As Ned Gilardino’s kids grew older, their backyard pool in Aurora, Colorado became more of an afterthought than a place for family fun. The bills for keeping it running, however, were still coming.
“Once a pool is turned on, it needs to stay on, constantly circulating, heating and always monitoring the chemicals,” says Gilardino. On average, pool maintenance costs run between $3,000 to $5,000 per year.
So, when Gilardino heard about Swimply, a company that pairs pool owners with people wanting to rent pools, he decided to become a host to offset his costs.
Things worked out very well. Last year he rented his pool out 500 times and made close to $50,000. This year he expects to have at least as many reservations.
“Not only has the extra money paid for the cost of maintaining the pool,” says Gilardino, “it has actually brought an entire new revenue stream for my family.”
Pool rentals have exploded during the pandemic
Swimply is one of a growing number of companies taking advantage of the sharing economy, following the model of businesses such as Airbnb and Uber. The company started operating in 2018 and ran a trial version of its service in 2019, with the idea of learning the best way to streamline the process for both hosts and renters.
With the information gathered, the company revamped its site and was on track to raise $3 million in seed money at the beginning of March last year, ahead of the relaunch of its services later that month. Then the pandemic hit.
After an initial rough patch during which the company wasn’t able to raise its funding goal, Swimply started to see demand pick up in April. Consumers were looking for ways to safely resume their fitness and recreational activities while maintaining social distancing. Since then, the company has grown 5,000% and was able to raise $10 million in funding in May of this year.
For pool owners’ like Gilardino, Swimply offered not only a way to offset pool costs but also a source of income for people who lost their jobs or were furloughed due to COVID-19.
“We were providing a service that was needed,” says Asher Weinberger, co-founder of Swimply. “People couldn’t go to the gym, so we were at the right place at the right time.”
An idea that started as a way to give people who don’t have their own pool a safe place to swim soon turned into something else. What Weinberger, who was one of the company’s first hosts, found was that pools were being used for more than just exercise. He has rented his pool out for activities as diverse as birthday parties and baptisms to aqua therapy sessions and underwater drone trials.
Over the last 12 months, Swimply has facilitated over 122,000 bookings and currently has more than 13,000 pools listed on its site. Listings are available in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia.
This fall, the company plans to expand its offering with a new service called Joyspace that will match renters up with owners of different types of amenities such as tennis and basketball courts, home gyms and theaters, kitchens (for photoshoots and instructional videos) and even home recording studios.
The company vets the owners and the pools and lists them along with a description and cost, and only the actual homeowner can become a host. Anyone can go online through the Swimply website or app, check out the pool and any additional amenities offered, and make a reservation.
Pools can be rented by the hour, with an average rate of $45 per hour. Larger pools and pool areas that also include hot tubs, spas, outdoor grills or television/music can go for as high as $200 per hour. Some owners may charge an extra premium for large groups.
On average, hosts make between $10,000 to $20,000 per year, according to Weinberger. However, some hosts can make much more. On the high end, a pool host in Portland, Oregon, has earned over $130,000 since last September.
“That’s obviously the right pool, the right place, the right amenities, etc.,” Weinberger says.
Swimply takes 15% of the hourly rate for its hosting service from pool owners and another 10% from renters for the matching service. There are no other fees involved.
Ready to dive in? Your pool rental rule book
While the thought of being able to make money off your home without actually selling it is attractive as heck, you want to make sure you’re ready to open a part of your home to complete strangers. You’re no longer just a pool owner, you’re running a business.
However, you don’t have to set up a commercial entity. You can operate as a sole proprietor or as a business such as a partnership or limited liability company. Swimply will provide you with a 1099 form for tax purposes if you exceed a certain income level or number of bookings.
1. You’ll need insurance
One of the first things you need to consider is insurance. You naturally want to protect your property from damage from potentially unruly guests, but now you also have to think about your liability for their safety
What happens if a renter has an accident while using your pool? Your typical homeowner’s insurance may not cover your liability in this case or may not offer enough coverage. Last year, it was up to the individual hosts to obtain liability insurance to protect themselves.
Starting this year, however, Swimply has partnered with the Evanston Insurance Company to provide what’s called the Swimply Protection Guarantee. This program provides liability insurance up to $1 million for its hosts (it also provides up to $10,000 in separate property damage insurance). The insurance policies are provided free of cost to the host for now.
2. Think about what activities you're comfortable with
As Weinberger points out, you’re renting out a pool that you’ll probably be using yourself at some point. Think about the types of activities you're willing to host. You may feel more comfortable renting to smaller family groups or individuals rather than larger groups. The company’s motto is Your Pool, Your Rules, so you can set the parameters of how many people and what type of activity you will accept into your pool.
Also consider how often you want to rent the pool, whether it be seven days a week or only on the weekends. Are you open to renting the pool at night or only during the day?
You should also think about how renting out your pool may affect your neighbors, especially if you’re hosting large groups that may cause traffic congestion along residential streets.
3. What other amenities are you willing to provide?
Maybe you have a backyard grill or hot tub close to your pool. Will you include the use of these in the rental? Will you provide towels, a sound system, TV or some other form of entertainment? How about access to bathrooms?
Be clear about what is and isn't included in the rental and what may be included at an extra cost. Take all that information into consideration when you set your price.
4. Set rules and expectations
Remember this is your home after all. Some hosts opt to greet their guests in person and show them the area they are renting and where all the amenities are located. This is also a good time to talk over the rules and expectations so there are no misunderstandings.
“This sets the tone for both their fun and as well as the level of respect required to treat our pool and property,” says Gilardino.
5. Make sure what you’re selling is what you’re really offering
Like with a home listing, what’s going to sell your pool are the photos you post. Quality photos of the pool and surrounding areas will go a long way towards drawing renters to your listing. This means keeping the area clean and well maintained.
When a guest arrives, they're expecting to see exactly what they saw in the photos. Make sure the area is clean, the furniture is in place and that any additional services offered, like sound systems, are in working order.