As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the economy and travel industry, Airbnb homeowners are starting to wonder if they’re going to be able to make their next mortgage payment.
“It’s a worrying time,” said CJ Hunt, an Airbnb host in Hampton Roads, Virginia. “There will be a lot of shifts and some people that depend on Airbnb income may not make it.”
But Hunt has a plan. Despite having an onslaught of coronavirus-related cancellations through August, she slashed her prices up to 35% and put three properties she was preparing for Airbnb on hold to avoid further economic loss. But it still might not be enough.
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) recently revealed that the scale of forbearance jumped to 6.99% from 0.25% on March 2, totaling at least 3.5 million American homeowners that are currently in forbearance due to coronavirus-related hardships.
Forbearance programs are specifically designed to temporarily suspend or reduce payments for borrowers experiencing significant financial strain. However, forbearance requires borrowers to repay missed or reduced payments in the future.
Under the recently implemented CARES Act, borrowers with federally-backed mortgages including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, or USDA loans may be eligible to file forbearance for up to 180 days and have the right to request an extension for another 180 days. But signing up for forbearance raises another concern. While forbearance programs are intended to help homeowners avoid defaulting on their loans, interest will accrue during that period.
For those managing short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, who oftentimes juggle multiple mortgages and depend on supplemental income generated in high seasons like spring and summer, this could be a major blow, since some private lenders may require homeowners to make a lump-sum payment once the forbearance period is over.
Those with the federally-backed loans mentioned above, won’t be required to repay the suspended amount in a lump sum under the CARES Act. Repayment options will, instead, depend on the mortgage servicer. For example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers will have a 12-month moratorium after the forbearance period ends to repay missed payments. Meanwhile, borrowers with FHA, VA, or USDA loans repayment plans are to begin within 6 months after the forbearance period ends.
According to Carlos Garriga, Vice President of Research and Industry at the Federal Reserve branch of St. Louis, owners of Airbnbs in desirable coastal areas may be forced to sell their properties for less than market value should they not recover from the economic fallout of the coronavirus.
“There’s going to be a lot of correlated sales in certain areas, because there are desirable locations or vacation homes,” said Garriga. “There could be a massive number of units sold in these areas.”
Austin Hankwitz, a Nashville native and financial analyst, believes that the outbreak has caused a housing bubble effect for Airbnb, which could potentially give millennials and younger homebuyers an opportunity to purchase a home at an affordable price sooner than they thought.
“Airbnb is a fantastic tool for those who travel often, but unfortunately, that’s not happening right now,” said Hankwitz. “This lack of travel and tourism is already causing Airbnb hosts to slash their prices by more than 80% in some cities. If this goes on for much longer, a lot of these cash-strapped hosts will be forced to sell their properties. This flood of new properties for sale might cause home prices to drop sharply in a short period of time. Add to this scenario baby boomers that are considering downsizing to pull equity out of their current homes to aid their retirement funds, and you have a recipe for disaster.”
Airbnb’s Response to Struggling Hosts
To compensate hosts, Airbnb has set aside $250 million to help pay for coronavirus-related guest cancellations under their Extenuating Circumstances policy. Hosts will receive 25% of what they would normally receive through the policy, and payments will be issued this month. Additionally, the company is offering a $17 million Superhost Relief Fund with grants of up to $5,000 available for hosts and ‘Experience hosts’ who are struggling to make ends meet.
However, the Superhost Relief Fund is only applicable to Superhosts and Experience hosts that have suffered significant economic loss due to coronavirus. To qualify, Superhosts must only share their primary or secondary home with no more than 2 active listings. Additionally, hosts must be verified Superhosts or Experience hosts for at least one year and show evidence that Airbnb is a vital source of their income.
Due to high demand, applying to relief grants will be made available only through invitation by Airbnb. According to Airbnb, not all eligible Superhosts will be invited to apply for a relief grant, limiting those who receive financial assistance. The Superhost Relief program supports hosts in every country except mainland China, where hosts already have an assistance program in place.
“Airbnb’s relief fund will help to some extent — something is better than nothing,” says Jim Prugh, who manages four vacation rental properties in the small town of Lindsborg, Kansas. “[It] applies only to those who have two or fewer properties, so that leaves me out. As a small business owner of vacation rentals, I decide whether Airbnb is good enough to work for me. Currently, I removed my listings with Airbnb.”
With his bookings calendar cleared for March and April, Prugh has lost $3,670 for five Airbnb cancellations, and $2,772 for eight cancellations through his website. Fortunately, his properties don’t have mortgages or loans against them, but 100% of the income he receives through Airbnb offset costs and utilities including maintenance, internet, telephones and property taxes, just to name a few.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to support our community in these difficult times, and we want to thank all of our hosts and guests for their understanding,” a representative for Airbnb told MONEY when asked about their response to the pandemic.
According to Airbnb data-analytics firm, Airdna, urban cities have suffered the most by coronavirus. New York, for example, has had bookings drop as much as 66% in March compared to last year. Meanwhile, rural coastal locations are seeing a slight rise in bookings, as people try to escape congested cities.
Airbnb hosts in the United States may be eligible for some coronavirus-impacted small business loans and grants set by the CARES Act, including the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. While some of these relief programs have run dry in funding and have paused applications due to high demand, Congress recently approved a $480 billion bill to further aid small businesses and hospitals.
Francisco Rivera, who manages eight coastal properties in Puerto Rico, says that despite this setback he’s positive about Airbnb’s management of the situation. “Some hosts are offering their Airbnb’s free of charge to hospital staff or essential workers that are in the frontlines battling this outbreak. While some of our hosts are scared of what this could mean financially, I think we will recover. I’ve actually had some people reach out to me asking how they could become a part of Airbnb to help.”