How I Turned My Primary Residence into a Temporary Vacation Rental (and Tested Out Nomad Life)

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA

2020 marks the third year in a row I’ve been rented out my entire house during the Arizona tourist season. (In 2017/2018 I lived in a casita in downtown Phoenix for four months. In 2019, I split my time between Colombia and my mom’s house. In 2020, in just a short time, I’ll be hitting the road for 5 weeks — spending time in Las Cruces, NM, San Antonio, and Austin, TX!)

Thanks to services like Airbnb and VRBO, it’s insanely easy for the average person to try a hand in the hospitality business. If you can get over the fear of being temporarily homeless and having a bunch of strangers all up in your house using your stuff… it’s more than doable.

Each time, I’ve made a pretty profit, and my house and stuff came out unscathed!

Your success will depend on, of course, if you live in a desirable location and if you can leave during a desirable time of year for travelers. Luckily, that’s Phoenix in the winter/spring, and I’m an independent, unattached digital nomad (I can work from ANYWHERE given a WiFi connection and a coordinating time zone!).

Read on to see how I rent out my fully-furnished house and fund my nomadic lifestyle!

1. Get your place on the market (Six-two months before)

Furnish and check yo’ amenities! People like to stay in a comfortably furnished and decorated place that suits their needs. Example: My house is a 3-bedroom: it has a master, a guest, and an office. I added a futon to the office, and BAM! Now it can sleep a couple grandkids AND I can honestly advertise three bedrooms. A remodeled, top of the line kitchen and master bath don’t hurt, as well as a couple TVs, nice artwork, and decorative flourishes. I also have keyless entry installed so guests get a unique code. Get professional photography done, or if you do-it-yourself, make sure your photos are brightly lit and inviting. 

Create a listing for your place. Add all the photos, describe your place, and price it for the guest you want! Since I look for long-term renters to maximize my time away, my nightly rate is high but I offer a hefty discount for people who want to stay longer. I also allow house-trained pets — since a lot of long-term travelers want to bring their pets, this puts my listing above the rest. Now, open up your calendar for the time of year you’re able to be gone, sit back and watch what happens! 

My advice: If your listing is brand new, try to get a booking so you can get a review. Listings with reviews are much more trusted than those without. Even if you have to drop your price to get that initial booking, it’s worth it to get the proof in the pudding — a positive review. 

Be judicious. When a potential booking comes in, it can be so tempting to accept on account of the dollar signs, but dudes, this is my primary home. Although I’ve learned to detach myself from material possessions, I still have a lot of pride in what I’ve built. So I try to feel out every request to get a sense of why they’re here and who they’re traveling with. My house is much better suited for a couple of snowbirds and their golden retriever than a bunch of guys in town for a bachelor party.

2. Booking confirmed! (Two months-three weeks before)

Make all those minor repairs and replacements. Example: Replacing a couple of rusty faucets is relatively cheap but goes such a long way (true story!). Restock sheets, towels, and ensure you have enough silverware for a family. Stock the basics like toilet paper, soap, and shampoo and conditioner. Think about it from the guests’ point of view — do you have enough to meet the expectations of a vacation rental? Depending on what you’re charging and advertising, their expectations may be completely fair!

Plan your adventure! Duh! Where are you going to go? Now is a good time to make your own bookings! (Word of warning: be mindful of the cancellation policy you set on your listing and when you’re making your bookings. If they cancel unexpectedly, you’ll be protected.) This year, I decided to road trip through the southwest, stop in a couple new places (Las Cruces and San Antonio), and spend the bulk of my time in Austin, one of my favorite cities.

Take stock of your food. Your long-term renters are coming soon, and they are going to expect to be able to put food in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Will you have space for them? You better! The month or so before my renters come, I take stock of all my frozen and pantry items and try to use up as much as I can. I guarantee you, if you leave that box of Girl Scout cookies behind, it ain’t gonna be there when you get back. 

3. Getting ready for renter (three weeks-one week before)

Remove personal items and photographs from view. Your renters know they’re staying in somebody else’s house, but they don’t want to be reminded of it. Pack up all of this, but don’t leave shelves empty — put something pretty and bland in its place.

Organize and pre-pack. Bedroom drawers and bathroom cabinets will need to be freed up for guests, so I pull out everything from my drawers and separate the clothing I think I’ll need for my journey from the stuff I’ll leave behind. Personal stuff from my bedroom and bathroom goes into bins that will be stacked in my master closet, which I lock off. All drawers are left empty for guests’ use, and I put a portable clothing rack and hangers in the bedroom corner for attire that needs to be hung up.

Schedule housekeeping and landscaping service. Trimmed grass and sparking countertops! Get on your cleaning lady’s and landscaper’s schedule for the last possible day (and have a backup just in case!) because, I promise, you definitely don’t want to be doing the cleaning and the mowing on your own. 

Create your welcome book to help your renters be self-sufficient. WiFi code? Put it in the book. What day is garbage and recycling removal? Put it in the book. Instructions on navigating the sliding glass door that sometimes gets a bit off its track? Put it in the book. Basically, start thinking about anything you renters would want or need to know, and type it up. They should only be calling you for emergencies (so hopefully not at all)… and not when they’re looking for the mailbox.

HEY, NOSY PERSON! Yeah, YOU! You wanna see how I rent out my house on the Phoenix vacation rental market (for the third year in a row, I might add)? Check out my quick video recap/tour!

4. Lock and load! (The week-a few days before)

Foster guest goodwill with a welcome gift. This is obviously optional, but I like this (especially having been on the receiving end!). Your renters will appreciate the nice touch and (hopefully) will be less apt to whine if they have a bottle of wine (pun intended).

Pack UP! Time to turn that pre-pack into a “packed!” Just before leaving, clothing and toiletries coming with me go into the garage, out of the cleaner’s way. Some remaining perishables and pantry items go into my cooler for the road trip out. I lock up the master closet and liquor cabinet, and after one last sweep of the house… I’m off!

Guys, I’m not going to lie, this is not easy. Removing or minimizing mental attachments to your things = uncomfortable. Downsizing into the trunk of a car = a lot of work. Putting your things away and making sure everything left behind is clean, comfortable and hospitable = an arduous process. But it’s all worth it for me — not just money-wise but experience-wise. I’m beyond excited to hit the road, just me and my pup; to have some new adventures and meet some new people. Wish me luck, friends… and feel free to check-in with me later!

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions for me!

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