Skift Take

A resilient first-time Airbnb host in a competitive Columbia, South Carolina market is exploring different rental options amid disappointing business travel demand, undeterred by the uncertain regulatory landscape.

Good morning folks, welcome to a brand new week. Did you see that there is a chance we could live on the moon by 2040 while New York City can’t get its new Airbnb rules right – it’s “pure chaos,” says Wired.  

Meanwhile, I am turning my attention to South Carolina. 

I spoke to a first-time Airbnb host who started renting her property in the outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina, and has had a rough go at being a newcomer in a saturated market.

But her spirits are high and expectations are low. Ebony Twilley wanted to purchase an investment property in 2021 and tear it down and build it up again. She bought a house that fit her requirements, and listed it in April this year. The location is close to the University of South Carolina campus, a lot of businesses, hospitals and government offices, so Twilley has been disappointed by the lackluster demand from business travel.

“I don’t get a lot of business travelers, but rather small families coming for personal visits,” Twilley said. She recognizes that she is still new in a crowded market, but Twilley isn’t tied to the idea of renting it to short-term guests. That might be a smart choice after all. According to AirDNA data, all major metrics including revenue, average daily rate, occupancy and revenue per available room (RevPAR) were all down year-on-year. 

Twilley doesn’t depend on Airbnb income to run the household. “Thankfully we don’t depend on it. Some of the anxiety is guest-related and then some of it is wondering about my next plan if this doesn’t work out as a short-term rental,” Twilley said. She said she would try mid-term and long-term rentals (in that order), and selling it would be the last resort.

Twilley is among those who entered the market right about when Columbia passed an ordinance in April that gave 120-days to short-term rental operators to get a permit. And just last week, those efforts to regulate the short-term rental market yielded fewer permits than anticipated, with just over 200 property owners obtaining permits, a fraction of the initial projections. 

Twilley has her suspicions about those who are sitting on the legal fence and trying to fly under the radar, like them New Yorkers. 

Del Mar’s Answer to Increasing Housing Supply: Prefab Homes 

Del Mar, California is welcoming manufactured homes into single-dwelling neighborhoods alongside mansions. The city, which currently lacks any manufactured homes, and an ordinance passed on September 5th was to allow these dwellings to be constructed off-site to federal standards. These can be be placed on permanent foundations in residential zones designed for single homes per lot.

This move comes after regulations for manufactured homes were largely dormant since 2014 due to their absence. Del Mar’s new rules will permit prefab units in various residential and commercial zones. This along with an ordinance on accessory dwelling units is part of a broader effort to boost housing supply and affordability, critical in a city where the median home sale price reached $3.1 million last month.

Layoffs at VTrips

Florida-based vacation rental property management company VTrips recently laid off approximately 75 employees, representing over 9% of its full-time workforce, in late September, according to sources. While VTrips is usually tight-lipped about layoffs, founder and CEO Steve Milo acknowledged these actions as “seasonal layoffs” and “planned synergies.” 

The company had expanded through mergers and acquisitions in 2021 and 2022 but faced reduced Average Daily Rates (ADR) and occupied nights in 2023 compared to projections, prompting cost-saving measures. These measures included outsourcing laundry services, relocating call centers to Jamaica, and back-office operations to the Philippines. VTrips now claims 6,000 units and approximately 725 employees following the layoffs. 

A Trimmed Down VTrips Laid Off 9% of Its Employees

Maine’s Investor Homes

Amid the pandemic and housing affordability concerns, investors now acquire over 20% of single-family homes in Maine, Bangor Daily News reported. While institutional investors fuel this trend nationally, Maine sees individual buyers seizing opportunities. They compete with traditional buyers for coastal and city homes. And Harvard University research recently showed those buyers often vie for the same lower-cost homes that first-time homebuyers are seeking.

Recently, Jeff Mateja of Keller-Williams Realty noted an influx of out-of-state investors. Nationally, over 26% of housing is investor-owned. In Maine, investors are capitalizing on the potential for short-term rentals in tourism and coastal communities, further driving this trend. While short-term rentals still constitute a small portion of Maine’s housing stock, a recent state-sponsored report highlights their increasing presence, underscoring the need for an additional 76,000 homes statewide by 2030 to meet demand and address affordability concerns.

In Case You Missed It: European Short-Term Rental Lobby’s Fight

European short-term rentals saw a surge in popularity, with guests booked over 150 million nights in platforms including Airbnb, Vrbo and Booking this summer, marking a 15.8% increase from the previous year, per Eurostat data. However, these rentals face increased scrutiny and regulatory challenges across the continent.

Cities like Florence have banned short-term rentals in their historic centers due to concerns over overtourism. Skift spoke to Viktorija Molnar, acting secretary general at the European Holiday Home Association, who defended the industry, stating that it’s often unfairly blamed for civic issues.

Many European cities that once embraced tourism are now reevaluating their approach due to overcrowding. National and local regulations on short-term rentals vary widely, making the industry susceptible to political changes. EHHA has even filed a complaint with the EU Commission against Brussels for overly stringent short-term rental regulations. Molnar also highlighted upcoming challenges, including the adoption of regulations for data collection and sharing in December. Another concern is the “VAT in a digital age” initiative, which may affect prices on online platforms by including VAT charges. The short-term rental industry in Europe faces a complex landscape of regulations and growing pains as it continues to evolve.

The EU Short-Term Rental Lobby Doesn’t Want to Be A Scapegoat for Bad Policies

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