocols and seeing the spaces after we moved in, gave me peace of mind that moving frequently in this day and age wouldn’t be a completely dumb move and so far that seems to have been correct.

Another thing we have enjoyed about being in these Airbnbs is that they were places with their own entrances so we didn’t have to share a hallway, front door or mailbox with anyone else, like we did in our apartment. Getting out of our previous apartment building was usually the most stressful part of my daily walk since I didn’t know if people would be wearing masks and there wasn’t room to avoid them.

Conclusion

In research and practice we have found that it’s possible to find short-term rentals that are similarly priced to annual leases. These places are as nice or even nicer than the apartment we rented annually. Plus, you don’t have to separately pay for and set up utilities.

Instead, we move into a fully furnished and prepared location and are able to settle in, rest up and start exploring our new location immediately. I hope these tips can help you if you’re looking into a nomadic life or are just curious about the costs of short-term rentals.

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