Airbnb was founded in August of 2008 in San Francisco, California as a way for people to list and book accommodations around the world. While there are many ways to utilize the website and app, it’s best known as a way to book or host a unique home – homes typically owned by someone. From staying in a “seashell house” in Isla Mujeres, Mexico to spending a week in a tree house in Atlanta, Georgia to overnighting in a college student’s bedroom while he’s sleeping in the room across the hallway, no experience is the same.
Two South Dakota Airbnb’s let us into their homes to chat about what made them take the leap to host, what the process is like, and what stories they have about their guests.
BALE & BUTTERFLY BUNGALOW
Soren Sturlaugson built his nontraditional straw bale home in Rapid City in 2010 with the help of his brother, Brent, who is an architect and teacher at the University of Kentucky.
“He lived here for five years before he moved, so this was his home,” said his father, Scott, who was about to give us a tour of the studio.
Soren, who has a two-year contract teaching second grade in Colombia, entrusts his parents, who live next door, to oversee the booking communication, answer questions for guests, and help clean after check out (this Airbnb has self check in, and the key is left in a hidden area).
“I’m more in charge of cleaning, and really there’s not much you have to do,” said his mother, Brooke. “We email guests and tell them instructions. There are instructions inside, but when you book, I believe it sends you all of the house rules and instructions as well.”
Airbnb recommends you fill out house rules on your profile and also have a hard copy available so guests know what to expect (i.e. where to put used towels, if shoes aren’t allowed in the house, if people are allowed over the space, etc.).
Soren started hosting two years ago. Winter months are quiet, but starting around April, the home is frequently booked.
As we approached the front door, Scott pointed up to the flat roof and talked about the modern and “green” design.
“The roofline is vastly different, and that’s probably one of the things that attracts people,” said Scott. “When it rains, we collect rainwater and can use the water for gardening or whatever. That’s the reason for the design, or the way it is.”
We were told Soren would be chatting with us via FaceTime sometime during the walkthrough on his break. “You’ve got to talk to him about the house since this is his passion project,” said Brooke.
To give a little more background before continuing further, it’s important to explain that there are three ways to host your home. You can rent your entire home, rent a private room in your home, or rent a shared room.
Soren’s “cleverly designed studio” (as described on his listing) is a full home for $157 a night ($217 a night on weekends).
The 700-square-foot studio has a main room, full bathroom, and a utility room. As we entered, it was like an artist’s paradise, with art scattered about the walls, lush plants covering surfaces throughout, and a 108-square-foot glass garage door.
“With the design this way and this facing south, in the wintertime the sun is so much lower in the sky that the sun shines [through the garage door] and heats up this space and the floor,” explained Scott. “All of this floor can retain that heat.”
To give us the full effect, Brooke opened the garage door, which leads to the outdoor lounge area.
“It becomes an instant patio,” she exclaimed. “Presto, instant porch! You have a little fire pit out there; it’s a great space.”
Scott continued about the inspiration behind it, “I guess originally he wanted to build a house over here, too, so this was his way of existing without getting in debt. This really might end up being a garage eventually, if he does end up doing all that.”
When asked if he will return to finish the envisioned project, Brooke replied, “We sure hope so, but he loves other cultures and adventures.”
Soren is also an artist, and all of the paintings, drawings, and prints throughout the space are his works. He even painted a forest mural in the bathroom, which he built out with his dad.
“He’s obsessed with anything artistic,” said Brooke.
We were told there were 95 plants in the studio last year, but they have “downsized a bit.” Why the love for plant life?
“We can take credit for that one,” said Scott. “There are plants all over my house, as well. I was a biology teacher.”
The main space acts as what they described as four rooms in one. There is the bedroom, kitchen, living room, and dining room.
While there is one Murphy Bed (which has instructions on how to pull out of the wall), the bungalow accommodates four guests with a blow-up mattress, a futon, and a hammock as well. Scott and Brooke informed us that a group of motorcyclists from Fargo, North Dakota were getting ready to check in after 3 p.m. that afternoon and would be utilizing all of the beds.
Scott explained, “If you want privacy, there is also a curtain you can pull around the Murphy Bed.”
Other amenities include a guitar guests can play, two acres of land with a wiffle ball field, a chest of outdoor toys, a grill, a craft tool box inside, and more.
“For two acres of land and an entire home for $157 a night, it’s economical for a family to be here, and they have space,” said Scott. “The national forest is half a mile away with trails. We’ve had people that have brought their mountain bikes and who go for walks.”
We walked over to an interesting square hole in the wall that revealed the straw bale that you can actually touch.
“This is called a ‘truth window.’ This tells you there are actual straw bales in the back of the cement and that’s why the walls are so thick,” said Scott.
Another different design element are the kitchen counters. Brooke told us that since Soren is 6’2″, he wanted to “build the counters for himself.”
And just as she let out a chuckle, Soren started calling her phone. We placed the iPhone on the entry table against a couple of books.
We quickly gave him grief about the aforementioned counters. He let out a laugh.
“We’re all a tall family, and I love to cook and do dishes,” he said. “The normal counter is four or five inches shorter, but that does make a difference hovering over the counter for a while.”
We told him how much we admired his attention to detail and noticed his intentional touches.
“I miss it a lot, being down here,” he said.
He explained the two-phase process of building the studio with his brother.
“Brent designed the outside, and I brainstormed the few years I was living there, making little additions here and there and adding personal touches to get it to where it’s at,” he recalled.
His favorite highlight of the space hadn’t been mentioned yet by his parents. Soren had created a laundry chute through the bathroom wall that goes directly to the laundry machine.
“To be able to shed your clothes and throw them through the wall right to the laundry machine is pretty cool,” he said.
We asked Soren why he wanted to let people stay in his home.
“For the most part, I’m really excited to share it with anybody, because I love the place so much. And not being there, I would feel selfish not sharing that with travelers coming through,” he said.
To stay up to date on what guests’ experiences are like, he has a guest book where they fill out notes about their stay and sometimes draw pictures.
“Reading the guest book, it seems people really appreciate having this little nook and little space that was crafted so thoughtfully to give them that peace and tranquility,” explained Soren.
His advice for those who are contemplating becoming hosts? Be thorough in describing your site and in choosing who is staying in your place. This can be done by making sure they have a Verified ID (see sidebar) and starting a conversation with them over Airbnb.
“Establish some correspondence and connection before your guests arrive. For me on my place, I don’t do Instant Book, because then I don’t really know who is staying in my place. And for me, it’s a personal place, so I want to know who is going to be in there,” he said. “Of course, you can always check Verified IDs, but for me and my heart, I need to know this person is pretty good. Even if you have a sentence or two back and forth, that conversation helps.”
Soren has only turned away one person from getting a “weird feeling” from correspondence.
In order to do this, he urges to not sign up for Instant Book. Airbnb recommends it for constant booking and to make more money, but Soren says this makes it harder to be in control of who your guests are.
As his break came to a close, we said our goodbyes.
Soon after, Scott’s phone lit up, and it was another booking.
“This is how we stay abreast when we’re out and about. Requests and messages come straight to my phone. We were in Kentucky, and I accepted a booking from there,” he said.
The couple walked us out into the field and talked about the guests who have come and gone.
“The girl who left this morning actually left a really neat note. She’s a traveling nurse, and she’s moving across the country. She was questioning her decision, so we talked about it,” said Brooke. “You get to know people’s stories. When people sign up for [our Airbnb] they tell us a little bit about themselves and why they’re traveling.”
Scott motioned towards the patio.
“I think one of the things that brings us both joy is when we see people over here in the evening with the garage door up and guests relaxing in the chairs or playing wiffle ball,” he said. “Just seeing people using the space the way Soren designed and why he enjoys it is why we love doing this.”
CHARMING PHILLIPS AVENUE CRAFTSMAN
Andrew Wieting, an investment broker, and his wife Lisa, a pharmacy technician, had been guests through Airbnb in cities like San Francisco and Chicago.
“It just seemed like something we would enjoy doing,” said Andrew.
They started hosting a year ago this month, and have been living in their 1919 craftsman for two years.
Andrew recalled, “This house was a little rough when we bought it, so I’ve done a lot of work to it.”
The Wieting’s historic home on Phillips Avenue is just a few blocks from both downtown Sioux Falls and McKennan Park. There are two listings for their space: One is for the front bedroom on the main floor, and the other is for the two remaining bedrooms by the kitchen (you can stay in all three by booking both listings).
Andrew said in the wintertime when it’s slower, the front room is $35 a night and the two rooms are $45 a night. During busy season, the prices are bumped up to $45 for the front room and $55 for the two rooms.
“We could charge more, but I think it’s better having it full all of the time and meeting people,” he said.
Since you’re renting a private room(s), Andrew and Lisa are typically in the home with you, but stay in the basement where they have a TV room and their master bedroom.
“We basically have a live-in unit downstairs, so it works out pretty good,” said Andrew.
Their dog, Lux, can also be found down there.
Guests have the entire main floor, including the kitchen that has a “coffee and espresso nook,” and the living room with a TV and the latest magazines. Toiletries are available in the bathroom, as well.
“We keep the fridge stocked with items and have coffee and espresso,” said Andrew. “We make sure there are breakfast items available.”
The Wietings put together a welcome letter with house rules and Wi-Fi information, as well as a list of local shops, attractions, and restaurants to check out. They learned these types of touches from their experiences as guests.
Andrew says being an Airbnb host has been a great opportunity to make extra money.
“We’ve had months where we bring in more than $2,000,” he said.
The flexibility has been nice as well, as hosts can set their calendar for when they want to allow guests or not (again, not part of Instant Book). Andrew enjoys being able to be as busy as they want to be.
“You can block dates and have dates open and available as much as you want. Some months where we’re going to be around a lot and don’t have family or friends staying over, we can have 28 out of 30 days filled if we want,” he said. “Some months, during the holidays especially, we’ll have 20 days blocked off, but the other 10 will fill up.”
While it’s great for housing expenses, a dream trip, or for savings, Andrew emphasizes that you need to be ready for what the commitment entails.
“I think it’s really important that you’re a people person. My wife warms up to people and is way more social than I am, but I’m the person that does the greeting for new people,” he said. “If you’re a little uneasy about meeting new people, this may not be for you. You may not get a good review if you’re not up for giving them tips and chatting with them.”
The first time they hosted, Andrew admitted, they weren’t nearly as well prepared as they are today.
“It helped we had stayed at [other Airbnbs], but we were nervous,” he said. “You don’t know what to do… it’s a feel-out process.”
They, personally, prefer to do the hand-off for check-in.
“Maybe 10 out of 100 times I’ll leave [the key] under the doormat, but I don’t like letting someone be here too long without me around,” said Andrew.
They also like to approve guests, and look at potential guests’ history and reviews to make their decision.
“We haven’t had any bad experiences,” said Andrew. “It’s nice that [Airbnb] verifies the email address, name, phone number, lists your reviews, driver’s license number…”
Reviews have helped them as hosts as well.
“We’ve fixed stuff along the way… we’ve never gotten a bad review,” he said. “When someone leaves a review, they leave what the public would see, and underneath is private feedback and they can give you tips if they didn’t like something or they would do something differently. That has been helpful.”
Andrew and Lisa love hanging out with guests, if that’s what they want from their stay. They’re also completely okay with staying out of the way to give guests space. The Wietings have had a great time getting to know the ones that do want to chat, and have special memories from those interactions.
“A younger couple came up from the South and brought Apple Pie Moonshine, and we sat and drank a bottle of that with them and heard a bunch of stories,” said Andrew. “I’m older than 30 now, so it’s fun to hear people have a good time with no worries.”
A lot of their guests, they mentioned, are from around the nation and worldwide to make the bucket list road trip to Mount Rushmore and other amazing sights the Black Hills offers.
“There was a couple from Australia this week, and we have a couple from Germany staying next month,” said Lisa. “They’re doing their U.S. tour.”
Their location, they say, is very popular, since it gives visitors a feel for what Sioux Falls has to offer before they continue on to the west side of the state.
“I think being close to downtown has been huge, and a lot of people travel to the Badlands, so it’s a nice stopping point,” he said. “If we wanted to, we could always be full.”
Lisa has enjoyed being able to share their home with others.
“It’s nice to make your home so useful,” she said. “It’s a nice hobby, because everything you do is for your house, so you’re really getting to utilize it and share it with other people.”
For more information, visit airbnb.com.•
THE STURLAUGSON HOME
THE REVIEWS ARE IN
See a few of their reviews…
Soren, Scott, & Brooke
“Full of amenities and surprises, this beautiful home is more than you’ll likely expect from it! Secluded, charming, comfortable, well stocked with anything you could want, it’s a beautiful piece of heaven located along one of the most stunning drives you’ll find in S.D. There were even pronghorns on the hill to meet us as we pulled into the neighborhood! Thank you, Soren, for sharing this treasure with us! Your map of the area trails was icing on the cake. I wish we had more time to stay and explore!” – Jeff, June 2017
“This bungalow was the most unique, smart, and beautiful place I’ve ever visited. We could have stayed much longer. Scott and Brooke were so sweet and helpful to us. Soren also gave us lots of information and was very communicative and friendly. These are the type of people and a place you’ll remember for a long time. I will recommend this trip and the bungalow to many. Special place.” -Sharon, June 2017
THE WIETING HOME
THE REVIEWS ARE IN
See a few of their reviews…
Andrew & Lisa
“We loved this house! It’s a fantastic neighborhood, and the rooms are very comfortable and well-decorated. Andrew went above and beyond with amenities: coffee and light breakfast, drinks in the fridge, and toiletries in the bathroom. We wish we could have stayed longer!” – Jenni, June 2017
“Had a genuinely perfect stay here in Sioux Falls! Beautiful home just a short walk from downtown. The neighborhood is very homey, covered in trees and family homes. The house is out of a home décor magazine, and our rooms were fantastic! We were provided with everything we needed and more! We stayed for one night and wish we could have stayed longer. Thank you for the great stay!” – Ann, June 2017
THE AIRBNB COMMUNITY
3,000,000+ listings worldwide
TIPS FOR HOSTS
Always pay and communicate through Airbnb. Make sure to always read profiles and reviews of your potential guests and look for verified phone numbers, social networks, and references.
Fill Out Your House Rules, Home Safety Card, and House Manual
Completing a house rules and manual helps guests know what to expect and what rules to follow. Let people know what you want them to know before they book, like is smoking allowed, are pets allowed, are certain areas off limits, your Wi-Fi password, and if guests should take off their shoes before coming in. Make sure to include emergency numbers and where to go in case there is one.
Make Sure You’re Insured
Airbnb’s Host Protection program provides primary liability coverage for up to $1,000,000 per occurrence in the event of a third-party claim of bodily injury or property damage related to Airbnb.
Set Requirements for Your Listing
You can require guests to complete certain verifications before they book, such as Verified ID.
Read the Hosting Responsibilities on the Airbnb Site
Including emergency contacts, supplies (first aid kit), fire prevention, child-proofing, exits, etc.
3 WAYS TO HOST
Host extra space
Whether it’s a room in your apartment or a cabin in the woods, you can rent it out.
Host for Your Neighborhood
Many people have homes they want to share, but don’t have time or the confidence to host. Now you can help them welcome travelers to your neighborhood.
Host Unique Experiences
Share your passion, expertise, or what’s special about where you live leading experiences for travelers, like shopping, hiking, wine tasting, etc.
TIPS FOR GUESTS
Look at profiles and reviews of potential hosts before you book, and check for verified phone numbers, connected social networks, and references.
Pay and Communicate on Airbnb
See Tips for Hosts side bar.
Set Clear Expectations
After learning about your host’s Airbnb history, start a conversation with them about your plans and what you expect. (Note: If you don’t feel right about a reservation, don’t book it.)
Prepare for the Unexpected
Research the neighborhood where you’ll be staying, and familiarize yourself with major roads and landmarks. Have a plan for where to go in case of an emergency. Tell people where you’ll be (when you book, Airbnb asks that you email your itinerary to a third party), and think about signing up for traveler’s insurance.
Be a Considerate Guest
Honor your commitments, like check-in and house rules. It’s always courteous to leave an honest review to help guide future guests and to give the host feedback.
Airbnb performs a virtual ID check to verify users with two forms of ID.
Reviews are written by travelers as well as hosts, so potential guests can see it based on a stay that a guest had in a host’s listing.
They use messaging with traveling or hosting that begins when you make an inquiry or reservation request.
There is a secure platform for payment through Airbnb, so you don’t have to worry about scams.
Airbnb is available 24/7 to connect to their customer service support team, whether you’re traveling or hosting. Bonus: They’re real humans and not machines.