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COVID-19

Short-term rentals down amid pandemic

Amy Scott May 21, 2020
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Joggers pass a beachfront bungalow in Southern California. People who now work remotely might seek a temporary stay in a pleasant spot. Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images
COVID-19

Short-term rentals down amid pandemic

Amy Scott May 21, 2020
Heard on:
Joggers pass a beachfront bungalow in Southern California. People who now work remotely might seek a temporary stay in a pleasant spot. Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

All the travel we’re not doing because of COVID-19, for business or pleasure, has hit the market for short-term rentals pretty hard. Airbnb announced this month it’s laying off a quarter of its workforce — almost 2,000 people — and its long-awaited IPO may be on hold until next year. 

Meanwhile, a new report suggests some owners of those properties may be pivoting to longer-term, seasonal rentals. In the 100 largest metro areas, furnished and seasonal rentals are up 21 percent since the end of February.

Kimberly Kent is an art broker, painter and former Airbnb host in Portland, Oregon. In March, she started renting her two studio apartments to traveling nurses for one- to three-month stays.

“We were getting about $100 a night originally with Airbnb. And what we’re getting with these folks now is $1,200 a month,” Kent said.

That’s less than half what she made when fully booked on Airbnb. It wasn’t just the coronavirus; a saturated market also played a role.

But as short-term bookings have dried up during the pandemic, new data from the listing site Realtor.com suggests a lot of hosts may be shifting to longer-term rentals. Tourism hotspots like Nashville, Tennessee; Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; and Las Vegas have seen the biggest increases. George Ratiu, senior economist at Realtor.com, said for many owners facing mortgage bills, “a slightly longer-term rental is a viable alternative, in the sense to bridge the gap between the lack of demand right now and a possible rebound later.”

But is there enough demand for those slightly longer-term rentals? Joshua Clark, an economist at Zillow, said a lot of renters may want more flexibility.

“If I’m a renter right now, and I’m seeing all the chaos going on in employment, I don’t know how long this thing’s gonna last,” Clark said. “I may not want to sign up for a full-year lease.”

And then there are all the people, especially in crowded cities, who may be looking to escape to the beach or the country.

Vi Nguyen, CEO of Homads — a marketplace for medium-term rentals — said with many employers allowing remote work, “employees are thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t actually even have to be here. I can have something a little bit more enjoyable, right?’ “

Not to be left out, Airbnb says more of its hosts are booking longer term, too, and offering discounts for stays of a month or more.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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