Have an amazing pool in your backyard? Or a secret garden? Or maybe a cabana with an outdoor fireplace? This could be the summer to cash in, as a handful of apps make it easier to rent the outdoors by the hour.
Carmen Sanchez has been renting out the saltwater pool in her Queens, New York, backyard up to three times a day on a pool-sharing app called Swimply. In Sherman Oaks, California, Vassil Ananiev is making $25,000 a month renting out his 2,000-square-foot home with a pool and cabana on event rental apps like Splacer. And in Los Feliz, in Los Angeles, Danny O’Brien fields daily inquiries from the event space Peerspace for his rambling, junglelike backyard, where guests can host birthday parties, weddings, bridal showers and funerals.
“The last three months have been insane,” said Ananiev, who charges $150-$200 an hour for access to his three-bedroom home, which also has a hot tub, outdoor fireplace and expansive views of the San Fernando Valley. “I guess people are so sick of being stuck at home. They want to go out.”
Across the country, homeowners are looking to their backyard pools, hot tubs, tennis courts and gardens as a source of income at a moment when people want to regroup with friends in safe outdoor venues during this second pandemic summer.
Some homeowners are turning to a cottage industry of apps that does with event rentals what Airbnb has done with overnight ones. With the right amenities, almost any place can become a party venue. Homeowners list their properties on the apps, renting them out by the hour, and the companies in turn charge a fee to the host and the guest.
May Choi-Steele has booked Sanchez’s pool in Fresh Meadows, Queens, five times since last summer so her 11-year-old son can have a safe, private place to swim alone or with friends. “I wasn’t really comfortable with the city pools; the water is usually colder, and there are a lot more people,” said Choi-Steele, who lives five minutes from Sanchez’s house. On her first visit, she was wowed by the outdoor shower and bathroom and immediately booked it again. “I was like, ‘This is so perfect.’ ”
But Sanchez, a paralegal, is often booked solid. And then there is the cost: She charges $75 an hour for the first five guests and another $10 an hour for each additional guest. Others charge more. But Choi-Steele says it is worth the premium. “If you want to throw a party at Chuck E. Cheese, it’s probably the same amount of money, but it’s a different experience,” she said. At a private pool, “you can order in food or have it catered. It’s a much more intimate experience versus taking the kids to an arcade.”
The bookings are rolling in.
At Peerspace, available in all 50 states, outdoor spaces are the fastest-growing category, with searches up 360% in June 2021 from the same time last year and up 550% from 2019. So far this summer, Swimply, which is available in 125 markets, has logged more than 61,000 bookings, up from 36,981 for all of 2019. The app plans to start listing tennis courts, basketball courts and private gyms, too. On Splacer, outdoor spaces now account for 30% of the site’s bookings.
“The requests for outdoors, such as backyards and rooftops, has doubled since the summer of 2019,” said Adi Biran, CEO of New York City-based Splacer, with 5,000 properties in New York, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta.
Turning your yard into a perpetual party spot can be lucrative. Some Peerspace hosts with ample outdoor space have earned $60,000 on rentals since April, according to the company. Sanchez said she has been earning $2,500 a week renting her pool in Queens this summer. She hired an assistant who sanitizes the tables, outdoor bathroom and shower, and backwashes the pool between events.
Hosts have to balance the demands of guests who are paying a premium to have a good time against neighbors who may not appreciate living next door to an unofficial club. Open your home for parties, and you may have to contend with people who book a 20-guest bridal party, then show up with a 45-guest bachelorette party.
“Even if you meet people, they still lie; they still downplay what they’re going to do,” said Ananiev, who insists on meeting guests before the events. “They say they’re bringing 20 people; the next thing you know, they bring a friend, and their friend brings a friend, and the next thing you know, there are 40. The last few months, I’ve been telling people, ‘Listen, it’s 20 people. If you bring 21, the 21st person goes home.’ ”
Ananiev spends most evenings in his bedroom while people he does not know take over the rest of his property. His 7-year-old daughter, who lives with him half the time, is not pleased with the arrangement. “Lately, because it’s been so much, she’s not really liking it,” he said. “She’s asking, ‘Is the bathroom clean? Is this clean?’ ”
So Ananiev, who earns most of his income from the party rentals, is building a one-bedroom accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, above his garage where he and his daughter can eventually retreat.
Sanchez enacted new rules after last summer when the police showed up a few times at her property, which also has a kitchen, fire pit and sitting area.
“I spoke to the neighbors, and the few things that they complained about were loud music, people double-parked, and people stepping on lawns and flowers,” she said. Now she reminds guests to park legally and avoid the flower beds. She also invested in quieter outdoor speakers and ends all events at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. So far this year, she said she has had no issues.
There are legal risks to consider, too. Municipalities and homeowners associations may have rules limiting commercial use of residential properties and pools. And a homeowners insurance policy might not cover a claim that violates its terms.
“There is a decent chance that if the use of the swimming pool is not in compliance with governing documents or local or state law that an insurance company may deny the claim,” said Steven Sladkus, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, who also pointed out that a homeowner could face a private-nuisance lawsuit from a disgruntled neighbor.
The companies do provide limited liability insurance for hosts, but they leave them to navigate legal issues and local ordinances on their own.
“We really require hosts to be mindful and compliant” with local laws and homeowner association rules, said Matt Bendett, a founder of San Francisco-based Peerspace, with more than 20,000 active properties on its platform. “It’s really hard for us to do that alone without the host’s cooperation.”
O’Brien, in Los Feliz, follows his mayor’s Facebook page to keep up on any local issues and uses a decibel meter to make sure the noise never gets out of hand in his 6,000-square-foot backyard, which he transformed into a whimsical retreat, shrouded in a canopy of oak, olive, pecan, fig and citrus trees. The space, which he calls The WithInn, has a full kitchen, lounge area, stage and bar. O’Brien stays home during the events, monitoring from inside his house, which is mostly private, except when guests enter through a side door to use the bathroom.
This summer, the space has been booked once a week, and the largest event this year has been a 60-guest wedding, said O’Brien, who earns most of his income renting it out. “What I’ve always wanted was for people to have the wow factor; they come around the corner, they look back, and they say, ‘Oh, my God, where did this come from? What is this?’ ” he said. “Right in the middle of the Hollywood area, there is this space that looks like it’s in another country.”
For $145 an hour, it could be yours for the evening.