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    A Superhost’s journey from listing her home to owning an inn

    Get inspired by a Superhost who went from hosting on weekends to owning an inn.
    By Airbnb on 28 Nov 2019
    7-min read
    Updated 25 Jun 2020


    • Growing your hosting business starts with one listing

      • Add some of your personality into your design details

        • No matter how big or small your space, keep a clear channel of communication with your neighbors

          Superhost Kristen Carson didn’t always envision herself as a hospitality entrepreneur. In college, she started an international nonprofit linking students with professionals, but she didn’t know this idea of connection would one day turn into a career. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering and marketing and a stint as a strategy consultant, Carson’s path took a slightly different turn when she and her now-husband, Brian Alford, bought a three-bedroom townhouse in Austin, Texas, in 2011.

          Carson and Alford commissioned a graffiti artist to create a mural in their living room, and in a serious moment of destiny, “MTV saw it through the windows, and they contacted us to rent it out for artist interviews for South by Southwest,” Carson says.

          And so began a year and a half of staying in hotels every weekend, while big groups—bachelor and bachelorette parties, weddings, and the like—booked their house on Airbnb. At the time, Carson and Alford, a lawyer for startups, had one goal in mind: to rent out their townhouse as a way to upgrade to a single-family house. “This was kind of before Airbnb was a big thing in Austin,” says Carson, who is also the CEO of Simply International, a logistics company she launched to assist international students in the U.S.

          By 2013, they had earned enough money from listing their townhouse on East 6th Street to buy a bungalow-style fixer-upper from the 1930s, which they’ve renovated and now call home. The townhouse is still listed on Airbnb, but Carson dreams big. “I wanted to buy another property,” she says. And so, eight years after welcoming their first Airbnb guest, Inn Cahoots—a collection of five Airbnb listings—was born.

          Plenty of room at the inn

          In Austin, it’s illegal to rent a short-term residential space to a group larger than 10 people, so those groups, including corporate retreats and family reunions, tend to end up in traditional hotels. Inn Cahoots offers another option—the three-story building, also on East 6th Street, is “not in [a] neighborhood, it’s zoned as hotel use, it does not have to follow the same short-term rental rules” as residential listings on Airbnb, Carson says.

          The property, which opened in March 2019, features five condo-style units that each have a kitchen and living room. “It is the comforts of an Airbnb but the responsibility of a hotel,” Carson says. The inn is set up for communal living: All 23 bedrooms feature bunk beds that have a queen mattress on the bottom and a double on top. At capacity, Inn Cahoots can sleep 107 guests, since single beds can be added to some of the rooms.

          Over four years, Carson worked with designers and contractors to create a modular space that can also work for smaller groups. “We designed it out specifically based on the requests we’d had from these groups,” Carson said.

          For example, when a bachelor party was too big for Carson and Alford’s townhouse, the group rented a neighbor’s house too. “That’s when we decided that it would be really cool to be able to combine the living rooms,” Carson says, so they installed industrial garage-style doors that can separate or connect three of the five units.

          All in the family

          Carson’s hosting journey hasn’t always been smooth. Once she and her husband bought the 6,500-square-foot lot in 2015 with the help of 11 investors (more than half of whom are fellow Airbnb hosts), they spent years convincing the city that the unique space was worthy of various permits. And soon after breaking ground on Inn Cahoots in March 2018, Carson discovered that she was pregnant with their first child.

          But the actual process of building “was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” Carson says. “We very quickly had cost overruns. On top of that, being pregnant was not the easiest thing.”

          With a baby on the way, the project shifted from a passion project to a family collaboration. “My whole family basically came on board and helped build this place,” she says. “My parents decided to get involved, and my husband started getting involved. The contractors stepped up and my colleagues helped a lot too, because this is not a one-person job.” Today, she employs an 11-person team.

          In the end, that experience made the whole thing sweeter. “It really is a labor of love,” she says. A year to the day they first broke ground, Inn Cahoots was finished. In July 2019, their other baby—a boy—was born.

          Clean, modern design—with a bit of Texas flair

          From an entire wall made from speakers to a bathroom sink designed around a bicycle (really!), Inn Cahoots is meant to feel distinctive—not just a place to crash. “It’s so fun every day being there, because people walk into this great, happy vibe,” Carson says. “I designed these saddle chairs, and they look at them, and they’re like, ‘These are so cool!’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, that makes me feel so good!’”

          Another fan favorite: The stone lion head tap that alternates between dispensing sparkling wine and beer, which can also turn into a Dr. Pepper ice cream float station if a guest prefers. “We spent so much time on everything,” Carson says. Guests have noticed, and Carson consistently receives 5-star reviews.

          Being a good host—and neighbor

          Carson makes it a point to get to know her neighbors. “The biggest thing we’ve been cautious about is how the neighbors feel,” she says. “Regardless of the size of your property, have a communication channel with your neighbors. With [our first property], we lived there. We let our neighbors know. They would text us if someone was too loud.”

          Carson isn’t done yet. She and Alford just bought the lot next door, which houses five food trucks (which they hope to incorporate in the expansion), and she would like to bring the same concept to other cities as well. Right now, she has New Orleans, San Diego, and Nashville in her sights as she focuses on safely hosting large groups that might not be welcome (or legal) in single-family homes and quieter neighborhoods. At least Carson is never short on inspiration: “I’m always coming up with ideas,” she says. “It’s my favorite thing.”

          Information contained in this article may have changed since publication.


          • Growing your hosting business starts with one listing

            • Add some of your personality into your design details

              • No matter how big or small your space, keep a clear channel of communication with your neighbors

                28 Nov 2019
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