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Sleepovers go international with the family Airbnb

The DeJong family hosts travelers in their Columbia City home.

Joshua Huston


“One of the most important things we can do for our kids is to expose them to other people, other cultures and other ways of living,” says Mary DeJong, a Columbia City mom of four kids ranging in age from 18 months to 10 years. Yet for a larger family, traveling abroad can be prohibitively costly. 

They may not be able to go out into the world, but they’ve found a way for the world to come to them. 

That’s because for the past three years, DeJong and her husband have rented their home’s basement on Airbnb.com. Located just two blocks from the light-rail station, DeJong’s home welcomes travelers coming from Sea-Tac International Airport. 

Across the city, Seattle families are receiving visitors via Airbnb and other online house- and apartment-sharing sites. Near Woodland Park Zoo, Sarah Chamberlain and her husband turned their unfinished basement into a furnished one-bedroom apartment in 2013. 

“Renting this part of our house has been a great way to supplement our family's income and increase the value of our home,” Chamberlain says, adding that she’s enjoyed creating a comfortable respite for vacation and business travelers.  

DeJong’s children often wait on the porch to meet guests, hoping to be first to show them to their private entrance in the 1919 Craftsman home. A first point of contact for guests, the DeJongs love to represent the city “as ambassadors of a sort,” DeJong says.

International lodgers in particular will engage, she says: “There’s a different level of curiosity and desire to connect to the culture of a place.” German and Asian students frequently stay while traveling on the West Coast; several weeks ago, they hosted two Scottish students on midterm break. 

For Chamberlain’s two children, 7 and 9, the amount of interaction varies with guest wishes and host schedules. “Sometimes we don’t see them at all, and other times there is a fair amount of communication,” Chamberlain says. 

DeJong says that opening their door to international callers is an intentional choice; she wants to teach her children to appreciate visitors. 

“Their understanding of home is very open and fluid,” DeJong says. “It’s not a surprise when we have a guest, and it’s not odd when someone shows up at [our] fire pit.” 

“Running our rental in our home has been a very positive experience,” Chamberlain says, but adds it isn’t something to be taken lightly: “It is another job, and requires attention and energy.”

For example, owners market their homes or suites through Airbnb, keep the books, collect excise tax, find an umbrella insurance policy that covers rentals and decide whether to hire a cleaner or clean the space solo. Chamberlain also puts out fresh flowers, and leaves bottles of wine, beer and sparkling water and chocolates on the counter. And of course, she deals with the occasional difficult customer. “It’s impossible to please everyone,” she notes.  

Managing normal childhood clatter can be a challenge as well. “Kids are noisy, and it is important to us to create an enjoyable, relatively tranquil experience for guests,” Chamberlain says. “Our kids have adapted quite well, but it continues to be the toughest aspect of managing the rental. Given that the suite is directly below our living space, there are a lot of reminders to our kids to walk softly.” 

Teaching Airbnb’ers about the somewhat complex Seattle recycling sorting process can also be a challenge, DeJong says. 

Some parents might worry about security; DeJong says that they are discerning when accepting guests, seeking profile information or using AirBnB’s Verified ID program. 

But in the backyard, surrounded by gardens, herbs and edibles, DeJong is overjoyed to find new friends jumping on the trampoline or climbing up into the treehouse. Visitors feel safe and comfortable enough to express the universal human desire to play and explore. 

“They’ve made themselves at home,” she says. 

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