The data shows that on the one hand:
- Roommates are financially reliable while Airbnb is unpredictable.
- Roommates are less work.
However, the research also shows that:
- Airbnb can give you more income in less rental time.
- Airbnb gives you more opportunity for privacy and flexibility.
This guide will give you all the facts so you can compare having a roommate vs Airbnb and make a decision.
It’s in 3 parts:
- Which makes more money
- Finding out if your place can be rented out on Airbnb
- Pros and cons of roommates vs Airbnb
There’s a lot to think about but don’t worry—I go into all the details in an easy to understand way.
Which Earns More, Roommates or Airbnb
I spent lots of time gathering information on how much you could get from having a roommate or being an Airbnb host and put my research into these tables.
The first situation is where you have a spare room and are deciding whether to get a roommate for it or rent it out on Airbnb.
This is a comparison table showing what the earnings are per night for these popular sample cities.
They show you earn more per night being an Airbnb host than having a roommate.
Rent a room to an Airbnb guest (average price per night)
Rent a room to a roommate (average price per night)
Los Angeles, CA
Like a roommate, the Airbnb guest(s) would be entitled to shared space in your home.
If they have their own bathroom, than the shared space would be rooms such as your kitchen and living room. Otherwise, they would need to share a bathroom also.
More food for thought: in many U.S. cities, hosting your entire home on Airbnb could completely cover your monthly rental (or mortgage) cost…and you wouldn’t even have to rent out each day of the month.
For example, in Houston (see table below), if you had somewhere else to stay for free for 6 days a month, you could basically live in your home rent-free for the other 24-25 days each month.
If you have somewhere to stay for some days each month while you rent out the whole place on Airbnb, you will make even more per night!
|Location||Airbnb nightly price (average)||Apartment rental cost (average)||# of Hosting Days needed to cover the monthly rental costs|
|Los Angeles, CA||$133||$2525||19|
Sources for information in above tables:
However with Airbnb you can’t predict how many nights per month you will be able to rent your room out for.
From my research, there is no way at all to even try to predict how many days per month a home will be wanted…even in the top locations such as New York.
There are so many factors that it is meaningless (and inaccurate) to say more about it.
That’s the BIG thing with roommates vs Airbnb, the unpredictability of Airbnb.
Several years ago, for example, my family and I planned to visit our relatives in New Jersey, USA.
We looked for an Airbnb and found NOTHING! We finally found another solution.
Living abroad, we were not up on the local news, and so when we arrived, we found out that His Holiness the Pope was visiting Philadelphia, PA (very close to where our relatives live) at the same time.
NOW we understood.
Due to this important event, Airbnb had sold out completely…no matter what the price or condition of the property.
Usually, though, it’s pretty much unpredictable.
Not All Accommodation Can Be Rented on Airbnb
This is how you find out if you can rent out yours.
Step 1 is seeing if you even have this option.
Different types of housing have different rules. In particular, look for references to guests or subletting.
Both roommates and Airbnb hosting can fall under these categories. This is why many roommates need to be on the lease (so as not to be a sublet).
The tenant organization in your apartment building may not allow you to host Airbnb guests but will allow roommates.
Condominium board rules or co-op regulations may discuss this issue. There may be laws in your city or even your state which are relevant.
Your landlord is the best person to talk with.
Tips for talking to your landlord
I. They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Take some pictures or make a video of the inside of your home. If you have an outside part also (such as a garden, balcony, patio, roof space), include that also.
The idea is to show your landlord the pride you take in your home now.
This helps to reassure that your home will only look better when hosting.
II. Explain that Airbnb is doing things to protect its hosts.
First, there is the $1,000,000 Host Guarantee. Airbnb states that this is “property damage protection of up to $1 million USD for every host and every listing”.
Then, Airbnb has the $1,000,000 Host Protection Policy. According to Airbnb, this is “liability insurance of up to $1 million USD to protect against third party claims for personal injury or property damage”.
Tell your landlord that Airbnb does periodic background checks on U.S. guests when they can. Guests then get a ‘verified’ tag on their profiles.
Here’s an example of that using my own personal Airbnb profile:
III. Discuss the professional help available
You and your landlord don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
The Airbnb Friendly Buildings Program helps hosts and landlords figure things out in the best way for both of them.
Now that you know you have a choice…
The Pros and Cons of roommates vs Airbnb
I will give you the Roommate pros / cons.
1. You will have a steady, reliable financial partner
Your roommate will pay his share of the rent and utilities. He will also contribute to shared household needs such as floor cleaner and toilet paper.
Most roommates are responsible and conscientious about their financial obligations.
This gives you security and peace of mind that the bills will get paid as needed.
This peace of mind is one of the biggest advantages of having a roommate and should not be taken lightly or for granted.
2. Once and done
Finding a good roommate is not always an easy job, and sometimes you have to go through several.
Yet, once you have found a person you are compatible with, you are finished for a long period of time.
You do not have to put your time and energy of up to an hour (or more) into never-ending searches.
And if it works out that the two of you become friends, that’s a wonderful bonus.
3. Less service required
Roommates don’t expect you to prepare for them by putting clean sheets on the bed, freshly washed towels in the bathroom, and cleaning the entire house from top to bottom.
They are not looking at your home as a hotel but as a shared living space. Thus, they expect to be a part of the ‘housekeeping team’.
Ongoing then, you will have help in the upkeep and maintenance of your home.
Having said that, I must tell you about my recent Airbnb experience.
I rented a room in a house for two weeks. The Airbnb posting said that the home would be occupied at the time by the family and their cats.
So, it was very much like being a roommate, and I took that into account.
Since I used the kitchen a lot, I cleaned up excellently afterwards, including sweeping the floor. I emptied the dishwasher several times.
After 7 days, I laundered my sheets and pillowcases and put them back on the bed. However, at the end, I just stripped the bed and left them for her in a neat pile.
The host asked me to use a bleach spray on the tub after every shower. I did.
True, I did not do any heavy cleaning such as vacuuming, but I did see myself as part of the household with a responsibility to help.
My host told me that when posting on Airbnb, it is important to accurately state whether the room is a ‘full service hotel’ situation or whether it is a ‘roommate style’ accommodation.
1. Privacy issues and lack of flexibility
Roommates are home whenever they want to be. That is their right as partners of your space.
True, you can ask your roommate to be absent on occasion (as they can of you), but this would be a very once-in-a-while request for a special, important reason.
Another consideration is that some people do better with periods of alone time. Having a roommate around is not going to satisfy this need.
You might like to use your roommate’s bedroom as a guest room for a long-term visitor. Tough luck!
Your roommate has signed on for half the home with all the rights and responsibilities which come with it.
Having a roommate is a partnership, and you can’t kick your partner out whenever you like.
2. Shared control
As partners in the home, roommates have a say.
Discussing house rules such as guests and noise? Your roommate has opinions, and those opinions matter.
Feel the home is not tidy enough or clean enough? Not everyone has the same comfort levels, so you might have to adapt.
New living room couch? You’ll need to know what your roommate’s color and style preferences are.
And let’s not even get into the issue of pets…
In a long list of mutual areas, you have to share the decision-making power with your roommate.
3. Accepting personality differences
When we have roommates we learn just how different people can be.
I am not talking about extreme cases when you may need to change roommates.
Even usual personality differences can get on your nerves.
Think about it:
- their music style
- the odors coming from their food
- the hygiene habits they have (or don’t)
- their friends
- their schedule, especially if they are up when you are sleeping
Sure, lots can be improved by discussing things with your roommate and coming to agreements.
Yet, at some point, you are going to have to accept who they are and how they live.
- More income for less time
- Opportunities for privacy and flexibility
- Guest mindset
- Less personality friction
- A world of acquaintances
- Nicer living conditions for you
- Things for free
1. More income for less time
Renters on Airbnb will generally pay more for a room than a roommate would.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Even though it is not a hotel in the strictest sense, the room rented does come with services and is for a short time.
People are used to paying more for this type of accommodation.
Your gain is that you will need fewer rental days to get the same income you would have gotten from a roommate.
2. Opportunities for privacy and flexibility
I. Roommates are usually home more than Airbnb guests. Logical, right?
Airbnb renters are usually tourists or people who have come to do something specific in your town or city.
That means they are out seeing the sights, attending a conference or participating in a workshop for the majority of the day’s hours.
II.Since your home will most likely not be rented out full time (see #1 above: More income for less time), your room has ‘time off’.
Want to have a guest stay for a while? No problem. Just don’t rent out your room for that period. (And you don’t have to ask anyone if they mind, either!)
Need some time to yourself? Block out that time on your Airbnb calendar.
If someone asks anyway, politely turn them down, suggesting a time a little further in the future.
3. Guest mindset
It is your home after all.
This is not a roommate who is paying to share your home as an equal partner. It is a person (or people) who are renting a room in your house, not moving in.
Airbnb guests do feel exactly like that—guests, and there is a certain ‘guest code of conduct’ which most people can generally agree on.
Typical elements of this code include:
- Watching one’s language
- Keeping to the tidiness/cleanliness levels of the home
- Behaving appropriately and respectfully
- Smoking according to the house rules
- Using alcohol responsibly
More than this, YOU are in control.
You choose the decor and the level of cleanliness.
You specify how long a guest can stay and a large part of how they need to behave while they are in your home.
For example, at my recent Airbnb home, the host had some comments about respecting the quiet after 8 pm since her child went to bed at that time.
You decide pets or no pets, smoking or no smoking, guests of the guests or not. The list goes on…
A Swedish study
Vasilis Lemonis interviewed 15 Airbnb hosts.
He found that most of the hosts spent less time in public areas such as the kitchen or the living room. Presumably, they do this to make their guests feel more comfortable.
However, the hosts said that they always keep to important elements in their routine. For example, if they like to eat their dinner in front of the TV, they would do this, guests or not.
So, while these hosts wanted to make their guests ‘feel at home’, they did not give up control.
Overall, a big plus of this ‘guest mindset’ is that in the long run, Airbnb guests will do less ‘wear and tear’ on your home than a roommate will.
4. Less personality friction
A roommate is more or less there to stay, but an Airbnb guest is gone soon.
So, if there are minor personality or behavior issues which are not exactly to your liking, don’t worry.
In a short time, you won’t have them.
Knowing that we have to ‘put up with someone’ for only a few days or weeks gives us more patience to be tolerant.
5. A world of acquaintances
After you get to know your roommate, that’s it, but each Airbnb guest is a chance to get to know a person you might never have met otherwise.
For people who love to connect with others, this is a huge deal.
Potentially, you can meet people from all over the world without having to leave the comfort of your home.
Back to the Swedish study
The Airbnb hosts which Lemonis interviewed told him that the social aspect was a large reason for their decision to host.
For some, the social interaction brought variety to their otherwise routine day.
By renting to travellers, others felt as if they, themselves, were travelling.
Some hosts even gave dinners or parties for their renters, using this situation as a great opportunity to invite family and friends.
6. Nicer living conditions for you
When you are going to have people over, you tidy up for them, right?
In fact, if you are like me, then your home probably looks its best just before the visitors are due to arrive.
Most Airbnb hosts keep their homes at ‘visitor level’ tidiness and cleanliness because most Airbnb guests expect this.
It may take a while for you to get your home into ship shape the first time. After that, though, the maintenance is relatively easy.
Something broken? You will fix it or have it fixed ASAP.
A smell in the bathroom or bedroom? You are in there with the cleaning equipment and air freshener.
Things looking messy? Time to put away, clear out, get rid of as needed.
Furniture looking a bit worse for wear? Time to reupholster or replace—good second-hand is a fine option.
The point is that in keeping your home at its best for your Airbnb guests, you also keep it at its best for yourself, too.
Kind of like living in a comfortable hotel 24/7. Bet you didn’t think of it that way!
7. Things for free
Companies looking to advertise their products may give you things for free.
I read about an Airbnb host who got mattresses and pillows for free. Why?
His thinking was like this: the company figured that his guests would sleep on the mattresses and pillows, like them, and look to buy the same for their home.
I noticed a Facebook page offering free items for hosts. You can check it out here.
Reading the Airbnb pros, you might wonder why anyone would ever get a roommate. Here’s the biggest reason:
Are you a person who will have money troubles if you do have enough rental income?
If the answer is ‘yes’, do not be an Airbnb host.
Even in the most popular locations, the favorite destinations, Airbnb hosting is unpredictable.
I found from my research that this is the top issue according to Airbnb hosts: the fluctuations (changes) in income can be very great and your control over this situation is very low.
Depending on how your home looks and where it is located, it might be more attractive to a roommate than to the Airbnb guest community.
2. ‘On stage’ for a lot of the time
Flickr, Chad Sparkes
Stage Show, One of the nightly shows on board Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas
After the ‘honeymoon phase’ is over, we naturally relax around our roommates.
We don’t have to ‘keep up appearances’. We can be who we really are, same as our roommate (which is sometimes the problem!).
An Airbnb host does not have this luxurious option.
As a host, you need to be welcoming, gracious, patient, attentive, considerate (you get the picture) 24/7 while your visitors are at your home.
This ‘emotional labor’ can be exhausting!
True, you are ‘off duty’ when you don’t have renters, but how often will that be? Will it be enough to recharge for the next time?
More from the Swedish study
I. The hosts reported that they felt a need to be ‘smiley and friendly’ no matter what was happening in their lives at the moment.
They said this was difficult, especially after a tough day at work or during stressful private situations.
II. Several of those interviewed felt repressed in their homes due to the threat of a negative review.
An example was one host who had “rude and demanding” guests. She felt a lot of their behavior was disrespectful.
However, she felt she had to put up with it so their review of her on Airbnb would be positive.
This was very traumatic for her. She spent a lot of time crying in her bedroom.
III. The Airbnb reviews were also problematic from the other side: a host’s review of the guest(s).
Hosts explained that they are scared to post any negative comments about a guest because the guest might post a negative comment back.
So, they usually ‘turn a blind eye’ to minor issues.
Unfortunately, this weakens the authenticity and accuracy of reviews for other hosts, wanting to get information on potential renters.
3. Constant communication
Then, there is the commitment to your guests’ needs.
One of my daughters regularly rents out her home on Airbnb. While the renters are there, she goes on vacation. This past summer we were together.
During dinner at the restaurant, when it was her turn to bowl at the bowling alley, in the middle of the night (three, true life examples), her mobile phone rang with a question or problem from her Airbnb guests.
Could she have ignored them? Sure…if she wanted to get a bad rating as an Airbnb host and damage her future rental possibilities.
It is the same when you are at home. Your guests see you as their ‘go to’ whenever they have a question or problem.
4. It’s a business
All businesses require investment, time and effort to get started and keep going. Hosting on Airbnb is no exception.
Time and effort
To get Airbnb renters, you need to be online, checking your inbox.
Since Airbnb likes (and rewards) hosts for answering promptly, you will need to be online often.
Hosts in the Swedish study confirmed this fact. They said that they had to check their phones quite frequently for booking requests in order to respond to them quickly.
Once someone is interested, you will need to answer their questions, negotiate terms (if necessary), perhaps vet them if Airbnb has not done it already (or in addition).
With roommates, it’s a one-time push and finished. With Airbnb, it’s an ongoing process.
Another thing which hosts in the Swedish study brought up was the fact that Airbnb often changes their rules.
So, the hosts found themselves having to constantly keep up with the new information and requirements.
All the above requires a good amount of time and energy.
And just like in other businesses, there are costs. One of them is the percentage which Airbnb takes to host your home on their site.
The percentage varies depending on a number of factors, and it is not a large amount. However, you do need to take it into consideration.
Other costs include things like replacing sheets and towels often, refreshing your home with more coats of paint than if you were living in it with a roommate, providing ‘nice touches’ such as welcome baskets and flowers, and replacing shabby furniture or appliances which would not bother either you or your roommate.
While each cost may be relatively low in itself in comparison for the amount of rental you will receive, the combination of several quickly adds up.
5. Risky renters
While there is a real possibility that your renter may be very problematic, the chances of that threat are quite low.
First of all, Airbnb checks out the background of U.S. residents. This will turn up a lot of red flags.
People who have been checked out have a ‘verified’ tag on their Airbnb profiles and are low-risk renters.
Second of all, you, the host, can do your own internet search.
These days it is quite easy to find out about people—even if you are not in law enforcement with access to specialized databases.
A third way to find out more about a potential renter is to chat with them.
Begin by asking the reason for their travel. Does it sound logical and reasonable?
Method four is to read what other Airbnb hosts had to say about this potential renter. Is this someone you want in your home?
Lastly, check out what your gut is telling you.
Our intuition (having a ‘feeling’ about a situation) is the job of the neural network (‘brain’) in our gut.
Science has found that our intuition is a reliable source of information.