In 2021, Brodie Murdoch relocated to KW from Toronto, hoping to find a reasonably priced house. Shortly after, Murdoch found her dream home—a beautiful Victorian home. And it came with something unexpected.
“There was this attached space, which the previous owners had used for an Airbnb occasionally, or a rental space occasionally,” Murdoch said.
She immediately saw potential in the space.
She added window boxes, spruced up the floors, painted the walls white and created a space inspired by what she calls “Boho minimalism”. To her surprise, the rental started to get a lot of attention.
After doing some research, Murdoch discovered the building was constructed in 1905. Records dating back to 1919 revealed it belonged to a local grocer.
“His grocery store was that space…it was a store for I think about 40 years or something. And then I guess, along the line, somebody put in a kitchen,” Murdoch said.
Murdoch’s Airbnb is one of many unique spaces the popular booking site offers in the region.
Murdoch has hosted guests from as far away as New Zealand and India. She also gets occasional bookings from those passing through town on business. But most of her bookings are generated by those living in neighbouring cities— often couples looking for unique staycations.
Michele Saran, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region, said there are roughly 300 Airbnbs listed in KW at any given time and approximately 3000 hotel rooms available. In 2022, the value of rooms sold on Airbnb was around $7.5 million. Saran said Airbnb bookings made up roughly 18 per cent of total rooms booked.
“Ninety-six per cent of the visitors to Waterloo Region come from the GTA,” Saran said.
“Of that, probably half are coming to visit friends and relatives, sixteen percent are coming for business, twelve percent are coming for pleasure, seven per cent come for shopping and five per cent come for other reasons.”
Saran said the value of that business is $557 million, and the region benefits from tourism all year long.
Airbnb’s have become increasingly popular since the pandemic. Jenna Garbedian is a local resident who works with mortgages, real estate and HST. She also owns and operates an Airbnb out of the province.
But Garbedian said Airbnbs also fill a need for those in the community who are not prepared to commit to a contract for a long-term rental. They provide transitional housing. Her family recently sold their home and will require temporary housing while they look for a new place to live.
“You can bet I’m going to get an Airbnb. And it’s going to be more expensive than a long-term contract. I don’t want to sign for a year…I want to keep it flexible,” she said.
“As soon as you have flexibility, now you’re [going to] pay for it.”
Garbedian said short-term rentals have the potential to generate more income than long-term rentals. But she admits it requires a lot of work.
Airbnb owners like Murdoch argue their short-term rentals are helping them pay for their properties. But Garbedian said many lenders do not look favourably on short-term rentals and buyers should be cautious about relying on revenue from their Airbnb to support a mortgage.
“That income should be extra…If something were to happen, where there were suddenly [changes to] by-laws, then you’d be in trouble,” Garbedian said.
Governments can change by-laws around short-term rentals with little notice. Garbedian referenced Halifax, where the municipality recently announced regulations around Airbnb and Vrbo units that will take effect Sept. 1, 2023. The new restrictions will require property owners to live in their short-term rental property if it’s within a residential zone and will force many Airbnb owners to shut down.
Murdoch said renting out a unique building in the community has helped, but there are successful Airbnb’s in all kinds of buildings in the region, including basement apartments and condos. She believes with the right creative eye, anyone can create a short-term rental that will attract bookings.