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Four years ago, life as Liesa Martinez-Reece knew it came to an end.
Gerald Martinez, her longtime husband, father of her five children and a pastor, died. Joshua’s Vineyard, the church the couple started in the International District, an area of town that has seen its share of crime and poverty, had since become defunct. It was a time to reinvent herself.
Part of that reinvention has become transforming her property that she shared with Martinez, their children and members of the congregation into a getaway for travelers.
Now Martinez-Reece has joined the scores of people around the world becoming a part of the Airbnb community.
It used to be, long before automobiles, interstates and large metropolises, that American travelers had to sometimes rely on local residents to provide lodging. With the emergence of motels and eventually hotel chains and resorts, sleeping at the homes of others became a rare thing.
Airbnb is changing that all over the world and New Mexico is no exception. There are more than 300 listings in Albuquerque alone.
Range of rentals
The Airbnb website launched in 2008 and gives homeowners a place to list their available rentals. According to the Airbnb website, the company is present in more than 34,000 cities in 191 countries. Listings range from a castle to an entire home or apartment to a room in someone’s home.
In Albuquerque, prices range from $10 a night to sleep inside a tent in someone’s backyard to $800 a night for a sprawling property. Some of the larger Albuquerque properties include a $750-a-night compound in Nob Hill. The property has five bedrooms and can sleep up to 10 people.
A hacienda along the Rio Grande will cost $800 a night. The property can accommodate six people and has a pool, a courtyard and several old cottonwood trees. One of the more interesting listings is a restored 1880s brothel near Downtown that can be rented for about $140 a night.
Another rental site is Vacation Rental by Owner, or VRBO, which are typically entire homes or apartments. The 230 Albuquerque listings range from approximately $32 to $1,000 a night.
Something a bit unique to the Albuquerque market is the casita, or small house that usually sits behind or near a larger main house.
Ken Sandoval is one of the local Airbnb hosts who has a casita for rent. He built the casita a few years ago behind his early 1900s home that is between Downtown and Old Town specifically to rent it out as an Airbnb. He said he’s noticed a pickup in business in the last four months.
“I’m at a 95 percent occupancy rate,” he said. “I think it (Airbnb) may be getting more popular.”
Sandoval initially started using Airbnb in 2010 to rent a studio apartment he has in Taos. Before that, he was using Craigslist.
“It seemed more shady,” he said. “There was no verification process and no information about the renters. With Airbnb, they have a profile that’s also usually linked to some other social media account.”
When renters create an account for Airbnb, they are asked to sign up either using Facebook, Google plus or a valid email. Owners can also set up their account so renters must email them for permission before booking.
Sandoval does architecture part-time but the Airbnb allows him to earn income from home, where as a single parent, he can stay with his two young daughters. In addition to greeting guests and preparing the house for them, he offers advice on where to eat or visit if they ask.
“I have hosted over 1,000 people back there,” he said. “I have had families, couples, people moving across country, traveling for fun, people from Norway, Asia and everywhere.”
Lacy Pontes is relatively new to Airbnb and started listing the studio apartment behind her Old Town home in December. She said since then, she only has one or two days a month the property isn’t rented. She said it’s not surprising some people would choose to rent an Airbnb over a hotel.
“The prices are comparable or less than a hotel but there are more amenities,” she said. “I really love the personal touches and being able to do the little things for people as opposed to a hotel where everything is the same.”
Taking care of her Airbnb is her full-time job and she recently started managing Airbnb properties for other people. She stocks the room with breakfast items, such as eggs, bacon, coffee and bread, and communicates with guests before they arrive to see what else they might need.
Martinez-Reece said turning her home and the small apartments on her property into Airbnb rentals is a way to still serve others and is a creative outlet.
The complex had already undergone a major makeover in 2008 as part of the popular television show “Extreme Makeover,” which gives deserving families either a new or remodeled home. It was the work she and her late husband did in the community that caught the attention of producers.
All her children have moved out of the home and she married a longtime friend, Randal Reece, two years ago. She said the new venture is something they have embarked on together. As ordained ministers, the two can even marry their guests. She said they are preparing a wedding package.
She reacted with dismay to the possibility that she and other Airbnb hosts may be required to pay lodgers’ tax.
The Greater Albuquerque Innkeepers Association has signaled its intent to ask the city to require Airbnb to collect the lodgers’ tax from its hosts.
Saying that’s what “slowly erodes small businesses,” she said she considered her properties “on a different playing field” from large hotels. “Just give me my lemonade stand.”
Remnants of the property’s former use as a church are visible from the street. A cross sits on top of the couple’s home as well as on the adobe archway that is the gateway to the apartment structures and backyard. The rooms run around $50 a night.
And everyone of any faith or no faith at all is welcome at the couple’s Airbnbs.
“I’m having so much fun,” she said. “When you have a calling from God to serve, you can’t stop. Doing this is a win/win situation for me.”
There may be a new twist for Albuquerque’s Airbnb hosts and visitors. The Greater Albuquerque Innkeepers Association plans to push for a new city ordinance under which Airbnb would collect and pay lodgers tax on the transaction between a host and a guest, following the recent lead of Santa Fe and Taos – where Airbnbs are extremely popular.
City ordinance requires hotels and similar establishments such as bed-and-breakfasts to pay a 5 percent lodgers tax on guest’s rental rate. A separate ordinance requires hotels to pay a 1 percent hospitality fee. Albuquerque collected $11.4 million in lodgers taxes in fiscal year 2015.
Statewide, Airbnb has said there are about 1,500 hosts, with Santa Fe and Taos having the most units. More than 57,000 people used Airbnb in New Mexico in 2015.
– Jessica Dyer, Journal Staff Writer