An idea that started with two broke San Franciscans trying to pay rent in 2007 is now a worldwide phenomenon and Newcastle is on board. The city is brimming with eclectic granny flats, studio apartments and luxurious seaside homes for travellers from all walks of life. Six Newcastle Airbnb owners talk about their experiences in the sharing economy.
Nikki and her husband Carlos Correia have been renovating houses for six years. Carlos is a carpenter and Nikki is a chef. Their recently renovated three-bedroom terrace in town has been a great investment.
“The whole idea of Airbnbing came to me through the School of Renovating that I am enrolled in,” Nikki says. “They shared on keeping property rather than selling and using short-term rentals as a great income. At the time I was the head chef of a boutique hotel in Sydney and not really enjoying it. I told my husband that we could earn money by putting our property on Airbnb whilst we are living in Sydney for his work contract at Barangaroo and that I could run this instead of working. And so it began January 2016.”
In August 2016 they finished renovations and returned to Newcastle full-time. She said she knew she would be good at hosting an Airbnb because she loves travel, meeting people and has experience in hospitality. She believes the success of her Airbnb is because she personally greets all guests and goes out of her way to make them welcome.
TIGHES HILL GRANNY FLAT
Megan Hills and her partner Jeff have been Airbnbing as guests since 2012. They became hosts in 2015 shortly after moving to Newcastle.
Their recently renovated granny flat in Tighes Hill is self-contained and runs on renewable energy. They rent their home and their landlord gave them permission to Airbnb the granny flat.
“It’s a perfect Airbnb opportunity to help pay the rent and meet interesting new people,” Megan says.
The two moved to Newcastle in August 2015 after living for almost three years in Darwin. Both work from home – Jeff is an acupuncturist and Megan runs a creative consultancy.
They recently renovated the bathroom and part of the kitchen with a rich mix of hardwood benches and dark-grouted subway tile features. They say guests love the granny flat's cosy feeling and the nearby Throsby Creek walk that leads into the city past the park and marina. Having Maryville Hotel and Birdy’s cafe in walking distance is also a perk.
The couple have a great mix of visitors, some who come to experience Newcastle as tourists and also academics staying for research projects.
“Newcastle is a brilliant location for Airbnb. Our guests are usually very surprised at all that Newcastle offers: beautiful beaches, lush nature walks, thriving creative scene, sophisticated cafes, bars and restaurants.” Megan says.
Rates: $70 per night for 2. Peak: $191 for 2 nights.
THE BEACH HOUSE
The owners of The Beach House at Merewether listed on Airbnb in December after 10 months of renovations. The three-bedroom house sleeps up to nine and comes with a spa, fireplace, luxury fittings and ocean views. As its title suggests, it is just a few steps away from the beach, close to Merewether Ocean Baths and bushwalking tracks.
“When we purchased the property in 2012, we realised that it was the only traditional oceanfront beach house left in Newcastle, and we had a vision to restore it to create modern holiday accommodation while respecting the style and shape of the original cottage,” the owner says. “We spent most of 2016 working onsite every day with wonderful builders and tradespeople to bring our vision of the perfect holiday experience to life.”
The majority of their bookings have been from Newcastle, Sydney and regional NSW. One of the challenges they face with Airbnbing is responding to all enquiries in a timely manner.
“I recently had a baby and was replying to enquiries a few hours after giving birth,” the owner says.
She says obviously the ocean views are a great feature, as is the great floor plan that gives groups different spaces to relax in while still watching the waves. There are three TVs in the house, as well as books and board games, so guests can make the most of their holiday regardless of the weather.
“Having a wine by the fireplace watching a storm roll in across the ocean is just magical,” the owner says.
Rates: $799 per night. Peak: $1200 per night.
LAMBTON GRANNY FLAT
Mel Burgess and her partner Adam have hosted Airbnb visitors in their self-contained retro granny flat next to their home in Lambton for the past year.
A short distance from Lizotte’s and Lambton Park and pool, the little flat has received heaps of positive reviews for everything from its retro decor to Mel’s gifts of coconut lime cake or pancakes.
For them, the decision to Airbnb was a financial one. By renting out their granny flat they could afford to live in a much more tranquil street than they would have been able to otherwise. Mel set up the granny flat for Airbnb before they had even officially moved in.
She said that within hours of filling out her first ever Airbnb blurb, she received a message from Mike, a Canadian, enquiring about a six-week stay.
“He was a fantastic first guest who just last month came over again from Canada - this time with his partner and to move to Newcastle,” she says.
She said they’ve had guests stay with them visiting friends or relatives. Often they’re grandparents making the trip to see grandkids during the day and enjoy dinner and live music in the evening.
Their granny flat is kid-friendly with scooters, helmets, toys, and even chickens, and they’ve hosted many families with young children.
Mel says the biggest challenge of Airbnbing is when she and Adam go on holiday.
“A big part of the Retro Granny experience is me sliding lovely extras their way the whole time they are here; it's really hard to replicate that when we are away,” Mel says.
“We were in Tasmania for five weeks over summer and it definitely was a hassle organising for even the basic clean and reset things to be done the way we asked for them to be done.
“I'm not sure what the answer is for next time we go away - I guess I'm going to recruit harder and be even more thorough in explaining what I need done and how that needs to happen.”
Her partner, Adam, is a police officer, and she said Airbnb has been unexpectedly brilliant in restoring some of his faith in humanity that his police-role has eroded over time.
“When we started he was a lot more guarded about sharing our space with people we haven't met before, but people have been outstandingly brilliant,” Mel says.
“Some of the longer stayers and repeat visitors have found their way right into our hearts.”
Rates: $95 per night for 3. Peak: $115 per night.
Scott Rohan and his sister Stacey are joint hosts of a brand new one-bedroom unit along the Newcastle Harbour on Honeysuckle. Their property was completed in January and so far has been occupied around 80 per cent of the time.
Scott owns the property but lives in Sydney, and Stacey takes care of the day-to-day and did the interior designing of the place. The siblings are from Newcastle and have both been Airbnbing separate properties over the past few years.
“It's a different and fun experience having new people constantly coming through - we both really enjoying speaking with and hosting new people from all over on trips for different reasons,” Scott says.
He said that not only does Newcastle have some of the best beaches in the world, but it is transforming at a rapid rate with new restaurants and cafes opening. He thinks all the cranes over the town are a great sign of growth.
“We are also starting to see new events such as the Supercars coming to Newcastle in September which shows the city is getting better recognition on a national scale,” Scott says.
“We have had an even split of tourists as well as corporate guests due to the growing economy and corporate presence in the city - especially around Honeysuckle. For us this has meant constant business which has been great.”
He encourages anyone to try Airbnb for themselves.
“It offers an experience that you can't get at a hotel, it allows you to have more of a 'local' experience,” he says.
Rates: $143 for 2. Peak: $828 for 2 nights minimum.
Emily and Nairn Johnston began Airbnbing in October 2016 when tenants moved out of the family rental property next door.
The two bedroom 114-year-old miner’s cottage is in Islington, within walking distance of various shops, cafes, supermarkets and pubs.
Nairn has a sailing background, hence the sailing paraphernalia and the name “The Captain’s Cottage”.
“We thought we'd give Airbnbing a try as there are some compulsive interior decorators in the family, and we had a lot of furniture and artworks in our joint collections to spare,” Emily says.
“We wanted to curate this beautiful, light-filled and relaxed space as a base for people to enjoy Newcastle.”
She said guests love the authenticity of the cottage with its high ceilings, hardwood floors, coloured glass and the lush outdoor area with a bath and barbecue under the stars.
She said the one challenges with Airbnb was that the cleaning was getting to be a bit much as everyone was managing the Airbnb in their spare time.
“We have someone now who does a great job between bookings which has made it a lot more manageable,” Emily says.
“Other challenges come from people who don't check the information in the listing and ask a lot of unnecessary questions which can be time consuming.
“However most people are very easy to deal with, respectful, clean and excited to be visiting Newcastle.”
She and her family love Newcastle, having grown up in the town. Though they had moved overseas and interstate, they all returned because of what Newcastle has to offer.
“There are so many beautiful places which, in comparison to bigger cities, are so easy to get to and often you have it all to yourself.
“There are brilliant cafes, art galleries, boutiques, makers, and the community here is amazing,” she says.
Rates: $156 per night for 4 guests.Peak: No bookings listed beyond September.
These are just six out of hundreds of Airbnbs listed in Newcastle and they range in price and size.
Before Airbnb’s arrival, visitors to Newcastle had limited options of youth hostels, pubs and traditional hotels and not much in between.
These interesting abodes across Newcastle are changing the way people interact not just with our city, but with its citizens.
Novocastrians are getting the opportunity to share their homes and their town with visitors, and it’s changing the way locals look at themselves too.