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Airbnbs Set the Stage for Community

March is a tricky time for us Wisconsinites. On one hand, we’re through the thick of winter and find ourselves looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel with spring’s brighter days and milder weather on the horizon.

Conversely, it’s been a long few months and getaways tend to be top of mind. Spring break, anyone?

The way people are vacationing has changed, but the reasons haven’t: we use trips as a way to rejuvenate and recharge, and to find a different pace and a change of scenery.

Thankfully, you don’t have to go far to reach all of those goals in the Fox Cities. 

Staying close to home offers unique opportunities, saves money and is a fun way to explore nearby attractions. “Staycations” vary from day trips to spending overnight relatively close to home, and was made even more “homey” in 2008.

In that year, Airbnb became official, first having been developed by three friends who rented their own home to make extra money for rent. It’s morphed into a worldwide phenomenon with a simple concept: Airbnb offers you someone’s home as a place to stay instead of a hotel. It’s taken off majorly, and now operates in 191 different countries with 4+ million hosts worldwide.

Our area is active on the platform too.

Mark Biesack, Owner/Founder of Powerhouse Properties 920, has been a host on Airbnb for four years, first having been a local chef for 23. The transition was both a whirlwind and natural.

I would say even six years ago if you would have said, ‘Hey, just so you know, in two years you’re going to be managing properties online,’ I’d have said you were crazy,” he laughs. 

Biesack found himself away enough to first list his home on Airbnb.

“I was out of town every other weekend so I just started listing my own personal house on the site… eventually it got to the point where my house was renting so much I thought I could actually have a second home to live somewhere else.”

To say it snowballed is an understatement. Today, Powerhouse Properties 920 manages about 100 properties in the Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh area.

Becoming a Host and “Superhost”
​​Kent Zaretzke has been a host of one home on Airbnb for just under two years, jumping into the marketplace having experience with several other standard/long-term rental properties.

“When I saw this house, I saw a great opportunity to be able to get into the AirBnB market because it was on the water and it was close to the Sunnyview Expo Center, which would draw in guests on a consistent basis,” he says.

Location is inevitably significant, one of the reasons the Fox Cities is so ripe for inclusion on the Airbnb scene.

“We’re not really relying on tourism,” Biesack explains. “With the PAC, we’ve had cast members of longer running shows stay in our Airbnbs, we’ve had surrogate families need a place to stay while the baby is being born and they need to stay here.”

The reasons run the gamut—from the above to families coming back for holidays, extended work trips and the like, including fun staycations.

“We have been seeing a fair amount of people staying with us that live within an hour from the property,” Zaretzke says. “That trend has been very consistent since last spring. I would strongly suggest ‘getting away’ for the weekend at our AirBnB because it offers an opportunity to be able to go on vacation without having to spend a lot of money. It also allows you to take a break from life for a moment and be able to relax without having all the normal everyday responsibilities.”

Essentially anyone can place a home on the online marketplace, but it takes much more to get noticed and chosen, and ideally, verified as a “Superhost.”

“To achieve the ‘Superhost’ status, AirBnb rewards great guest service which includes a 4.8 or above Star Rating, at least a 90% response rate to all new messages within 24 hours, less than a 1% cancellation rate, and having a certain number of nights booked,” Zaretzke explains. “All of these criteria are re-evaluated every 3 months.

“(We’re) extremely responsive to our guests and have a high level of communication. If a guest is ever wondering about where to go to get something to eat or go out and have a good time for the night, we have lots of suggested options of local establishments. If there is a question or a maintenance concern about the property itself, we are very quick to jump in and fix the problem.”

“When you are picking somebody that is a Superhost, it’s basically the equivalent of buying something on Amazon that has five stars,” Biesack adds. “You’re trusting that somebody else has already vetted this for you and that they have a good amount of reviews.

The first impression of the home is a huge factor, one that Biesack says makes professional photos that have a cohesive look worth it. As well as consistent amenities and “branding” among his properties.

“The second part is like, how am I laying out my description of the property? Am I just using long flowy, meaningless words? Like it’s airy and bright? You probably want to know how close it is to the PAC, how far from the airport, you know, how many beds, how many TVs, stuff like that. We have a concise way of communicating that information because the average person spends 7 seconds on the site before they either stop or continue to scroll.

“You have to master the broad strokes first: have impeccably clean properties, really comfortable beds, white linens. When we first started I’d put out a basket… basically a basket of junk food but it isn’t as impactful as one really nice item. Now we have Seroogy’s truffles. Then we have a coffee caddy with little bags of coffee from a place up in Green Bay. I realized that actually by doing less, like providing less of those random things and just doing one thing really well was better.

“I think being a host, being a successful host, takes a lot more than people think. I think that’s why you see a lot come and go,” Biesack reflects.

“Something that may surprise readers is that we don’t accept every request,” Zaretzke adds. “At the end of the day, this is our property, and if we have concerns that the guest may not treat it with the utmost respect, we will deny the request to stay.

“When somebody stays at our home, we want to provide a great experience with the expectation that the guest is going to treat our home with the same level of respect that they would treat their own home, if not better.  We are looking for a mutually beneficial situation.”

From a Homeowner’s Perspective
Kim Thiel has used PowerHouse Properties 920 to manage her home listing on Airbnb since the summer 2023.

“My friends and family would comment on what a beautiful cozy home this was and, paired with a minimalist and flexible lifestyle that allows me to pick up and go pretty easily, I thought, ‘why not share my home with others?’ I love the feeling of being part of a community when I travel and was familiar with how Airbnb worked so felt it would be a great opportunity to share my home for anyone visiting the Fox Cities,” she explains.

“In addition to being financially beneficial, renting has been a great ‘accountability partner’ to keep my home clean and constantly improving little things around the home.”

She can also personally attest to the benefits of a change of scenery, even and especially, in the form of where you’re staying.

“Getting out of your space and into a new environment—be it a vacation or staycation—is an opportunity to experience a new perspective on life. It’s the perfect time to break your routine and treat yourself to something special for a few nights,” Thiel says. “I keep my house stocked with puzzles, family games for all ages, a few guitars, indoor and outdoor fires, a kitchen filled with every piece of cooking equipment you could want and supplies to end the evening with a jacuzzi.”

Giving Back
Because of Powerhouse Properties 920’s growth, Biesack and his team are giving back.

“We’ve really been wrestling with what we can do, because of our size, to address the needs of the community,” he says. “We’re now connecting with the Ecumenical Housing Partnership in Green Bay.”

The organization works with churches and sponsors houses for families that are either homeless or about to become homeless and provides free housing for them, or relays specific needs like car repair, children’s needs, etc.

“Starting in 2024, 1% of all rentals goes back to that… to us helping meet those needs,” Biesack says. “It’s really kind of relit a fire in us and is giving us more of a compass of why we want to continue operating and growing our business,” Biesack says.

“There are so many great things about this community, and I hope that people realize that Airbnbs are an integral piece that’s helping not only maintain but build up all of these things that we love.”

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