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Houston in mix as apartment property managers get assist from Airbnb

November 30, 2018

Airbnb started as a place for homeowners to make money while they’re away. Since then, the model has greatly expanded — in part because third-party companies are making renting on the platform easier than ever. Hosts of companies have sprung up to help homeowners manage their listings on Airbnb. Now, a company is moving to help a different customer — property managers of apartment buildings.

Vacasa, a vacation rental management company based out of Portland, Ore., announced it has begun partnering with real estate developers and property managers to provide short-term housing in seven cities including Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.

The program, called Vacasa Multifamily, will enter long-term leases for vacant units, then turn those units into short-term rentals, bringing in interior designers to furnish the units and advertising them on sites such as Airbnb, Booking.com and Homeaway, in addition to Vacasa’s own website, where guests can book directly.

“The industry has seen an increase in guest demand for urban short-term rentals,” said Joshua Viner, senior manager of Vacasa Multifamily. “We’ve had property management companies reach out to us interested in improving the vacancy rate in their portfolios.”

Apartment complexes have long rented out units as corporate housing, where workers travelling for extended periods can can live in a more residential setting than a hotel. But Viner said that modern business people are no longer travelling for 30 or 40 nights in a row as frequently as in the past. According to the Corporate Housing Providers Association, the average nights stayed in corporate housing fell 19 percent from 2014 to 2017, from 96 to 78 days.

As corporate travellers who rent apartments look for shorter stays and people traveling for pleasure look for short-term rentals, Vacasa saw an opportunity.

“What our industry can do is replace the traditional corporate model with a model that better suits the modern traveller,” Viner said.

One of the reasons Vacasa Multifamily is testing the idea in Houston is because of the city’s friendly regulations. While in New York and San Francisco, short-term rentals are not allowed unless the owner lives in the apartment, in Houston, such rentals are allowed to flourish as long as they receive the proper permits and pay the hotel occupancy tax. Vacasa has a team focusing on compliance with evolving and fragmented regulations related to short-term rentals.

In addition to Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, Vacasa Multifamily also launched in Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Boise, Idaho. Viner noted that Austin is not yet on that list because it has tougher regulations for short-term rentals.

So far, Vacasa Multifamily is renting six units in the Houston House apartments downtown. The complex is managed by Greystar, a Houston-based company that manages 9,000 residences across the country. By the end of 2019, Vacasa hopes to grow its Houston offerings to 20 to 35 units.

rebecca.schuetz@chron.com

twitter.com/raschuetz

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