After losing major events, Airbnb hosts working to simply get by during pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indy 500, Big Ten tournament, Sweet 16 and NBA playoffs.

The spring sports lineup in Indianapolis was set to bring in thousands of visitors, all searching for a place to stay.

“Yeah, it was steady for sure, it went better than I thought it would,” said Indianapolis Airbnb host Clay Cage.

In August, Cage bought two homes in Indy’s Fountain Square neighborhood solely to rent out on Airbnb. Until recently, business was looking good.

“I’d say 70% of the three months out past March 14 was booked,” Cage said. “Just the 4th of July weekend alone would have covered the rent for the entire July month, and all of those went away.”

Just as the Big Ten tournament was set to tip off, the domino effect of cancellations and closures began. The new coronavirus was spreading and Airbnb was not immune.

“Those couple three days were rough, seeing all those cancellations,” Cage said. “The bigger ones obviously, those bigger dollar figures were harder, for sure.”

Within three days, Cage lost close to $10,000 in refunded cancellations. He had a mortgage to pay, and few new bookings coming in. He had an offer for a long-term rental, but chose to stick it out.

“I gave it a hard thought, certainly given the circumstances it might have been a safer option, but my vision for this was to have it as an Airbnb,” Cage said. “It seems to be picking up currently, so it may be the right decision, it may not. We’ll see.”

His bookings have started to pick back up, but at lower prices. The cleaning is much more intense than before, and he’s been doing the cleaning himself to save money. He’s hoping his investment will turn a profit again soon.

According to short-term rental analytics company AirDNA, short-term rentals in the U.S. are down 20% this summer compared to last summer.

New bookings began to recover after being cut in half at the end of March. The average daily rate is also down about $20.

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