In Time For Super Bowl, Houston Home Designed For Professional Home-Sharing

A Heights townhouse could be the first of many with multiple units to host paying visitors.


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Lydia Afeman owns a townhouse in Houston's Sunset Heights. It's a two-story building that from the outside doesn't necessarily strike one as an architectural beauty – with its white, square, bunker-like appearance.

But it's what's inside that makes this home special.

"You could easily just shut one unit off or you could leave it all open if you don't have a guest," she said, showing off her home. "But when you do, you can just have your privacy."

Afeman hired local architect Michael Murrow to design her townhome in a way custom-made to host short- and long-term guests.

The homeowner or primary renter is meant to occupy the first floor, with a spacious living room and kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom.

Upstairs has a separate unit with all the same amenities. And then there's a third unit above the detached carport.

Afeman had a feasibility study done, which concluded the concept could be a money maker.

"There would be return on investment and I could make enough money to cover the mortgage," she said. "And while I was sleeping at night this whole house would be basically a revenue-generating property for me."

That's assuming that there is an 88 percent occupancy rate throughout the year, which Afeman said is feasible.

The idea is to host not just Airbnb travelers but longer-term medical tourists, function as corporate housing or even to simply rent out the different units.

So is this an investment opportunity for the future?

Steven Barth, an attorney and professor of hospitality law at the University of Houston's Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, thinks it's a good business model.

"They're probably going to take away business from the long-term stay hotel concepts," he said, "because people have decided it's more comfortable to be in an apartment-style, condo-style thing."

But there are a few things that professional home-sharers have to be aware of.

"Well, first thing you'd want to do is first of all make sure it's legal," Barth said.

That means they need to comply with any regulations by the city or homeowners association. For example, do they need to pay hotel occupancy taxes?

Barth said occasional Airbnb hosts may be able to avoid them.

"One of the arguments homeowners make is, look, I'm just renting this out every now and then, so I'm really not a hotel, so why should I be subject to the occupancy tax," he said.

"Well, in this model that they're designing and building specifically for that concept, it'd be very hard to make that argument that you're not subject to those taxes."

Also, their homeowners insurance may have to be adjusted to include temporary guests.

As it turns out, a Texas appeals court decision just last month established a precedent for homeowners associations and landlords who want to crack down on unauthorized subleasing.

In Tarr vs. Timberwood Park Owners Association, the appellate judge sided with the community association that wanted to stop a homeowner who was renting out his house to travelers.

Houston law firm Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey represented the association.

The firm's Marc Markel said, sure, there are many positives to concepts like Airbnb, but many communities are opposed to short-term leasing, especially during big events like Super Bowl LI, which is expected to attract 150,000 visitors.

"We have people from all over the world wanting to come to Houston," he said. "And they're going to go and they're going to rent out this large house, pay an ungodly amount of money for a weekend and either trash the house, have parties all weekend or do something which would be contrary to the residential nature of a community."

But there's not much communities without a homeowners association can do to restrict short-term leasing.

By the way, Lydia Afeman said her concept is not limited to temporary home-sharing. It could also work for families whose members wouldn't mind some privacy, for example teens.

"They start claiming the different units, and they're like, when I get older I can sneak out the back in the alley," she said.

Homebuilding company Lennar is also marketing the big family concept with their NextGen homes.

Afeman plans to test out her commercial concept for a while and then build a similar home in the Medical Center, where she expects to attract more potential short-time renters.

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