Jessica Hope peers through the doors of some of Bath’s Airbnb properties and speaks to the hosts about opening their homes to visitors from all across the world…
Tourists who come to Bath have the chance to experience life in one of its historic homes, thanks to the Airbnb scheme. From luxurious flats in some of the world’s most famous architectural crescents to unusual treehouses, country manors to converted barns; you could say visitors are rather spoiled for choice when they visit.
With more than 300 properties in and around the city already signed up, tourists can get a snapshot of what it is really like to live in this Georgian city. In the last few years, Airbnb has taken the world by storm. Despite being founded in San Francisco only eight years ago, the holiday lettings company is now estimated to be worth more than $25.5 billion, according to fortune.com.
With over two million properties listed in more than 34,000 cities across the world, travellers are swapping hotels for city centre apartments, restaurant breakfasts for poached eggs in bed, and noisy hotel guests for peace and tranquility.
There are also great benefits for those putting their properties on Airbnb. If you decide to go on holiday for a few weeks, you can let out your property and make some money while you’re hundreds of miles away, relaxing on a sun lounger. Or, for those looking for a bit more of an income, users can rent out their properties all year long. It’s flexible, and that’s one of the key reasons why it’s become so popular.
In reaction to the increase in popularity of holiday letting sites, the government recently changed the law so that those who rent out their homes can now receive up to £7,500 before being taxed, and they can also rent out a room for up to 90 days a year without needing to secure planning permission.
We spoke to property owners in and around Bath and asked them about why they let out their homes and found out what it’s really like to be a host on Airbnb…
Barry and Brenda Goodwin
Bassett Coach House and studio, Claverton
After retiring in 2013, Barry Goodwin and his wife Brenda headed off on what he calls their ‘senior gap year’, travelling the world and spending the remainder of their air miles. After coming home to a large empty house in Claverton, just outside Bath, the couple decided to put the house on the market and buy a smaller property.
Their house soon received plenty of viewings and a couple of offers, but Barry and Brenda hadn’t found a property that seemed ideal for them to move to.
“Then someone came to view the house and said in passing that if he owned this house he would run Airbnb from it. That caught my interest as our youngest son had recently used the service in Copenhagen and raved about it”, says Barry. “The following morning I logged onto the site, opened an account and created a profile.” It was as simple as that.
Soon after signing up, the couple were inundated with enquiries from people all acround the world, so they decided to take their property off the market and see how running it as an Airbnb property would go. That was nearly two years ago, and they haven’t looked back since.
Barry and Brenda first bought their property in Claverton 16 years ago as a family home. “We never dreamt that we would be doing anything like Airbnb from it,’ says Barry. “However, the house is a lovely listed building in an area of outstanding natural beauty, so why not use that asset to drive some additional income? What a great idea for us and thousands of other owners around the world.”
Barry and Brenda let out both the main house and the annexe to visitors. Bassett Coach House includes three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a large lounge area, kitchen and games room. The two-story annexe is used as the Bassett studio, perfect for a couple and one child. The couple live in the main house in a private area away from the guests.
Situated in such a peaceful and picturesque area just outside Bath, it’s unsurprising that they have had so much interest in their property. The views over Conkwell woods always impress guests, Barry tells me. And with direct access to the Kennet and Avon canal towpath, the Dundas Aqueduct and Canal Visitor centre, visitors can enjoy a relaxing day on the water.
It’s those extra little touches make the Airbnb experience for guests that little bit better than staying in a hotel. Brenda always bakes a loaf of bread and makes homemade jam for guests, which always goes down well in the reviews, and Barry enjoys telling visitors about the local area and its vast history.
So why use Airbnb? Alongside being an additional source of income, Barry says it’s the flexibility of the website that helps them run their business so smoothly. “We block out our diary when we want to go away on holiday. You can literally switch it on and off to suit your lifestyle.” The website also makes it easy to deal with the money side of things too. “Airbnb handle all transactions and the day after your guests check in, the money is paid into your bank.”
As hosts you too can meet some fascinating people from all corners of the world. One of Barry’s highlights of hosting was when a family from Spain came to stay and taught him how to make the perfect Spanish omelette.
After receiving such positive comments from guests, Barry and Brenda now stay in Airbnb properties when they go on holiday. From a ski apartment in Chamonix to a beautiful flat in Mayfair, each property they’ve stayed in is unique and allows them a different experience than staying in hotel chains.
To find out more about Bassett Coach House and studio, visit: airbnb.co.uk/rooms/3491511.
The Vaults and The Governor’s, city centre
Jo Trafford and his family, who are based in Cape Town, South Africa, began searching for a property a few years ago that they could use when visiting their friends and family in Bath, which they could also rent out as a holiday letting throughout the rest of the year.
After purchasing their first property, The Vaults, in Bath in 2014, Jo and his wife Lucy saw an opportunity to set up their own holiday accommodation business – hiplets.com – where they could provide guests with high quality places to stay in great locations on their travels. After renovating the property, making the accommodation seem both homely and stylish, perfect for adults and children, Jo began advertising the property on Airbnb.
“It seemed to offer a good source of rental income when we were not using the property for ourselves. It allowed us flexibility, without being tied into the high holiday rental fees of your standard holiday rental companies,” Jo says. And using Airbnb seemed to help Jo and Lucy further when they purchased their second property in Bath, The Governor’s – a beautifully renovated townhouse, five minutes from the city centre, which can sleep up to ten people.
Ideal for a large group of friends, the hidden gem of this property is the in-house bar, designed in an opulent Moroccan style. You can even add a bottle of Champagne to your booking, so you wouldn’t even need to head out to a bar for a drink.
It’s these little touches that make the holiday rental experience that extra special, according to Jo. “For travellers, Airbnb does let you find more unusual places to stay than your average hotel or hostel. I think travellers these days are attracted to ways of travelling that allow them to discover hidden gems,” he says.
One aspect that holiday letting sites like Airbnb have over hotels is its child-friendly nature. Many families prefer the homely feel of a property, with bedrooms decorated especially for children, cots and high chairs available and some properties even provide toys, games and children’s DVDs.
For Jo and Lucy, they use Airbnb properties frequently on their travels, not only because it’s a trustworthy platform, but because they find it easier and better when travelling with their young children.
You’d expect running a business in Bath all the way from South Africa would be a difficult task, but for Jo and Lucy having a trusted team based in Bath behind the properties has really helped them. “We are lucky that we have such a great team on the ground, from our management team to the cleaners, all are great and ensure things run smoothly,” Jo says.
To find out more about the properties featured on Hiplets, visit: hiplets.com.
Great Pulteney Street, city centre
After her youngest child started school, Becky Grobler wanted to find the ideal job that she could fit around school hours. After meeting a friend who enthused about using Airbnb to market her holiday home in Bath, in January 2013 Becky looked into the possibility of renting out her property on the site, and it has gone from strength to strength for her ever since.
The townhouse on Great Pulteney Street has been in Becky’s family for over 70 years and is separated into five rental properties – two long-term flats and three holiday rentals that she advertises on Airbnb.
The ground floor apartment, The Artpad, is an elegant Georgian home with modern touches. With its high-corniced ceilings, marriage doors and large bay windows, you can easily imagine how this property may have looked in its Georgian heyday. Also featuring a modern kitchen, well-designed furnishings, super king size bed and cosy private balcony, guests can live in luxury during their stay in Bath.
The location is ideal for those wanting to be as close to the city centre as you can get. With the Holburne Museum just along the road, cafés and restaurants on your doorstep, The Rec close by and the shops just around the corner, these holiday rentals are perfect for those looking to live like a local.
What makes Becky’s Airbnb properties even more special is that you can even buy the artwork on the walls and take a little piece of your stay home with you. Becky, a primary school teacher who specialises in art, strives to support local artists by offering them space to exhibit their work in the properties. Over the past few years, she has sold many pieces on behalf of local artists to her guests. If you’re a local artist and would like to have your work exhibited, then visit 62gps.co.uk to find details on how to contact Becky.
After running these properties for a few years now, is there anything Becky has changed in her business strategy? “Yes, loads! I change various things on a daily basis, i.e. prices, marketing ideas, website updates. Even updates in the apartments – changing furniture, artwork and generally keeping an eye on them to make sure we always offer a high standard. It’s important to us that our spaces are welcoming, relaxing and spotlessly clean.”
And with more and more visitors looking for self-catering accommodation in Bath, hosts are constantly learning new things to keep their properties up to date with what their guests are looking for. Becky says: “It’s vital to keep up to date with my competitors so I am always keeping a sneaky eye on the current market trends. Holiday lets in Bath have increased hugely since we joined four years ago, but we still manage to retain many of our loyal, lovely guests, so we must be doing something right.”
To find out more about this property, visit: 62gps.co.uk.
Gail and Tony Smith
Stowford Mill House, Wingfield, Wiltshire
Set near the historic village of Wingfield, nine miles from Bath, you’d expect to see characters from period dramas such as Cranford tottering around, not holiday makers looking for a country retreat. Gail and Tony Smith’s property isn’t your average holiday letting. Stowford Mill House is an early 18th century property based on Stowford Manor Farm in Wiltshire.
Surrounded by pots of lavender and colourful hanging baskets, you can just imagine sitting back in the large garden, enjoying a pot of tea in the sunshine, and listening to the Frome river trickling past at the end of the garden. You can even go for a paddle with the local wild swimming club, which is the oldest in the country, if that takes your fancy.
And when the weather turns grey, visitors can tuck into a glorious cream tea on the farm, or snuggle up in front of the roaring open fire in the sitting room, after a long country walk.
With Bradford On Avon and Farleigh Castle nearby and Bath and Longleat a short drive away, this is an idyllic spot for those wanting to explore the countryside while staying in a unique location.
After having such positive experiences of using Airbnb on their travels in South Africa, Norway, France and the UK, in 2015 Gail and Tony decided to try using it with their already very successful bed and breakfast business that they have been running for the past eight years. Rather than letting out a few rooms, groups can instead rent out the whole property, which is ideal for large parties as the house can sleep up to ten people.
Having the option of letting the entire property on Airbnb does have its benefits, according to Gail. “It provides us with the opportunity to have a break”, she says. Usually the couple work straight through April to October without having very much time off, so by having a group of people renting out the house for a week, for example, it allows Gail and Tony to take time off from their usual bed and breakfast duties.
Of course there are still risks in opening up your home to strangers when using holiday rental sites, and there have been a number of horror stories about hosts returning to their properties in shock at what they have found. However, these are rare cases indeed. As Gail says: “There are risks as it is your own home, but the fact that each guest receives a review hopefully ensures some degree of security.” Airbnb runs a tight review system, for both the hosts and guests, and if there are misrepresentations then accounts can be suspended.
Stowford Manor Farm is also a wedding venue, with a marriage licence and large barn perfect for a couple looking for country themed nuptials. Gail and Tony’s property is perfect for those wishing to stay overnight near the wedding venue.
To find out more about the property, visit: airbnb.co.uk/rooms/6081418.