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Hosting Springfield Visitors in Short-term Rentals

Emily McTavish

John Horner resides in the same house his great grandfather built on Walnut Street in 1886. He’s now participating in the growing trend of short-term rentals for his three other Springfield houses using both AirBnB and Vacation Rental by Owner.

Horner started in the short rental business with only the ‘little house’ in his own backyard. It was originally built as a place where domestic help would stay.

“It was used as just a single house, just a single room for many years while I was growing up, and some person would always live there and would rent it,” Horner said.

At the suggestion from their neighbors at the Walnut Street Inn, the Horners looked into renting. Horner and his wife Pat have been in the Walnut Street house for about 14 years now and have since fixed up the ‘little house.’ They added a bathroom. They added Internet and cable television, too.

The Horners began to advertise on both AirBnB and VRBO in 2012.

“We started out slow and decided that was something that was fun,” Horner says. “So we kept on going, and that’s how we got started in it.”

AirBnB and VRBO are websites that allow people to rent out space, whether it’s a couch, private room or entire home or apartment. It’s short-term because there are no leases or subleases. You can rent for a single night, weekend or month.

Guests using AirBnB and VRBO search out hosts by location and the time which they’d like to stay. Then begins the communication between guest and host, both vetting each other before a stay is agreed to.

Credit Emily McTavish / KSMU
The Little House is in John and Pat Horner's backyard at their Walnut Street house.

“The whole idea is that you get to know each other so that you can be confident and hosting somebody that you feel comfortable with—hosting somebody looks like they are the type of people that maybe you’d trust in your home or in one of your properties,” Horner says. “Basically that’s it. Maybe it’s somebody you’d like to get to know. They’re looking like interesting people.”

Horner says he realizes the growing popularity of this sharing economy.

“So a lot of people will say, ‘How do you do this? What do I need to do to get into it?’” Horner says. “The answers pretty simple, you know. If you have a house all you have to do is advertise it and open it up. And you’re in business.”

Karen Sommerfeld also lists on AirBnB and VRBO. She and her husband had their eyes on a rundown rental house in their neighborhood and bought it to fix up and turn into a short-term rental property.

“It was almost a complete gut-job because of black mold and just a patch work of repairs that had been done over the years,” Sommerfeld said. “So we decided that we wanted to make it nice enough to make it something we would want to live in and we would list it and kind of just see what would happen.”

What happened, Sommerfeld says, is that the house was booked solid for the first few months. She says they have had guests from Europe and Australia whom have enjoyed having a home to stay in.

“We also get a lot of people from Missouri State,” Sommerfeld says. “A lot of families from Missouri State, Evangel and Drury that come down to see their kids, and it’s allowing them to be able to spend time with their kids in a home setting.”

VRBO says it has more than 265,000 properties in more than 100 countries. VRBO has an annual subscription rate of $349 per year per unit listed. The annual subscription means hosts will not have a percentage taken out for each booking they receive. However, hosts don’t have to pay the annual rate. Instead they can have a percentage taken out by VRBO for bookings.

The San Francisco-based AirBnB lists one million properties worldwide on its site in more than 190 countries. AirBnB charges a 3 percent fee to hosts every time a booking is made through their platform.

Sommerfeld says she prefers AirBnB as a traveler and host because of how easy it is to use.

“If people just take that leap and try and travel with [AirBnB], they’ll be hooked,” Sommerfeld says. “And that’s kind of what made us want to own and do AirBnB as a business for ourselves.”

Most recently, the Horners themselves stayed at a short-term rental in Seattle. He says an advantage to this type of travel is having a house in which his kids and grandkids can all stay in together.

“It’s always a pretty good experience, some better than others,” Horner says. “But the nice thing about it…is that you get to meet the people. They’re always courteous, and they’re always trying to please the guest. You get personalized service.”

It is personalized services and small things that Horner says makes a big difference.

“We use nice things,” Horner says. “We use nice sheets, nice pillows—feather pillows. Beds are awful important so we don’t spare any expense putting in some of the nicest linens, sheets and things like that.”

Springfield’s Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement Cora Scott tells us the city is not currently regulating licensing for renting through AirBnB or VRBO. She said while the issue has been discussed at recent meetings, there is not currently a movement toward changing the regulations.

Buffee Smith, licensing supervisor for the city, referencing codes  70-31 and 70-84 subsection 116, said in an email to KSMU, “Essentially, the ability to license properties of this nature is restricted to dwellings that contain more than one rentable unit or can, under the same roof, house multiple people.”

Even if there is no licensing, Smith said it “does not prohibit Building Development or Zoning from placing requirements on such structures, whether it be related to the structure itself or its location.”

AirBnB suggests fully understanding any contracts or rules from homeowners associations, co-ops or leases that may affect hosting.