We call it ‘the annex’. The estate agents, when I bought the house, said the current owners were getting a peppercorn rent and quoted an amount they could get for me ‘no problem’.
So when I’d decorated and furnished and got appliances installed etc so that the place was (frankly) in much better nick than before, I called a few agents. The ones I’d bought from were not the most ambitious in terms of recommended rent, and a bit pricier than the others. But most of the others were absolute idiots and I had no confidence in them at all. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king?
People came to view but nobody wanted to rent. I think the agents had bigged it up too much. It was palatial in the photos, and described as a house, which it is not. Their justification: it’s on two floors. But anyone thinking ‘tee hee! bargain!’ would be disappointed.
I didn’t do much about the agents, I admit. But I gave it as well to some Polish guy recommended by one of my new Polish friends. And I put it on FB and all that. Still nothing.
A few people had suggested airbnb and I always said no. The people I know who do that have brilliant central locations, very grand or very cute, the sort of place you would love to stay. Plus I want reliable income, month in, month out, with no effort on my part. My experience with lodgers had shown me what a royal pain in the butt it is whenever a new person comes: waiting in for them when they arrive, telling them how the alarm works*, where the shops are etc not to mention changing bedlinen and being on best behaviour.
On the phone to someone I don’t even know (a fellow course member) he said ‘I’m on the airbnb site now: there are loads in your area’. The prices were low. And I was thinking: just because they are on there, doesn’t mean they are getting booked. On the other hand, I am making nothing now. The friend I went to the movie with says she airbnbs her spare room and gets people moving to London who book a month to allow them to find somewhere permanent.
So one evening I quickly bunged something up there without too much thought. Went to dinner and by the time I was sat down to eat someone was wanting to book a month! In fact that fell through: airbnb said there was a problem with her payment, and within 24 hours had ditched her, whereupon two other people tried to book. A young Italian who wanted to come with two friends for 45 days, and a young Chinese woman, booking on behalf of two of her colleagues for a 21 day business trip. The Chinese woman got in first with her payment, so that’s that. The Italian came back with ‘is sofa sofa bed?’ and when I replied saying the place was no longer available I got ‘can’t you delete?’ I’ve bought bedding, towels and kitchenware, a toaster and microwave – things I would have left a proper tenant to get for themselves. The booking doesn’t cover all the costs, but I am hoping it is the first of many. The money is not as good as a proper rental but better than nothing. And it will be more fun. I can’t wait to meet Mr and Mrs Zhang (colleagues on a business trip; apparently not a couple – I asked!) and have them next door and not in my kitchen. Perfect.
Just before I went to business school, I lived in HK for a while and travelled around the region: Malaysia, Philippines, China. I conceived an idea of what I would like to do: open a small chain of hotels in the Far East. I had observed that there were few hotels as nice as what I had in mind: for travellers who did not want to slum it, nor did they want to stay in pseudo Western business hotels. It was the 80s; the phrase ‘boutique hotel’ had not been invented, and what I had in mind was a bit less luxurious than the term suggests now. They would be for people like me in my 20s or indeed now: wanting local flavour and local knowledge, books to borrow and a nice bar or pool or view. But I met an Englishman and followed him back to his shitty little flat in London.
I realise of course that an extension of an ugly house in an ugly part of London is not at all the same as a bijou hotel on a palm fringed island. And yet, I have enjoyed choosing stuff from IKEA, ‘making look nice’, writing helpful welcoming notes, and generally preparing to be a good host. Which was one of my ideas bank themes and one of the things people say I am good at.
A friend who does airbnb in her lovely house in Brighton says that, with all the ironing, she has turned into Mrs Tiggywinkle. I really, really hate housework. What a shame. But the money will be nice to have. Anyway I fired the agents. Let’s hope someone else books soon!
* These days we don’t have an alarm, and it is so much nicer without!
Image: Among my IKEA purchases for the annex, this welcoming mat.