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Airbnb takes root in rural and small-town Texas

September 24, 2018

Kim Truax, 53, is turning spare space into more than spare change.

After her parents completed Harvey repairs to their own home, they moved out of the one-bedroom, one-bath cabin in Truax’s backyard. Her daughter, for whom the cabin was originally built, is now engaged and no longer needs the place, either.

So Truax joined thousands of her fellow Texans in renting to travelers through Airbnb.

“I really just wanted extra income to pay the note,” the Beaumont woman said. She added, “It’s way more than I needed for the note, and with a daughter graduating college and planning a wedding, the extra income is wonderful.”

In a time when home security is getting smarter and more advanced, it’s hard to imagine someone willingly letting a stranger sleep in their home. But Texans in smaller and rural areas made a collective $20.6 million renting rooms and properties through Airbnb over the last 12 months, the company recently announced.

“Since we had our first guest July 19, we’ve been constantly booked,” Truax said. “It’s been wild.”

She said she expected a guest or two for a few nights a month.

“We’ve had people from all over staying for all sorts of reasons, work or family — whatever,” Truax said. “Someone from Ohio actually just booked it for the whole month of October. It’s crazy.”

While Truax’s unexpected success with the website took her by surprise, Stacie and David Hearne used Airbnb to turn their hospitality into a full-time business.

What started as renting out a pool cabin behind their house on Airbnb’s platform turned into a 5-room bed-and-breakfast and event venue they’ve run out of their family home in Lumberton since 2012.

The Book Nook Inn on Cooks Lake Road has hosted everyone from world travelers to musicians to couples looking for a weekend escape. It feels like something out of a story book, with a maze of staircases and a bevy of string lights.

“We’ve had guests from Australia, Brazil, China, all over,” Stacie Hearne said. “We get a lot of people stopping here on their way from Austin to New Orleans, or that came to see the Big Thicket.”

Much of the traffic comes from Airbnb, she said, “especially international.”

The Hearnes first started renting the pool house, and it went so well they added a second room inside their home. They dubbed it the Yellow Room. Then came Lindsey’s Room, which used to belong to their daughter. Finally they opened two more suites above the event space, the Roaring ’20s Room, and the Steampunk Room.

The business is doing so well , David Hearne hopes to hang up his hat as a software developer and commit to running the Inn and writing full-time.

“We’ve made so many friends and met so many great people,” Stacie Hearne said. “We get repeat customers, and couples bring their babies. It’s just great.”

When asked what the most difficult part of hosting guests was, David quickly responded, “Cleaning the rooms,” to which Stacie quipped, “How would you know?”

Truax agreed that cleaning chores are worth the experiences she’s had with the people she’s met.

Airbnb culture also encourages her guests to leave the cabin sparkling clean before they check out — and for her to keep sanitizing and vacuuming anyway.

“You have these two people looking for a five-star rating, so we want to help each other,” Truax said. “And we get to see their guest ratings from other hosts before we accept, so you know who’s coming before they get here.”

Truax and Stacie Hearne both said they were apprehensive about letting someone into their homes, but said the feeling quickly disappeared.

“I don’t even think about it anymore,” Truax said.

“Someone asked me once, ‘Well isn’t it like online dating? Aren’t there crazy people on there?’” David Hearne said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, there’s crazy people on there, but there’s crazy people in bars, too!’ We’ve had nothing but lovely people come through our home.”

Haley.Bruyn@BeaumontEnterprise.com

twitter.com/HaleyWrites_BE

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