Thursday, August 25, 2011

pin money

A possible source of occasional income for people who "own" a home is entering into room-sharing or short term rental ventures such as roomorama, airbnb, or wimdu. 

I recently signed up with one of these and almost instantly got three separate bookings. My experience has been very positive. I just jumped in, figuring that if it was out there and thousands of people were doing it, it must be okay.

Maybe, maybe not.

There is a whole lot of tension brewing regarding these informal overnight rentals with some of the "official" innkeeping population.

To put it mildly, they aren't too happy. They want it all to go away, and many are seeking out these listings and ratting out the hosts to local governments for being unlicensed.

Are they afraid of the competition? We aren't offering the same kind of accommodations in most cases, so we're not really in the same market. I don't think the $30 room in someone's house is any competition for what a fancy b and b has to offer on any level. People with jobs and paid vacation time are going to go for something a heck of a lot more upscale than my second bedroom. I think we might be competing with the fleabag $29 motels, and I like the fact that this alternative is out there — from my consumer-point-of-view. 

With the economy like it is, the opportunity to make a little cash is very appealing to people with an extra room in their house. On the flip side, it's appealing to people who don't have money for recreational traveling and need something basic and inexpensive. Taking my teenager to college this past week, I stayed in 3 informal bnbs as well as couch-surfed on my trip — and the alternative would have been sleeping in the car or tent camping in RV parks.

It seem impossible that this is something that could be contained, given the internet and the explosion of the peer-to-peer sharing movement.

In many ways this parallels all the other "open source" stuff that is happening now, where people are providing goods and services without the benefit of being in an umbrella organization, or without "official" sanctioning. In other words, the whole "peer to peer" movement. A lot of this is new and maybe is in a gray area. And local governments all over are trying to figure out how they can own it and tax it.

Of course, folks in my position see no need for regulation. This isn't what we are doing for a living. We aren't professional innkeepers. This might be once a month, or once a season. Is it reasonable to require licensing and inspections and tax reporting (in some jurisdictions this can cost quite a lot) for something that has such a small impact in the local community, economy and personal income? These are truly desperate times — isn't it better to have people earn grocery money and make it possible to pay their bills rather than shutting them down when there are no jobs to be had?

Doesn't our government already regulate the heck out of everything now? I don't mean hotels, where many people are coming and going on a daily basis and food is served and there are employees, but Aunt Jenny's house down the block, where maybe once or twice a month she gets $50 for someone staying the night.

A retail comparison would be ebay, etsy, 1000 Markets, craigslist, yardsellr and the many other internet sales venues. It's pained the government for years that they can't [currently] collect sales tax on individual internet sales and, more importantly, regulate and track these sellers. They would eventually like to have total regulatory control over weekend yard sales.

The whole world of commerce is changing. New ways of flying under the radar are developing all the time, and in my opinion as a libertarian, that's a great thing.

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