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Here For the Comeback.

Short term rentals in Durham took a hit due to COVID-19. Stay tuned for an incredible rebound.

Posted By Elizabeth Wilcox & Amy Eller

March 2020 will go down in history as the month that we collectively held our breath. We were completely unsure of what was to come. Now, nearly four full months into living in the midst of a global pandemic, we still actually have no idea what’s to come, but we have the benefit of four months of gathering data, and that gives us hope.

For those in the short term rental industry (such as Airbnb and VRBO hosts) in Durham, that’s how the story went. In March we saw a record low occupancy rate (58%) as most hosts experienced cancellation after cancellation. For a few uncertain weeks, no one knew when travelers would start roaming about the country again in need of lodging. Because Durham is quite friendly toward short term rentals, we have a lot of people who depend on that income for their livelihoods. Luckily, it didn’t take long for the market to start bouncing back. Looking at data reported by AirDNA, the gold standard for keeping tabs on the short term rental industry, June 2020 saw an average occupancy rate (number of booked days divided by the number of units available) jump back up to 79%, which is right on par with June 2019’s 78% occupancy rate.¹

If you’re paying attention, it’s undeniable that staying home is still the safest option, as coronavirus cases continue to climb nation and worldwide. But the data indicates people are indeed traveling, so we started asking around to see what the hosts were seeing.

We interviewed hosts across Durham. Overwhelmingly, we heard that after a few weeks of nothing but crickets, things did indeed pick up and the guest profiles were varying greatly based on the exact location and amenities offered. One host with a home that has an ideal roommate set up and a location close to the University booked a few international Duke students who had to leave the dorms but couldn’t return home. This turned into a long-term rental and she hasn’t had any turn-over since the pandemic started, relieving her of the extra cleaning duties required by Airbnb during this health crisis, and ensuring she can keep her bills paid. She’s not the only one; many hosts reported seeing a shift to longer stays, multiple weeks, months even, compared to before the pandemic. Those hosts report that many longer term guests are taking advantage of open booking calendars in short term rentals because of pandemic cancellations — they would have normally stayed in long term hotel situations instead. It’s an interesting supply/demand shift — once the availability changed, so did demand.

Other hosts experienced longer dry spells, with no rentals from mid-March through the end of May, but for most it started to pick up by early June. Many travelers who would have normally stayed in a hotel switched to short term rentals in an effort to avoid the communal areas that come with hotel stays, like lobbies, elevators, and shared HVAC systems.

One host credits her private pool for the uptick in bookings since May. She’s seeing travelers from across the country, as well as across town, as parents get the bright idea to do a little local “vacation” to a spot where their children can enjoy a few days of swimming without the risks presented at public pools or beaches.

Speaking of that private pool, The Sidekick seemed like a perfect unit to feature here. We fell in love with Jane’s style when we first stumbled upon her Instagram account. She and her husband put so much thought and care into renovating a dilapidated shed in the backyard of their Hope Valley home into an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) adjacent to their new pool (pictured above)!

Jane is brand new to Airbnb as of earlier this year — she had just opened for business when all her bookings were cancelled. But come May, as temperatures rose along with the severity of cabin fever, people discovered the little oasis she and her husband had built. Jane has taken the Airbnb Enhanced Cleaning Protocol pledge and is very dedicated to providing a well-sanitized home away from home. She says it’s really not that much different than what she was doing before, just a little more laundry with each turnover. Jane has been working on a new Guest Information booklet, updated with local establishments protocols around COVID-19 (i.e. curbside pickup/delivery, mask requirements, etc) so that her guests can continue to enjoy everything that’s still amazing about Durham, safely, with The Sidekick as home base.

Another short term rental that is worthy of note here, is Kristin’s unit in Trinity Park.

Trinity Park Airbnb

Also an ADU, this apartment above a garage has been on Airbnb for two years and has historically seen a very high occupancy rate and stellar guest reviews. Located within walking distance to Duke’s east campus, Kristin’s unit is very appealing for all types of university related travelers. She was pretty stunned when her bookings went dry in March, and compared to other folks we spoke with, she has seen a slower recovery rate. She was grateful to have a local family book the unit for almost two full months in June/July to use as an auxiliary office for two new-to-working-from-home parents to be able to get away from their home to work, but still in a safe, nearby location. She’s starting to see bookings come back in through the fall, but slowly. This is the perfect example of a short term rental in Durham that is perfect for travelers weary of the hotel setting but still looking to enjoy the city or stay near family who live here. Kristin has taken the Enhanced Cleaning Protocol pledge on Airbnb and is more than happy to provide a very well-disinfected unit for her guests. She is implementing a longer buffer between guests, as well, which gives her time to let the unit sit before she goes in to clean, creating a safer environment for both her and her guests.

Despite a few weeks of hardship in March, the short term rental market in Durham is strong! Durham gets visitors from all over, but the most popular points of origin for its short term rentals are New York, Raleigh, Charlotte, Washington and Altanta, and according to AirDNA data, that’s pretty much the same as pre-pandemic. People are still coming to Durham, and short term rentals seem to be just as popular, if not more so, than they were before.

Durham has a short term rental for everyone.

Want to stay downtown and enjoy the urban parks and farmer’s market?

✔ A rustic retreat on a working farm?

✔ Take refuge in a beautiful garden.

✔ Hankering to try life in a tiny house?

✔ Try life in a teeny tiny house?

Here are 10 of Durham’s best reviewed properties according to AirDNA:

1. Tiny House in the Trees
0 bed · 1 bath · 2 guests Northgate Park
Sweet, well appointed, tiny home in cool Northgate Park

2. 2-BR apt & garden retreat near Durham arts & eats
2 bed · 1 bath · 5 guests Forest Hills
Darling cottage set in idyllic garden

3. Modern cottage with a vintage twist near downtown

1 bed · 1 bath · 2 guests Trinity Park
Mid-century modern meets industrial chic guest house

4. Condo @ Historic Duke Tower

1 bed · 1 bath · 2 guests Downtown
Cool apartment with pool access

5. Downstairs Suite near Downtown Durham & Duke

Spacious and lovely, light filled downstairs apartment
3 bed · 1 bath · 5 guests Morehead Hills

6. Rustic cabin on a working farm in Durham

Goats, pigs and chickens and a cozy cabin.
1 bed · 1 bath · 4 guests East Durham County

7. Private/Quiet Studio Apartment

1 bed · 1 bath · 2 guests Tuscaloosa-Lakewood
A lovely southern home, in a fun kirky neighborhood.

8. Beautiful Garden Cottage

1 bed · 1 bath · 2 guests Hope Valley
Sweet little cottage, in a beautifully planted garden

9. ♥ Downtown Durham Tiny House - walk to nightlife ♥

1 bed · 1 bath · 2 guests Old North Durham
A well designed teeny tiny retreat.

10. Cozy 2B in Durham

2 bed · 2.5 bath · 4 guests North Durham
Well appointed home near great parks and Research Triangle


¹ The number of units was more or less consistent in this comparison with 421 active listings in June 2019 and 456 in June 2020 for entire home rentals.

About the Author

Elizabeth Wilcox & Amy Eller - Co-founders, So Well Appointed
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Elizabeth Wilcox & Amy Eller are the founders of So Well Appointed, a consulting firm located in Durham, providing design, marketing, and management support for independent short term rental hosts both locally and nationwide. Learn more at www.sowellappointed.com.