It’s the first summer that Brady and Amy Peterson have owned a house with a pool, so they’re hoping the chill of early September will give way to a resurgence of warmer weather.
Not just so that they can enjoy the oasis in their Inver Grove Heights backyard, but so they can earn some cash.
Starting in July, the Petersons listed their pool on swimply.com, a national platform that allows swimmers to connect with pool owners who rent their backyards by the hour.
“In the first six weeks, we had 32 bookings,” said Brady, whose guests enjoyed their heated pool, diving board, hot tub and deck for $30 an hour. “It was busier than I thought it would be, but we still had plenty of time for us and our friends.”
While renting a private pool is a novel approach, Brady was happy to find “a way to make the pool pay for itself, with rent fees covering the fixed costs of the opening and closing, heating and chemicals.”
And it’s not only pools that are bringing in money. Internet sharing platforms have created innovative ways for homeowners to tap an existing asset and transform part or all of their property into an income stream. Homes, in short, are becoming part of the sharing economy.
Swimply, in only its second summer of operation, has 45 Minnesota pools listed, available for $15 to $60 an hour. With many public pools closed and other water-related activities on hold this summer, a private pool was just the ticket for a birthday outing, family staycation activity or a place for lap swimmers eager to get some exercise.
“We’ve grown 3,000 percent because of COVID,” said co-founder Bunim Laskin. We had no idea when we built the platform how helpful it would be in a dark time.”
Garage for rent
Don Rowan realized he was only using two of the three stalls in his Maple Grove garage, so he signed up with neighbor.com. Since then, he’s had people paying $80 to $90 a month to store a car or a boat in the empty space.
“Last winter a guy brought his Corvette over, stored with a cover,” said Rowan.
The platform, he said, is a win-win. “We’re not getting rich, but it’s easy, no effort on my part, so I’ll take it,” he said, adding, “it’s nice to help people out.”
Homeowners who use the peer-to-peer platform create a profile and then advertise unused space in their basements, attics, spare bedrooms and sheds as well as their garages.
“We are disrupting the storage industry by efficiently using space that already exists instead of building more facilities,” said Joseph Woodbury, CEO of Salt Lake City-based Neighbor.
Founded in 2017, the platform now has a presence in all 50 states.
“We created a questionnaire that asks hosts about their square footage, is it climate controlled, what’s the security like. We feed that into an algorithm that spits out a recommended price. The host doesn’t have to follow it — we tell them, ‘If you think you can make more, great.’ But they’re 90 percent more likely to be reserved if they use our price,” Woodbury said.
Neighbor.com was dreamed up by college students looking for a convenient place to stash boxes between semesters, but it’s become popular with people who are moving, those looking for a spot to store their recreational toys and businesses in transition looking for a place to put their inventory.
“You do have strangers coming to your house,” said Rowan, “but renters and hosts are rated so you can check out their profile and they can check you out, too. It’s pretty slick.”
Stay a little longer
Of course, rental platforms like VRBO and Airbnb have been around for a while. But the home rental business has seen a shift during the pandemic.
“We see an uptick in travel that is nearby, within a few hundred miles, and we see more interest in remote and rural rentals,” said Alex Dagg, Airbnb’s Midwestern policy director.
“When people can work from home, they can work from any home. They’ve been stuck and they’re looking for something different so they’ll pick a place with beautiful fall colors and book a longer-term stay.”
Renters who scan house rentals are especially interested in properties offering strong, dependable Wi-Fi, contactless entry, and those that allow pets.
Dagg said in recent months, 200,000 new hosts have placed properties on the platform as “a way to make extra income during challenging times.”
On the North Shore, Andrew and Simone Strand have seen renewed interest in their 500-square-foot cabin overlooking Lake Superior, which sat vacant for several months in the early stages of the virus.
The Strands now require guests to bring their own bedding and linens, and they have adopted new disinfecting and sanitizing protocols.
“It’s not a passive income; you have to work for it,” said Andrew. “It’s not just cleaning. My wife created a website and spends a lot of time talking to people there and on Instagram, promoting the place. We don’t want to automate that; we want to give the guests a sense that we are real.”
The effort has paid off. The Strands welcomed their first child six months ago and the income from the cabin allows Simone to stay home with him instead of returning to work. And it looks like business will remain strong.
“We’re getting bookings into the winter now,” said Andrew. “There’s not going to be an offseason this year.”
Home as a set
While COVID is limiting the work of producing broadcast commercials and print ads, some homeowners are still making bank when production companies use their houses as a backdrop for their products.
A homeowner whose space is chosen for a print ad can pocket $1,500 to $2,000 a day, while those chosen for a television commercial can earn $2,500 a day, according to Anne Healy of Healy Locations.
Because of the restrictions related to the coronavirus, video production in the Twin Cities has slowed to almost a stop, Healy said, but print work has resumed in small measure.
“On a big commercial shoot there can be a hundred people and no one has the stomach for that,” she said.
“There were six smaller shoots with a dozen people in the past month. Now there’s a COVID specialist on set who takes temperatures and stands there all day with a 6-foot ruler to keep everyone distanced.”
Healy has her fingers crossed that production will ramp back up later this year and anticipates that the Twin Cities, with its large number of local Fortune 500 companies, may become a more popular spot for shooting national spots.
“We’ll start doing commercials here before they resume in L.A. Their numbers are horrible; their unions won’t let them go on set. Actors turn down jobs because they won’t risk it,” she said. “Canada, which has been a competitor, isn’t available now, either.”
This summer Healy saw production companies gravitating to empty houses owned by people who were bunking at their cabins. As fall approaches, she sees many producers bypassing homeowners entirely and shooting in newly built model homes.
Healy is still actively scouting new locations, but finds that a certain style of home is in particular demand.
“The producers and art directors like the urban farmhouse — open white spaces with nice windows,” she said. “A lot of the people who own these big expensive houses don’t need the money. They do it because it’s fun to see their house in an ad and tell their friends about it.”
Additional opportunities for homeowners who’d like to monetize their private luxury spaces are in the works.
The Swimply platform is expanding with Joyspace, which is set to launch later this fall. It will allow those with sport courts, home gyms, home theaters, man caves or exceptional backyards to rent by the hour.
“There are a lot of positives with this approach,” said Laskin. “These options delight families looking for something special nearby and can help homeowners who might need extra money right now. The timing is right for what we’re doing.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.