Vacation rentals offer benefits to travelers and owners alike
By Hilary Dartt
For travelers, vacation rentals—short-term rentals of furnished living spaces—offer an opportunity to find out what it would really be like to live in a new location or a different type of property, and to have all the comforts of home while traveling. For the property owners, there are benefits too: a vacation rental can make a great investment (though it requires a little work) and provides the ability to make new friends. For those who enjoy it, owning and managing a vacation rental can be like playing house. And for those who prefer a more hands-off approach, a good manager can take care of all the details. Although property owners started offering vacation rentals as early as the 1950s, the trend has exploded over the past decade or so, thanks to the advent of websites like Vacation Rental by Owner and Air BnB. Between 2019 and 2020, vacation rentals increased by 75 percent in Arizona. Local property owners have joined in on the fun; Prescott Woman sat down with four of them to get the scoop.
The Majestic Mountain Retreat: “A million-dollar view”
This one-bedroom, one-bathroom rammed-earth house sits against the mountains in Walker and has space for four guests. Its best features: a for-miles view, pure serenity, and privacy.
Joellyn Nusbam considers herself a dreamer. And not only does she love her home in Walker, in part because “the views are ridiculous,” but she also loves real estate and design.
So when her neighbor in Walker was ready to sell her house, Joellyn jumped at the opportunity to buy it and turn it into a vacation rental. Her husband, Roger, went along with the “crazy idea,” and since they bought The Majestic Mountain Retreat four years ago, they’ve had a blast with it.
Because it’s a rammed-earth home, Joellyn said, and built right into the side of the mountain, “it’s very insulated and quiet. It’s just serene. People walk in and they always tell us it’s way better than what’s posted. You just can’t relay that feeling in a picture.”
That’s why Joellyn and Roger’s “tagline” for the house is: Unplug and recharge.
“Unplug your phone, unplug your brain, and recharge your batteries—your human batteries,” she said.
For Joellyn, the best part of owning a vacation rental is that their property is part of people’s special moments and celebrations.
Right at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, a couple booked the house and said they were eloping. They asked Joellyn what the WiFi signal was like and to her surprise, they ended up streaming their ceremony from the patio so all their friends and family could see it.
“It was really cool that they chose our place and the view and they eloped there,” she said. “We’ve had people get engaged there, honeymoon or babymoon, and celebrate their birthdays and anniversaries.”
The property brought Joellyn and Roger their own special experience when it was selected for a remodel on the reality TV show Cash Pad (hosted by The Bachelorette’s Jojo and Jordan). In just 10 days, the show’s team put in a new kitchen and bathroom and added new furnishings and décor. Reed Brothers Construction, the local company that ran the remodel, were fabulous, Joellyn said.
Once it was done, Joellyn added a few pieces of local flair: she replaced some of the other designer’s books with books related to Arizona and Prescott, and hung photos of local sights.
Although a handful of guests report that they saw the house on Cash Pad, Joellyn said, the remodel itself really increased bookings: “Once it was remodeled it was probably 90-95 percent booked.”
Because the house does have guests so often, Joellyn said, the fact that she and Roger live just 100 yards away is a huge plus. Not only can they guide guests to the property (which is a little hard to find), but it’s also convenient to be nearby for cleaning or making repairs.
As far as an investment, Joellyn said, it’s been phenomenal … and her dream has become even bigger: she’s always on the lookout for another rental property.
Pine Paradise: “A home away from home”
This one-bedroom, one-bathroom log cabin boasts a gorgeous forest location and has space for three guests. Its best features: two decks to take in the view, abundant wildlife, and a creek down below.
Wendi Roudybush hopes that when people stay at her log cabin in the Highland Pines neighborhood, they’ll feel comfortable—like they’re visiting a relative’s home.
“The goal is to make it feel like a home away from home for somebody,” said Wendi. “I want [my guests] just to relax and enjoy being in the forest.”
A few years ago, Wendi bought the Highland Pines property because it suited her needs: she could live in the main house (which she now calls Pine Paradise) and her mom could live in the guest suite (Knotty Pine). Her mom passed away shortly thereafter and Wendi lived there for a year or so.
She loved the place: the forest, the wildlife, the creek down below. She loved the way it offered privacy but still had a neighborhood feel.
Then, she met her partner, Brad Courtney. He lived in Ponderosa park, and his daughter happened to be selling her house in the same neighborhood. Brad asked Wendi to take a look at his daughter’s house (she’s a real estate broker). Instead of listing it, though, Wendi bought it.
Still, she loved the Highland Pines property and didn’t want to sell it. So, about a year and a half ago, she turned it into a vacation rental and so far, “this has been perfect,” she said. “It’s extra income, a lot of fun, and a lot of work.”
Wendi’s favorite part thing about owning a vacation rental: “The people you meet. I’ve met some fascinating people from all over the place. And they enjoy it. Most everybody is coming from a completely different climate. They think it’s a hoot to stay in a log house in the forest. They love it.”
In fact, even though her property has been available to rent only for a year and a half, Wendi has had some repeat guests.
Wendi keeps the place stocked with cooking essentials, board games, and books. The main house was remodeled in 2003 after a fire, and Wendi added a kitchen to the guest suite last summer. Each unit has a washer and dryer and an electric fireplace for the atmosphere. The properties share a fenced yard, and dogs are welcome. Wendi requires a three-day minimum stay.
Pine Paradise and Knotty Pine are listed as two separate properties on both the Air BnB and VRBO websites (the calendars sync for easy management), and they’re pretty well-booked year-round.
“I’ve been surprised,” Wendi said. “The income has been pretty good. Yes, the expenses are high, and it’s way more work than people realize.”
Overall, Wendi considers vacation rental ownership a great additional income stream … and an opportunity to make her guests feel at home in a new place: “I just want people to be able to settle in, be comfortable, cook, and enjoy.”
Charming Downtown Bungalow: “A retreat in the perfect neighborhood”
This two-bedroom, one-bathroom Park Avenue bungalow sleeps four and sits on one of the finest historic streets in Prescott, just a few minutes’ walk to the heart of downtown. Its best features: location, location, location.
Three years ago, Veronica and Trevor Phillips bought the house on Park Avenue in downtown Prescott with plans to remodel and sell it.
But, as Veronica said, vacation rental ownership was “meant to be.”
Escrow fell through on the sale, and because they “just loved the house so much,” Veronica and Trevor, along with Trevor’s parents John and Marilyn Phillips, decided to turn it into a vacation rental property.
“We took it down to the studs and changed the floor plan,” Veronica said. “And after the construction process and decorating, we started [renting it as a vacation rental] in November.”
“The location on Park Avenue is perfect because it’s just right downtown, but it’s still in a residential neighborhood where all the houses are historical,” Veronica said. “People can walk to all the restaurants and museums.”
Her favorite part of owning a vacation rental: “Meeting people from all over the place who are coming to Prescott to stay and visit family, or get out of the city during the pandemic and come to our sweet little town to work remotely in a quiet area.”
At 840 square feet, the bungalow is pretty cozy, and Veronica strives to ensure guests have everything they need, including a clean, clutter-free home away from home.
She keeps the kitchen stocked with olive oil, tin foil, salt, pepper and coffee, and creates a “boutique hotel” experience by leaving guests bottled water and travel-size toiletries.
“My biggest hope is that [guests] have everything they need and that the pictures reflect the house,” Veronica said. “So you show up and get exactly what you’re expecting.”
And it seems to be working out well: “I’ve actually been shocked at how busy it’s been. I heard that I should expect a lot of bookings at first because we’d have so much availability. Now, we’re booked all of January and all of February. During the Christmas season we were booked every weekend and a few days during each week. I wasn’t expecting the month-long visits.”
So far, Veronica said, she’s enjoyed managing the property; “it’s a fun little part-time job that earns money.”
“It’s like playing house,” she said. “I get to set it up, make it look cute. And when guests arrive and leave good reviews and I see how much they love it too, it’s really fulfilling.”
Wilder House: “The place to be”
This three-bedroom, two-bathroom historic Victorian house on Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott accommodates eight guests. Its best features: a rich history and close proximity to the heart of downtown.
Prescott residents Hayle and Erik Knight were looking for a very specific type of rental property. When their real estate agent called and said she had something for them to look at, they asked if it fell within the parameters of what they wanted.
She said, “No. But just trust me. Come look at this house.”
Wilder House on Whiskey Row—built in 1879—was nothing like what they wanted. But it was perfect.
“We walked in and immediately fell in love with the house,” Hayle said. “This is a piece of Prescott history that we absolutely love. People can come to visit our wonderful city and stay in a piece of history.”
Hayle and Erik decided to call their new property the Wilder House, after its original owner, Tip Wilder, a rancher who came into the city on weekends. Hayle said the Wilder House was one of the largest in Prescott in the late 1800s, and it was “the place to be” for social events. Guests at the Wilder House can read through a book of the house’s history.
Erik is a history buff and the founder and owner of a technology company.
So it only made sense to the Knights to refurbish the house to preserve this piece of Prescott history and to outfit it with all the modern amenities.
While the home has all the modern amenities guests might want, including air conditioning, TVs, wifi, and an electric vehicle charging station, it retains all its historical charm. The original hardwood floors are still there, along with a mantelpiece original to the house, Hayle said. The Knights even hand-repaired wallpaper with a q-tip, glue, and a hairdryer.
While, Hayle said, “The craftsmanship is amazing—that’s why [the house] is still standing,” she added that it takes quite a bit of work to keep up with a house built in the 1800s.
The “labor of love” pays off: the Wilder House is rented out pretty much every weekend, and frequently during the week, too, Hayle said.