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Find a Home Away From Home

As we get into cars with complete strangers, sleep in the beds of people we’ve never met and lend money to others on the other side of the world, a powerful new currency is emerging — and it’s based on trust. ” -- Professor Mark J. Perry, American Enterprise Institute blog

Denver resident Shelley Wood listed her home’s spare bedroom on AirBnB.com. Her first online renter was a medical intern assigned to a nearby hospital. 

Admittedly a little nervous about potential “stranger danger”, she says everything went well. In fact, Wood ended up hosting a series of interns for two years. “It was great – and I’ve gotten all five star ratings,” she says. 

Wood is hardly alone. Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia’s first experience occurred when he offered a stranger he trusted – a young Peace Corps volunteer with no place to stay – an airbed in his living room. “That night I panicked and thought, what if he’s psychotic – so I got up and locked my bedroom door,” Gebbia related in a 2016 TED talk. Two years later, he and roommate/Airbnb co-founder Bob Chesky rented the airbed and a room to a temporary guest – this time to generate income to help pay rent. 

Best known for its lease or short-term rental lodging options that include vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds or hotel rooms, today Airbnb is valued at more than $30 billion. Its offerings include 3 million private accommodations visited by 150 million users around the world. The company’s business model has flourished -- especially in the world’s largest cities where hotel rooms can be pricey or hard-to-get. Population centers like New York, Rio de Janeiro, London or Berlin have seen double-digit year-over-year growth. 

“We bet on the belief that people can trust each other enough to stay in one another’s homes,” he says of the Airbnb model -- designed as a brokerage that receives percentage fees (commissions) from both guests and hosts in conjunction with every booking . “Our success is rooted in the trust economy.”

That trust factor has spurred creation of a number of home sharing and home rental sites like VRBO (a HomeAway company) and Tripping.com. Travelers can also check Kidandcoe.com or Clanventure.com for child- friendly vacation rentals – or Flipkey.com for beachfront properties.

One of Colorado’s top-trending home rental sites is VRBO – or “Vacation Rental By Owner.” Second in size to Airbnb, it is best known for catering to travelers seeking vacation home destinations. In fact, Breckenridge ranked among VRBO’s top 15 rental markets in 2016. Unlike Airbnb, vacation rental owners pay for online classifieds to advertise their spaces. The site puts guests directly in contact with owners or property managers.

That’s how Colorado Springs resident Teresa Masar discovered rental accommodations large enough for her family’s annual summer gathering.  The group – 20 people or so – was used to reserving adjacent spots at nice campgrounds. “More recently, we’ve had great luck finding large places to stay in Salida, Westcliffe or Gunnison,” she says, noting that most are not the owners’ primary residences. “The kitchens are all well-equipped with pots and pans, silverware and all appliances so you can bring your own food.” 

Like most home renters Masar pays careful attention to online reviews. I’d say most places we’ve stayed earned at least an 8 or 9,” she says.

This summer VRBO hosts Elaine and Dominique Chavanon of Colorado Springs listed two properties they own: a cabin and their Marble Cave ranch home in Westcliffe. Elaine admits she’s learned much from her guests. “They don’t want to see your personal stuff. One lady also recommended providing only shower gel or bottled soap. It’s cleaner, more sanitary,” she says, adding that VRBO renters are highly self-sufficient and travel-savvy. “We’ve already made new friends – and many say they’re coming back. A lot of hikers come for our four 14ers – and we’re already booking up for hunting season.” Like other VRBO hosts, she finds the program lucrative, but says quality service is a must in order to earn top ratings.

Because trust powers the industry, an increasing number of homeowners are giving home sharing a try. One southwest Colorado Springs couple, for example, rents the lower level of their spacious ranch home to VRBO clients. The one-bedroom unit with kitchen and private patio is already booked up for next year’s U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor. 

For Airbnb host Shelley Wood the world of home sharing and home rentals is a win-win. “I really enjoyed hosting on Airbnb. It gave me the freedom -- financially and the time -- to leave my job and pursue the education that led to my career in real estate,” she says.