Should They Traditionally Rent Their Basement or List it on Air bnb?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Kevin Wolf

“Dear PoPville,

Here’s our dilemma and we are looking for advice and insight.

We’ve redone our basement apartment in our new house (less than 2 months ownership) in the hopes of renting it out and mitigating the monthly mortgage payment. However, we are finding that it is rather loud down there–footsteps and voices carry, and we have two kids under 5. We are now considering trying to do Air BnB instead of having a renter so that we do not have to be on tenterhooks about any noises disturbing our renter at any time and instead can just be careful about volume whenever someone is in the basement as an Air BnB client.

The house is under 1 mile from the Brookland metro, and the basement is about 500 sq feet with two rooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, its own entrance and its own washer/dryer. Would it make more sense to rent it and have a consistent stream of money coming in while being very careful with noise every day OR to try the Air BnB market where we’d be able to be more relaxed about kids’ play and general ambient noises, but we would have to make up any differences in monthly payments ourselves? Convince me!”

33 Comment

  • WIth two small kids I think you ought to at .least try the Air BnB thing first. I have a toddler myself and would really hate to add one more thing to stress over on a day to day basis (i.e. annoying my tenants with noise). Give the short term thing a whirl and if you find that’s too much work to get a steady stream of visitors, or its not bringing you enough money then go for the long term renters. It occurs to me as I write this though that even with Air B & B customers, if they are annoyed by excessive noise they could write you a bad review and that would impact your ability to get future air b&b customers.

  • First I would look at the math of how much you could reasonably expect to charge for rent, and how much you might be able to charge as an airbnb (maybe $100 a night?). How many nights’ guests would you have to charge to make up for not renting it by the month? Assuming guests are there for 2-3 nights at a time, is that turnover practical? Are you ok being home to let people in at a designated check-in time?

    I understand not wanting to anger a renter with whom you hope to have a long-term relationship. But I think it would be more practical to put some sound insulation in the ceiling of the lower level unit and rent it by the month – that’s much less hassle than doing an airbnb. Plus, airbnb has comments and you can bet that the toddler noise will be mentioned – some people will be ok with it, others will not.

    • Generally agreed with this.
      If adding the sound insulation is too tricky at this point (it sounds like the basement renovation is already completed?), I’d try adding area rugs (as OP Anon suggests) upstairs and being upfront about the kid noise when you list the place on Craigslist and show it to potential tenants. Also, discount the rent accordingly.
      Are your kids ever up/noisy at night, or is it mainly a morning/daytime thing? Maybe you can try to find a renter who’s an early bird anyway.

  • TBH, 1 mile from Brookland metro is pretty crummy if I’m a short term visitor. Why stay in the ‘burbs when I can be near the action? I think you’d have to offer the place at a pretty steep discount to attract AirBnB guests. And then, at that point, is it worth the hassle?
    I think you’d be better off getting a full-time tenant and investing in a bunch of area rugs.

    • Not true. I know someone renting in Woodridge probably the same distance to Rhode Island metro, and they have had no problem having a steady stream of rentals because they can accommodate more than 2 people. Lots of people esp. with kids do not want to be in the middle of the action also if you drove plenty of neighborhoods are going to be bad to park.
      I’d get an area rug in either case because you want repeat guests not people annoyed by noise from above. They’re still paying money, so they deserve some piece and quiet. Hotels are typically pretty quiet, right? Second you could do a passcode door downstairs or a lockbox with a changeable code, so you wouldn’t necessarily need to be home to let someone into the unit.

      • Fair enough. That said, the OP would also need to consider that if families are renting the place, his toddlers will also have to sustain some level of noise from the guests. Hopefully the toddlers are sleeping in upstairs bedrooms!

      • Have you looked at Airbnb competition? You know there are over 1,500 listings for DC., and I don’t see being 1 mile from Brookland Metro as a big draw. And yes, it is a lot of work.

        I’d rent full time at an attractive price and just be upfront about the kid-noise factor. Or market to Gallaudet students.

  • I think this is a situation where each has its pros and cons and you just have to weight what your priorities are (e.g., maximize income, greater flexibility, etc) That said, AirBnb requires no commitment whereas signing someone for a lease locks you into the situation. I would say try AirBnb, see how you like it and then consider a lease if AirBnB ends up requiring a lot of oversight/pain/tiptoeing upstairs for not that much more money.

    • The only issue with AirBnB is that they need to initially shell out for furniture, decor, and house cleaning. It’s not a small up-front investment. I’d probably also try AirBnB first and then maybe go to Craigslist as a furnished rental (6 month lease?)
      I can see why AirBnB would be great. They would have a nice furnished space for family and friends when needed.

      • Hey, it just occurred to me.. if you need furniture to furnish, I HAVE IT. Not beds but living area stuff (couch, coffee table, chairs etc). I’m clearing out the rest of my town house which was rented partially furnished by I’m now clearing at easily negotiated rates for EVERYTHING you might need – including KITCHEN things. Really.

        I’m in the District; if this seems an option we can exchange information.

  • Ally

    Wonder how much it would cost to soundproof the basement? Never had to do that myself, but maybe an option if you have long-term rental potential.

    • Me again. I LIVE in my downstairs apartment after renovating it w/ all the sound-proofing issues in mind. NOT ENOUGH. We will shortly lose our current tenants in our townhouse (upstairs) and will take that opportunity to remove the hardwood floors, insulate the heck out of them, and replace.

      Noooo. Insulating well is not cheap and although we were quiet people when we lived upstairs, I am so thankful to the dear tenants we had downstairs all those yeaers.

      • If you hadn’t already removed the hardwood floors and insulated them, then you didn’t renovate the basement with “all the sound-proofing issues in mind.”

  • I think as long as you are upfront about having 2 small children with potential renters then your obligation is complete. If the price is fair, many people will be willing to deal with the sounds of little ones.

    • Rockandroar

      I agree with you. I live in a studio below my landlords and their two little boys. I moved in a couple of years ago and upon moving in they told me that they preferred someone who didn’t spend a lot of time at home. At the time, I was working two jobs, so it didn’t matter if they were going to be noisy during the waking hours. As time has gone on, they have been such great landlords, and their kids are so nice, I really don’t mind any noise they make, and don’t even notice it (if they were awful landlords, I know it would bother me, but like I said, they’ve been great). If they’re being really, really noisy, I know that bedtime is 8:30 for the kids, and that’s when the noise will stop.

  • KSB

    I would imagine that AirBnB, Catholic U., Children’s Hospital short-term rental possibilities could support that model. But you might also find a single parent who really doesn’t mind general kid noise and would be interested in a longer-term rental. Whatever you do, make sure it’s ready and available the weekend of the Pope’s visit. That should cover a portion of the mortgage in the fall, at least 🙂

  • Airbnb it. I live off H St, 1 mile from the nearest Metro stop and have guests consistently. You’d probably make more from short-term rentals than long-term. I suggest you inform potential guests of the noise issue in the description of your space, and also try to mitigate noise using area rugs and the like. Good luck! Airbnb folks are fun!

  • i have five units, three on airbnb and two on CL. the CL are long term and way less needy. i guarantee you that the average airbnber would complain way more than the CL renter about noise upstairs. pluse with CL you can just say “sorry, live with it, i warned you.” while with airbnb the renter could back out, get a refund, and leave you with a nasty review (though I’ve taken measures when I thought this might happen). go CL. especially if you’re not going for more than 75% occupancy on airbnb, it won’t be that much more lucrative for you and you’ll have to go through the hassle of dealing with cleaners, guests with special requests, people who want to check out late/early, not to mention the pain of furnishing the place. if i weren’t committed to airbnb because the units are furnished, i would probably move everything to CL.

  • houseintherear

    Keep in mind how much work it is for turn over between AirBnB guests. I only rent out one small room and bathroom but still the laundry/dusting/cleaning is about 2 hours of work between each set of guests. A whole apartment could be more. It’s especially tough if there’s a guest on Friday night and a different one Saturday… I spend my Saturday late-morning running around to get things ready. Something to consider.
    My first DC apartment was a tiny basement in Petworth. I rented it for about $200 less than other similar rentals. The landlord made very very sure I was aware of the poor insulation and her three dogs before I moved in. The noise possibilities were also listed in a clause in the lease that I had to initial. I was there about 2 years before it drove me crazy enough to leave. She usually had tenants do one year at a time, usually young people getting their first apartments. You can def find tenants who will be ok with the noise if you give them a monetary discount. You could even do 6 month leases.

    • And there’s also the logistical work of Airbnb bookings, replying to queries, etc.
      From talking to Accountering (who has two Airbnb rentals), I decided that Airbnb was going to be more work than I could handle at this time. (And Accountering gets his Airbnb rentals professionally cleaned, so he wasn’t even factoring that into the logistical work for the host… though obviously he was factoring the cost into the overall equation.)

  • In either scenario, meet with a lawyer first. You need to ensure either party is safe and that you are protected.

  • AirBnB is a ton of work. You will always be corresponding with people (most of whom don’t stay), doing tons of cleaning, giving tourist advice, etc. Unless you want lots of extra work just rent it to someone BUT in your advertisement and when you talk to them make it clear they will have to deal with noise. For some people this won’t be acceptable and they won’t take the place. Some people, however, really don’t care and they will be great tenants. Just be clear about this up front and don’t charge a premium price (landlord hint: if you charge cheaper rent you get better tenants and they stay longer, which is well worth it).

  • So, I live in an apartment building, many of my recently new neighbors have small children. The noise carries in the building as it’s old, has all hardwood floors and tile hallways. The neighbors above me have 3 kids ages 2, 4 and 6. The mother kindly asked me if they were too noisy. And the only time the noise bothers me is when they run and it sounds like they’re about to come through the ceiling. It’s loud to me and it scares the heck out of my cats. I explained to her the little pitter patter of feet walking and other noise i hear wasn’t a problem but if they would please not run and for the most part the kids do great. Fortunately, they’re not screamers and I now usually just hear little feet shuffling across the floor and then silence after they leap onto whatever piece of furniture they were aiming for. I have no problem living below them they’re cute kids and make little noise aside from this, my chain smoking neighbor is more of a nuisance to me than they will ever be. All that said if your children are generally quiet except for their footsteps i would take on a full time renter but follow previous posters advice by trying to install some sound barrier if at all possible. And be upfront with potential renters when they come to view the place that you have children. Also price it appropriately for the location and potential noise level. And keeping the tenant might take a little work on your part but establishing a little bit of a friendly neighborly relationship between the tenant and your family could go a long way. Things like access to the yard or to using your grill would be an added bonus to me if i were looking to rent. I think abnb could work in your situation but in the long run would be more of a hassle and less steady income.

  • We basically fit the same description provided in your inquiry – 2 small children and a basement apartment. We’ve been renting ours to tenants for almost 4 years and there has never been an issue with noise complaints. We’ve had 2 couples and one single guy in the 4 years we’ve rented it. We’ve found that the time when kids are most likely to make disruptive noise is the early morning. Just make sure to let any prospective tenant know upfront and use area rugs in the main rooms. Re: Airbnb, one thing we’ve found is that it’s difficult to have overnight visitors. Thus, we’re going to try the Airbnb route next time a tenant leaves. We like the flexibility of being able to use the space when we need it. It will be interesting to see if people raise a fuss about any noise above their heads.

  • How much would you hop for as monthly rental ? I’m asking because we have a new employee who relocated to the area for an interesting, but low paying social service job. Really low paying, unfortunately, so he can only afford 600-800 per month. He is living in a furnished room in a house but the landlady has major issues that make staying there impossible. He is a perfect tenant – in his early 50’s, quiet, busy at work. Trust me, he would be much lower maintenance than any one overnight customer. If this OP or anyone else has an inexpensive living situation for this guy please post a way for myself or my co-worker to get In touch with you. Thanks.

  • Hi, I am axe murderer, looking for short term Air BnB rental, how many children and are they tender and flavorful?

  • I hope you didn’t count on the extra income to afford your mortgage but either way I would rent at an attractive price vs AirBnB. The latter won’t have as much attraction being a mile away from Metro in Brookland. I know some will argue it doesn’t matter but it does and especially to ahort term guests.

  • I’d go with a long term rental. Your 2 kids are not up late at night; they’re up early. So restrict their activity and their noise to the room farthest from the basement bedroom until a reasonable hour, which is around 8 a.m. on Saturdays, 9 a.m. on Sundays (and probably 7ish on weekdays). As long as you’re up front about it to potential renters, you shouldn’t have a problem.
    To echo other commenters, don’t kid yourself, a mile is a hike for a short term AirBnB renter. Unless they’re really into CUA or the National Shrine. There are too many other more accessible options in DC.

  • In my experience having lived in basement apartments, the awful noise can come not only from the children, but from the heavy-footed adults. And parents tend to run around the house. If the house isn’t carpeted, I would recommend using heavy rugs. Adding insulation to the floors doesn’t really do anything.

  • I have to counter the area rug advice with some experience there: They don’t make much difference, especially if shoes are removed anyway. They prevent the clomp, clomp and the click, click but not the thud, and other types of noise pass right through them, even the thick rugs, with pads.

    Soundproofing a basement requires quite an investment and loss of ceiling (and wall) space, if done as part of a renovation. Wood, steel, and brick are marvelous transmitters of sound and vibration. The creation of an artificial “air gap of an inch or two is required, and that doesn’t count the insulative and other materials required.

    You will have a thick ceiling, and a low one.

    I think the Gallaudet renter suggestion was a home run.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Agreed. I once had a roommate who I described as a 135-pound elephant – a tiny little dude who spiked his heels into the floor with as much force as humanly possible with every single step. No area rug was going to do anything about that.

  • Do you want to furnish the place and then do you have time/money to be cleaning the unit and washing sheets every other week? if not then I would just do a traditional rental.

  • You live in a city. Get over the fact that you will have poor insulation and loud noises. If you wanted it silent, move to the burbs.

    That said, you should weigh the pros and cons of each.

    Pros of AirBnB:
    Depending on turnover, chance of making back a good deal of money
    Minimal upkeep for you since you can have the people pay for a cleaning service
    Since everyone is short-term, no need to fret if one of the people suck
    AirBnB is good about paying back any problems that arise

    You are stuck having to always be around to give people the keys
    You will be letting in a large amount of strangers into your house night after night…and you have two young children
    AirBnB horror stories are the stuff of nightmares
    If you don’t have high turnover, you will lose a lot of money that would be rental income.
    You have to furnish the place

    For me, I hate AirBnB. I used it when I traveled abroad last year and I will never use it again. Takes away from the most fun aspects of travel (especially abroad because hostels are amazing) and I would not trust people I don’t know to stay at my place. But evryone is different.

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