Last fall, we interviewed the co-founder of One Fine Stay, the London-based "luxury AirBnB" that rents out the homes of New Yorkers to visitors on a short-term basis. It's a novel and fascinating business model, and unlike AirBnB, it operates within a corner of the market that doesn't violate New York's short term rental laws; the company works mostly with landlords and people who own their own houses, plus they collect and remit occupancy taxes. But what is it actually like for the people who own the homes? How does one get involved? Is it weird having a rotating group of strangers live in your house for days at a time? Is it worth the effort? To find out, we interviewed husband-and-wife Bob Donigan and Jan Franks, two Park Slope residents who recently made available the garden apartment of their four-story townhouse after living with tenants for years.
Curbed: How did you first learn about One Fine Stay?
Bob Donigan: We read about One Fine Stay in a New York Times article about a year ago. As the article said, there is a real market for travelers who want to "live like the natives" and not do the regular tourist thing.
So why exactly were you attracted to this arrangement?
BD: Well, we had regular tenants in our garden apartment, and I don't want to diss them, but we really just wanted to try something different. We wanted to have flexibility—not only to get income, but also to use the apartment whenever we wanted. That was the biggest thing, the idea of a short-term rental, as opposed to long-term tenants.
What was the application process like?
BD: Well I had [One Fine Stay co-founder and NYC rep] Evan Frank come here to look at it when the tenants had moved out. We planned to completely renovate, so I told him what we were going to do with the apartment, and he priced it accordingly. They keep about 40 percent of the fee and we get the rest.
What if he came and the place was a complete dump?
BD: Well it was a complete dump
Jan Franks: It actually was.
Okay, but what if it was really bad?
BD: They would give suggestions. Our first guest was someone who worked for One Fine Stay in London, and she stayed here on her own for eight days. Other than Wi-Fi trouble, she didn't really have anything negative to say, so we knew we were on the right track.
How would you compare One Fine Stay to having a full-time tenant?
JF: One of the nicer perks is that we have access to the apartment, and we can have visitors downstairs which we couldn't before. This is a garden apartment, and because we've had tenants downstairs, we haven't had access to our garden for the last three or four years. Otherwise, Bob's figured out that in order to make the same amount we were making with a full-time tenant, we need to rent the apartment out for about seventeen days a month, averaged out.
Can you run through the routine of hosting a guest?
JF: Here's the thing: we've never even seen any of these people coming in or out. What happens is the One Fine Stay reps meet the guests at the front door with a key. They give them little gifts and tchotchkes, like a smartphone with all of these suggestions for things to do in the neighborhood, and that's basically it. We don't interact with the guests. One Fine Stay has a maid service come in to clean up. They come to make the bed, they leave towels and put down their own sheets, and they put all of our bedding in the closet. Before the next guests arrive, the maids come back and clean up all over again.
BD: We're really cut out of the whole thing. I don't get any complaints because the company deals with the guest. We busted our asses to get this place pulled together, and now, we really don't have to do anymore. There was a couple here for a week and I never saw them or heard them.
JF: Then we get a check on the 10th of the following month.
Is it worth it?
BD: We're hoping we get more bookings—we just got another one today for September for like a week, but we need more to make it worth our while. Though we're at the beginning stage now.
JF: We've decided to give it about a year max to see if it pans out, and if it doesn't, we'll go back to running tenants full time.
· One Fine Stay [official]
· Listing: 1st Street 3 [onefinestay.com]
· One Fine Stay coverage [Curbed]