- Hillary Flur, 31, owns an independent Airbnb in Joshua Tree, California.
- Flur started as an Airbnb host 10 years ago when she put her apartment up for rent.
- Now Flur has an investor, new real estate on the way, and she quit her job to run Airbnb full-time.
This as-told-to essay is based on an interview with Hillary Flura31, an Airbnb owner in Joshua Tree, California. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I didn’t see myself as an Airbnb owner. But after figuring out how to make extra money using the platform, my business partner and I decided to buy our own rental space.
I started my adventure with Airbnb by listing my apartment for rent
When I first moved to California in 2013, I was working for The Honest Company as a customer service agent and couldn’t afford to live in Los Angeles. Then I heard about Airbnb and thought to myself, “I’m going to Airbnb for my apartment so I can afford the rent.”
My friend Malek Alqadi lived above me and decided to do the same with his apartment. Every time we had Airbnb guests, I stayed with him or he stayed with me, we just traded and split the earnings.
My friend and I were wondering how much better it would be if we actually owned the property
We saw how convenient Airbnb is, what potential it has, and how much money we can make. So instead of renting an apartment to make ends meet, we decided to do a project together.
After making the decision, we spent about a year looking for the right type of property. At first we thought it must be close to Los Angeles because we didn’t know how we could be hosts if we weren’t nearby. But we couldn’t afford anything.
One of my colleagues at the time told me that they were buying affordable real estate in Joshua Tree
Then we started looking there. It took some time to find the perfect plot, but we ended up with two and a half acres.
It was a neglected farm – a remnant of the Farm Act where they basically gave away land for free as long as you built four walls and a roof. That’s why there are all these abandoned huts in the area.
We bought a property together for $15,000 in 2016
From there we wanted to create a truly unique experience. Malek is an architect and designed the space, including the second structure. Having experience in customer service, I undertook to create a customer path.
My goal was to create a truly great experience for customers, from the moment they booked Airbnb to the first time they walked into the property. I made sure to keep in mind things like: what amenities we offer, what activities there are to do and even what smell we want in the cabin. I really wanted it to be a super cool, unique and personalized experience.
We designed our Airbnb to be completely offline
I’ve always been passionate about sustainability, so this was important. We also thought about what people want to experience during their visit. We have found that most people come to Joshua Tree to go camping and enjoy the outdoors. That’s why we built a stargazing terrace on our second building.
To make this happen, we took out a $40,000 Home Depot loan and a personal loan. We had the help of a contractor, but we did a lot of ground work. In the summer we dug trenches in 110 degree weather working full time.
Malek and I worked Monday through Friday in our office, then on weekends we would go to Joshua Tree and start building. The construction process took us about a year. I thought it would be a fun and exciting project, but it turned out to be much more difficult than we expected.
It probably took us a year to get comfortable with running the business
The first year was kind of a test year, and our success grew as we appeared in various publications. We also used that first year to survey customers about their stay and how we could improve the property.
Since we started renting this property in late 2016, Airbnb’s exceptional popularity in Joshua Tree has grown. There is definitely a debate between locals who love and hate Airbnb, but overall I think it has helped increase employment opportunities and the growth of new businesses in the area.
It also increases the value of real estate. For people trying to set up an Airbnb in Joshua Tree right now, it can be quite difficult to find something affordable. Currently our rates range from $725 to $1250 per night to be cost effective.
Thanks to the success of our first cabin, I was able to quit my job recently
We have hired an investor to help with a new property we are working on. We recently bought 100 acres and are moving further east to Wonder Valley where we will build eight new homes.
Despite our success, running Airbnb is not easy. Starting a business, launching and creating the brand behind it requires a lot of initial work. There is also more competition now, so you have to go beyond the customer’s expectations for something to be successful.
Even with great clients, you still deal with many different types of people. I think without experience in customer service it would be difficult to know what problems are real and what are not.
I’ve learned that most people just want to be heard – and you need to be able to respond thoughtfully, not just automatically.