Sometimes I watch people walk by on the street and think to myself, they could be the next guests sharing the wall of my third-floor bedroom.
Aided by the Internet, complete strangers from all over the globe come to stay in my home. I am a changed person because of their visits. In the following pages, I offer advice and stories from my first year as a host via the home-sharing website Airbnb.com. Every story is true, but names and identifying facts have been changed to protect the identities of my guests and friends.
It was the dead of winter in 2013, and I was devastated from a gut-wrenching breakup that had happened in early December. Despite the many weeks that had passed, the pain was acute. I knew something needed to change, and I desperately wanted to get out of the house I had shared with my ex-boyfriend, Grayson. Too many reminders of our failed romance littered my home. I discovered that’s the trouble with being the homeowner—he’s gone, but you remain stuck with a mortgage under the same roof that holds all the memories.
I’d purchased my home in Seattle’s tony Green Lake neighborhood ten years earlier. The area is coveted by many due to its proximity to the lake itself, which features a lush park and a highly trafficked 2.8 mile walking path where fashionistas, first-daters, and fitness buffs go to exercise and parade. When I bought the house during Seattle’s prolonged housing boom of the early millennium, I envisioned an eventual husband and child occupying its two bedrooms with me.
They never materialized. The closest I’d come to marriage wasn’t even that close—two successive live-in boyfriends who’d each lasted about six months before they fled our relationship. I have since come to the conclusion that I might not have been the easiest person to live with. You see, I used to be a bit of an emotionally high-maintenance person. Not to imply that the men were perfect gems, either. They’d both had failings of their own, as roommates and as partners, but in life I’d always sought out the perfectly imperfect.
These guys were notable in my life because they were the only people I ever lived with who weren’t related to me. As you read my stories, perhaps you’ll catch glimpses of why I spent a decade mostly alone in my 1,800-square-foot, 1929 brick bungalow.
When a call from Jeff, a former boyfriend—one who’d never lived with me—arrived, asking me for property management help, my curiosity was piqued. I was one of his few contacts in the Seattle real estate industry, and he knew I’d have advice to share about property management. I’d spent eleven years working as an office manager for a real estate brokerage firm in Seattle.
I’ve had lifelong fascination with real estate and the meaning of home. We moved so much—every two or three years—when I was a child and my dad was in the military. Though my family lived in a lot of houses, we never really had anything like a home of our own. When we finally left the protective arms of the military in the late 1980s, my parents settled in Phoenix, Arizona.
Wide-eyed, I looked around the flat neighborhoods and generously sized streets filled with terra-cotta-colored homes. A little culture-shocked to be back in the States, I cautiously regarded the one-story ramblers that were so different from the barracks-style housing we’d lived in during our recent, three-year assignment in Okinawa, Japan. Coming from the neutered blandness of a military base, the charming cul-de-sacs and backyard pools were a welcome and exciting change for a nine year old. I remember being both intrigued and intimidated by the affable, elderly real estate broker in his mustard-yellow blazer who toured us around to various homes.
Most of all, I remember my parents’ secret code to one another about whether or not they liked a home we were visiting. It went like this: if one of them opened the oven door, this signaled the other person that they’d like to get the hell out of the house and on to the next property. My dad thought this secret procedure would expedite the process by removing the need to play pretend with the realtor, making my parents’ decision to move on appear mutual.
Such a simple thing, really. Perhaps even a bit odd. But in my young mind, the world of real estate signaled weighty adult decisions and great possibility. In each new house we toured, I enjoyed fantasizing about how my little-girl life could unfold, and perhaps my grown-up life, too. Was this the house where I’d someday be visiting my aging parents and toting around a couple of toddlers who’d play in the kidney-shaped pool?
We eventually settled on a house with an oval-shaped pool, but my parents separated within the year. After the split, my mother took my brother and me north to Washington State where we have all lived ever since. At the tender age of twenty-two, six months after graduating from the University of Washington, I paid off all my college loans and got my first real job. I was offered a killer salary to work six hours a day as a receptionist at an independent real estate office ten minutes north of downtown Seattle.
One day out of the blue, the veteran office manager of eighteen years unexpectedly gave notice. She’d decided to run off and marry a hunky stonemason fifteen years her junior. It was a blow to the owner, who had been her longtime friend; he considered her his best confidante. When the owner called me into his office to inform me of the manager’s departure, I shakily walked in, sure I was about to be fired. I was shocked by the news of her resignation and even more surprised that I was being offered her job less than one year after being hired. This was an enormous promotion and the position carried a lot of responsibility. Stepping into her role ushered me into earning a six-figure salary. This came as a bit of a shock to a girl with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who never expected to earn such a hefty sum in a year, or several successive years, truthfully.
By the age of twenty-three, I, alongside my broker, oversaw nearly one hundred real estate agents and three staff members. False bravado and a great poker face got me through the next ten years. Those years were the height of Seattle’s thriving real estate heyday, which ultimately proved to be too financially lax. Lenders were giving out loans far above what borrowers’ incomes could support. Self-employed people were claiming inflated income, but few underwriters were actually checking to ensure income claims were true. And no-down, or low-down payments were rampant. It seemed everyone was casually buying homes, and watching this happen all around me spurred me to purchase my own home two months after I turned twenty-six.
Real estate was booming…until it wasn’t. Late in 2010, with Seattle deep in the throes of the Great Recession, I looked around my quiet office and woefully regarded my still-robust paycheck. The owner of my company was extremely generous and paid his staff far above the market rate for our work, even during the economic downturn. But I’d begun to feel that the money wasn’t enough. In my soul, I knew it was time for a career change. I was bored by the daily tasks that were no longer fulfilling or intellectually challenging. I wanted to write, or at least work in a creative field. I knew if I went back to school, or “followed my bliss” as Joseph Campbell so wisely encouraged people to do, the gap in my resume could be explained by the depressed economy.
Bolstering my courage to ask to be laid off from the only job I’d had since college, I fantasized about new endeavors and comforted myself by envisioning my future interviewer. “Ms. Short, I see a gap in your resume from 2010-2012.” The man (he was always a man) would shuffle my anemic resume around on his desk, looking bored. Until the pause. “Oh…I see you worked in the real estate industry when the housing bubble burst. Never mind.” Case closed. The national financial crisis was my get-out-of-mental-jail-free card, and I was hell-bent on using it.
During my tenure at the company, I learned a lot about the neighborhoods of Seattle and the contract process of buying and selling a home. I also met a lot of great clients and real estate agents. But it felt like the right time to close that chapter of my life.
In the immediate months following my departure, instead of pursuing my bliss or studying for the GRE, I spent a lot of time drinking at happy hours and hanging out with other unemployed people. It was not a productive time, but in my heart I knew I needed the break from the constant obligations that had kept me running—since kindergarten, it seemed—like a high-functioning hamster on a wheel.
In a bout of inspiration, and with a desire to escape feeling pressure to figure out my next professional move, I thought it wise to throw myself into online dating. Since I had so much free time on my hands, husband-chasing seemed like a great full-time gig until I identified my true calling. ’Cause really, what screams desirability more than an out-of-work woman with no immediate professional goals or prospects on the horizon?
A few months into my entertaining forays into online dating, I met a scientist named Jeff. He had just turned forty and seemed excited (like they always are at first) to date me. We fell in like that spring, never professing “I love you” to one another, and our relationship only lasted until early December.
Have you noticed that my breakups tend to occur in early December? Odder still, both successive relationships met their demise on the eighth of December! I quickly came to the conclusion that the Universe was trying to teach me a couple of important things: 1) Don’t date men whose middle names are William, and 2) Leave town—alone—on December 8th.
I had not spoken to Jeff during the year I’d spent meeting, falling head over heels in love with, cohabitating with, and ultimately being left by Grayson, who was the cause of my 2013 winter depression. But Jeff trusted my real estate knowledge and wanted my advice. He asked me to dinner, and pre-empted the invitation by saying he was looking for a property management company to oversee his Capitol Hill townhome in his absence, because his job demanded that he work out of state for a few years.
In the early months of 2013, the Seattle real estate market was starting to show signs of life, well ahead of the rest of the nation. This resurgence was likely due to the fact that major employers like Starbucks, Costco, and the behemoth Amazon are all headquartered in the Emerald City. Despite the market picking up, Jeff’s townhome had not yet reached a value that made it worth selling, and he thought that renting the place would be a smart financial decision. He’d reconsider selling after the national and local economies improved.
Jeff and I met for dinner, and over beers and pub food, we made small talk and caught up. Eventually we got around to the subject of his house and the reason for our dinner. Wanting to be helpful and to appear as knowledgeable about the market as he’d believed me to be, I made a feeble attempt to search on my iPhone for a property manager I’d known during my real estate days. I couldn’t find her information and told him that perhaps her business hadn’t survived the recession.
We finished our meal, and Jeff walked me to my car. After a stiff hug, I promised I’d get back to him with more referrals once I reached out to my wide network of real estate agents. Thankfully, many were still my friends even though we no longer worked together.
I returned home that evening and sought comfort in the bed where I’d recently spent an embarrassing amount of hours wallowing in the depths of romantic and career-related despair. That night, however, instead of returning to the ever-familiar dark companion of hopelessness, I noticed an ember of possibility was coming to life inside of me.
I knew what I had to do. It scared the hell out of me, but I knew it was time.
Next page →Click here
To read more, you can purchase a copy of Letting People In here.