When Los Angeles-based Bunim Laskin was growing up, all he wanted was a swimming pool. By the time he was in his 20s, he figured out a way to get one: When a neighbour was complaining about the cost of maintaining their backyard pool, Laskin suggested renting it out, and got paid to manage it. Soon, he was renting out pools all over his neighbourhood. He set up a hotline people could call to book a pool in their area, and in 2019 he formalized the business as Swimply, a website and app for homeowners in Los Angeles to rent out their backyard pools for a few hours—sort of like Airbnb but for swimming. It expanded to Toronto in 2021 and is now available in Vancouver and Montreal as well.
It’s not surprising that homeowners are looking for ways to make some money on their properties. With interest rates up and inflation climbing, it’s a difficult time for many, especially first-time homeowners. And for those still hoping to get into the market, renting part of their property may be the only way to afford a house: The average home price in Canada has increased 12.1 per cent year-over-year to $815,000 according to the House Price Survey by Royal LePage. Homeowners are finding ways to leverage their largest, and most expensive, asset to make some extra cash and offset that cost.
“The cost of maintaining a pool is significant no matter how often it’s being used,” says Laskin. “And according to an internal survey we did with our hosts, those pools are being used less than 15 per cent of the time. Renting it out during those unused hours is effortless cash.” Laskin says some hosts make as much as $10,000 a month using Swimply. The cost to rent a pool for an hour runs between $20 to $100 on average and the pool owner gets to keep 85 per cent of that.
“People often look at what they already own and try to earn passive income from that”
Swimply, and businesses like it, are part of the consumer-to-consumer or C2C space, which includes everything from Airbnb to Facebook Marketplace, and is growing massively. Facebook Marketplace, for example, has more than one billion monthly active users, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an earnings call in 2021. And Laskin says that Swimply is experiencing an 82 per cent increase in new guests so far this year in North America, partly because so many people are looking for cheaper staycations.
According to Statista, nearly half of all online purchases worldwide were made through a C2C marketplace in 2019, while retail websites only accounted for a quarter of purchases. In 2020, more than 100 million people in the United States used a C2C website of some kind. This is much bigger than an old-school classified section of the newspaper, although it follows the same principle and many businesses are popping up to help facilitate these transactions—especially those involving residential real estate.
Jean-Michel Petit started the C2C company Eatwith in 2015, allowing homeowners to rent out their dining rooms and host meals for paying guests. “We see that there is an appetite for smaller events post-Covid,” Petit says. “Canadians want to have this human experience and may not care if it’s a three-star Michelin-level meal or not.” The platform has amateur hosts all the way up to semi-professional chefs, who can make between $10,000 to $15,000 per month hosting private dinners. Eatwith only has a few hosts in Canada right now, but the start-up is growing—bookings have increased five times from what they were in 2019—and it’s considering how to expand further in North America.
The C2C model is also being applied to sharing home offices. While a lot of people want to work from home, not everyone has the best space to do so. U.K.-based Daniel Hillman faced this when working from home as a property consultant during Covid. His wife was also working from home and they had a two-year-old in the house. Daniel asked his neighbour if he could borrow their home office for a video call and soon he was borrowing lots of his neighbours’ home offices. Now, he’s turned that into Jarvo, piloting a home office rental business in Reading and Bristol, U.K. with more than 1,000 workspaces.
“Our homeowner-users want to earn extra money; inflation is the highest it has been in 40 years and cost of living is only going up,” says Hillman. He hopes to bring Jarvo to Canada next year. “The sharing economy is worth $204 billion globally,” he says. “People often look at what they already own and try to earn passive income from that, this is a quick way to do that.”