Constance and William Burgess want to renovate their Locust Avenue properties in Washington and turn them into short-term rental or vacation spots.
They plan to list their properties for rent on the popular website Airbnb, where guests and hosts have accounts and can rate each other and offer reviews.
“A friend first mentioned an Airbnb – I had no idea what that was,” Constance said.
Then she stayed in a few in Dallas, Lancaster and Columbus.
“It’s much more like home and much less expensive than a hotel,” she said. “They’re all very different types of places. Every host has a different taste and style.”
They wanted to bring that experience to their properties, at 241 and 279 Locust Avenue. Constance said they used to live on Locust, but now live in Pittsburgh. They’ve been renting out the apartments in 241 and the house at 279 for years, but they’ve had enough.
“It’s cost us a lot to do that,” Constance said. “We had a difficult time finding good tenants. I didn’t want to rent it out anymore, but I didn’t want it to sit empty either.”
They started in April, renting out one of the apartments at 241 as an Airbnb. It’s a second-floor, one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, bathroom and living room.
“I was nervous because I’d never done this before, and I had no idea if this was going to work,” she said.
She didn’t want the apartment to be empty anymore. They did a deep clean of the apartment, prettied it up and put in towels and toiletries. Then, Constance stayed in it for a few days to make sure it wasn’t missing anything.
“I knew that if it was good enough for me, it would be good for other people,” she said.
Within eight hours of their listing the apartment on the Airbnb website, they had their first guest.
“It hasn’t been empty since,” she said.
She’s had a 100% occupancy rate at $32 a night. They’ve had business people, students and travelers stay in the apartment, but never any local people. She said they’ve had people from Canada, Texas, Boston, Florida and New Mexico.
“I had no idea that people are coming to little Washington from all over,” she said. “Everyone’s been really great.”
The best part, she said, is not having to worry about signing long-term contracts or whether or not they’re renters will pay them, since it’s done through Airbnb.
“They get to rate us and we get to rate them,” Constance said. “With Airbnb, you have a reputation, so you’ll want to keep everything up. It gives you much more incentive because you’ll want good reviews.”
The other two apartments at 241 Locust still have regular tenants in them, but they hope to turn one of them into a second Airbnb within the next two months, Constance said. They also want to turn 279 Locust, a Victorian-style house with a wrap-around porch, into an Airbnb. But it needs to be gutted first.
“It’s going to have to be down to a skeleton and built back up,” Constance said.
Since William is a general contractor, he and friends of his plan to do the work, Constance said. They started ripping up carpets and tile flooring Monday. They want to maintain the “historic Washington” feel of the house, but also put in new countertops, kitchen appliances and flooring as well as give it fresh paint and new landscaping.
“I mean, it’s going to be quite an investment,” Constance said.
Not many have invested in that neighborhood for a while. Many of the homes appear vacant, run down and overgrown.
“The buildings around here look horrible,” Constance said. “I would love to see Locust Avenue built up. This will be a good start.”
She also wants to be able to use the properties as a means to promote Washington, by providing her guests with welcome packets with some of Washington’s history and suggestions for places to eat and visit. She said she wants it to include coupons for local diners and shops, so visitors can experience the town.
“I want to give them the best experience that I can and let the community do something nice for them,” she said.