Are you thinking about building a short-term rental on your rural land? If so, Mara has insider tips and adviceto share from her and her family's journey in renovating their barn into a rentable space.
Transforming our barn into a cozy and inviting living space has been one of our favorite projects on the homestead. Nestled in a charming rural North Carolina town, we are just a stone’s throw away from the highly sought-after tourist destination of Asheville, North Carolina.
From starting our own short-term rental business, we have had the opportunity to share our homestead with others while generating supplemental income. It has been a rewarding venture thus far.
In this article, I share our journey to building a short-term rental on our property, along with several tips and tricks to help you do the same.
Our Story - Moving from the City to the Country + An Accidental Rooster
Adam and I started our Asheville city life together in May of 2012. Over the years we added two beautiful children, a German Shepherd dog, and many memories together in our rental home.
In the spring of 2020, we were forced to begin searching for a new place to live, as our landlord was ending our lease. After months of looking, we found a gorgeous rustic single-family home on 2.5 acres with a horse barn. It was perfect.
We bought the house and planted our roots in Burnsville, North Carolina. Since the move, we added another child to the mix, taking our family count to five.
After a few months of life in Burnsville, my mother-in-law came to visit. We were all sitting out on the front porch when she asked, “Oh, did you all decide to get a rooster?” Puzzled, Adam and I looked at each other and said, “No, why do you ask?”
She turned to look down at the barn and pointed, “There’s a rooster down there.” And sure enough, a beautiful Rhode Island Red rooster was standing just outside of the barn doors. Apparently, he had been roosting in a barn stall for a few days and would not leave.
So we adopted him and gave him the name “Cockle” (short for Cockle-doodle-doo), beginning our involuntary journey into homesteading.
From that point on, we grew a flock of chickens, raised Holland Lop rabbits, a set of pigs and goats, and grew a bountiful garden. Little did we know that country life was a great change from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Building a Short-Term Rental on Our Rural Land - Our Journey
Upon seeing the barn, the dream of transforming the upper loft space has always been a topic of conversation. At first, a small yoga studio, then a workspace and ultimately landing on a short-term rental space.
But the dream seemed to be far out of our reach. How would we finance a new construction build? Would it be worth it? Would anyone want to rent a barn? All of those questions quickly fell into place when funding came available, and friends and family were encouraging us to follow our dream.
We began construction in August of 2022.
Luckily, the barn offered a bare-bone structure to build off of. The crew started working, putting up insulation, sheetrock, and laying floors. Quickly, the barn began to transform from a dusty, dark upper loft into a bright, welcoming room.
From August to December, construction took place.
During that time, I was busy collecting items to fill the space with. Furniture, decor, kitchen items and more.
I had my heart set on a bohemian style. Greens and browns, mushrooms and nature-specific items filled our spare room. I was on a mission.
Some of the big items, that took a while to pick out, were the bathroom tile and the kitchenette cabinetry. Staying within budget was difficult, as we were limited, but had a specific design style in mind.
I found a gorgeous long moss-green subway tile for the shower walls. To complement, my heart was set on penny tile for the shower floor. The original penny tile I had picked out was quite expensive, so I settled on a shimmer-brown alternative. It worked perfectly.
As for the kitchenette cabinets, to save money, we purchased unfinished individual cabinets. We painted them white with cabinet paint and applied black cabinet pulls.
The biggest hurdle was measuring the wall to fit enough cabinets and a mini-fridge. It was like configuring a puzzle. We fit cabinets together, then moved them around a few times. It ended up coming together very well.
Our biggest lessons learned from building a short-term rental on our rural land were:
- Vet the construction company. Ask for portfolios and referrals prior to signing a contract. Make sure you’re hiring someone with the skills you require.
- Shop Facebook Marketplace and discount home repair stores. We found the large picture window a few counties over for $100, versus the nearly $1,000 brand new options from the store. Cabinets, bathroom vanities, lighting and more can be found for much cheaper.
- Test everything. Turn on all lights and water faucets, flush toilets and run the shower and tub. You will be surprised what you might miss, or where leaks or issues may arise. This allows you to fix anything before a guest’s arrival.
- If your property sits off of the ground, insulate the floors. Cold weather and wind equate to cold feet.
But, what if you don’t have a barn already built on your rural land? What are the options available to you? Glad you asked! There are many options, especially if you have open acreage. A few ideas include:
- Set up a camping site. Guests love to pitch a tent and enjoy the great outdoors. Campsites can be as simple or as glamorous as you’d like. A great, budget-friendly option.
- Invest in a glamping tent, bubble tent or dome. Glamping is ever increasingly popular in the short-term rental industry. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up and take down. Many hosts decorate their glamping tents along a theme - rustic, bohemian, farmhouse, etc. The sky is the limit.
- Rent out a room in your home. Several booking platforms are favoring room rentals, giving you an edge over other listing types. If you have an extra room to spare, why not earn some income from it?
- Build a tree house on your land. Tree houses are small and highly sought out by guests, especially if you have a view to offer.
- Renovate a school bus, RV, or tiny camper to rent.
There are many creative ways to utilize the rural land you have to generate a rental income. Once you’ve decided on the structure, it’s time to start thinking about the design and aesthetic of the rental.
The Design + Aesthetic Phase
When it came to designing the barn interior, I already knew exactly what I wanted - a minimal bohemian-styled studio apartment.
I had spent hours on Pinterest, pinning cozy bedroom designs, kitchenettes and slanted wall showers. Hours were spent searching Lowes’ online catalog for a moss-green subway tile, paint colors and more. I was determined.
The key, though, was knowing exactly what I wanted. I created a vision in my mind, then put it down on paper.
I created a dedicated Pinterest board and added everything I found online to the board.
the goal: to dream a little bit.
The next piece was setting a budget - and sticking to it. I knew which items I wanted to purchase new, and which items I was ok with buying second-hand or at thrift stores. Here is how I shopped:
- Mattress & Bedding: brand new from the onset. We purchased a mattress from Amazon, and several white sheet sets from Target. We like white because it’s easy to bleach stains out.
- Towels: We purchased new towels from a discount store in town. Our color of choice is white, in order to bleach them after each guest. We leave two bath towels, one hand towel and two washcloths out for each guest duo (we accommodate up to two guests at a time). We also store another set of these towels in the vanity.
In addition, we purchased black makeup towels. The idea is for the guest to only use the black towels to remove makeup. This helps keep all white towels free from makeup stains.
- Decor: Most of the decor in the barn was thrifted or handmade by local craftsmen. I had the best time shopping at local thrift stores for unique, one-of-a-kind pieces to add a touch of boho throughout.
I found beautiful vases, a mouth-blown green glass globe, a green macrame wall hanging and local framed photography. All at a shallow price point.
- Kitchen Items: Depending on the item, I either purchased brand new or secondhand. All of the dishes, bowls, glasses and cutlery were bought new. Pots and pans I purchased secondhand, but only if they were in excellent or gently used condition.
- Furniture: Many of the furniture pieces in the barn are secondhand or thrifted. The dining table and chairs, couch, TV and coffee tables, chest of drawers and the large full-length mirror all were low-cost finds at consignment. The only piece of furniture that we purchased new was the bedframe.
- Necessary odds and ends: As we started decorating, it was almost as if we kept finding items we needed for the barn. Those items included a guestbook and pen, a few card games, coasters to protect the wood furniture and blackout curtains.
- Plants: I love indoor plants. Plus, the greenery adds to the boho feel in the barn. We have a growing collection of snake plants, pothos, succulents and more. A new plant is added to the barn at least every other month.
- The necessities: A membership to a bulk store such as Sam's or Costco is a must for short-term rental owners. We go through many rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, cotton balls and Q-tips. We also stock up on liquid soaps, salt and pepper and cleaning supplies.
An important piece of advice I was given while setting the barn up was, “Don’t put anything in the barn that would crush your soul if it got lost, broken or stolen.”
The sad reality is, accidents happen. The items in the rental could get ruined or broken. I never added any furniture or decor pieces I would feel devastated over if something happened.
Marketing for Short-Term Rentals
Marketing a short-term rental isn’t a difficult task, but it does take an intentional strategy.
There are various avenues and tactics for sharing and promoting a short-term rental. Below are a few of our tried and true marketing tips for short-term rental owners.
Take Quality Photos or Hire a Professional Photographer
A rental’s listing photos can make or break its success. Photos that are dark, pixelated, and at odd angles may deter guests. Bright, high-quality photos attract the eye and increase the likelihood of a guest booking.Often, a smartphone can take great photos. Another option includes hiring a local professional photographer with an eye for detail. A few key points to consider with taking listing photos include:
- Bright and well-lit. Take pictures during the day to take advantage of natural lighting.
- Take photos horizontally and with a wide angle. This helps make the space appear larger.
- Stage the rental with furniture and decor to help the guest feel “at home”. Keep the space clean and clutter-free.
- Highlight key features such as a hot tub, fire pit or a beautiful view.
Many long-time hosts will tell you not to overdo it with photos. A max of 25-30 photos per listing is sufficient, as guests only scroll long enough to get a general idea of the space. Also, lead each listing with your best and top five photos.
Diversify your Reach - Join Multiple Booking Platforms
Although AirBnB and VRBO are the giants in the booking platform market, there are many smaller niche-specific platforms out there. By adding your listing to multiple sites, your reach expands. The rule of thumb is to ‘never put all of your eggs into one basket’.
Below are a few alternative, or complementary, booking platforms to AirBnB and VRBO:
- Lodge Lovers: A booking platform for outdoor enthusiasts to “search by adventure”. Lodge Lovers targets avid hikers, kayakers, backpackers, etc. A great option for listing if your short-term rental is located within driving distance of an outdoor activity. We listed our barn on Lodge Lovers, as Western North Carolina is known for its hiking trails, water activities and much more - a perfect fit!
- Booking.com: Booking.com is one of the largest online travel agencies available. Any and all rentable properties are welcome to list on their site. If you want to reach a large base of travelers, this site might be for you.
- HipCamp: Their tagline, “Find yourself outside” encompasses this booking platform well. HipCamp is known for providing travelers with camping destinations that help them enjoy the great outdoors. From campsites to RV hookups to lodges out in the middle of nowhere, HipCamp is a great option for a homestead or rural short-term rental.
- FlipKey: Powered by TripAdvisor, FlipKey is another great alternative or complimentary booking platform for reaching a worldwide audience. The biggest perk to this platform is its robust TripAdvisor review functionality.
- Furnished Finder: Mid-term rentals are becoming more popular as business professionals and traveling nurses move regularly for their careers. These types of guests typically stay anywhere from 1 to 6 months. This provides a stable rental income and produces less wear and tear on the dwelling. At our barn, we offer mid-term rental stays as well as short-term rental stays.
Utilize Social Media, Especially Instagram
Adding to the marketing lineup is the use of social media.
For our barn, we chose to focus on Instagram to reach our target audience. Instagram is a great place to showcase the little details, as it is a visual-centric platform.
We’ve posted reels showcasing our tiny brown coffee mugs, the long green tile in the shower and the animals roaming around our land.
It’s also a great place to connect with our potential guests. We even purchased a small wood sign for the barn with a QR code directing guests to follow us on Instagram. A great place for not only showing off our rental but also creating a sense of community with those that stay with us.
A few tips for marketing your short-term rental on Instagram:
- Decide on an aesthetic: Instagram is a visual platform, meaning you will need to appeal to the eye of the user. The goal is to “stop the scroll” with content that is attractive, bright, and interesting.
Because we decorated the barn with a green and brown bohemian color scheme, our Instagram posts reflect this. Each post includes an element of green or brown and is well-lit. Filters can be applied to photos, but be sure to use the same filter throughout for consistency.
- Post relevant and interesting content. Put yourself in your potential guest’s shoes. What do you want to know about a short-term rental? What entices you to book a short-term rental? And, what about a town, or city, attracts you to visit? Use the answers to these questions to create your content. A few examples may include:
“I want to know if the rental has a full kitchen” - If yours does, post a video tour of your kitchen set to upbeat music. In our case, we built a small kitchenette in the barn. To feature this, we posted a photo of our guests cooking brussels sprouts out on the deck and mentioned the kitchenette.
“A rental with a nice view entices me to book” - Great! Share a post with your immaculate view of the mountaintop. Or maybe you live on a farm - share a few pictures of the animals, or the garden.
“I’m attracted to the mountains in Western North Carolina.” - For this, post a photo of the gorgeous views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, sharing verbiage about the area. You might even use relevant hashtags, such as #blueridgeparkway and #wncmountains. You could even tag the National Forest Service in hopes that their Instagram account shares your photo.
- Post to stories, daily: When an Instagram account posts to its stories, it appears at the top of the newsfeed with a red ring around its profile picture. This indicates a new story to view - but only for 24 hours, as stories expire.
Stories are great places to share non-aesthetic, one-off content. A selfie of you and your goats, or maybe a quick video walking through the rental. We like to share quotes and interesting facts about the area in our stories. This is a great way to stay front and center in the newsfeed.
- Use hashtags: Hashtags are an integral part of the search function on Instagram. Including a hashtag in your post description helps that content populate when someone searches for it.
For our barn, we have our own signature hashtag (#bvlbohobarn) that is, mostly, exclusive to us. When someone searches for our hashtag, all of our content populates because we have tagged every post to it.
Additionally, we use location-specific and popular industry hashtags to help us appear among other short-term rental accounts. Some examples of our hashtags include:
#exploreburnsvillenc & #burnsvillenc: These are popular hashtags for our small town here in Burnsville, North Carolina. Followed by many locals. we like to use this hashtag to find relevant content that we can share on our stories for guests, such as local events, local restaurants, waterfalls and local information.
#ashevillenc: A strategy twe use for reaching travelers is hashtagging Asheville, North Carolina, which is about 30 minutes from our barn.
Anytime that we target Asheville, our content is either relevant to that area or expresses the fact that our barn is close to the city.
Asheville is a popular tourist location with many people looking for information about the area. Being close enough, but also tucked away, our barn is a central location for guests to stay.
#828isgreat: This is a very popular hashtag for Western North Carolina, as a whole. Several thousand accounts follow this hashtag, as well as those interested in Western North Carolina content. A great place for us to share our barn publicly.
#barndominiums & #uniqueairbnbs: We provide a unique experience and stay for guests. Should someone be looking for a barndominium or a unique rental, these hashtags help our barn populate in the search.
#bohodecor & #bohemianstyle: Our barn is decorated with a bohemian style. There are hundreds of thousands of accounts out there that follow this style of decor, and we want to get in front of them. These two hashtags speak to the style of decor and also give us the opportunity to provide content to potential guests interested in staying in a bohemian-designed rental.
A quick and easy tip for hashtags: After you have found all of the hashtags you plan to use, save them on a notepad on your phone to copy and paste into every description. Instagram allows for up to 30 hashtags in a single post. Plan to utilize this limit.
- Spend at least 10 minutes a day engaging on other content. One of the mistakes many business accounts make on Instagram is they post and never engage. Engaging with other like-minded accounts, potential guests and other short-term rental accounts is a wise move. Each day, like, comment and share other accounts’ content. It doesn’t take long, just spend 10 minutes each day, and you’ll see the benefits pay off through new followers and engagement (and hopefully bookings!).
Offer Repeat Guest Discounts
Offering guests a repeat booking discount for the future is a strategy we've found useful. Upon checkout, we send a message to the guest that reads as follows:
“John, thanks so much for booking with us! We hope you enjoyed your stay at The Burnsville Boho Barn. Should you decide to head back this way during your travels, we would be honored to host you again. All repeat guests receive a 15% discount on the nightly rate. Please send us a message if you’d like to take advantage of this. Safe travels! - Mara & Adam”
So far, we have had two guests take us up on this offer. The guest receives a discounted rate at a place they enjoyed staying at, and we fill up our booking calendar—a win-win for both.
Tricks of the Short-Term Trade
A few tricks we have learned along the way include:
- Sync all calendars across booking platforms: Whether you use a Property Management System (PMS) or an iCal link, be sure all booking platform calendars are synced. This eliminates any double bookings.
- Message your guest: After a guest books, we immediately send a “thank you for booking” message. The next message is sent the morning of their arrival and includes all check-in and must-know information about our barn (ie. where to park, how to access the barn and anything to be mindful of such as rain runoff). And lastly, a checkout message the morning of checkout. The checkout message should include checkout instructions and how to lock up. And as always, thank your guest for staying and to have safe travels.
- Add one new amenity each year (at least): This is a strategy a fellow host shared with us prior to opening our doors to guests. She said that she adds a new amenity each year, as many booking platforms favor properties with sought-after items. This includes a hot tub, fire pit, sauna, on-site experiences such as a petting zoo or gardening, etc.
- Stay in your place before anyone else does: Take a mini vacation in your short-term rental.
- Test out the mattress—is it comfy enough? Do you have enough pillows—or too many?
- Cook a meal—do you have enough utensils and cooking items to prepare a full meal?
- Use the shower—is the water pressure good? Does the water heat accurately?
- Add a physical guestbook and pen: Guests love leaving a note to future guests and their hosts. We enjoy walking into the barn after a guest checks out and finding a new entry. One guest proposed to his girlfriend during his stay, while another couple shared their adventures hiking up Mount Mitchell. A must, in my opinion.
- Have single disposable items on hand (soaps, toothbrushes, etc.): Guests often forget to pack necessary items. We have found that offering single disposable hygiene-specific items are much appreciated. Small body soaps, shampoos and conditioners, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, floss, etc. We keep the items at our home and leave a note in our guidebook to reach out if they forgot to pack something. An extra touch of hospitality.
Managing It ALL + A Rewarding Venture
With three kids at home, a small homestead, full-time jobs and just life in general, we are often asked, “How do you manage it all plus a short-term rental?” With some intentional and strategic planning, of course!
Over time, we have simplified our cleaning process to save us time and money.
We also have our calendars set to allow for at least one day between each reservation, giving us time to clean and fix any issues between guests.
And lastly, we enlist the help of the entire family. The kids vacuum and dust while Adam and I deep clean the kitchenette and bathroom. We all pitch in, and I like to think that helps.
Yes, it’s busy, but by providing a beautiful space matched with a homestead experience, we don’t mind the work it brings.
Hosting a short-term rental is rewarding both financially and emotionally. Every guest becomes part of our life in a small way. We enjoy welcoming them to our land and inviting them into our lives.