Airbnb didn’t exist in 2007. Today, three out of every 100 Ulster County housing units is listed on Airbnb. Every real estate sale, rent increase and property tax assessment in New York State takes into account how much the property could earn if it was listed on Airbnb.

Some examples:

  • An investor might offer $180,000 for a home and outbid a local family that can only afford $150,000, knowing that the property can generate $2k a month on Airbnb
  • A landlord might not offer a tenant a new lease knowing that they can make $2k a month on Airbnb vs. $1,200 a month in rent
  • A landlord might increase rent on a tenant by $200 instead of $100, justifying it by saying that they could make way more on Airbnb
  • A property tax assessor might increase the assessment of a retiree’s home that’s not on the market, knowing that an investor would pay $180,000 for it because of Airbnb potential, edging up the amount that the fixed-income owner pays in property taxes

At our member meetings and when we canvass, vulnerable tenants often cite Airbnb alongside luxury development, the influx of NYC’s worst billionaires and slumlords, evictions, and lacking repairs as one of the things that they’re concerned about. In addition to the studied effects on rents, organized labor and home prices, Airbnb shifts our neighborhoods and homes from places where people live and work, to places where people party, vacation and then disappear, leaving the home empty until the next weekend or event.

Many communities and cities are taking steps to regulate and close loopholes for non-owner occupied whole-home Airbnb listings, which can be abused by investors, and enabling owner-occupied shared listings, which can be useful for cash-strapped people who want to make a little extra money with a spare room.

After researching published news reports about 2018 bookings, and matching them against numbers provided by an Airbnb official (we sent them an email and asked) we are sharing six facts about Airbnb’s growth in Ulster County with context from every other county north of New York City. Here’s our full Google Spreadsheet with all of the data along with links to corroborating news reports.

In the new year, we will await new data from Airbnb about 2019’s bookings, hosts, and listings by county.

1. Ulster County Has 3X Higher Airbnb Revenues Than Any Upstate County

Airbnb generated $24.4M in Ulster County bookings in 2018. Of 55 counties that are north of New York City, that was almost triple any other county. Tompkins and Dutchess County came in second and third, with $8.6M and $7.9M, respectively.

2. Ulster County has Double the Airbnb Guests of any Upstate County

Airbnb reported that Ulster County Airbnb operators welcomed 149,800 guests in 2018; Erie County was second with 77,500, Tompkins County was third with 62,200, and Greene County was fourth with 49,500.

3. Ulster County Has the Most Airbnb Listings of Any Upstate County

There were 2,500 listings in Ulster County (against 1,800 hosts). Tompkins County came in second with 1,400 listings, and Saratoga County was third with 1,000 listings.

4. Ulster County has the Third-Highest Percentage of Airbnb Listings to Housing Units of Any Upstate County

We matched the number of Airbnb listings against each county’s reported number of housing units (according to the American Community Survey). We found that Ulster County has the third highest percentage of housing units that have an Airbnb listing (2.95%), behind only Essex (3.4%) and Tompkins (3.28%) Counties, and just ahead of Greene County (2.57%).

Click for larger image

We do not have data on the breakdown between non-owner-occupied whole unit rentals and people who are renting out a room in their house. We do have snippets from other Airbnb data releases that typically, 60-70% of Airbnb listings are whole housing units.

5. Airbnb is still aggressively looking to grow in Ulster County

If you’re a homeowner living in Ulster County and use Facebook, there’s a high chance that you’ve seen ads asking you to consider listing your home on Airbnb.

Using average occupancy and rate data, they can even tell you how much you can expect to earn on Airbnb, right on their own website. You simply enter where you live, how many people can fit in your house, and if you’re looking to rent the entire place or a room. Here’s a summary, as of 12/9/19, of 4-person “entire places”:

Ulster County: $2,914/m
Kingston: $2,219/m
Saugerties: $2,258/m
Woodstock: $3,337/m
Stone Ridge: $2,612/m
Ellenville: $1,809/m
Rosendale: $2,313/m
Kerhonkson: $2,839/m
New Paltz: $3,008/m

According to the data provided by Airbnb, the 1,800 hosts of Airbnbs located in Ulster County earned an average of $13,556 in 2018, or $1,129/m. That figure includes all sizes and types of listings, and includes the 700 units owned by hosts who have multiple listings.

In late 2018, Airbnb cited the Catskills/Hudson Valley region as one of its most-trending destinations in the entire world, with a 100% year-over-year increase in bookings and 130% increase in searches. Ulster County is a huge part of that.

6. Ulster County Airbnbs can generate 2x-3x more in profits than long-term rentals

As we said in the previous item, Airbnb claims that an “average” host and listing can generate monthly revenues that are significantly higher than they’d make renting to an average long-term tenant.

A Saugerties real estate agent said in a recent Chronogram article that an investor can make 2x-3x more by listing a home on Airbnb than renting it out to a tenant.

“Why would you make $12K a year [on a long-term] when you can make $36K a year on a short-term rental?”

Thanks to a real estate investing site called Mashvisor, one can look at both actual Airbnb occupancy rates AND see projected returns for properties on the market. The data supports the assertion that investors can make significantly more using Airbnb than renting to long-term tenants. The site uses actual occupancy rates, Airbnb rates, fair market rents and vacancy rates to project the profitability of different properties.

It’s worth taking a spin through the site to see for yourself; it costs $99/m to access the data but there is a free two-week trial.

For example: a 4-bedroom home in New Paltz, listed for $188,900, would generate a return on investment 2.5X faster on Airbnb than through a traditional market-rate tenant.

A 4-bedroom home in Kingston, listed for $279,900, would generate a return on investment 5x faster on Airbnb than through traditional means.

A 4-bedroom home in Bearsville/Woodstock, listed for $249,900, would generate a return on investment 5x faster on Airbnb than through traditional means.

This isn’t conjecture or made-up; this is literally what real estate investors are evaluating when they’re buying homes and outbidding people in our community.

Mashvisor also combines Airbnb’s occupancy rates with the rates of the different listings, and projects how much money listings occupy in a given month (averaged out over several months). We’ll leave it to curious citizens to look at the estimated monthly revenues for themselves; they’re pretty shocking on the higher end.

We need to regulate Airbnb and have a #NYHomesGuarantee

When housing is treated as a commodity for generating profit first, and a human right second, this is what happens. The laws and the market are incentivizing investors to provide homes for vacationers than for tenants’ homes. For whatever reason, in Ulster County, this is happening way more than in other upstate counties, according to a variety of metrics cited above.

Since we also have the sixth most-unaffordable market for tenants in the state, it’s worth exploring solutions that could include cutting down on the number of investor Airbnbs while leaving the option open for actual home sharing, allowing people to rent out a spare bedroom from time to time.

The larger fight is to truly treat housing as a human right. We’re part of the Housing Justice for All Coalition, which in 2020 is fighting for a New York Homes Guarantee, a bold proposal to end homelessness in NYS that includes creating massive amounts of supportive and public housing, statewide good cause eviction law, and closing more loopholes that are exploited by corporate landlords. Send a letter of support to your state representative here.

And if you’re in a signing mood, please sign our petition to enact rent stabilization via the Emergency Tenant Protection Act in Kingston.