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From Zero to Wealthy in Two Years – With AirBnb?

Zeona M. enjoys a recent day at the office.

By this point you probably know all you ever wanted to know, and more, about Mr. Money Mustache’s long-ago path to early retirement. But my story is only one of an infinite number of possibilities, which means it is valuable to look around at how other people are doing it.

Because of that, I’ve been sharing more reader success stories recently, and I’ve been particularly excited to share this one for quite a while because it comes from a completely different direction.

I first met Zeona McIntyre just over two years ago, on a warm early summer day in Boulder. Without my knowledge she had created a Facebook group called Boulder Mustachians and already amassed a substantial collection of fun people before I even got word of it. We coordinated to hold a gathering in a beautiful riverside park downtown.

Late that night, after the main party and a smaller afterparty at a pub with a group of diehard survivors, the two of us were walking and talking the two miles across town to get Zeona back to her apartment, and me to the main road so I could bike back to Longmont. And she mentioned something vague and slightly mysterious about how much her life had changed, due to a new rental real estate business. I didn’t understand the details in full, but it sounded significant.

Fast forwarding to the almost-present, I encountered Zeona again. This time she was leading a session on real estate investing at the Camp Mustache Florida event in January*. By this point, she had the relaxed demeanor of an old pro. She owned at least four extremely profitable properties, bought at low prices and bringing in high rent due to the magic of AirBnb. She had more income and opportunities than she had time to think about. By my definition, she was already just about to hit semi-retirement at age 29, which means she had done it both younger and faster than I had.

Note: I have enjoyed AirBnb for years, replacing bland, expensive hotels with more interesting local flavor for both personal and business travel. But I only recently learned from Zeona that they give out substantial travel credits to both traveler and friend via their referral program. So here’s my link for $40 off of your first AirBnb stay.

Since Zeona’s story combines a bunch of hard work, sound business principles, relatively fearless thinking and involved some techniques that had never even occurred to me before, I thought would we could all get some benefit of having a little conversation with her. So let’s see what she has to say:

An Interview With the AirBnb Entrepreneur

MMM: Let’s start with a leading question on the basics first: your Mustachianism story. What was your financial and work life before you encountered this blog, what led you to it, and what changes did you make first?

ZM: My mother got me interested in personal finance right around the time I headed to college. I remember being home on school breaks, watching The Suze Orman show with her and renting books like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, from the library. Although I had already begun to amass significant financial aid debt, I already had the concepts of snowball payments and index fund investing, ingrained in me early on.

Sometime around 2012 after stumbling across your blog a few times, I became convinced and converted to hardcore Mustachianism at the ripe ole’ age of 26. I didn’t know how I was going to retire by 30, but I held the vision fiercely.

At the time, I was in massage school, working at a dispensary for $12 per hour, with something like 50K+ of student debt left in a Parent Loan. So I started to bike everywhere, trained my friends to cook meals with me instead of going out to eat, started a massage practice in my living room, lived with my mom for a bit, and put every extra cent towards debt paydown.

MMM: At some point you veered off the standard “work hard, save, invest” path and took a bigger jump into hosting a short-term rental as a source of income. Where did you get that idea?

ZM: My best friend from high school was living the high life in New York City with a stressful career and an expensive apartment, then suddenly found himself laid off. At a friend’s suggestion, he decided to try renting it out on AirBnb while he went off to travel for a while before starting again. His little vacation turned into a year living in Spain and South Africa and by the end of it, he told me that he made $50,000 off renting his apartment!

I decided I had to try something similar for myself.

MMM: What did your own AirBnB financial stuff look like initially? And from that point, how long did you let it ride and what did it feel like?

ZM:
First, a disclaimer: I stumbled into Airbnb during the earlier days of the platform and with no knowledge of the rules. These days, things with AirBnb are much more formal. So some of this stuff (renting out rooms from within a rented apartment) is a gray area.

I began my Airbnb journey in August 2012. My mother decided to move back to Hawaii, so I got a two bedroom apartment and a roommate who could help with rent. I furnished it with all the stuff my mom and I had, knowing that I could sublease it for more to a roommate if it was furnished and because I was curious about trying out Airbnb.

My new roomie was only around part-time, which allowed me to test the Airbnb waters a bit while she was living there (I gave her a cut) and then see if I wanted to get another roommate after she left. I never did.

I started by renting my room, renting hers when she was away, and renting both when she moved out. I would stay in whatever room wasn’t rented, stay with friends, basically whatever I had to do to make it work. I also did all the cleaning myself.

The rooms rented between $45-90/night each including the cleaning fee, and my portion of rent was only $575 so it covered it rather quickly. At the time, I had begun a massage practice by donation, out of my living room, which covered food/gas/bills and Airbnb covered my rent/utilities.

Luckily, I knew how to live frugally; I’m a bit shocked looking back at how little my earnings were to start and proud that I figured out a way to live job-free. I remember feeling so rich with freedom during that time in my life.

In September, after just a month of sampling AirBnb entrepreneurship, I knew I wanted to expand. So I took on a lease on a second apartment, furnished it in a weekend and I was off to the races. That place  was basically training wheels. I made a ton of mistakes and only made a couple hundred a month after expenses. And in December, a neighbor alerted the landlord to what turned out to be a violation of the lease policy, and he asked me to leave.

Although the apartment was relatively painless to dismantle and I got my entire deposit back, I was really shaken up from the experience and thought I might be done with the whole Airbnb experiment. Luckily, my father insisted that I pick myself up and try again, so I did.

My next place was a one bedroom condo that I was renting for $1025/mo, and this experience was much better. I averaged $500-1500/mo. profit from this location, while continuing to rent out rooms in my own home, going to school, doing all the turnover cleans, and doing some massages on the side. Although it sounds busy, it was really fun and flexible. Every day was different, and I only worked a couple of hours a day.

MMM: What was the next step in the expansion? What tricks did you learn and use to make it successful?

ZM: My experiences taught me that there was more profit to be made renting a home as a whole unit, instead of renting single rooms. At the same time, I found myself traveling more often, which forced me to seek out a cleaner that could cover me when I was away.

Looking back, this was a huge and somewhat obvious move towards expansion, and yet it took me awhile to realize. I was very focused on being a “true” mustachian: not hiring out if it was something I could do myself**. Although there is merit to this way of thinking, if you are attempting to scale up, at some point you have to let go and delegate.

I also tested a new vacation rentals software company that responded to guest inquiries/emails/questions if I was out of range for too long. This was the beginning of the automation that presently rules my business, and that same company is the one that I circled back to years later when I pushed to 5+ properties.

Although I mention specific settings that can be used to optimize your Airbnb listing on my blog, I don’t know if there are many “tricks” and I want to be clear in saying that I think it is a very accessible profession for anyone who might have an interest in hosting and hospitality. Thinking of it as a hospitality business rather than a turn-key real estate investment was a significant perspective shift I learned along the way. It is important to consider what sort of experience you are creating for the guest and how you can continually work towards improving that.

MMM: Did you notice any significant change in your life, once you realized how different a semi-passive income like property rentals can be, when compared to a purely active income like a massage practice?

ZM: Yes. In the Fall of 2012, just a few months after I started dabbling with Airbnb, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. I was pulled away by my mother’s illness and started taking multi-month leaves of absence to support her. Near the end of 2014, I knew I could no longer be away from home so I brought her back to Colorado to live with me.  The grief of losing my mother and one of the closest people in my life forced me into a sort of the “early retirement”. This is when Airbnb saved me, because the rentals were still working for me when I could not work myself.

MMM: That’s a sad story, but I remember feeling the same way when my Dad was on his way out last winter. It would have been much harder to make those international trips on short notice, and to deal with the sad times, if I also had to maintain a chipper and productive face, managing a team of software engineers back at the cube farm.

So anyway, as with any type of success, it takes a certain type of personality and skillset to build a successful business of this type. What general skills, traits, and unusual passions do you think you ended up having, which in retrospect are making this thing succeed.

ZM:
1. Flexibility, I would say is the number one skill that really made this work. For years, any booking took priority over my plans. If someone was willing to pay for my house, I was out. I would either move over to my other apartment (I lived between two condos for 3+years) or stay with a friend. It sounds easy enough but it was ungrounding and quite exhausting.

2. Organization – Scheduling multiple cleans and juggling bookings from multiple sites, gave me a crash course in building systems. My former weirdo obsession with spreadsheets helped me keep track of all my earnings / expenses.

3. Optimization – I was careful not to waste time, resources, supplies, etc.

4. Negotiation skills – Everything is life is negotiable: rent, airbnb rates, cleaner fees, etc. I did my best to maximize earnings.

5. Communication skills – As a manager I really need to listen and keep a cool head. I am frequently responsible for sorting out the needs of guests, property owners, cleaners, you name it. I lean on the side of over-communicating, as I need to check in with everyone to make sure we are on the same page.

6. Believing / Visualizing – I have a uniquely limitless outlook on life. I like to believe that anything I put my mind to is possible and I feel challenged rather than discouraged when someone tries to doubt me or project their limitations on me.

7. Being a Risk-Taker – For as long as I can remember, I have had a large appetite for risk. The way I see it is that I am really thorough in doing my research and after checking out all the possible outcomes, things that look risky from the outside feel like a safe bet.

MMM: What’s the current state of your operation?

ZM: I now own four properties in St. Louis Missouri – single family houses purchased for an average of under $70,000 each. Plus an apartment in Boulder bought long ago for $162,000. On top of this, I manage another 10-20 properties for other property owners for a fee (a practice called co-hosting).

To handle it all, I have hired a team of several people: an assistant, receptionists, management software, cleaning teams, co-hosts working under me, etc. My goal is to take myself completely out of the picture.

After just a year of co-hosting other properties, my business went from $4,000-$6,000/mo. gross, to today, my biggest month to date: a whopping $18,000 (likely $13,000/net). I work about 8-10 hours a week now and I’m excited to ramp down.

Although I have built my business to a place of near automation, I am still called on sometimes and I have a few jobs left to outsource. I am happy to no longer be pulling the 40+ hour work weeks that I did for a few months during the build and I see Early Retirement coaxing me over to her spacious arms again.

MMM: So what’s the future? Have you given up other sources of income? Faced an existential dilemma of what to do with your life if there is no point earning additional income?

I find that as the “earning and spending money” side of life becomes solved, it opens up a whole new can of worms. It can be a very joyful way to live, but you have to be careful because it also gives you the option of sitting around doing nothing, which is not joyful at all. Seen any pitfalls?

ZM: The future is getting myself as close to full retirement as feasible, ASAP. I am still the big boss so I expect an occasional problem to come across my desk, and yet, I feel the key to happiness for myself is having the lowest amount of stress and responsibility on my plate as possible.

Last November, I finally gave up my massage practice in totality. It was strangely difficult to do. I was only making a couple hundred dollars a month and yet, it felt like some sort of safety net. Now, I am experiencing that same fear in letting go of taking on new clients myself (I defer them to my team for a smaller percentage) and running this Airbnb business directly. Although I have hit my “enough” number with my investments, transitions can be scary to make.

At the moment, I am looking forward to more space and time with myself. The two years that I spent essentially retired, gave me great practice at keeping myself entertained. I quickly realized that I had to find another way to derive meaning from my life than working or productivity. I was fortunate enough to find that being there for the people in my life gave me that.

I now travel nearly five months out of the year, have a good social circle and a lot of interests to keep me delighted for years to come. And the worst case scenario? I can always create some new business to tinker with down the road.

Looking forward, I see finding a compatible partner and creating a family as my next challenge to embark on, as well as developing creative pursuits. I really love writing. I would like more time to dedicate to my blog and am toying around with the idea of writing a book at my own leisurely pace. I am also quite terrified of public speaking, so the idea of doing a TEDx talk, sounds like a healthy way to confront that.

(note: you can find Zeona’s personal/business blog at ZeonaMcintyre.com)

MMM: One of the unusual things about you is the number of interesting trips you take. Can you tell us about some of the most interesting ones, and how this plays into the house-sitting and informal sharing economies?

ZM: I just got back from a birthday month away. I dog sat in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands for 2.5 weeks, had a layover in NYC with some friends, sailed for a week in Greece, then caught up with a friend who just moved to Portugal and did a road trip in her Sprinter van from Lisbon to Porto.

I bought the flights with miles, stayed for free everywhere except on the boat, which I got on a half price, last minute tip; all while renting out my homes and car to support my eating out habits.

I guess you could say I am a poster child for the share economy. When I’m out in the world, I rent my car on turo and my homes on airbnb. I travel hack to cover the flights. Promote Airbnb for travel credits. I’m a huge fan of house/pet sitting which still seems to be underground and I use that method to stay in awesome homes for free (and sometimes even get paid) all over the world.

MMM: Thinking about the bigger picture, what is your own definition of a life well lived, and what (if anything) do you think people in your peer group might be overlooking, if they don’t happen to encounter the right teachers early in life?

ZM: I’m all about quality of life. I believe a life well lived is one with lots of love and laughter. People to hug, share delicious food with, and have adventures with. I believe creativity is born out of free time, which Americans especially are deficient in. I think it’s important to spend a lot of time in nature and with the unique opportunity of discovering yourself. The real work is within. I find that people especially my age, are so distracted with things outside of themselves / needing to prove something.

The biggest set back I see around me is limiting beliefs. I see a lot of people telling themselves old stories that keep them stuck in patterns that aren’t serving them. I really enjoy sharing my experiences to show others what is possible. I think the biggest compliment I can ever receive is that I inspired someone, if I’ve done that for even one person, my job is complete. Nothing I’ve done in my career is out of reach to the average person, you’ve just got to believe.

MMM: Thanks for sharing your life with us Zeona!

—–

*Yes, you may be noticing a one-dimensional theme to my social life these days, but hey, it’s hard to beat Mustachians if you’re looking for interesting people to hang out with.

**For the record, Zeona was actually being totally Mustachian here – hiring employees to expand a profitable business. My policy is that you’re not allowed to hire people just to facilitate your own convenience and consumption at home, because you could probably benefit from the extra exercise and learning – along with the extra money.

  • Jackie Christianson August 16, 2017, 7:27 pm

    Great success story! Another great example highlighting that financial independence doesn’t equal sipping margaritas in Tahiti for the rest of your life. Freedom to do what you enjoy is what this lifestyle is all about.

    Reply
  • Ernst-Jan Pfauth August 17, 2017, 12:23 am

    I really liked Airbnb at first, but the last few years it has had a tremendous negative influence on my city, Amsterdam. Popular neighborhoods have turned into airbnb-zones and its visitors leave their house trash on the streets and don’t respect other people’s night rest. Meanwhile, rents has skyrocketed because it’s more profitable for landlords to turn to airbnb. There’s now a sixty night limit for every apartment but there are a lot of workarounds used by these airbnb entrepreneurs.

    Reply
  • Bill G August 17, 2017, 1:01 am

    Out of curiosity does MMM have an AirBnB policy in place on his residential rental property?
    I ask for a couple reasons. Firstly because tenants have to supply references, so you know who you are doing business with, but not guests from AirBnB. Here you are allowing the tenant to vet people via social media which is not as thorough.
    Secondly, if the tenant can successfully sublet at a decent profit level (like the subject of this article) was the property initially let at the wrong price?

    Reply
  • tiff August 17, 2017, 3:33 am

    Good read! Please keep the new posts coming!!! We need your/others’ wisdom.

    Reply
  • Aaron August 17, 2017, 7:10 am

    http://m.huffingtonpost.ca/kris-constable/airbnb-privacy-security-id-jumio_b_4887509.html

    Very concerned about their insistence on storing passport and DL info. I’m happy to show it to the owners, but I won’t let them keep and sell that information.

    Reply
  • Andy August 17, 2017, 8:42 am

    Very inspiring story. I often think about how people stuck working until they’re 65 often fall victim to a lack of questioning the patterns and norms that they’re stuck in. Questioning what’s possible is how us mustachians have gotten on the path to financial independence early in life. Then, I read a story like this and I realize how many areas in my own life I still accept the default unquestioningly, often to my detriment. Zeona’s a great example of the benefits you can find in being willing to question what’s possible and step outside what’s normal in all areas of life. Really impressive and inspirational!

    Reply
    • ann August 17, 2017, 4:15 pm

      question everything. including this article. i don’t think i’ll ever get anything done.

      Reply
  • Mary Scholten August 17, 2017, 11:50 am

    Exact thing I needed to read at the exactly right moment. I just graduated from college and am starting my own Airbnb-related business on the side of my normal soul-sucking corporate job. I was feeling very discouraged about it just five minutes before reading this. Thanks MMM!

    Reply
  • Jerry Gordon August 17, 2017, 12:49 pm

    We are able to use a combination of VRBO and AirBnB to maximize the income of our Cape Cod property.

    Reply
    • Julia August 19, 2017, 9:26 am

      Jerry, you can do both VRBO and AirBnB with the same property? I would’ve thought there would be an exclusivity clause with these companies.

      Reply
  • Dan August 17, 2017, 12:57 pm

    I have been heartened to read the many thoughtful comments discussing how unchecked Air B ‘n’ B rentals can negatively impact a community – it is good to know that I am not a lone voice in the wilderness on this topic, and that the MMM community as a whole is considering the ethical implications of how we get to FIRE.

    Reply
  • Car Free Mark August 17, 2017, 1:07 pm

    “So some of this stuff (renting out rooms from within a rented apartment) is a gray area.”

    It’s not a “gray area”. It’s often an outright breach of rental leases and diminishes the quality of life for everyone else in the apartment building. While municipal laws regulating the sharing economy restrict some money making opportunities, these restrictions are put in place for a good reason – to protect the quality of life for the general public.

    Reply
  • Heidi August 17, 2017, 1:23 pm

    I live in a tourist town and in the past have lived next door to vacation rentals. It’s not fun. Making money on AirBNB is great and all but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the neighbors who are just trying to live their life. This is especially true in apartments and condos. Last year I bought a small condo and any properties that allowed vacation rentals were immediately crossed off the list. Very much narrowed my options but it was well worth it for the peace and quiet.

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  • Emmy August 17, 2017, 1:25 pm

    Ah. If only I lived somewhere that anyone in their right mind would want to go… : )

    Reply
  • STBJ August 17, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Wow talk about thinking outside of the box. This is really making me reflect on how anyone can focus and be successful.

    Reply
  • Alain Guillot August 17, 2017, 4:31 pm

    Lovely story, thank you for sharing

    I manage 3 Airbnbs.

    I believe that the writer makes good money from it, but I don’t believe that she works 10 hours per week.

    I focus on giving a great service and with three properties I work many more more hours than her.

    Reply
  • Chris August 17, 2017, 6:05 pm

    Without taking anything away from Zeona in terms of smarts, determination and organization, it should be noted, according to her blog, she received a windfall from life insurance proceeds which may have helped to get her started. https://www.zeonamcintyre.com/blog/2017/2/9/the-road-to-my-first-home I wonder what role the windfall played in building her cash flow machine? Whatever the answer may be, transitioning from a job to a semi-automated business in a relatively short amount of time is an impressive feat.

    Reply
  • Jonathan August 17, 2017, 7:21 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing you story. Very enlightening and glad you have made your business so successful!

    What are your thoughts on renting out an apartment on Airbnb in a city where you don’t live (without an extensive management team like yours)? I’ve considered using Airbnb to rent an apartment I own in another state but am worried it will be a lot of leg work and headache, since as you said, you’re providing hospitality services and not turn key real estate rentals?

    Reply
  • Greg Black August 18, 2017, 7:07 am

    Great post, I hadn’t thought about operating an AirBnB ‘side business’ on this scale before. When Co-hosting what would an average split of the rental money look like? Also I have read that in some places Co Hosting is not available, does anyone know why this is?

    Finally, looking through some of the negative comments on this article, I think I should add that not only is it admirable that Zeona has successfully created a profitable business and employment for her staff, it is also stupid to link AirBnB with increasing rents etc. Rent increases are almost solely due to a shortfall in the construction of new dwellings, as well as due to planning restrictions, something which MMM has mentioned in the past (Mandatory Parking/Road expansions etc).

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  • Mrs Simplest Happiness August 18, 2017, 9:05 am

    Zeona – if you get to this comment, what has your experience been with the Airbnb customer service as an owner?

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  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance August 18, 2017, 9:23 am

    Hi Zeona, thank you so much for sharing your story! I believe I have listened to your podcast on the BiggerPockets.com although I’m not entirely sure. Your story sounds familiar. :)

    I’m interested in long-term rental but have also thought about AirBnB a lot recently. It’s always so inspiring to hear stories from female entrepreneurs like you. Real estate investment is male-dominated, so it’s real to hear your perspective!

    Reply
  • Mrs. Sense August 18, 2017, 11:02 am

    Wow, I’m amazed at all of the comments focused on AirBnB. Zeona’s drive and resourcefulness are incredible! As I ponder ways to encourage my own children to think critically about how they will craft their own financial futures this example, however controversial it may be, stands out to me as an excellent case study!

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  • Frugal Bazooka August 18, 2017, 5:14 pm

    Zeona

    thanks for sharing your story and giving inspiration to the silent majority of people who are always looking for new ideas and new inspiration to better their lives and the world around them. I say thank you because it is so common these days for interwebbers to immediately attack successful people, nitpick their success and inject politics and personal axe grinding into comments against anyone willing to tell their story.

    I’m sure you knew this would come your way when you agreed to tell your story, but I want you know that for every genius who tries to piss on your parade, there are thousands of us who applaud you for your ingenuity and hard work, and especially your amazing success. I am always thankful that there are still people like you in the world who are willing to take entrepreneurial chances for an opportunity to succeed. Your success is a beacon to many many people and I hope you will spread your story far and wide.

    As usual thanks to MMM for bringing new ideas to the majority of us who are just looking for another way out of the rat race.

    Working hard to reach a dream still works and your story proves it.

    Reply
  • Huck August 18, 2017, 6:08 pm

    Seems like if you could get your hands on the data from Zillow (and/or mls) and data from airbnb/vrbo/homeaway you could train up a neural network to help you find the optimal place to buy and list on airbnb at any given moment. Code it up….and ship it!!

    Reply
  • Kim August 18, 2017, 6:49 pm

    I heard Zeona interviewed on a podcast a while back and was intrigued by this idea. My husband and I had an Airbnb experience in LA with a host who was doing something similar. She seemed to have rented several units in an apartment complex–and stayed with her brother when the units were rented out. We saw eviction notices on most of the neighbors’ doors so we assumed she was able to get away with it due to the lack of/or constant changing of neighbors. However, I wish I could ask Zeona about what she thinks of the future of airbnb rentals. I am guessing that it is becoming more difficult now to start a airbnb business using only rentals.

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  • Will August 18, 2017, 7:33 pm

    I’ve been an Airbnb host in San Francisco for several years now. It’s been a great experience, but I have a few words of caution for anyone who thinks that Airbnb will contribute to financial independence. It’s really only profitable in new markets; as markets mature and more people list their space on the site, competition inevitably pushes prices down. Even as a Superhost charging a premium price, my net income is barely more than I would earn from my unit as a full-time, unfurnished rental (i.e., $4700 from Airbnb vs. $4500 as a rental). And it’s a lot more work. The only reason I continue to do Airbnb is because I get to use my apartment when I’m visiting SF, although even that is problematic because I need to reserve my own place months in advance. So if you’re thinking about renting and apartment and turning it into an Airbnb, take a close look at rates for similar places in your neighborhood first, and don’t commit to doing it for more than a year or two before the market is saturated and prices drop. Also keep in mind that you’re not competing with high-end hotels, you’re competing with every 20-something who’s trekking in Nepal for 3 weeks and just wants to recover their expenses.
    I think arguments that Airbnb is contributing to housing shortages are ridiculous. The number of full-time units in Airbnb’s backyard, San Francisco, is less than 1% of the total housing stock available. True, rents in SF are exorbitant, but Airbnb is not the cause. However, the combination of populist tenants’ unions and money from the hotel industry means that Airbnb is facing more restrictions in many markets, so be careful before you commit.

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  • Hulu August 19, 2017, 11:32 am

    Awesome job Zeona!

    So much more potential upside than downside. One of my property managers runs two AirBnbs next to two of my annual rentals. His places are kept up and look good. And I haven’t heard anything negative from my tenants.

    We rented a three house jacuzzi/pool complex for a bachelor party once. Neighbors were justifiably disturbed. As were we that we couldn’t be loud. Being thoughtful about the community and honest about the house rules would be helpful.

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  • ZJ Thorne August 19, 2017, 6:37 pm

    She took such an interesting and short journey. How neat that you ran into one another off-chance.

    I do worry that AirBNB is not going to be longterm sustainable due to changes in law, but I am sure with her new business acumen and her other income streams, she’ll figure it out.

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  • SED August 20, 2017, 10:20 am

    Thank you for sharing your story Zeona! I got some great ideas for my own foray into rental real estate, and more importantly, got INSPIRED! Your attitude is phenomenal! I like how you influenced your friends by doing something as simple as getting them to stay in and cook with you instead of automatically going out to eat. The ripple effect of changing that single behavior across a group of people is huge.

    And special thanks for this:
    “I like to believe that anything I put my mind to is possible and I feel challenged rather than discouraged when someone tries to doubt me or project their limitations on me.”

    Finally, I really appreciated MMM’s three point reminder on commenting, which neatly covered the guideposts for thoughtful speech by asking: Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is it (factually) true?

    I look forward to more reader success stories!

    Reply
  • Ryan August 20, 2017, 11:18 pm

    After reading most MMM blog posts, I feel inspired, appreciative, and smarter! This one – confusion and skepticism.

    First, I admire both Zeona’s business determination and her willingness to share the tragic experience of losing her Mother to cancer. The later is a loss I would wish on no one.

    Upon further reflection of Zeona’s story, I have some observations:

    *$50,000 of massage school debt – perhaps this was from for-profit school and not a community college?

    *Zeona lived a homeless/nomadic life for several years, relying on the generosity of others so she could save money. I suppose we could all save lots of money by being homeless and relying on others – is this an MMM virtue?

    *Family/Children – This post implies that anyone can duplicate Zeona’s results. How about a initial caveat that this personal finance strategy is actually not family/young child(ren) friendly – only applicable for singles?

    *$144,000 is no drop in the bucket so I am surprised why this important detail was left out of the MMM post. Zeona says on her own blog that she took out a $144,000 interest-only loan to purchase her first property, and was only able to pay it off from the life insurance payout after her mother’s death. How would the outcome of Zeona’s story have changed if not for this substantial life insurance windfall. https://www.zeonamcintyre.com/blog/2017/2/9/the-road-to-my-first-home (see last paragraph)

    *Health insurance – How does this factor into Zeona’s story?

    *Community – Constant world travel seems exciting but is that compatible with developing community and substantial in-person relationships? Yes, technology can help, but is it a meaningful substitute?

    MMM is a wonderful resource full of solid personal finance advice. However, this post misses the mark. I look forward to future MMM posts with stories of skillful stewardship and more sensible personal finance strategies.

    Reply
  • Tyler August 21, 2017, 3:07 am

    What percentage of your total revenue comes from managing other listings? I’m guessing it’s a fairly large percentage?

    Reply
  • Matt August 21, 2017, 10:56 am

    MMM – thanks for letting some of the AirBnB debate go into the comments! I feel I’ve gained some perspective from reading many of the points of view here, including yours.

    I know I land somewhere in the middle – love using AirBnB while travelling, yet do not love what it has done to my city (a few neighborhoods %25+ short term rentals with some single users owner 20+ properties). These living, breathing neighborhoods are turning into DisneyLand versions of themselves. Similar to a trend in which Venice could have almost no residents in 30 years.

    As is usually the case, I think the answer is somewhere between thinking un-abetted use of AirBnB is a right or that a ban is the only answer. Something that protects locals while allowing innovation.

    Reply
  • Cameron August 22, 2017, 9:01 am

    Thanks for writing this Zeona, it’s an interesting topic and I really enjoyed your writing style.

    What are tax laws where you’re based around owning multiple properties? Recently in the UK they’ve significantly raised taxes on multiple property ownership – a good thing for society and young folk but not so great for investors.
    Did you buy any of your property with mortgage or did you only buy once you’d saved enough to do so in cash.

    Reply
  • James August 23, 2017, 11:34 am

    MMM,

    I feel like it would be appropriate to include a disclaimer in the article itself to anyone considering this route that they begin by investigating their local laws. My understanding is that many (most?) cities prohibit this type of hosting. Of course anyone considering this type of investment should always do the research themselves but I think the article is a little too optimistic about the upsides of this type of business without discussing the risks. Apologies if this is already covered in the comments. I read most but didn’t find it. I do think it should be in the main article itself.

    FWIW I am an Airbnb host with a permit in Portland, OR.

    Cheers!
    James

    Reply
  • Eliza August 23, 2017, 6:31 pm

    Fascinating stuff! We’re looking to buy a rental property in a regional town and a lot of the real estate ads mention the booming Air bnb market which I wouldn’t have expected in that location. Thanks Zeona for the bigger picture view too. Taking more risks, not getting discouraged, doing what you believe is possible if you put your mind to it – I really need to apply these things more in my own life.

    Reply
  • Michelle August 24, 2017, 6:14 am

    This woman kicks butt – way to go. Very disciplined. When I rented a big apartment in Brooklyn (before I bought my small apartment), I would use Craigslist to list the other bedroom as a temporary rental – available for one or two months. This was before Air BnB. I enjoyed the freedom of having the place to myself every once in awhile and not having to commit to a roommate for a year or two or five. What this woman did in the beginning was pretty shady though – getting herself on multiple leases and subletting the apartments out. Most likely that was illegal or violated the leases she signed. It’s sad that a lot of apartments now are coming off the long term rental market in NYC because of Air BnB. Glad she’s legit now and very successful. The end justifies the means here so well done.

    Reply
  • Mike August 24, 2017, 12:33 pm

    Zeona,

    You mentioned on your blog that you received some money from a life insurance policy when your mom passed away (which I am sorry to hear). You stated that you used it to pay off a mortgage of $144,000. Given the title of the article is from zero to wealthy in two years, how much was the inheritance and how much of the two year change was due to receiving it? I ask because your path to wealth was very quick and before one can emulate they first have to understand.

    Reply
  • Liesbet August 24, 2017, 3:22 pm

    Wow. Zeona sure achieved a lot in four years. It is almost unbelievable. How did she pay off her student loans and buy all those properties in such a short time? Good for her, being entrepreneurial, creative, free and happy, and achieving retirement before 30. Like her, my husband and I are extremely frugal people and do house and pet sitting to live for free, while running our business. Unlike her, we did not make enough money to retire after 8 years of doing it while on the road and on the water. She is an inspiration! Like her, the best compliment I could ever receive is that I inspired someone with my alternative lifestyle and priorities. :-)

    Reply
  • dpfromva August 25, 2017, 8:49 am

    I have been Airbnb-ing a part of my house as an experiment this year, to see if the $ is worth the tsurris. I did a lot of research by staying in many Airbnbs myself.
    Personally, I will not stay in an Airbnb that is run by a multi-property rentalprenuer who is arbitraging the higher daily rate over the monthly amount they could get through a long term rental, potentially to someone who needs housing. I understand that it is a complex question and it is difficult to analyze the impact of a specific rental in a specific location, that Airbnbs may indeed generate economic growth in geo area X, and that your results may vary!
    From a personal perspective, I also find it much more relaxing to stay in someone’s actual primary or secondary home, with their artwork, their books, their weird wallpaper, occasionally their cat, than an impersonal, oft times IKEA- and mass-produced print- furnished “managed” Airbnb. Again, I’m sure there are lovely and homey exceptions to this, this is just my very limited personal experience.
    Airbnb as a company provides a great platform based on a brilliant concept — but they are in it to make money, not teach the world to sing kumbayah while holding hands! That’s fine, as I think capitalism is a more effective societal wealth-generator than any other system. It has been interesting, however, to see the company taking more responsibility (or being forced by regulation/market pressure due to dreadful incidnets to take more responsibility) for tax remittance, property and liability risk, and rental regulation compliance. Initially, they fought hard to maintain a “we’re just a platform, we are not liable” posture — a dilemma that we see the entire industry working out, with hate speech, etc.
    When I opened on Airbnb, I did everything by the book — I have commercial insurance for a short-term rental operation, a business license, and a local short term stay permit. I pay local transient occupancy and state sales tax. (Many homeowners are unknowingly taking on a huge insurance risk with conventional homeowners insurance — running a commercial business violates the terms or many major insurer contracts, meaning that not only are these Airbnb-ers not covered for property damage and liability from guests, they may have voided all of the property and liability coverage on their homes. The insurance industry is just at the beginning stages of developing products for this market.) Because of the short average length of stay and my personal involvement, I report Schedule C (not Schedule E rental income) sole practitioner business income and pay the accompanying self-employment FICA tax.
    Users of shared economy products also need to be aware of their risk exposure. I would guess that Mustachians are more objective in weighing risks, less risk-averse than others and may have more libertarian leanings on the amount of government control and protection they need — and will understand their Airbnb rental doesn’t meet hotel fire code requirements, and the host making their pancakes hasn’t had food preparation training! The playing field is not quite level for businesses such as a family-owned bed and breakfast, which must cover a ton of compliance costs while the sharing economy skates by in a regulatory gray zone. Finally, for every successful shared economy participant, I fear there are many more who are just scraping by on sequential gigs, people who as individuals have limited power and are subject to labor exploitation, people who don’t benefit from the tailwinds I have (good education, intact family with enough money to get by, not a minority) when facing financial and personal headwinds. Did the Uber drivers ever unionize? I hope so! So now I have circled from capitalism to Marxism!

    Reply
  • Patrick September 2, 2017, 2:19 pm

    Relevant article of how some landlords are getting screwed by people who violate their leases and sublet on airbnb (against the lease):
    https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/01/airbnb-nightmare-homeowners-fined-after-renters-illegal-listings.html

    $20,000 fines per incidence and angry neighbors, because your tenant decided to be an “entrepreneur”.

    Please check your local laws before you decide to screw over the landlord!

    Reply
  • Andrew Mullen September 12, 2017, 1:25 pm

    Awesome! You have definitely inspired me to take my airbnb’s to the next level and maybe even try the co-hosting deal! I too am convinced that peer to peer platforms are the future.

    Reply
  • Cara September 24, 2017, 5:01 pm

    I love how Zeona created a life on her own terms! Very inspirational and resourceful!

    Reply

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