- Ansel Troy is an Airbnb host and owner of two tiny homes in Oakland, California.
- Troy bought the homes for about $35,000 each, and Airbnb is now Troy’s primary source of income.
- “I’m what you call a house hacker,” Troy said. “I’m always thinking of ways to utilize my property.”
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Ansel Troy, an Airbnb host and owner of two tiny homes in Oakland, California. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I became an Airbnb host after I bought a tiny house and parked it on the side of my home in Oakland, California. Before the tiny house, I had converted my garage into a studio. I had a long-term tenant there already, and getting the tiny house was my attempt to make a little extra income on Airbnb.
I’m what you would call a house hacker. I’m always thinking about creative ways to utilize my property.
Table of Contents
I have a small house, but the layout gives me options
I chose to do short-term rentals because I figured I could make a little more money using Airbnb than I could renting to another long-term tenant, and I didn’t know if people would be interested in staying in a tiny house for longer periods of time.
I figured Airbnb would be a good way to test the market, and if it didn’t work out, I could try to find a long-term tenant.
I found the first tiny house I bought online
It was near Yosemite and cost $33,000, which I paid for using a HELOC (home equity line of credit) loan. I drove out to meet the seller, who’d had it for a year. I didn’t know anything about hooking up homes to a trailer — it was built on wheels — so once we agreed on the price, I rented a pickup truck, the sellers helped me hitch it to the back, and I drove it home.
It was a success, and business was booming — which I attribute to the Airbnb algorithm. I don’t know anything about how it works, and Airbnb doesn’t share that data, but I’m able to look at my analytics and see how many people are viewing the space. I saw that my views were higher than comparable listings.
I think the popularity of tiny homes and the minimalist movement, along with my low pricing, helped attract Airbnb viewers.
Since I had extra space, I decided to buy another tiny house for $35,000
I call it The Tiny Heauxtel, and I bought it in 2021. It’s 18 feet long and fits with the original tiny house like a glove.
For the hotel, I wanted to get a blank canvas and do a better design than what I did with the first one. I wanted to knock it out of the park and not put it on Airbnb until I impressed myself.
Initially, I wanted the hotel to be a greenhouse. We were in the midst of the pandemic, and everybody was becoming a plant parent. Plants were everywhere.
I ultimately decided to not go that route, but there are fake plants throughout the tiny house and planters all over the wall of the bathtub. I wanted to make it something special when people opened the door and have it be a photo opportunity.
I designed the whole place for photography, not for comfort
I used places like Etsy, Instagram, and Pinterest for inspiration, and spent approximately $9,700 on decor and renovations.
I thought the space was so cool, and I thought people would see it and it would go viral, so I reached out to some influencers in the Bay Area to check it out. All I asked for was that they tag me in their photos.
One person responded and said they normally charge more than $4,000 for a post like that, so since then, I’ve just tried to go the organic route. If somebody likes my space, they can reach out and we can collaborate on something.
Most of the people who have come aren’t travel influencers; they’re people who have a lot of followers on TikTok for hair, tattoos, music, and things like that.
In most cases, I didn’t even know they had big followings, and there was no business arrangement. I don’t necessarily have a strategy; I just want to create something that catches people’s eye.
I’ve been able to keep my prices low since the beginning
Initially, my loan payment was something like $300 per month, and my overhead was low. I was working full-time then, so the Airbnb income was just extra. I look at pricing like airline pricing — you might be on a plane having paid $50 for your flight while someone sitting next to you might have spent $300.
During peak season, which is June and July, the highest rate I get for the Tiny Heauxtel is $250. With the current economy, I’ve noticed that fewer people are traveling too, so in order to be competitive and stay on the first page of Airbnb, I’m lowering my prices.
As of July 2021, Airbnb is my primary source of income
My ability to do what I’m doing in the area I’m doing it in really surprises a lot of people — mostly my friends and family. I’m in the hood in East Oakland, near the Tenderloin.
I’m very transparent about the location. My neighbor has a rooster. There’s a lot of illegal dumping in the area. There’s trash. It’s not a bad place. There’s never been any issues in my neighborhood, and I’m transparent by saying things like: “There are homeless encampments in the area. Please show respect for the unsheltered community in the Bay Area.”
I’m still able to have a successful business in spite of my transparency
That really speaks volumes to what Airbnb is about. It gives people an option, and the reviews speak for themselves.
I don’t have to lie. I don’t ask people to leave reviews, or encourage them to say nice things. They just come and speak about their experience, and it works out perfectly.