Sitting at their kitchen table in 2013, shortly after building their 4,500-square-foot dream home in Lambertville, Keith and Kim Black realized they had arrived at a crossroads. He had just sold his wine shop in Weehawken. She had just been laid off her job as the vice president of design at Coach in New York City. The economy was in free fall, and the couple knew they needed to act fast.
“We had only two options: Either sell the house or do something creative to buy ourselves some time,” says Kim. “Becoming Airbnb hosts and renting out our guest rooms helped us buy that time.”
The Blacks, like thousands of other Garden State homeowners, plunged into the global home-sharing phenomenon and never looked back. Within one year, based on stellar reviews from guests, the Blacks were designated Airbnb “superhosts”—seasoned hospitality gurus who provide an exemplary experience for their renters.
Airbnb identifies more than 200 New Jersey superhosts with a special website badge. Superhosts must maintain an overall rating of 4.8 out of 5, based on accuracy of listing, ease of check-in, cleanliness, communication, location and value. They must also complete at least 10 hostings or three reservations totaling at least 100 nights over a 12-month period.
Superhosts are just one part of the Airbnb universe. In 2018, about 9,300 New Jersey residents offered their homes as short-term Airbnb rentals, raking in a cumulative $133 million in revenue. Globally, Airbnb, the largest of the rent-out-your-digs operations, has millions of hosts throughout the world. Among Airbnb’s competitors: booking.com, VRBO, FlipKey and hometogo.
Airbnbs can be privately owned beach houses, suburban or seaside condos, urban apartments or rustic cabins. Posting an Airbnb listing is free, but the company gets a small commission from each host’s booking and also a percentage from guests. In return, it verifies guests through its website and handles contracts, insurance and transactions, with lodging paid in full online.
Last October, a new state law enabled New Jersey to tax short-term rental operators, just as they tax hotels. Airbnb collects and remits those taxes on behalf of its hosts. The industry giant predicts that future Garden State bookings could generate more than $10 million annually in state and local taxes.
A successful Airbnb host is typically an outgoing, business-savvy person with sharp communications skills who is willing to chitchat over coffee and offer thoughtful recommendations for local eateries and attractions.
We visited three Garden State superhosts to learn about their success. (Summer rates are approximate and do not include fees and taxes.)
BEACHY RENTALS IN OCEAN GROVE
When Ruth Anne Pedersen of West Orange and Wayne Kruge of Livingston were kids, their families shared annual vacations at the Jersey Shore. But the two lost touch after Pedersen’s family moved to Norway when she was 16. She eventually married, raised children and managed a small hospital. Fast-forward 35 years to a pilgrimage Pedersen made to the Shore in 2008.
During that trip, Pedersen and Kruge (both single at the time) miraculously met again on the beach at Ocean Grove. Sparks flew, and the couple married in 2009. Shortly after, they bought their first Ocean Grove home, which they named Heaven on Earth and turned into an Airbnb rental in 2015.
From their front porch, the couple admired the adorable blue cottage across the street. When it became available last year, they purchased their second Airbnb property, naming it Chateau Bleu. The two-bedroom Victorian sports white gingerbread trim, a cheery English garden and a white picket fence.
The couple reside in Heaven on Earth part-time and rent it out sporadically. Chateau Bleu is rented year-round. Both are a short walk from the beach.
“We love Ocean Grove, and we have the best neighbors in the world,” Pedersen says. “When I’m not around, one wonderful neighbor even helps welcome our guests. We’ve formed great friendships. One summer, our renters even invited us into our own kitchen for a huge Greek dinner.” Of course, occasionally a hard-to-please guest will offer a comment from left field, like the people who didn’t like the looks of Pedersen’s salt and pepper shakers and the guy who thought the wastebasket was too small.
Aside from their two Ocean Grove properties, Pedersen and Kruge also rent out their homes in Arizona and Norway. “Although we’re often on the road, our rental properties work hard for us, generating the funds to finance our travels,” says Pedersen.
The couple looks forward to someday retiring in Ocean Grove. Until then, they are happy traveling the world to visit their eight children and 12 grandkids who reside in Norway, Australia, Alaska, Arizona and Indiana.
Summer rates: Heaven on Earth, $275/night, $1,900/week, $7,500/month; Chateau Bleu, $230/night, $1,550/week, $6,250/month
Greythorne Farm, a 1938 farmhouse on eight acres of pasture and wooded farmland in Lambertville, was knocked down and rebuilt in 2012 by Keith and Kim Black as their geothermal dream home. Shortly after, they made the decision to help make ends meet by renting out their spare bedrooms.
A two-minute drive from historic Lambertville, the well-decorated home has two rental bedrooms, each with a private bathroom. Communal areas include the backyard pool and a gourmet kitchen with more than 100 cookbooks. Recently, the couple decided to offer their entire home, including a dining room that seats up to 20, for special-event rentals between May and October.
Greythorne Farm is one of New Jersey’s pet-friendly Airbnb properties. “We know firsthand what it’s like to go away and worry about Ruby, our rescued bulldog, so we welcome most pets,” says Keith. “We like making life easy for people, and Ruby loves it, too.” Still, they were surprised when one guest arrived with a goldfish in a bowl.
Guests who stay at Greythorne Farm have easy access to nearby restaurants, shops, farms and wineries. The Blacks hope to turn their old stable into a freestanding guest house, develop the grounds as a flower farm that supports local florists, and transform their barn into a festive space with food and local performers.
“As with most things in life, positive outcomes can arise from difficult situations,” says Kim. “Having the ability to rent sections of our home whenever we need the extra income helped us to dream again.”
Summer rates: Bedroom with private bath, $150/weekend night; whole house for two-night weekend stay, $1,600
TWICE AS NICE IN GUTTENBERG
Nadia Keller, a superhost since 2013, began to host travelers in her two adjoining Guttenberg apartments in 2012, shortly after her mother’s passing. “I just couldn’t bear to put Mom’s two-family home on the market,” says Keller, “so I decided to be a part-time Airbnb host to help pay the mortgage.”
Keller, then a full-time professional in the short-term office-leasing and shared-work-space business, never dreamed that, one year later, she would leave her job to become a full-time Airbnb host. “It was actually an easy transition from working with leasing clients to hosting guests,” she says.
One of the most redeeming aspects of this arrangement is knowing that she and her family can continue to keep her mother’s home intact. “Best of all, we still celebrate our holidays here,” she says. “I think Mom would have liked that.”
The home in Hudson County is ideally situated for visiting New York City. Because of the in-demand location, Keller and her family host diverse clientele, like the three servicemen who arrived late one evening. “At first, we were tempted to cancel their reservation because they were hours late and it seemed a little sketchy,” says Keller. “But once we met them, they were so sweet, and we discovered they were active military service. Later, they said it was good we didn’t cancel their booking because they wouldn’t have been able to afford a New York City-area hotel.”
Other memorable guests include a fun French couple who were touring the globe with their five young children. “They were on a mission to show their kids how other people live around the world,” says Keller. “We instantly hit it off, and later they sent me pictures of every country they visited.”
Not all guests are ideal. “Once a woman grilled chicken on my stove without a pan,” recalls Keller. “She laid the raw meat right on the gas burner.”
And then there was the time she hosted an artsy type who claimed to own a Meadowlands catering business that worked with the Rolling Stones. Funny thing, thought Keller; her cousin had exactly those same credentials. The mysterious guest turned out to be her cousin’s British business partner.
Small world? Apparently so. Especially when you’re an Airbnb superhost.
Summer rates: $175-$195/nightClick here to leave a comment