Locals provide rental options on Airbnb network

Site allows users to rent extra space

Byron Clayton takes in the view from the deck of his Airbnb short-term rental property in Belpre. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

BELPRE — Byron Clayton walked around the second floor living area, cleaning up and preparing for the next guest.

In a back bedroom, Mike Marteny added finishing touches to new paint.

Clayton grew up in Belpre by the Ohio River, and from the deck on his house on Johns Street he can look out over the river. Now he lives in Colorado, and the house is part of his retirement strategy.

The Johns Street house is part of the Airbnb network, a collective that offers short-term rentals to visitors. Clayton put the house, which has a 1,100 square foot living area on the second floor and, like most houses in the area, a garage at ground, on Airbnb in January of last year.

“It paid the mortgage on the house for the entire year in the first three months,” he said.

Mike Marteny does finishing work on Byron Clayton’s Airbnb short-term rental property in Belpre. Marteny, 39, of Parkersburg, was helping Clayton finish a second bedroom. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

With an occupancy rate of about 53 percent, he grosses about $2,500 a month through Airbnb bookings. Now living in Colorado, he has properties there near Denver as well.

He’s one of many Washington County property owners taking part in the Airbnb trend. Some provide a whole house to guests, while others open up a room or suite in their own homes.

Still others get really creative, converting storage sheds and garages into tiny homes available for overnight rental.

Airbnb started in 2007, with two friends in San Francisco renting out three air mattresses on their floor to travelers when hotels in the city were booked during a design conference. They soon had a website, which essentially allows anyone, anywhere to list a spare space and rent it.

Clayton has had golf pros, engineers, doctors, nurses and vacationers stay at his properties.

Chao Gao, 29, of Marietta, stands in the house on Lancaster Street he lists with Airbnb. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

“Here, I get about half and half vacation and work,” he said. “I had some traveling nurses staying three days on, three days off . For the first month, I let them leave their stuff here and paint the place while they’re gone,” he said. Looking around the living area, he added, “And this carpet’s got to go.”

Clayton, who worked as a field services electronic engineer for 20 years, is an experienced traveler. He said he begrudged every night he had to spend in a hotel, and Airbnb is an attractive alternative. It’s also, for the property owner, a good organization to do business with, he said.

“The thing about Airbnb, about these apps like Uber, is that it allows a small person to get into business. I mean, I’m on Airbnb and overnight I’m in the hospitality business,” he said.

Clayton is thinking of buying more properties in Belpre.

“It’s not hard to get money from the bank if you go to them and say, ‘Look, I’ve got all these bookings and people waiting, so I want another property,'” he said.

The short-term rental system, he said, has advantages for the property owner.

“You don’t have people moving furniture in and out, and if you don’t like them, you just don’t rent to them again,” he said.

His guests have included a geologist, a doctor who, unaccountably, couldn’t operate the television, a Canadian woman who was in town temporarily to work for Thermo Fisher, and a couple who brought their motorcycles down from Canada to ride the winding roads of southeastern Ohio.

“I get people who want a romantic getaway. They can walk up and down Blennerhassett Drive, and I’ve gotten comments on the website about how friendly the neighbors and the locals are. And I’ve had several people who grew up in Belpre who come back to visit family but they don’t want to stay with them,” he said.

The Airbnb website acts as an interface and a type of cutout between host and guest. Bookings are done through the website, as is contact between host and guest. The agency handles the bookings, and hosts and guests are allowed to review each other, which tends to weed out unruly guests and inconsiderate hosts.

Chao Gao, 29, owns the Airbnb listing called The House on the Hill. More than 100 years old and built on a prominence at the top of Lancaster Street, the three-bedroom house commands spectacular views of Marietta.

He’s had the property on Airbnb since September 2017 and has been an Airbnb guest since 2013, when as a regular traveler he was looking for a less expensive alternative to hotels in big cities like Los Angeles and Miami.

The House on the Hill is popular with tourists and families, but Gao says business slumps a bit during the winter. He occasionally get professionals, like a doctor from Florida who was on temporary assignment at Marietta Memorial Hospital.

The House on the Hill was where Gao, a petroleum engineer and Marietta College graduate, lived until he bought a another house in Marietta. Rather than selling it, he decided to try out the short term rental business.

“The house is good for families,” he said. “In September and through Thanksgiving, I’ve had family parties here,” he said, with people coming from as far away as Oregon to stay while visiting relatives.

“And tourists love to come here,” he said. “They like this town, the people are so friendly.”

Before his Airbnb venture with The House on the Hill, Gao managed an Airbnb home for friends, and the first rental he had at the place on Cole Coffman Road was his only bad experience with guests.

“They left behind about 200 beer bottles and spilled something syrupy all over the floor,” he said. The group was from Parkersburg, he said.

“But the good thing about Airbnb is that you can read reviews, and everyone needs my approval to check in. I can chat with them a little bit on the website to get a feeling of what kind of people they are,” he said.

In addition to providing the business channel, he said, Airbnb also provides hazard and liability insurance and keeps track of income for its hosts, a handy thing at tax time.

“And all my guests have been really good,” he said.

Gesturing around the spotless main floor living area, he said, “They leave the house looking almost like this.”