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Is renting out your stuff worth it?

Key takeaways

  • Many young people are renting out assets to earn extra cash.
  • It's crucial to check local and state laws and look into insurance before you list anything for rent.
  • You must be prepared to cover expenses, such as maintenance costs and taxes on your earnings.

Lauren French, 32, purchased her first home, a 3-bedroom with a pool, in Wantagh, New York, in April 2019. At the time, French, a bank project manager, was living with her boyfriend, who agreed to help with the bills. When the couple broke up—around the time the pandemic hit—French was left paying the $3,600 mortgage and property taxes on her own.

While scrolling social media, French saw an ad for Swimply, a company that lets you rent out your pool by the hour. "It was an optimal time because folks were no longer using public pools and were trying to figure out other avenues to entertain children," says French.

Because she rarely uses her pool, she thought that renting it out would be a good way to make money without taking on another job. So she took photos of her yard, patio, and large pool with a diving board; bought some fun pool toys; and posted her rental on Swimply.com in June 2020. Within days, people were renting out her backyard oasis for $60 an hour.

"I get only 2 full months of pool renting because of the climate here, but I made $20,000 that first summer," says French. In 2021, she put her pool back on Swimply, making another $15,000. Even with the cost of pool chemicals, electricity, and pool toys, French still netted about $33,000 from both summers. Her experience is not unique. There is a growing number of people across the country renting out homes, cars, garages, and more—and many with success.

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Room for growth

Lacy Coligan, a single mom of 3 in Oak Park, Illinois, is also paying bills with a rental. Coligan, a product design director at a software review company, decided 2 years ago that she wanted to buy a house with space to rent out in order to subsidize her mortgage. She found a home with a small apartment, and in February 2021, the 43-year-old listed the apartment on Airbnb. By the end of the year, she had made $35,000.

It wasn't all profit, though. She had to buy furniture and linens. Plus, she stocks the rental weekly with grocery staples, paper goods, toiletries, chocolates in the bedroom, and fresh flowers. "It makes people feel like the space was specially prepared for them," Coligan says. She pays someone to clean after every checkout too. Her strategy is working: The space is rented about 25 days out of every month.

Nashville native John Craven, 33, started his own rental business after a getaway to Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains. Craven, who's an attorney, and his wife wondered whether they should buy a vacation home instead of renting when they travel a few times a year. "Once we looked at the cost of a cabin, we knew that renting it out would be necessary to help cover the mortgage and other expenses," he says.

The couple purchased their 5-bedroom cabin with all furnishings included for $800,000 in June 2020. They listed the cabin on Vrbo and got their first booking in September 2020. Today, the cabin earns, on average, about $10,000 a month, which translates to a profit of about $3,000 to $4,000 a month. The couple uses the cabin in the slow season and sneaks in last-minute visits whenever else it's unrented.

Not everyone has that much money to invest. For instance, Josh Robbins, 42, from American Fork, Utah, in the Salt Lake City area, has been renting out half of his multicar garage since May 2017 through Neighbor.com, which lets people rent storage space in others' homes. That same year, someone from the site called to ask Robbins to break up his space into smaller units for nearby college students. "They wanted to store their belongings while they were away on internships," he says. He now also rents to students who don't want to take all their stuff home over the summer.

"I'm making, on average, $185 a month," Robbins says. "My mortgage is $2,300, so the rentals give me a free month of owning my home every year."

Protecting your rental—and yourself

While renting things out can be tempting, there are legal and safety issues to consider, says John An, senior consultant and partner at AJL Atelier USA, a vacation rental and business consultancy. For example, some areas limit the number of days a year you can rent out your home—and even the number of properties that can be rentals. Other areas may allow only primary residences to be used part time as short-term rentals. "The best way to understand local requirements is to search for your county's short-term rental regulations," An advises. See whether your county has a short-term rental alliance—a community of rental owners, property managers, and other associated folks—or check out RentResponsibly.org.

Insurance is also a must-have. Renting out your possessions increases the risk of damage, theft, and liability claims. Make sure that you have adequate coverage, and confirm that your policy covers incidents related to rentals, something Christian Barren, 34, found out firsthand was necessary. Barren, a Chicago university admissions counselor, started renting out his luxury vehicle in December 2018, after he saw how lucrative it could be. His car had broken down, and he needed one to get to work for 3 weeks. "I paid $800, but I never met the person, which gave me the idea to make passive income like this." He listed his car on HyreCar.com, a site that rents cars for rideshare services, and was soon netting $1,300 per month. "I had to share a car with my wife, getting up at 4:30 a.m. to drive her to work, but it was worth it," he says.

Unfortunately, 6 months after he listed, a renter crashed his car. Luckily, his insurance policy covered the costs of fixing it. But damage protection can vary by rental platform. Claims and disputes typically require documentation, proof, and receipts for expenses incurred as a result of the incident—and a lot of time for dealing with them. You should also see whether your rental platform will reimburse you for lost income on future bookings that you would need to cancel.

Barren's incident didn't deter him. Today, he rents out a whopping 43 cars on the platform, earning as much as $56,000 per month, using the rental income to buy more cars. "As soon as I saw how it worked, I realized, ‘This is how I can build generational wealth,'" he says.

Your earnings—and costs

To be sure, some people in the rental market don't do as well as the ones here have. Still, Airbnb says that between January 1 and June 30, 2022, the typical host who was also a guest earned more than $12,000, while Swimply pool owners average $5,000 to $10,000 a month. Neighbor.com says that a typical host can earn from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 each month.

An says that, if you're doing things properly, you should turn a profit. "But the additional expenses associated with running a rental appropriately must be considered." Those expenses can include digital locks on homes to allow guests temporary access, and increased wear and tear on your property from repeated short-term use.

No matter what you rent out—whether a vacation home or a piano (yes, that's a thing at PianoPiano.com)—you will likely need to pay taxes, though you may be able to deduct some expenses from home rental income. That's why An recommends creating a separate bank account for tracking rental income and expenses and talking to an accountant early on to learn exactly what your tax liability will be.

You must also decide whether you have enough time to run what is essentially a small business. Craven, who rents out his cabin, says, "Some days I don't spend more than a few minutes on it; other days the hot tub isn't heating and I'll spend an hour communicating with guests and vendors," which, he admits, can be difficult with a full-time job.

French, who rents out her pool, says that she wouldn't change a thing with her experience. "But if you're going to do it, ease into it. Then, you can broaden your availability and offer more amenities." The good news with renting out something you already own, she adds: "If you don't like doing it, you can turn off your listing and never do it again."

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