SXSW 2013

Extra cushion: Austinites capitalize on short-term rental trend to make money during SXSW

Austinites use short term rentals to make money during SXSW

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Charise Sowells, performing as Sydney Miles. Courtesy of Charise Sowells
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Album cover of Lost in Transition.
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Airbnb collage. Courtesy of Airbnb
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Charise's Airbnb listing. Courtesy of Airbnb
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Austin Photo Set: shelley_sxsw to finance life_march 2013_4
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Austin Photo Set: shelley_sxsw to finance life_march 2013_1

The massive annual music, film and interactive festival that is SXSW will bring more than 100,000 from countries around the world to Austin over a span of two weeks — and inject around $200 million into our local economy.

The conference also causes an annual accommodations scramble. More than 50,000 room nights are booked in the 75-plus "official" hotels, but many more are taken through people staying with friends and the unofficial rentals. Many locals decide to cash in on the festival by renting out their homes, apartments or even a spare room to attendees.

In fact, some have used this extra income to drastically affect their lifestyle.

Take Charise Sowells, for instance. A musician herself, she and boyfriend Evan Malouf had been in a band based out of Los Angeles. After a tour that included a stop in Austin, the band broke up. Sowells and Malouf had liked Austin so much that they decided to move here in October 2011.

"When we played Austin the music community here was astounding, as well as people's hospitality," Sowells says. "So when everything came to a screeching halt we thought, let's give Austin a shot."

Sowells was determined to record her debut solo album; one that had been a long time in the making, with original material she had been writing for 12 years.

"I had been recording it on and off for four years, whenever I had some money to put towards it," Sowells says. "But coming up with that lump sum to wrap things up was a challenge."

Then Sowells signed up with Airbnb, a marketplace for people to list and book unique accommodations around the world. The site has listings in more than 33,000 cities across 192 countries, and the properties that can be found on the site include everything from castles and villas to treehouses, boats and lighthouses.

The couple had no problem renting out their guest bedroom for SXSW 2012. Then, they did it again when Formula 1 came to town in November. The money that Sowells made through Airbnb enabled her to finally mix and master her album, Lost in Transition, under her recording artist name, Sidney Miles.

"I don't even have the words to tell you how amazing it felt to finally be able to complete it thanks to the extra income we made just by renting out our guest room during SXSW and F1," Sowells says.

The guest room, and living room as well, has been again rented out for this year's SXSW Festival. The extra space has nearly doubled their profit, and will pay for Sowells' first trip to Europe.

"I can't say enough good things about our experience with Airbnb. I feel like the site makes both sides of the renting experience feel totally secure. Our community here in Austin is fantastic thanks to Jade Whitham [Airbnb Community Manager] putting together fun and intriguing events that provide opportunities for us to get the inside scoop from her and other hosts."

In fact, Airbnb has seen nearly double the number of guests booking in Austin for this year's festival. In 2012 there were 4,400 Airbnb guests in Austin and this year, the site projects between eight and ten thousand, coming from 44 countries.

Patrick Perez has also benefited from being a host to SXSW attendees. After using Airbnb to rent places when he traveled himself, the professional speaker and author decided to become a host three years ago. "At first I was a little nervous renting to strangers, but after the interesting first renter I can say that I knew this was going to be a fun experience," Perez says.

He also rented out his spare bedroom, and used the income as part of his debt reduction program. "I averaged an extra $1500-$2500 just renting my place out for a few weeks during the year. I had some tenants who would stay several weeks and paid well more than my mortgage payment."

By the end of 2011, Perez had completely cleared his consumer debt: $18,000 in student loans, $10,000 in credit card debt and a $10,000 car loan. "I continue to use Airbnb and strongly encourage my friends to use it," he says. "Not only does it enrich your life with new experiences, it can enrich your bank account as well."