Eighty-year-old Nancy Ruhlman lives in a Victorian home outside of Mount Vernon that she rents out via Airbnb. “Imagine a 125-year-old pink Victorian bounded by acres of lush farmland. Sunrises and sunsets color the sky with views of Mount Baker or fields of tulips, Snow geese or Trumpeter swans. Historical La Conner is nearby as well as hiking, fishing, boating, shopping and excellent restaurants. Our home can accommodate five couples — three bathrooms — and will seat 10 at the dining room table with plenty of onsite parking. We will greet you, and then leave you to complete privacy with breakfast food in the fridge.”
Popular tour attraction RoozenGaarde, with its three-acre tulip display garden and fields, are just down the road. Skagit Valley Tourism claims its tulip festival is Washington’s largest and has drawn over one million visitors.
It was 1990 and Nancy was driving from farm to farm in her then job of selling insurance in Skagit County. It was love at first sight for Nancy of the home she had stopped at. She asked if it was possibly for sale – although no sign was posted. The long-time owner, who had raised her own children there, had actually been talking with her family of moving.
Nancy had her then college-aged daughter Sheryl look to give her opinion. The response was approving, “This is a diamond in the rough.”
The price was in the middle of each side’s appraisal. Nancy and her husband John bought the fixer-upper house in the country and moved from Whatcom County, where John had been a pastor for many years and then ran an advertising firm. In retirement years they enjoyed traveling, especially in Europe to places where their ancestors had lived.
Initially they spent the first six months fixing “every square inch” of their new home from the roof and siding to the windows and inside the home. The kitchen was updated and now has a breakfast nook in a blue-and-white color scheme with glass-fronted cabinets. All other décor has kept to the age and style of the home.
Thirty years later, the farm is surrounded by a lovely country garden, much like a park. A white picket fence encircles pink roses and hollyhocks. Homemade quilts top the antique beds. John passed away several years ago of cancer. The two of them had retired and had begun hosting their home as an Airbnb.
“For several years my husband and I occasionally rented our entire home through Airbnb for family reunions, wedding parties and other get-togethers,” Nancy said. “The average stay was two nights and we had room for five couples with five queen beds and three baths.”
“I lost John three years ago and was devastated,” she shares. “Eventually, when I saw my bank balance going only one way, and it wasn’t up, I decided to try hosting again.”
Within a relatively short time she achieved not only very positive reviews, but also the status of Superhost. Airbnb says Superhosts “are experienced hosts who provide a shining example for other hosts, and extraordinary experiences for their guests.”
One guest complimented her on the quilts and how it reminded him of happy childhood memories. He paid her to make a quilt just like that, she said. She was happy to do that.
It’s up to her how much or how little she rents the house. The benefits are more than just financial, but the widow did gain $18,000 last year and $25,000 this year through June.
Nancy has been asked to train other hosts. She said, the costs for hosting include having WiFi since people’s jobs may depend on it; breakfast food; assistance with cleaning (that’s offset by a fee to the guests); and an $11 fee per stay that Airbnb uses for administrative expenses. She also pays $85 twice a month for yard work of the larger property. She does point out that many homes already would have these features and expenses. There is also a lockbox so guests can let themselves in. In these cases, I keep in contact by phone if they have any questions. All funds go into her bank account automatically on the second day of their stay.
“I love meeting new and interesting people from all over the world, who are well vetted by Airbnb, by the way,” Nancy adds. “I show folks around when they first arrive and then leave them to the privacy of the entire house. The best part is: I always have something to look forward to. I often stay with my son or daughter who both lives close by as well as some very dear friends. However, I sometimes stay with acquaintances who I’ve always wanted to know better but never had the opportunity. Since I am definitely a ‘people person,’ this gives me something to look forward to.”
To book a stay at Nancy’s charming Victorian, visit her Airbnb page.