The New Reality: As bookings plummet, short-term hosts court long-term tenants during COVID-19

Click to play video 'Airbnb hosts looking for long-term tenants' Airbnb hosts looking for long-term tenants
WATCH: After losing bookings from visitors during the pandemic, Airbnb hosts are now looking for long-term tenants.

This is the 11th in a series of stories looking at the new reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Maritimes. You can find the full series here.

In a city strapped for vacant housing, some Halifax short-term rental hosts say they’ve had no trouble filling their properties with long-term tenants during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a shift they’ve made in recent weeks as business and leisure travel have virtually evaporated under ongoing public health restrictions, eliminating the bulk of income in the sector.

Andrew Murphy is an accountant and real estate owner in Halifax. He’s seen here at the Glube Lofts on Gottingen Street on May 25, 2020.
Andrew Murphy is an accountant and real estate owner in Halifax. He’s seen here at the Glube Lofts on Gottingen Street on May 25, 2020. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

The decision has allowed them to survive, but some are worried it’s not without consequence.

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“The short-term rental market has fallen almost to zero, but there’s a strong demand for residential units in Halifax, so we’ve been able to fill back up,” said Andrew Murphy, an account and Airbnb host who owns Glubes Lofts on Gottingen Street.

“What I’m worried about is the hit to the Halifax economy from tourism… Our economy on the peninsula is going to take hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of hits.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia attempts to find balance as it prepares to regulate its $70M short-term rental market

In the event that tourism opens back up in the province, Murphy explained, he’s concerned that there won’t be enough short-term rental spaces to accommodate them — and all the dollars they bring with them to spend in restaurants, museums and local businesses.

“Yeah, there are (long-term) renters who are happy about it, but a tourist is different from a renter,” he told Global News.

“The short-term rental market in Halifax is way more complex than people think.”

Click to play video 'Airbnb announces pilot program prohibiting Canadians under 25 from booking entire homes' Airbnb announces pilot program prohibiting Canadians under 25 from booking entire homes
Airbnb announces pilot program prohibiting Canadians under 25 from booking entire homes

According to AirDNA, a short-term rental market data analytics company, available Airbnb listings in Nova Scotia dropped roughly 17.4 per cent from January to April. In April, as many as 38,490 listed properties in the province did not receive a single booking.

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“Starting really around March 11, the second week of March, pretty much everything on the calendar through spring and the summertime, June 15th really, evaporated overnight,” said AirDNA CEO Scott Shatford, adding that Nova Scotia’s trends are consistent with the rest of Canada.

According to Airbnb, however, which reached out to Global News after the publication of this story, the platform has “not seen a material drop in active listings” across Canada.

“In Canada, from March to April, we saw less than two per cent attrition in active listings,” said Nathan Rotman, Airbnb’s deputy director of public policy in Canada. “In Nova Scotia in particular, only 30 active apartments, condos, and house listings came off the platform since February.”

The company said it’s starting to notice “a boost in local travel on its platform globally” and the platform’s internal data is revealing early signs of future trip planning with a focus on nearby trips.”

READ MORE: Short-term rentals impacting Halifax’s rental market

During the pandemic, however, renting to long-term tenants has been a “huge stress relief” for Caley Dimmock, a Halifax entrepreneur who bought a small home and purchased all of the furnishings for an Airbnb rental just before the pandemic began.

“I’d been looking forward to doing (this) for many years, but I made the tough decision to put that on hold and rent it out long-term instead,” she told Global News by email.

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“I still have all the extras for it sitting here in the apartment I live in, in boxes… but I’m really glad I chose to go the long-term route now.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia restaurants, gyms, spas permitted to reopen June 5

Jordan Hipson, founder of Over Sea Real Estate Management, said his clients have switched a total of 15 properties from short-term to long-term rentals as a result of the pandemic. His company manages a variety of houses, apartments and condos for 60 real estate investors across the province.

Other clients, he told Global News, are opting to “weather the storm” and wait for the market to return.

“I think that those who are still on the short-term rental market need to be aggressive right now with their pricing,” he said. “I think most short-term rental hosts are in sort of a hold pattern where there isn’t as many bookings.”

That’s affected his business not only because the short-term rental rates are lower, he explained, but also because this is the season when the company would normally bring new properties and clients into its portfolio, and no one is taking any chances right now.

Click to play video 'Nova Scotia moves to regulate short-term rentals' Nova Scotia moves to regulate short-term rentals
Nova Scotia moves to regulate short-term rentals

Hipson said the changes in the short-term rental market are poised to impact the long-term rental market in the months to come, but it’s unclear what that impact will be.

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He foresees some competition between former short-term rental hosts and long-term landlords for the city’s student market, which may be thinner in the fall as more universities go online.

But that could be a good thing, he added.

“If we see thousands less students in September, which is one of the main months for renting, there’s going to be quite a bit of stock on the market… We know there are quite a bit of landlords who just really don’t keep their properties up, they think students are just going to accept it as is — hopefully this will cause people to say, ‘OK, I have to better my product.'”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on June 10, 2020 to include a statement from Airbnb.