Tess Vigeland: This next story could be the answer to some of your money woes. If you've got a spare bedroom or maybe an empty guesthouse in the backyard, some cash-conscious travelers may be willing to pay you to stay there.
However, I should mention that you also have to be OK with having strangers in your personal space. I've got some folks in studio who've got experience on both sides of the transaction, using a service called AirBnB. First, our friend Ron Lieber, the "Your Money" columnist for "The New York Times."
Ron Lieber: Hello.
Vigeland: And I'm also joined by Crystal and Justin Bradshaw. Hi guys.
Crystal Bradshaw: Hi.
Justin Bradshaw: Hi, nice to be here.
Vigeland: And you all know one another quite intimately.
Lieber: We do now!
Crystal: We do now. That's a good way to put it.
Vigeland: So Ron stayed with you guys through one of these services. Ron, how did you find 'em?
Lieber: Well, I was looking for some place to stay in the south part of the San Fernando Valley when I was in town for a family funeral. I did not want to spend $250 at the Courtyard by Marriott, and I figured there had to be a better way. And I had seen all the buzz, both positive and negative, about AirBnB. On the one hand, you can rent somebody's room or somebody's guesthouse for under a hundred bucks. On the other hand, hosts were having problems where their apartments were being completely trashed by renters. And I thought, "This is a phenomenon I want to get in on." So I felt like I had to experience this.
Vigeland: Justin, why would anyone in their right mind rent out a room to a total stranger?
Justin: Well, it's a great way to make some extra money. We specifically have this guesthouse out back that we used to rent to a full-time person. But when we were thinking about having a baby, we decided to rent it out part-time. And so now we can rent it for five, 10, 15 nights a month, instead of 30 nights a month -- and we get to use it sometimes.
Vigeland: So Crystal, how did you decide that this would be something that you would be comfortable with?
Crystal: Well, I'd say I'd become kind of an expert at screening out the weirdos.
Vigeland: That would be the number one concern.
Crystal: Yeah, that's the number one concern! At first, it was a little strange on AirBnB, because you don't get somebody's phone number. You're just communicating back and forth via their website and they don't allow you to exchange that information.
Vigeland: So you looked at Ron's profile and decided he wasn't a weirdo.
Crystal: Yeah, we saw "New York Times," and we were like, "Oh, he's probably OK."
Vigeland: Ron, talk about what the experience was like. Had you ever done anything like this?
Lieber: No, nothing at all. It was very unusual. And 24 hours went by and I thought, "Huh, maybe I'm not even gonna see them." But I think I woke up the second morning, it was very early and I was going for a hike, and there you were in the window. I don't think you had a shirt on, and it looked like you had just woken up and you're there at the Mac...
Crystal: He's speaking of Justin, by the way.
Lieber: Right, so there was Justin, you know, shirt-less in the window, and there I was. And we made eye contact, and I'm thinking to myself, "Is this the part where I'm supposed to go and say 'hello'?" But he doesn't really look like he wants anybody to come say hello. Maybe he hasn't had his coffee yet.
Vigeland: So here's where we get into, are there unwritten rules, assumptions that you make in a situation like this? Or are there written rules?
Crystal: I think they are more unwritten.
Lieber: But AirBnB does allow hosts to post house rules.
Crystal: Yes. We can do that. That's true. I always like to ask my guests, you know, please tidy up after when you're done, because you are staying in someone's house. It's different than a hotel and a lot of people don't get that if they've never done this type of thing before. It's really your home, so the etiquette should be a little bit different when you come and stay.
Justin: It's like a house guest, who's paying kind of. That's kind of the best way to describe it. And...
Vigeland: And is a total stranger.
Justin and Crystal: Right. Yeah.
Vigeland: That's the big difference there.
Crystal: But everybody's been wonderful. I've met some really great people. I think of it kind of like adult youth hosteling, because a lot of people are travelers and you get to talk to them, meet people from all over. I've really enjoyed it.
Lieber: Was I supposed to make the bed?
Crystal: No, no, no. He was just teasing.
Lieber: I think I asked whether I could strip it for not.
Justin: You did.
Crystal: No, you were fine. You left the place in great condition. It was absolutely fine.
Justin: It's also important to point out one of the things that makes AirBnB a success is the social aspect of being able to review people and being able to post your profile and have some sort of, kind of like eBay allowed you to sort of build up some trust and create a reputation for yourself.
Vigeland: You get a rating?
Vigeland: Well, let's talk brass tacks here: Ron, what did you pay to stay with these guys?
Lieber: Between $80-85 a night, I think?
Vigeland: So significantly cheaper than staying at a hotel.
Lieber: Yeah, it was a bargain as far as I was concerned. And then there's a fee tacked on top of that 10 percent that goes to AirBnB.
Justin: Also, AirBnB charges us a 3-percent credit card processing fee.
Vigeland: Aha. Well, it sounds like it was a good experience all the way around, at least in this room. So Ron, would you recommend it as a general rule, as long as you are paying attention to who you're staying with?
Lieber: I'm absolutely gonna do it again. I mean, one of the highest invest uses for it beyond just looking to save money as a person traveling by yourself is if you're with a family, there's not that many one-bedroom hotel rooms. And this seems like a good way, as is VRBO.com and others, but I like the social aspects of this. I like the fact that it feels kinda Web 2.0, it just feels more trustworthy in that sense. And I like the idea of maybe using it to rent out an entire apartment or a small house when traveling with family for a week, as opposed to a night or two.
Vigeland: Alright, and it's been good for you guys. Nice tidy, little extra income there too.
Vigeland: Alright. Crystal and Justin Bradshaw have been joining us and they have a room available for all of you in the San Fernando Valley here in Los Angeles. Thanks guys for coming in.
Crystal: Thank you for having us. It was great.
Justin: Thank you.
Vigeland: And Ron Lieber, the "Your Money" columnist at the New York Times, a good friend of the show. Good to see you again.
Lieber: A pleasure as always.