Airbnb owners feel effects of stay-at-home order

Published 10:25 pm Friday, April 17, 2020

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Across Beaufort County, homes, apartments and rooms rented to visitors sit empty. Travelers are staying home due to statewide orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the owners of Airbnb rentals are feeling the effects.

“We’d actually seen a decline earlier on, in March,” said Barbara Hardy, who, along with husband Bob Ray, owns the Secret Garden Gallery & Boutique, and its upstairs Airbnb rental, The Loft on Main.

Though the couple had already increased cleaning and disinfecting efforts, Hardy closed both the store and informed those who had reservations at The Loft on Main that they couldn’t follow through with those reservations, after Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 30.

“We were kind of OK with that, since we had to stay at home. We clean and maintain the property, so we weren’t too excited to come in and clean,” Hardy said.

THE LOFT: Perched above West Main Street and Secret Garden Boutique & Gallery, The Loft on Main is abandoned of Airbnb guests, due to the stay-at-home order that went into effect March 30.

Usually, the rental is reserved 10 to 15 nights a month, but Hardy said when events that normally draw people to town in the spring started being canceled, so did the reservations. She said many of her renters come to the area to attend events at East Carolina University or are on home-buying expeditions.

“A lot of them were here checking out the town to move here or had just moved here,” Hardy said.

The rental, along with Secret Garden, are the couple’s source of income; Hardy is seeking out whatever assistance may be available.

“I’m trying to find out everything I can,” she said. “It’s a mess. I hope it’ll all come back.”

Up West Main Street, Felicia and Wayne Huggins are feeling the same effects. The couple owns The Apartments on Main, two two-bedroom apartments above Felicia Huggins’ hair salon, Salon 208.

“From the beginning of April to, I would say, until June, we were 85-to-90% booked,” Felicia Huggins said. “Now we’re 100% canceled. Every single booking we have is canceled. We had graduation coming up; we had Parents Day at ECU; we had weddings.”

She said they’ve partially filled the absence by hosting longer-term guests: traveling nurses.

“That has helped, but I have to take a big cut on income. But at least it puts warm bodies in the apartments,” she said.

RESTORATION: An antique rice bed, refinished by Felicia Huggins, decorates a bedroom in one of two, two-bedroom apartments above Huggins’ Salon 208.

Huggins remains optimistic that everything will soon return to normal for both The Apartments on Main and her salon.

“We’re all, at my shop, independent contractors, so we don’t have unemployment,” Huggins said. “It’s zero income for everybody.”

Though the couple doesn’t rely on income from the rentals, they have instead used it to pay for the building and the massive renovations they made to its structure and second floor, gut-renovated to create the two apartments and large deck.

“Fortunately, that is not the main source of income for our livelihood. It was our retirement,” Huggins said.

In a press conference Wednesday, Cooper said easing the state-mandated restrictions on businesses and travel would depend on three factors: the ability to test more for the virus, enhanced contact tracing and the trends in new positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths, as well as hospital capacity and availability of personal protective equipment. The stay-at-home order is currently in effect until April 29.

WITH A VIEW: This Airbnb apartment has a balcony and view of the downtown waterfront. Many short-term rentals have been canceled as the state is under a stay-at-home order until April 29.