“We’re losing as much as $11,000 in rent per month”: How these Airbnb hosts are adjusting to the new normal
When the pandemic hit, Christine Morra was forced to shut down her Blue Mountain Airbnb rental. We spoke to her about adjusting to the new normal.
As told to Isabel B. Slone
Growing up, one of my dad’s best friends had a chalet in Blue Mountain; we spent many winter weekends there skiing with his friend and his sons. My dad passed away 10 years ago, but I still love that area because it reminds me of him. In 2016, my husband, Dom, bought our own chalet in Blue Mountain. It was built in the 1980s, and we were excited to renovate it together. Dom painted the whole house, created a front entry bench, and redid the entire kitchen, painting the cupboards and adding shiplap. I’m a special education teacher in Toronto working with students who have autism, and Dom is an account manager at a fasteners company; he sells screws, bolts, that kind of thing. We always joke that we just work in Toronto but live up in Blue Mountain. We get up here whenever we can—any P.A. day, long weekend, the full two weeks of Christmas, all of March Break. I feel like I’m carrying on a tradition.
I love that the area has something for everyone. We have two kids: Xavier, who’s 11, and Gabriel, who’s 12. Gabriel skis, while Xavier always loves attending cooking camp at the local Loblaws. We’ve made amazing friends up here through Gabriel’s ski team. Dom and I were even a part of a 24-hour ski relay with other parents: we skied 241 laps and raised money for the Special Olympics and a local hospital.
In 2017, we bought a two-bedroom condo near our place in Blue Mountain. We paid in the mid-$400,000s and planned to rent it out on Airbnb to help cover our mortgage and renovation costs. Two weeks after we closed the sale, we had our first booking. We named the property River Grass Retreat because it’s the kind of place you can retreat after a long day of skiing, golfing or hanging out in the Village. It’s contemporary with a rustic edge: there’s wood panelling in the front entry, a fireplace in the living room and bare Edison bulbs in the kitchen. We’re Airbnb Superhosts, which means we’ve been recognized for our outstanding hospitality. To become a Superhost, you have to host at least 10 trips, respond quickly to guests and maintain an overall rating of 4.8 out of 5—we’ve had 263 bookings to date and currently have a 4.97 average rating from our guests. I keep our prices competitive so we can keep the place booked constantly. Our nightly rates have ranged from $149 on a Monday in November to $1,000 for New Year’s Eve.
Dom and I manage the Airbnb ourselves instead of using a property management company. We communicate with guests multiple times a day and ensure we’re always reachable. We have an electronic lock so every person who stays with us has an individualized code. We work with a mother-daughter team who clean the unit between each booking, and every Sunday we come up to replenish supplies like toilet paper and cleaning products. Dom usually handles repairs and keeps track of our business spreadsheets, while I’m the main point person for guests. It’s the perfect side gig.
Before Covid, we were earning around $10,000 or $11,000 per month from Airbnb during the busy seasons—December through February and July through August. The rest of the year, we earned around $5,000 to $6,000 per month. On average, we had about three bookings per week. There was usually a guest on the weekend, and then two during the week, sometimes more.
In mid-March, when the province announced schools were closing, we started seeing cancellation after cancellation after cancellation—at least 20 cancelled stays. On the Airbnb site, you can track your future income: for the month of March, we watched our projected earnings go from $7,000 to $1,000 in a matter of hours. It was devastating. It affected our cleaning crew, too, who rely on cleaning our unit three or four times a week. We went from being almost completely booked to totally empty.
Because of Ontario’s emergency order, we can only rent to people who need housing, which limits us. Our only guest since early April has been a man going through a divorce. He has to vacate the family home every other weekend, so he’s come to stay with us a few times. We’ve received inquiries from people who just want to get away for a couple of days, but we haven’t rented to them because we don’t want to violate the emergency order. We all have a responsibility to do what we can: we don’t want to be fined, and we don’t want to spread Covid. After this is all over, we want to be be able to say we contributed to the solution, not the problem. Right now we’re dipping into our savings from our Airbnb income to pay our mortgage. We are stressed and worried, but hopeful. We still have our jobs to fall back on, and we know how lucky we are.
We could rent the unit out long-term, but that would only bring in $2,000 a month as opposed to $5,000 or more; it doesn’t make sense financially. We’re also more protected renting on Airbnb, because our guests are bound to the terms and conditions and because guests on Airbnb pay prior to check-in.
We still have some bookings in June, July and August, and we’re not sure what to do. If we cancel them, we could be penalized by Airbnb and lose our Superhost status. But if we don’t cancel them, we won’t be able to put the unit on the rental market. It’s all a gamble right now. Do we wait for the province to potentially opens things back up, and hopefully make back some of the money we’ve lost, or do we take on a long-term tenant?
Right now we’re taking the gamble. We’re holding out hope that Blue Mountain will reopen in some capacity, and even if we can’t draw as many people or charge as much as we have in the past, we hope we can make enough to cover our monthly bills. Airbnb has offered some relief for hosts who have been affected by the pandemic. They’ve offered to provide a 25 per cent rebate on cancelled bookings, but that only applies in certain circumstances. They also have a Superhost Relief Fund, which is a maximum of $5,000, but they choose who is eligible to apply for it. I don’t know a single person who has been chosen to apply.
In the meantime, we’ve started coming up with ideas on how we can create safe getaways for our guests once the emergency orders are lifted. We’ve been creating a list of physically distanced activities: Iwa Spa in the Village has online yoga that our guests can do from the comfort of our place, and CrockADoodleDo is doing delivery and curbside pickup for their pottery painting kits. Gustav Chophouse and Burgrz in Collingwood, have pickup and delivery options, and Jozo’s at the Blue Mountain Inn has $6 specials each day and curbside pickup. When things open back up, we will be that ready to show people how they can come up to Blue Mountain and still have a safe trip.
Our life is up at Blue Mountain. It’s our home. Even though many people just see it as a vacation spot, this place has a super-strong sense of community. Not being able to contribute to that has been such a challenge for our family.
A previous version of this story suggested Morra was using her savings to pay her mortgage.