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Airbnb Floats Into Town

It’s a cliche: No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

We may wonder about the secret lives of our neighbors. But here’s one thing we probably never imagine they do: Rent out rooms, suites — even their entire home — to strangers.

Yet that seems to be Westport’s newest cottage industry (ho ho). Airbnb — the list-and-rent lodging website — has over 1,500,000 offerings, in 34,000 cities and 190 countries.

A couple dozen are right here in Westport.

Most are near Compo Beach. A few are close to downtown. Others are spread throughout town: Roseville, Green’s Farms, Sturges, Newtown Turnpike.

“Compo Beach Beauty” is Airbnb’s most expensive Westport listing.

The most expensive Airbnb property (“Compo Beach Beauty,” with “views, views, views”; 2 decks, 4-5 bedrooms, 80-inch TV and “private courtyard”), rents for $1,000 a night — with a minimum 14-day stay. There are no reviews yet.

The least expensive place is touted as a “Private Room in Luxury Home” ($75).

Most of the listings cite Westport’s amenities: water, shops, restaurants, “theatre,” tennis, golf, hiking, proximity to New York and Boston (“2 hours” away).

One specifically mentions The Whelk, Tarry Lodge and Black Duck, adding, “the day pass for the pools overlooking the Sound is $10 were anyone to ever ask to see a pass.”

Another — with property backing up onto 8 undeveloped acres – noted that “deer, fox, coyote, red tailed hawks as well as cardinels, bluejays, squirrels and assorted standard wildlife are our neighbors.”

Not all Airbnb properties are on land. This offer is for a “sailing yacht.”

The most intriguing offer — “Romantic Perfection on the Sound” ($175) — is for a “perfectly appointed sailing yacht.” Amenities include a freezer, fridge, Wifi, sterling and crystal. The owner makes clear that the rental is for “space on the mooring buoy, not a cruise, charter or otherwise.” Pick-up at the train by motorboat is a special perk.

One satisfied renter comments about the boat: “Josh truly made us feel like we lived in a movie for a weekend. This is a definitely must do, and will do again! P.S. I need that recipe for apple pancakes.”

That’s the thing about Airbnb. Some renters go all out for their guests. The owner of “Walk to town – cul-de-sac” ($100) says, “We are casual and easygoing. We will provide assistance as needed. If you are looking for privacy, we honor that as well. We have enjoyed all of our guests and was enlightened by some of the life stories.”

This Airbnb property is just half a block from Compo Beach.

Others stay away. One renter writes, “Didn’t meet the hosts but they were incredibly accommodating and courteous of all aspects of our stay from afar. Had a bed roll available for our daughter too. Their son Tom was a great stand-in and took good care of us.”

If the mention of actual names seems intrusive, that’s the way Airbnb rolls. Some of the Westporters listing on the site use full names, and give detailed descriptions of their lives.

One says: “Married with 2 children, one in college at Carnegie Mellon, one lives in Manhattan and has a job as a associate buyer. Husband is a Physician in Westport. Basically an empty nester except for  holidays and summer.”

Another moved here from Paris 2 years ago, to open a business in the pet industry that she runs from home.

Here’s an Airbnb photo for the French woman who works from home.

A third is a feng shui design consultant. That’s why, she says, “it is important that our home environment is beautiful and balanced and welcoming.” She works at home, so she’s around during the day to help guests.

Renters run the gamut too. They range from the person here on a working vacation (his Airbnb spot reminded him of an English cottage, “but all the conveniences of our time”), to visitors preferring a home to a hotel, to young people passing through.

I don’t know the age of the guest who writes admiringly, “they even had a beer tap on the back patio” — but clearly he loved his Westport Airbnb experience.

All of which raises the obvious question: Is Airbnb legal here?

Town operations director Dewey Loselle checked with attorneys, and Planning & Zoning.

“We do not have a specific ordinance or zoning regulation” about this model, he says.

“If someone wanted to open a formal bed and breakfast inn in a residential district, that would require a zoning approval.” (Not long ago, such a proposal on Turkey Hill South was turned down, because it was a full-time “business use” in a residential zone.)

Westport has no regulations prohibiting short-term rentals of homes — or of one room in a house, like this.

A regulation or ordinance prohibiting short-term rentals of private property, with the owner present or not, would be “a slippery slope to start down,” Loselle says.

“As you know, many Westporters rent out their houses for the summer. Or it could be for half of the summer, or one month or even a week or two.

“Some people swap their houses for a week or two with someone in, say, France or Italy,” he concludes. “Where do you draw the line on what is acceptable or not?”

Sounds like a good answer. I myself am not willing to share my condo with a stranger, even for money.

However, a couple of nights on that sailing yacht sounds very, very cool.

(To see all Airbnb’s Westport listings, click here.)



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