Indianapolis residents rent out homes to strangers

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A growing number of people in Indianapolis are opening their homes to strangers and loving it. What used to be considered couch surfing is now more private and upscale thanks to a website called Airbnb.

It’s created what’s called a sharing economy. Homeowners list their home on the site and then visitors to the city rent either rooms or their whole house. It’s become a cost effective alternative to hotels, often allowing visitors to stay closer to the center of the city at a lower price because they don’t have to pay state and hotel taxes. In Indianapolis there are hundreds of listings for private rooms or homes for rent on the site.

Ryan and Katie, who live on the near east side, are hosts with Airbnb.

“We don’t think of our house as a B&B,” said Ryan. “It’s just something we share with people sometimes.”

They are world travelers who first became aware of Airbnb when they were headed to Australia for a second time. They are part of a growing community worldwide and in Indianapolis. On its website, boasts they have 350,000 hosts and 150,000 guests a night in 192 countries and more than 34,000 cities. In Indianapolis there are more than 300 rentals available for the night, week, month or year.

Bethany and Kelly like sharing their space too.

“We love to travel,” said Bethany. “And we love to host, and we love sharing our home with people.”

As hosts, they consider themselves ambassadors for the city. They use Airbnb when they travel because they like getting the local flavor.

“If we’re traveling, we will look for a host who likes organic gardening or is into sustainability,” said Kelly. “We tend to find people that we would want to be friends with anyway. Because of that, we have a lot of friends around the world because we’ve hosted them as strangers.”

The co-founder of Airbnb says what they sell is their community of people, and what makes their company work is trust. The site has systems in place that allows vetting by both the host and the traveler. Both host and traveler complete an online profile and can even get verified. Both parties can message one another before they commit to sharing space, and both must review the other after the stay, giving future travelers and hosts helpful insight. Also, money is only handled online by the site so that isn’t a concern for either party.

“On both sides there’s a certain amount of trust and faith that you have that this is going to be a good experience,” said Kelly. “And inevitably, 99 percent of the time it’s a great experience.”

But that 1 percent of not-so-great does happen. At least it did for one New Yorker who thought he was renting his place out to a man and his brother and sister-in-law. He stopped home to pick up something and found people taking furniture out of his house. Police kicked out more than 18 people who had shown up for what had been advertised as a sex party.

Airbnb is paying for the $30,000 dollars worth of damage that was done, and has banned that user from the site.

Both Indianapolis host homes we spoke with say the money they make on renting their space is nice, but mainly they just like meeting new people and sharing information about their city. There is no cost to sign up to list your place on Airbnb but the company gets 3 percent of what the renter charges. They also give every renter a $1 million insurance policy in case there is any damage. In Indianapolis there are no ordinances preventing this type of rental as long as residents are renting three rooms or less.

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