Welcome to the first episode of our new series “House Hack Ride Along.” Join Jeff White and me, Ben Einspahr, as we tour house hacks in the Denver area. These properties will range anywhere from multi family units, to Airbnbs, and room by room rentals. I like to call it the MTV Cribs version of local house hacks.
In this episode, I’ll walk you through my first house hack in Arvada, CO. The entire property consists of a 3 bed/2 bath single family home with a separate 1 bed/1 bath mother-in-law suite above the garage. We’ll focus on the mother-in-law suite, since the main house is currently being rented by long term tenants.
- Watch the YouTube video (at the bottom.)
- Read the blog post. Note, the blog is an executive summary. Get the in-depth breakdown from the property walkthrough video.
Why Should I Invest in Arvada?
When my wife Alyson and I were looking for our first house hack, we focused on Arvada because of its convenience. For us, it was equally distant from both of our workplaces which made it easier to commute. But Arvada itself also has a lot to offer. It’s a family-friendly area that’s walkable and has a lot of single-family homes with separate areas that are great to rent out.
We chose our house because it’s walkable to parks and Olde Town. And we knew we would enjoy living there. If our plans changed and we needed to stay in the home for longer than the expected 12 months, we would be happy there.
Arvada is also an Airbnb-friendly city. Unlike many places in the Denver area, it doesn’t have a primary residence rule. Property owners can own up to three properties and do short term rentals on them for up to 240 days out of the year.
How Do I Choose the Right Home for a House Hack?
The biggest factor for Alyson was privacy. We needed to find a walk out basement, mother-in-law suite, or ADU that would have a separate entrance.
The benefit of working with investor friendly realtors like Preston and Chris is that they were able to take the emotion out of the process and look at properties from a pure investment standpoint. They ran the numbers and explained how things would look. If we had used a generic realtor, we’d still have a house hack property, but it wouldn’t have set us up for the future financially. I look at Preston and Chris as my investor mentors.
Tour the Home
The main house is 1300sqft with 3 beds/2 baths, while the suite above the garage is 600sqft with 1 bed/1 bath. The property was move in ready, but it needed updating to be able to rent it out.
We started renting out the mother-in-law suite as an Airbnb when we lived there. It’s a cozy spot, and our guests feel like they’re in someone’s little apartment. Even though you can be in the mountains within 30 minutes, most of the guests travel here for birthdays, seeing grandkids, or business.
During COVID, people stopped vacationing, and we had to change our strategy. We started advertising on places like Furnished Finder and Kopa targeting traveling nurses and young professionals who needed somewhere to stay for 1-6 months.
The unit doesn’t have a washer and dryer which was a turnoff to some potential renters. Luckily, there are laundromats within walking distance and so many people needed a place to stay that we weren’t affected. However, I’m looking into relocating a temporary wall to make room for an additional washer and dryer just for the mother-in-law guests because I want to diversify the appeal of the unit for the future.
The Kitchen: Building Confidence by Doing the Work Yourself
When we bought the house, the kitchen was straight out of the 70s. People looking for Airbnbs want to stay somewhere cool and updated, so we redid the kitchen. We replaced the floor, tile, and painted for only $500 by doing all of the labor ourselves. We replaced the original flooring with beachwood and get a lot of positive comments about it from guests.
If we’d hired out the work, it would cost well over $1K due to the premium materials and high cost of labor. Instead, Alyson did all of the tile and painting herself using YouTube videos and my advice. Now, she says she has a lot more confidence that she wouldn’t have had if we’d hired someone else to do the work.
The Living Room: Stick to Your Strengths
When doing an Airbnb, it’s important to try to fit as many people as you can—having a pullout sofa increases how many people can comfortably stay. Since we’ve switched to medium term rentals, only one or two people are staying in the space at a time, so maximizing space is less important. However, having nice furniture gives the space a professional touch.
You may remember Episode 6 of House Hack Masterminds when I talked about how Alyson dealt with an unhappy guest who said the living room futon was unlivable. She solved that problem by buying the gray couch which normally runs $600, but she got for a great discount.
Alyson has a background in hospitality and is great at dealing with guests. I’m better at construction, so that’s what I focus on. We make such a great team, because we know how to stick to our strong points.
The Bathroom: Sometimes You Need a Professional
You’ve probably heard me talk about this famous bathroom on just about every podcast episode. To hear about it in detail, watch House Hack Masterminds #4.
Originally, the room had a lime green bathtub and outdated vanity, neither of which fit what we were trying to do with the space. We put in new tile and backsplash, gutted everything, and replaced it all with good furnishings. Since we did the work ourselves, it cost about $3500; with the high demand for labor right now, it could easily cost anywhere from $12-$15K if I’d hired out the work.
However, a few days before our soft open, I turned on the water in the newly renovated shower and it didn’t drain. I’d made a mistake installing a second P-Trap and had to cut through the kitchen ceiling in the main house to fix it, making a huge mess. We needed the work done ASAP so I gave in and hired a professional to do the work. My advice to readers: reach out to a professional for issues like that.
The Bedroom: Transitioning to a New Type of Renter
Now that we’re focusing more on traveling nurses and young professionals, one thing that could be improved is having a better place to store clothes in the bedroom. Currently, we only have standard hangers in the closet. We’re looking into a basic storage unit that will hold clothes or possibly boxes that be folded up and put away when not in use.
I made the table in this picture myself. Before I spent my weekends coaching other house hackers, I used to make furniture in my spare time. We were able to furnish this entire unit for under $1K.
Running the Numbers: Maximizing vs Comfort
Currently, the main level is on a 12-month lease, and a family is living there. I know that it’s inconvenient to them to have people coming in and out of the suite, so I’m only doing 1-6 month rentals. If I were to convert the main house into an Airbnb, I could probably get between $2200-2400 a month. Conversely, if the suite were on a 12-month lease, I would probably make $1200 per month instead of the $1400 I’m getting with medium term rentals.
However, I’m not interested in making any changes, because I’m comfortable with the way things are. I’ve found that traveling nurses and young professionals make great tenants—they take care of the property, are responsible, and have financial stability. And even though I could make more money off of the main house as an Airbnb, it’s not worth the extra level of effort. We’ve talked before about the comfort scale, and having to do that much work would give me too much anxiety. I’m happy with the way things are, and the rent from these units is helping me get closer to my goals.
Alyson and I plan on always doing a house hack to some degree because it doesn’t make sense to us not to. As we move into different properties, the dynamics will change to allow us to afford a higher mortgage and be more comfortable.
Fast forward to the future and our desire to house hack may change, but that’s why it’s great to have the ability to adapt. Anything can happen, so you have to be able to adjust your strategy as necessary. Airbnb rules could change overnight, so we’re glad we have the ability to do medium and long term rentals.
Every person and situation is different—Jeff prefers the room by room strategy, because that’s where he is in life right now. As long as you can adapt to changing circumstances, you’ll be in good shape.
Connect with Us
Jeff and I are both House Hacking Specialists who have our own niche. Jeff focuses on long term rentals, creative strategies like room by room, and finding value in properties that don’t appear to have it. I focus on short and medium term rentals, as well as construction. If you have any questions about rental strategies, finding contractors, or doing repair work yourself, reach out to us.
And be on the lookout for Episode 2 of our Ride Along series where we tour one of Jeff’s house hacks.
- Active Local House Hacker (currently on HH#2!) and Short Term and Medium Term House Hacking Specialist
- 30 Minute House Hacking Discovery Call
- Airbnb – Arvada Mother-in-Law
- Airbnb – Wheat Ridge Town House
- Active Local House Hacker (currently on #5 House Hack!) and House Hacking Specialist