I invest in real estate on the side. At first, I thought Airbnb was the way to go, but I prefer long-term rentals. (2024)

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Ursula Lauriston — a 36-year-old strategy lead at Google, previously at Meta — who is also a real-estate investor with three rental properties. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

I'm an immigrant from Haiti, and my parents bought their first home right before I went to college at 18. I saw how much that meant to them, but I wanted to take a different approach.

I believe that your house is not an asset unless it makes you money. So I thought, how can I make my house an asset? How can I make sure that I'm optimizing and looking for yield? I've always looked at homebuying as a business.

Doing anything alongside a tech career is hard. I've been at two FAANGs, and my work has always been demanding. I'm balancing a lot. Even now, I have to make time to do my research on the market and look at homes in person.

But tech affords me the ability to have the cash needed to invest. Lots of people in tech make high salaries and live above their means. I always remind myself of the big picture, which is generational wealth. I don't want to always depend on a job. I want to have assets and I want to have something to pass down to my family.

Currently, I own three properties in Richmond, a mix of single- and multi-family properties.

I started out renting rooms in my own home on Airbnb

I bought my first home in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC in 2017. It was a two-bedroom for $387,500. I wanted to offset my mortgage and make extra income, so I immediately knew I would do Airbnb.

It was already renovated, and the location was perfect. It was literally across the bridge from Capitol Hill, where a lot of Airbnbs were really swanky and expensive. So I got a lot of people who just wanted to save a little bit of money.

The layout was also perfect for someone to live there and also rent out. There was a basement downstairs with its own door. The basement was huge, spanning the length of the home. It had space for a couch and a table. There was a bathroom and a washer and dryer. So I would live down there.

Upstairs, there were two bedrooms and a small office. I would rent those out to guests. It was perfect— I would rarely run into them. I wouldn't see guests for weeks at a time.

I spent about $5,000 furnishing the place. I saved on things like bed frames, but splurged on linens and towels. I think if those are uncomfortable, the guest notices. I found deals at Macy's for couches and dining sets.

I met some great people, but Airbnb guests can drive you crazy

Even though we could pull in around $3,000 in revenue per month, I had many frustrations with Airbnb.

Some guests were headaches. It was clearly outlined on my Airbnb when you were renting a room versus an entire home. I had this one guest who rented just one bedroom for himself, but he showed up with five people. So they took two people to a bed and then I think put a mattress on the floor. He was upset and left a bad review, even though it was clearly marked.

I had one guest who was roughhousing for some reason and truly destroyed both of the beds. I don't know how this person did it, but I just heard a huge crash that was so loud I jumped up. When I got up there, the beds were destroyed and he had torn down the curtains. He was apologetic, but I was just like, "What are you doing?"

I did meet some phenomenal people. I had a lot of students and interns because they were looking for cheap housing. I wasn't too far out from graduating college myself, so we would talk about working on The Hill.

I had guests who left reviews that I felt were unfair and I didn't have a chance to respond. I had one guest who argued with me about pricing, saying it was actually a lower rate. I had proof and messages about what we discussed, but Airbnb took the guest's side.

I didn't like running a business like that.

I turned to long-term rentals, which I like more

At the start of 2020, I moved to San Francisco for work. I sold the DC house for $475,000.

San Francisco was a complete disaster. I realized really quickly I didn't like the city and didn't want to live there long-term. Plus, it was the start of lockdowns, so I was inside for a year.

I chose to buy a new house in Richmond, Virginia. It's this town outside DC that's growing. They're getting a lot of headquarters and companies moving there. But it still has this really small-town feel.

I bought a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house for $210,000 and put 20% down. I charge $1,800 a month.

Richmond is great for couples and families. I've had two tenants over the past three years. It's been easy to find renters, and I've hardly heard from them. It's been quiet.

I'd tell someone thinking about Airbnb to first make sure they've done their research and the financials make sense. But also, it's a lot of work. There's physical labor. I was coming home from work, doing all the cleaning, all the turnover, messaging people. I was just simply exhausted.

Right now, I'm focused on long-term rentals, but my strategy is to buy things that are of good quality in good locations that I can hold onto or pass down.

I'm a seasoned real estate investor with a deep understanding of property management and wealth-building through strategic property acquisitions. My experience extends across both the tech industry, having worked at prominent FAANG companies, and the real estate market, where I currently own three rental properties.

Let's delve into the key concepts discussed in the article:

  1. Home as an Asset:

    • The interviewee views a house as an asset only if it generates income. This perspective challenges the traditional notion of a home solely as a place of residence and emphasizes the importance of financial returns.
  2. Business Approach to Homebuying:

    • The individual treats homebuying as a business, focusing on optimizing and seeking yield. This approach involves careful consideration of market trends, property features, and the potential for income generation.
  3. Balancing Tech Career and Real Estate Investment:

    • The interviewee acknowledges the challenges of managing a real estate portfolio alongside a demanding tech career. However, they highlight the financial advantages that a tech career provides, enabling them to have the necessary capital for investments.
  4. Generational Wealth:

    • The overarching goal is to build generational wealth, emphasizing the desire to create assets that can be passed down to future family members. This aligns with a long-term financial strategy beyond depending solely on a job for income.
  5. Property Portfolio:

    • The investor owns three properties in Richmond, Virginia, comprising a mix of single- and multi-family units. The choice of location, property type, and strategic acquisitions play a crucial role in building a diversified and profitable portfolio.
  6. Transition from Airbnb to Long-Term Rentals:

    • The investor initially utilized Airbnb to generate extra income by renting out rooms in their home. However, due to the challenges and frustrations associated with short-term rentals, they transitioned to long-term rentals for a more stable and less time-intensive approach.
  7. Experience with Airbnb:

    • While the Airbnb venture brought in around $3,000 in monthly revenue, the interviewee shares challenges such as dealing with difficult guests, property damage, and disputes over pricing. The shift to long-term rentals was driven by a desire for a more passive and predictable income stream.
  8. Property Selection Criteria:

    • The investor emphasizes the importance of research and financial analysis when considering Airbnb or long-term rentals. The focus is on properties of good quality in prime locations, indicating a strategic approach to real estate investment.

In summary, this interview provides insights into a real estate investor's journey, blending a tech career with a deliberate and business-oriented approach to property ownership. The shift from short-term to long-term rentals reflects a strategic evolution in the investor's wealth-building strategy.

I invest in real estate on the side. At first, I thought Airbnb was the way to go, but I prefer long-term rentals. (2024)
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