Have you thought about leveraging your tiny house as an income-generating property?
Husband and wife duo Lauren Hudson and Chris Krieger did exactly that — the entrepreneurial couple purchased a tiny home with the goal of creating a new income stream.
Lauren and Chris — who jointly run vacation rental marketing and management company Wildwood Collective — designed their tiny home in southern Vermont with the express intention of turning it into an Airbnb rental. They rent it out at prices that compete with three-bedroom (!) rentals in Jamaica, an artist community tucked away in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
They joined the Tiny House Lifestyle podcast to share their top tips for setting up a tiny home that makes you money while you sleep.
1. Custom Build or Purchase? Be Discerning About Tiny Home Design
When Lauren and Chris first started exploring the idea of owning a tiny home with the intention of renting it out — after many unique Airbnb stays during their travels across the U.S. — they took their time to find the perfect fit.
They went through a design process to build a tiny house from scratch, Chris explains. “We had some definite needs for the unit, and there were so many variations that it was actually very difficult to find everything we needed in an existing model. So we thought we were going to go through the design route,” he says.
They also looked around on Tiny House Listings and Tiny House Marketplace, scrolling through “literally thousands of different units,” according to Chris.
Ultimately they went with a builder’s model home from Eaton, Ohio-based Maverick Tiny Homes.
There are pros to building and buying ready-made. With the custom approach, you can plan for every detail you need. On the other hand, if you purchase a used tiny home, it typically comes furnished — a huge plus if you already love the house’s style.
2. Location, Location, Location — Choose It Wisely
Outside of selecting or designing your tiny house, it’s important to put thought into where you’ll set up your Airbnb.
“The reason our guests go to Vermont are the same reasons we originally went up there — you just want to detach from all the craziness and enjoy simple pleasures,” says Lauren. The couple have a love for Vermont’s wilderness and they wanted to design a home that offered visitors access to the outdoors.
Chris and Lauren recommend talking to zoning officials where you plan to set up your Airbnb to go over the rules and regulations governing both short-term rentals and tiny houses.
After that, it’s all about finding the land itself, which can be quite a challenge. With tiny homes — depending on how extensive you want their amenities to be — you need hookups to water and electricity. “It’s the toughest part for most people, us included,” Lauren explains.
The couple had originally wanted to place the tiny home on the same property as their first (and main) rental house, but the placement wouldn’t allow for the water hookups needed. So Chris found a marketplace that allows people to find and rent pieces of land for tiny homes.
Since Vermont offers outdoor activities year-round, Lauren and Chris found and rented a piece of land that had opportunities for hiking, swimming and winter sports within a five-mile radius of the house. It was a lucky find, and it was exactly what they were looking for.
“There are even chickens on our property,” Lauren says. “Some people get a kick out of that. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but just having that setting is really important.”
3. Make Your Tiny House a Luxury Experience
Chris and Lauren wanted their tiny home listing to offer all the bells and whistles.
“Our whole goal with this house was to just make it really livable,” says Lauren. “For the most part, with everyone who stays in our house, it’s their first experience living in a tiny home.”
To make their Airbnb appealing to as many visitors as possible, the couple made sure they bought a tiny house with luxury amenities. The house features a four-burner gas stove and oven, as well as a fireplace and instant hot water, and it has stairs leading up to the loft (instead of the typical ladder).
Chris even built a small deck to attach to the house for guests to be able to relax on Adirondack chairs and enjoy southern Vermont’s outdoors.
Having luxurious amenities “attracts a lot of potential guests,” according to Lauren — including those who may have opted for a bigger home or traditional apartment. “There's a lot of competition in southern Vermont for Airbnb. We felt that making a luxury experience would give it that edge, and it has.”
4. Pro Tip: Expand Your Marketing Outside of Airbnb
While perfecting your tiny home listing on Airbnb is key, it’s not the only marketing tool available and you should absolutely be proactive about going outside the platform.
💡Take steps to help your tiny home stand out
“Especially in an area that's very competitive, like southern Vermont, being able to tell your story with an authentic voice and unique brand is really important,” Lauren says. “Do you need a logo? Do you need a website and branding? You don't have to have it, but it’s definitely going to help you stand out. It creates a bigger package than just the home itself.”
Lauren and Chris recommend marketing your home on Instagram — an easy and affordable way to get your tiny home out there and build up a presence. In fact, having a solid, consistent brand for their tiny home has helped the couple attract enviable PR.
“We've been in Boston Magazine and the New York Post, and I feel that some of the reasons we get the bigger press is because we started small and made a really good presence with those basics in it,” Lauren says. “It attracts guests and it attracts bigger press.”
💡Invest in a photographer to capture ‘Instagrammable’ moments in your tiny house
Since Airbnbs are booked entirely online, make sure you have the shots you need to sell a stay in your place.
Lauren and Chris did this by hiring a photographer to capture curated moments around their tiny house: friends sitting outside on the deck, playing guitar or enjoying a cook-out, to someone reading a book in a cozy nook or curled up with a mug of tea in bed.
Bottom line: Good photos are a huge selling point and can really help make or break your listing.
💡List your tiny house on every platform available
Airbnb is a great platform for getting rentals, but Chris explains that it’s “just a slice” of the market you could be attracting.
“If you have your own website, you’re going to catch another slice of that market,” he says. “You're going to catch another one if you also have a Facebook page and if you're listing on other rental sites like VRBO, HomeAway and Booking.com.”
5. Automate Your Tiny Home Operations
One thing to consider if you’re running a short-term rental that’s not on your property?
“You have to automate everything,” says Lauren, who is New York-based. From welcoming guests to granting cleaners access between stays to standard property maintenance. “All of those components have to be automated, and we're really thankful that we live in a time that we can do that. You couldn't do this 10 years ago.”
Chris tries to do some of the maintenance on the property, and both will bring up supplies now and again, but they truly rely on a team to keep the house in top shape.
6. Optimize Your Earnings
If you hit all of the right notes, running a tiny home rental is a great way to bring in some additional income. “From an investment standpoint, you can really demand a premium because you're not only offering someone a place to stay — it's a full experience,” says Lauren.
Renting on a short-term basis on Airbnb also means Lauren can pop onto the platform and tweak pricing, making sure that they’re optimizing what they charge depending on the time of year. Generally, Lauren says, they’re able to charge double what Airbnb’s algorithm suggests.
“We did the research before we bought it, looking at what we believed our competition would be — basically, what would a couple [pay for] rent in our area? What are places renting for?” Lauren says. “We tried to find out what the popular places were where people were staying, and what they were charging, then tried to be in that range. We tried to find a sweet spot, but I literally go in the calendar every few days and tweak pricing.”
Buying a tiny house over a more traditional property also means investing far less overall — with costs sitting around $75,000 all in — and saying goodbye to a 30-year mortgage, as well as any property taxes. As Lauren explains “There are all these different angles from a numbers perspective that make it a pretty good investment.”
Want to learn more about how to plan, build, and live the tiny life? Be sure to subscribe to the Tiny House Lifestyle wherever you prefer to listen!