January 2014

Home-Sharing Online Services Here to Stay on Potrero Hill

Sasha Lekach

Airbnb and VRBO aren’t just tourists to Potrero Hill. Over the past few years the websites have become established and well-used, and seem poised to settle down in the neighborhood and other parts of San Francisco and beyond. Numerous listings are posted on the “Potrero Hill” sections of both sites, which allow residents to rent out rooms or entire homes to guests. 

Potrero Hill is a popular “hosting” neighborhood, with many residents renting out in-law units or spare bedrooms to guests who find them online. Likewise, Hill residents use the sites when traveling, finding it a preferred alternative to booking a hotel room.

A look at the Hill offerings on Airbnb, a San Francisco-based company launched in 2008, shows rooms starting at around $100 a night, with homes for about $200, and plenty of references to sunny weather and unbeatable views. There are nearly 200 Hill listings on the site. 

VRBO, or Vacation Rentals By Owner, has been around for just under a decade, and tends towards long-term vacation options, rather than Airbnb’s quick business trip accommodations. VRBO has roughly three dozen listings in Potrero Hill, with weekly rates starting at about $800.

Hill residents are using the two websites to host visitors for short or long stays, or to find nearby accommodations for visiting guests and family members. Lynne Rutter, 50, who has lived at Wisconsin and 20th streets for 22 years, was quick to point out that there are no hotels in or near Potrero Hill. When her parents visit she doesn’t have space in her small home—which she called “the tiniest house in the world”—to host them, so she logs onto Airbnb and finds neighbors who have spare bedrooms or small apartments where her parents can stay. She said the convenience is also financially friendly, with rates half the price of a Union Square hotel. Plus the experience is “more neighborly.” She’s booked rooms in the Hill about a dozen times in the past three years.

Rutter thinks Airbnb is successful in the neighborhood because of the lack of nearby hotels. She prefers it because her parents, or other guests, can walk to her house instead of dealing with travel logistics to a downtown hotel. “For more residential neighborhoods, it’s really awesome. That’s what (the site) was meant for,” she said. 

As to issues with strangers temporarily staying in homes next to longtime residents, Rutter said she has yet to run into any problems. However, she has a friend in denser North Beach who has had Airbnb guests disrupting the neighborhood with loud noises and mistaken doorbell ringing in the middle of the night. She thinks Potrero Hill hosts are respectful of the community and have set up responsible arrangements through the site. “If Airbnb didn’t exist it would be real inconvenient for people on the Hill to have guests,” she said, remembering years past searching newspaper advertisements to find in-law units to rent for a few days, and early Internet searches on Craigslist for short-term rentals.

A 68-year-old Hill resident, who asked to not be named, and who has lived on the Hill for 22 years, has been using VRBO to rent her upper flat near Farley’s on 18th Street for the past five years. Each month, she gets about eight requests to rent the space, and leases it out for a one week minium to guests that seem trustworthy and responsible. Although there’s demand for her flat, she occasionally keeps it vacant, but “a stranger is sometimes better than nobody,” she quipped. Most of her renters are people visiting family in the neighborhood or foreign travelers. Other guests come with children and want a place that’s more comfortable, home-like and cheaper than a large suite or hotel room. She said she’s yet to run into problems with guests or her neighbors; the guests are in vacation mode and are “happy to come and happy to leave.”

Josh Miller, 30, has been renting a spare bedroom in his two-bedroom apartment on 11th and Folsom streets for the past two and a half years. He’s had more than 100 guests, for mostly short-term stays, though one person lived with him for about eight months. His neighbors know that he’s an avid Airbnb host, and are kind and polite to the revolving door of guests. “People in SoMa are very open-minded and open to this type of behavior. They are picking up that it is a cool thing,” he said.

Miller said his guests are often international visitors or people who can’t get a good hotel room and want to stay in the City. He’s been told by guests that booking through Airbnb gives them more insight into San Francisco and adds to the trip. Miller also uses the site when he travels, “I will never look for a hotel,” he said.

With so many guests staying at his apartment Miller said he expected it to be more work, but the extra income he makes from the rentals goes toward keeping the space clean and buying better linens, a new bed, and other decorations. Miller is a loyal Airbnb user and believes the site “sets the standard for home-sharing” by finding reputable guests and hosts. In the past few months, Miller’s spare room has been empty for only four nights.

Back on the Hill, 58-year-old Trudi N., who asked the View not publish her last name, started using Airbnb two years ago to find temporary roommates for her spare bedroom at her townhouse on the neighborhood’s southern side. “I didn’t want a roommate but I wanted a source of income,” she said. Airbnb “was perfectly geared to this type of situation.” She’d found numerous renters who’d stay anywhere from three days to three months, though she had started enforcing a one-month limit.

Although she’s had only positive experiences with guests, she said some people in the neighborhood have complained about hosts using their homes like hotels. Disagreements have arisen in her own building, and while the homeowner’s asscociation works out a clear policy for guests, Trudi is refraining from renting her room. But she said the experience is more intimate and roommate-like then a hotel stay, and she picks who lives with her, even if it is temporary. “I would get a lot of inquiries,” she said, but declines many of them “because I’m very fussy about who I want in my house.” 

She’s found it beneficial to live near San Francisco General Hospital, with many doctors on call looking for a place within walking distance of the hospital. She added that the weather is also an appeal to guests. She plans on using the site for the foreseeable future because of its flexibility. “It enables you to have somebody stay when you feel like it,” she said. She thinks it offers guests an affordable place to stay. “I think it’s a tremendous service,” she said.

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