Earlier this year, Charlie and Emma Combe and their two children, Fergus, three, and Martha, one, headed out of London on holiday for 10 days.
Rather than come back to a tight month of post-Christmas and holiday bills to pay, however, the couple returned to their Battersea home with an extra £1,500 in the bank.
The reason? They had put their four-bedroom house on the short-term rentals website Airbnb, and let it out to a French family for the duration of their time away. “It was brilliant,” says Emma, 32, a headhunter. “The money helped pay for Christmas, and she [the French mother] left the house immaculate. We would absolutely do it again.”
The Combes are the latest in a long line of people joining the sharing economy party, which has taken off in a big way over recent years.
A combination of clever thinking, new technology and a reluctance, in these austerity-aware times, to spend money when you can save it has made it easy to rent out everything you’re not using these days, from a parking space to your car.
But making money from your home has been the real success story, and sites such as Airbnb and its many copiers are booming.
This month, Airbnb’s three founders made it onto Forbes’s billionaires list for the first time, and the site itself has experienced huge growth since it launched in 2009: the first year brought more than 21,000 guests to the site; last year, more than six million people found accommodation through it.
You can rent almost anything there, from a tree house to an igloo – it has more than a million listings in 90 different countries, 23,000 of them in London alone, which is the second most popular city on the site after Paris.
Meanwhile, new legislation voted in by the government last week means that Londoners who want to let out their homes or spare rooms short-term can legally do so, for up to 90 days a year; before, home owners like the Combes were technically breaking the law by doing it without seeking planning permission.
Short-term lettings sites are already seeing a difference – Guy van der Westhuizen, founder of London-based Ivy Lettings, says that since the proposed changes were announced in February, he has seen the company’s portfolio grow by almost 50pc.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that wasn’t attributable to the announced change in law,” he says.
Where to start
So, if you like the sound of your house making money for you, how do you go about it?
The first thing is to decide which system is going to suit you best. Do you want to let your whole house, or just a spare room? Do you want to do the admin yourself, or hand it over to someone else? How long can you make your home available for? Do you want to restrict the times when other people can use your home?
“We offer a way for home owners to capture the extra income without having to incur the hassle or the risks,” says Greg Marsh of his company onefinestay.
Operating in London for the past four years, onefinestay bills its offering as “houses like hotels”, and boasts in its advertising that nine out of 10 homes won’t make it onto the site. “We need to make sure the homes are consistently good quality and are in good condition,” says Marsh, candidly.
So, you’ll be visited by a representative when you first make contact to check your property is up to scratch – but if they take you on, they’ll do all the work for you, from checking guests in, to providing clean towels, to sealing up certain rooms with tamper tape, to sending a cleaner around afterwards. “You just pull the door and they do everything – it’s extremely efficient,” says Jo Rice, 41, managing director of a youth charity who first put her three-bedroom flat in Mortlake on the site in 2012. OK, so you’ve got to be prepared to make a bit less cash – Rice says that, of the £122 a night that onefinestay rents her home out for, she gets about £57 – but it still adds up. “It’s a really healthy dent into the cost of a holiday – and you come back to a clean house,” says Rice. Plus, you’re also covered by insurance should anything go really wrong.
Rather take all the cash yourself? A DIY site might be a better option. Airbnb charges just three per cent of what you charge your guests – and you can set your own rates. Companies such as Accommodate London charge 15 per cent of the gross rent, but the tenant makes a security deposit for any agreed claims – although you still need to organise insurance and check your guests in. If you own a second property in London that you don’t want to rent out full-time, go for a company such as Ivy Lettings, which vets potential tenants, cleans before and after and deals with any issues that might arise – you need to be able to guarantee that the property will be available for at least six weeks in total annually but can make at least £100 a night.
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A little wary of leaving your home in the hands of total strangers? You could just rent out a single room. Sites such aswill help you find a lodger, and if you only want people during the week, specialises in matching people who need a place to stay in the capital during the working week with those who don’t mind sharing their house from Monday to Friday, but prefer to have privacy at weekends. You can even choose the kind of person you have to stay through companies such as Theatre Digs Booker, a website that helps cast and crew find places to stay across the country while they’re on tour. allows you to rent out out a room to students, tourists or possibly interns - and the guest and hosts are encouraged to get to know each other. The typical charge for a room starts at £33 a night.
If you don’t fancy hosting people overnight, a new site called Vrumi, which launched in January, lets you rent space in your home during the day for people who need a space to work, be it physiotherapists, tutors or writers. And of course, there are myriad sites that specialise in renting out holiday homes across the country, from Holiday Lettings, a sister site to TripAdvisor, to HouseTrip, to Owners Direct.
As with everything property-related, you do need to know what you’re getting yourself into. If you’re going down the DIY route, once you’ve registered with a site, make sure you get decent photos on there (use professional images if you can), and ensure you’re geared up to respond quickly to potential tenants – otherwise you could see your online rating plummet. “It’s amazing how ignoring people or being slow took the ratings down,” says Laura Broadhurst, who, with her husband Jack, let a room in their house in Winchester between June and October last year through Airbnb. Remember that on such sites, guests can also post reviews of your home – so it makes sense to be as accommodating as possible.
Preparation is key
If you are doing it yourself and plan to be away while you have guests, spend a decent amount of time preparing. Make sure you’ve locked away any valuables, leave detailed instructions on how to work the television/boiler/heating system and ensure a friend or neighbour has a spare key in case of emergencies. It’s nice to leave some information on what to do in the local area, and you also need to make sure that everything is clean and tidy before you go. It’s worth giving yourself at least half a day’s grace between you leaving the house to go away and the tenants taking over, just to make sure you’ve got a bit of spare time to deal with any emergencies.
When it comes to the practicalities, prepare for the worst. Invest in some cheap wine glasses – they will get put in the dishwasher and you don’t want the best crystal ruined. Accept that you might have to repaint a bit more often. Make sure you’ve got insurance to cover anything that gets stolen or broken. But do be clear from the outset about your ground rules – if you don’t want families with children staying, say so; if you’d prefer people not to eat in your living room, be upfront about it.
Once you’ve done all that, however, you can head off on hols – knowing that while you’re away, your house is helping to pay for them.