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EP185: How to Turn Your Backyard into Cash Renting Log Cabins on Airbnb

Many Airbnb guests are looking for a chance to unplug and truly get away from the madness of modern life. David Fraser has developed a low-risk Airbnb model that capitalizes on this by building log cabins on his property, and he is keen to share his best practices with the Get Paid for Your Pad audience.

David happened into the idea accidentally because his family had no place to sleep when they visited his country home outside Toronto. His mother sent him an ad for a cabin on Kijiji, and David began to wonder if such a rustic experience would do well on Airbnb when his family wasn’t staying there. He did a little market research by creating a listing, using stock photos of the cabin and pictures of the view from his backyard, and to his surprise, there was significant interest. David accepted his first booking and built the cabin from a kit—two days before the guests arrived!

Nearly three years later, David has expanded his enterprise to three cabins and a shared bathroom facility. All the units have paid for themselves, and he is able to generate $4,000 CAD/month in cashflow. Today he explains how he developed the concept, from choosing a cabin to furnishings to maintenance. Listen to understand how David handles the seasonality of bookings and the potential for regulations down the road. If you are in the right situation, the log cabin model might work for you!

Topics Covered

How David developed the log cabin concept

  • Moved to the country
  • No place for family to sleep when visiting
  • Mom sent ad for cabin on Kijiji
  • Created Airbnb listing to test market
  • Received interest, accepted booking
  • Built cabin two days before arrival of first guest
  • Refined process, added amenities
  • Built two additional cabins and shared bathroom

How much the cabins cost

  • $4,400 CAD for the first one
  • Negotiated with European company for wholesale price on next two
  • Between $3,500-$8,000 CAD
  • All cabins are 105 ft² (don’t need building permit)

How David furnishes the cabins

  • Queen bed
  • Writer’s table
  • Dressers
  • Heaters
  • Electric blanket, fan
  • Premium cabin has loft, A/C
  • Rustic theme (most furniture used)
  • Spend $1,000 per cabin on furnishings

The process of building the cabins

  • David, his wife and father-in-law built in two days
  • Comes with complete kit
  • Ensure area is level
  • Could pour cement pad as foundation
  • David recommends 6×6 pressure-treated lumber

David’s ROI

  • First year with single cabin, made $6,000 CAD (170% ROI)
  • Single cabin this year generated $8,000 CAD (200% ROI)
  • Additional cabins built this spring have already paid for selves
  • Made $4,000 CAD last month

How David approaches maintenance

  • Changeover requires sweeping, change of bedsheets
  • Simple because no bath/shower to clean
  • Replace bedsheets as necessary
  • Few things to break, not costly to replace

The seasonality of bookings

  • Didn’t anticipate bookings in January, February
  • Closed listing in 2016 while traveling
  • Kept open in 2017, still made $2,000 from January—March
  • Installed two heavy-duty heaters
  • May try pellet stoves this winter

The legality of Airbnb in David’s municipality

  • Hasn’t ruled for or against (only two hosts in area)
  • David is building up client base of regulars in case of eventual regulations

The primary market for David’s cabins

  • People in nearby cities looking to getaway
  • One- or two-day trip

The benefits of the log cabin concept

  • Low risk
  • David is willing to chat about your specific situation, get good price on cabin
  • David will also share best practices, systems

David’s best tips for implementing the log cabin concept

  • Target people for short stays (more turnover=increased revenue in cleaning fees, more reviews)
  • Create instructional video (parking, directions to cabin, etc.)
  • Leave guest book in cabin to gauge guest experience
  • Look into different options for cabin itself
  • Take a hard look at your situation
  • Develop positive relationship with neighbors

Connect with David

Bunkie Life


Connect with Jasper

Email: jasper@getpaidforyourpad.com

Twitter: @GetPaidForUrPad

Instagram: @GetPaidForYourPad 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/getpaidforyourpad

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Complete Transcript for Get Paid for Your Pad Episode 185

Jasper: Welcome to Get Paid for Your Pad, a definitive show on Airbnb hosting, featuring the best advice on how to maximize profits from your Airbnb listing as well as real life experiences from Airbnb hosts all over the world. Welcome.

AD: This episode is brought to you by Hostfully, a company that helps you make beautiful guidebooks for your listing. Especially for Get Paid for Your Pad listeners, get two free months of their premium version for free. Check out Hostfully.com/Pad

Jasper: Welcome to another episode of Get Paid for Your Pad. This is going to be a really interesting episode because I’m interviewing someone who has carved out a really profitable niche for himself near Toronto in Canada. His name is David Fraser and he’s renting out log cabins in his backyard. David, welcome to the show.

David Fraser: Thanks Jasper, thanks for having me.

Jasper: It’s a pleasure. I’m interested to hear your story. It’s going to be new for me as well. You’re renting out log cabins in your backyard. I haven’t spoken to anyone else before who is doing something like that. I’m super curious. Thanks for being on the show. Let’s hear it.

David: Basically, for me, it started when my wife wanted to live in the country so we moved to the middle of nowhere. I had student rentals when I was in University, but I never tried the Airbnb thing before. My parents would come to visit and have to sleep on the floor. My mom started sending me these pictures of little cabins on Craigslist – at first, I was very dismissive of this idea. I resisted it. I decided, it might not be a bad idea. Before I bought this log cabin, I threw it up on Airbnb and started market testing it with some stock photos and scenic view. I put up the pictures of the log cabin stock photo and the backyard photos. I started to see what kind of interest I’d get, so I took a booking. I built the log cabin two days before the guest showed up. I started refining the process and adding amenities. It got to the point where it was so booked up and successful that my parents couldn’t stay in them. This past spring, I built three more. I built two more cabins and a central bathroom, so there’s a shared bathroom. The Airbnb community is great. I had 99.9 percent great guests and no problems. It’s been financially really successful and a lot of fun as well.

Jasper: So, how much do these log cabins cost?

David: So, what I’ve done is in the process, I’ve learned about the company that sells them. The first one was 4400 dollars Canadian delivered. I negotiated a deal with the company, so I have a wholesale price. They range in price from a low-end to 3500-8000. I always pick models around 105 sq. feet. I want to avoid ticking off the local zoning people. In my area, if you build anything under 10 sq. meters, you don’t need a building permit. It would complicate the thing. People want the get away from the city, live the country life, and then go back home. That’s my target market, that’s my most profitable market.

Jasper: So, 106 square feet, that’s pretty small. So like, a double bed and a closet? That’s about it, right

David: It’s a queen size bed, they’re all queen size beds. There’s a couple dressers and writer’s tables. People want to get away and explore their Ernest Hemmingway. One of my premium ones has a loft in it. You climb us this ladder and there’s another 2 people who could sleep up there. There’s air conditioning in that one. There’s a deep in the woods one, on the cheaper side, and the premium one has a loft, then there’s a deck one with a great view.

Jasper: That’s amazing, man. I love this concept. You keep it small so you don’t need a building permit. You order these things. They’re easy to build.

David: The first one we built – my wife and my father-in-law built it in two days. Really, one day to be honest. The second day was just putting the floor in and staining the floor. If you hustle, you can get the thing up in a day. The company I buy from has a complete kit. It comes with all the floor and roof boards, a door with a lock, the windows open and swivel, they also tilt. The only thing you need to add are screens. The roof material you can do shingles. A metal roof. That’s an addition to the kit. It’s a big Lego kit you put together

Jasper: You don’t need to build a foundation, do you?

David: You want to make sure you have a level area. So, I have this huge hill. Probably 50 percent of this work was leveling off the area. People pour cement pads, you can do that. I put down 6×6 pressure treated lumber down and leveled it off. Then built the structure on top of that. That will last forever. It’s less hassle. You have to make sure it’s really level. That was a struggle for me. I thought I could do this with a shovel.

Jasper: These things only cost between 3-5000 dollars?

David: The nicer ones are around 6 or 7. You could spend up to 10 if you want to go hard. I furnished it with used stuff and stuff from garage sales. My wife did this also, I shouldn’t say me. They all look cozy and nice, but we didn’t spend thousands of dollars on the furniture

Jasper:  You’re renting these things out for like 40 or 50 dollars. If you do 20 days per month, you’re getting close to 1,000 monthly.

David: I found it’s even better. Can I share the numbers?

Jasper: Sure

David: I built the first in January 2015. In the first year, it made 6 or 7-grand. So, it 100 percent paid for itself, something like 107 percent ROI. So, I track all my cabins individually. This year it will make 200 percent. Probably around 8,000. Year over year. The new cabins I built in the spring, I’ve already paid them off. They’re not huge numbers like, a huge Airbnb in the city. Last month I made 4,000 Canadian profit considering I didn’t have to invest a ton of money.

Jasper: What about maintenance?

David: The locks aren’t fantastic. I replaced them with pad locks. The changeover is easy. I sweep the floor, change the sheets and that’s it. I recommend taking the time to stain the floor really well. The extra coating makes it durable. I had a few guests that wreck sheets, but it’s like $30 to replace. There’s no bathroom, no shower. I don’t have a lot of extra things. There’s so many more things that could be broken with that. With a cabin, I have a lamp, a heater, an electric blanket. There’s a lower point of failure.

Jasper: you’ve got a lot of reviews.  You’ve hosted quite a lot of people. Is there seasonality in Toronto? It must get cold, no?

David: It gets frickin cold in the winter. Originally, last year, 2016, we went to Florida. We tried to get out of the winter. We usually leave for February and January if we can. But this past year, we didn’t get away because we had a baby, so I kept it open, and thought no one would book it. I still made like almost $2,000. I put a couple really heavy-duty heaters, the cabins are well-insulated, with a few good heaters, it works really well. I think I’ll put pellet stones in the cabin this winter. I anticipate it slows down in the winter, but I think it will be profitable at that point. Maybe it will be like $1,000 a month.

Jasper: That’s a pretty good investment for the winter considering you’re only spending about 5-7k on these things.

David: It’s the best investment I’ve ever made. I realize the demand for this is way more than I anticipated. I had all three going in June, so I want to build more on property. I’m thinking about buying the land around me and doing more. I think other people could benefit from this, too, which is why I’m talking to you.

Jasper: A lot of listeners are based in bigger cities, but if you live in Toronto and want to do this, you could literally buy a house, build those cabins, and even if you don’t want ot live there, use the money coming in to pay for the mortgage. Stay there when you have free time or rent out the house as well. A lot of the Airbnb houses in the bigger cities are struggling with regulations, but I imagine in the middle of nowhere, no one really cares.

David: I can’t speak on anyone’s specific municipality, but where I’m from, they haven’t ruled on Airbnb. I’m one of two hosts in my area. I mean, it’s inevitable that the big, stupid hammer of government is going to bash everyone eventually. I have a strategy where I’m building up a clientele of returning customers who can come out, they can text me and say “hey, is it free this weekend?” or they can look on the website. Then, we do a deal on the side. Eventually, I’m not optimistic about the governments deal to let two people transact frequently. I think in the city the government will come in. In the country, it’s slower but it’s going to happen. I’ve created a strategy to not put all my eggs in one basket.

Jasper: Very smart. The website is bunkeelife.com, I love how you branded it by the way. I think that’s smart as well. To have your brand and create an email list of all your former guests.

David: Sometimes people from states are passing through, I’ve had people from south Korea, too. But mostly it’s people from the city. The GTA is a big market for me. I’m looking for property all over Ontario. I’m considering property in the states, though, I think that would be more complicated because I’m from Canada. I think it could work anywhere. I have a big population base not too far away, but let’s say you did it in the middle of Idaho. It would still be profitable, but you might only make fifty percent. Which is still a good investment

Jasper: ONLY 50 percent.

David: Other than bitcoin, it’s the best investment I’ve found at least. The risk is really mitigated. Let’s say you build the cabin, put 5-grand in it. But you only get $100 a month so it takes forever to pay off. It’s still a lower risk.

Jasper: I think it’s incredible.

AD:  You’ve heard me talk about Hostfully a lot over the past few months. I love sending my beautiful Hostfully guide book to my guests as it makes me look very professional. I also love including screenshots of my guidebook in my actual Airbnb listing. It helps set me apart from the crowd. Well, now, I’m thrilled to announce that I’m a sponsor of the Hostfully Host Program. Twice a month, Hostfully selects a host to be featured on their top-ranked blog. It’s great promotion for your listing and a cool way to share your favorite, local spots with a big audience. What’s even cooler is that each Hostfully host gets a free set of sheets from the Clean Bedroom, now that I’m a sponsor, you’ll be featured in my newsletter, my social media feeds, and free access to video course on how to be a great host. For more details on how to apply, visit hostfully.com/hostfullyhost.

Jasper: Now that you’ve sort of successfully built this business, you want to help other people do the same?

David: I’ve been trying to perfect it. There’s a learning curve. But a lot of people could benefit from it, and I think you learn more when you teach. I’ve been doing it in a rural sense, I don’t know why it couldn’t work in a suburban backyard, but it might be different. I’m trying to profitably help other people. I would be happy to skype or talk, obviously I’ve negotiated with people who sell these things, so I can get people a good price and make a small margin on that. All the little tricks you know, they’re a little different in my situation, but there are ways to get all the reviews positive so you’re not spending a ton of time responding. I’ve gotten consistently five-star reviews. I could share that, and learn, too.

Jasper: Do you want to share some of the insights you’ve learned? The differences between renting our log cabins versus a condo in the big city?

David: Sure, I’ve never done a condo in a big city. I’ve done the traditional buy a house and rent it out to students or rent it out to families, but I’ve never done the Airbnb outside. Well, that’s not true. I helped my mom get her listing going. I used a lot of things I’ve heard on your show and it’s gotten her going. I haven’t done a full on buy a condo and rent it out on Airbnb thing. But what I can say is I’ve targeted people who want to get away for a couple days. I avoid people who want to stay for long periods of time. Some people think the no shower is a problem, but that’s an advantage because people won’t stay a long time. There’s lots of turn over. I charge a $7 cleaning fee, that’s consistent. The reviews get built up fast because people are coming in and out fast. That’s an advantage. Before people come, I send them a video of where to park, where to walk, how to find your cabin, how to get to the bathroom, how to turn on the heater, etc. it’s helped streamline a lot of those questions. I find people never read those descriptions and it’s a good question. People see it and it tends to fit a bit better. Where everyone parks and everything is all taken care of. When I go to change over the cabin, I’ll text them and tell them to expect a five-star review. That incentivizes them. I have guest books in all the cabins. I only review the people who have positive things to say in the guest book. They’re seeing that I review them.

Jasper: That makes sense. That’s an interesting strategy, leaving a guest book. Awesome, dude. I think it’s incredible. For those people who are thinking about doing some other thing, what would your advice be?

David: I’ll build a sub-page on the site, reach out to me, I’ll have a time you can book, we can skype or chat on the phone. The cabins I found are the best deal, l but there might be something in your local area that’s better. I picked these on purpose, their cost is good but they’re high value. Take a hard look at your situation, your backyard, and see if it’s something that’s going to tick off your neighbors. I’ve got no neighbors, which is awesome. I told my neighbors if you want to stay in them, it’s free for them and their family to get that neighborly sense of comradery. I don’t think I’ve broken any laws. MY strategy with government is stay away from them, I would say that’s a good strategy for this. It’s not illegal, but there’s been no ruling for or against Airbnb, so it’s unlegislated and wild, wild west. As you know, from Amsterdam, the government wants to get their piece of the pie. I’m still paying income tax, and doing everything above board. I just want to fly under the radar as much as possible. Most complaints are going to be neighbor-driven, so think, “do I have an angry old lady who is going to report me?”

Jasper: I think you’re definitely doing this in a smart way. Do you meet your guests?

David: I do, I try to. If they come during the day I’m usually there. I try to schmooze them or my 3-year-old will pick flowers for them, but because it’s easy to self-check in, there’s 50-60 guests who left positive reviews but I never got to meet them.

Jasper: Do you need to lock these?

David: I always tell people that I don’t lock my doors – I shouldn’t say that. I do lock my doors. It’s safe out here. They want to kind of camp, so they’re generally pretty easy-going people.

Jasper: All right, well, for the listeners out there who are interested in making money with log cabins, if you have a yard or are planning to buy a place with a yard, check out bunkielife.com, as david has said, he’s more than happy to help you out. If you want to go ahead, he can get you a good deal on a log cabin.

David: You’re kind of getting the word out Jasper, if you say you came through Get Paid for Your Pad, I’d be happy to give a discount. Even so, I know I can learn a lot and improve my process, so don’t feel like you have to buy from me. I do think we have the best deal, but if you end up doing the idea, get in touch. I want to see how we can help each other.

Jasper: Thanks so much for sharing your story. Everybody else thanks for listening. We’ll see you guys on Friday for your news episode.