Subscribe For My Weekly Two Cents
If you want to get every new article straight to your inbox, sign up for my Weekly Wisdom emails. 

Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

Airbnbs on the Lake

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

Have you always been curious about owning a vacation rental property? If so, today is your day because we’re discussing Airbnbs on the lake!

I’m shaking it up this week with an interview-style post featuring Benjie Vista. I met Benjie through my work in real estate as he’s runs a kick-ass loan origination team based out of Livonia. However, once he shared he had purchased a few properties to Airbnb, I knew I had to wrangle the story out of him.

Picture it, Plymouth, MI. Two friends enjoy a delicious meal at French Toast while one absolutely peppers the other with questions. (I think Benjie was a little overwhelmed when he saw me pull out my legal pad full of questions and turn my phone on to record.)

Even though this chat lacked the inappropriateness of the interview I did with Paul on his house in Sicily, this interview has also been edited for clarity and content.


Benjie: I’m a rookie when it comes to Airbnb, but I have enough experts and people that understand it. We’re a blend of three: weekly rentals in the summer, monthly in the winter and the gaps you can do Airbnb. It’s almost like a triple capture.

Dabs: Ohhhhhh.

Benjie: The properties already had people going there for 20 years, so it’s great. They’re out on Gun Lake.

Gun Lake in western MI

Dabs: So they were rentals when you bought it? It had an established client base?

Benjie: Right, but I bought it based on price per square foot. Even if we used it 4-5x per year and it rented. Now after looking at everything, the combination of all three – it could be retirement.  When we bought it, it was just old school, fix-n-flip – long term or weekly rental. But, my friends are really good at Airbnb so I’ve been training and learning from them.

Dabs: Do you own regular long-term rentals?

Benjie: Yes. I’m down to two regular rentals and one fix-and-flip right now. 

Dabs: That’s interesting . . . So did you target an area or did this property come to you? 

Benjie: Both. My friend was out there. He bought a house that he fixed. He rehabbed it, and then the lake was fantastic. Even though there are fantastic lakes out here; the price point out there is decent. Along with, falling in love with it – which you need to go check it out.

Dabs: Tell me about the properties.

Benjie: There are two properties. One had two cottages on it. Then a few houses down there are three rentals on one lot with 90 feet of frontage – three cottages.  There’s a 3 bedroom/2 bath, a 2 bedroom/2 bath, 2 bedroom/1 bath. Even though it’s the smallest one, the cottage with the layout facing the lake makes it the favorite. The charm of it is, if you want to go with multiple families, you can each take a cottage and not be on top of each other. People love it. They fight for it in the summer. They don’t fight for it in the winter . . . yet.

Dabs: As people work more and more from home . . . Mike and I were just talking about during COVID in 2021, we went to FL for a month while Hazel was in preschool. Hazel swam in the little plunge pool every day, and we spent January somewhere else. So then, how did you figure out what work you were going to do on the units?

Benjie: I could have probably done better. We did paint and floors, right away. Those updates did a lot.  

Dabs: Floors alone, that’s a facelift itself. So just a quick refresh?

Here’s a before picture, very cottage-y

Benjie: Yes. It’s refreshed right now. We painted the brown cabinets white and updated the hardware. A little bit here and there. Then, I was told to rent it for 2-3 years. If it does well, you can update it to the next level to be able to turn guests at a higher-end price point.  Right now, no one has complained. They love it.

Dabs: Are you having someone manage it? Do you have a cleaning person? How are you doing that?

Benjie: Yes and yes and . . . yes. [laughter from both of us]  We have people who are local and doing a great job so far. 

Dabs: Do you pay them a manage fee or a per call fee?

Benjie: We got lucky. One of them was our cleaner. We found out she was responsible and reliable. Her and her husband live a mile away so they can go check on the property, deal with trash, etc.  He is a handyman, and he ended up doing the bulk of the refresh work for me so he is paid separately for that work.

Dabs: Did you have the data from the previous owner on how much it rented for?

Benjie: We did, but there is a software that does it.  We use AirDNA or PriceLabs. They can tell you how much you can charge.

Dabs: So did you have any tough decisions to make during the process?

Benjie: Oh, yeah. [laughter from me]. When you’re on the water, there’s more expenses if you have boats. If you own houses, there’s expenses for houses.  So do you go brand new or do you go used?  We opted for used for now and then some stuff we’ll get new. Right now, there’s a little bit of water pooling in front of the garage, so that has to be fixed.

Dabs: Water is the enemy.  I always tell my buyers “this is the best day to see the house” when it’s raining. We’re going to see anywhere that the water pools.

Benjie: I’ve never rented out houses that were furnished. We had to upgrade on the furniture – new beds, new televisions. I’m not used to that – usually I just say “Here’s your empty house.”

Dabs: And kids break stuff. And adults do, too. Kids are very rough on furniture.

Did we just become best friends?!

Benjie: We found, depending on what you buy, it lasts longer. We’re still figuring some of that out.

Dabs: Certain fabrics hide the dirt and stains better.

Benjie: There’s the mentality of them being cottages, so people don’t care as much. Airbnb will level set what they want, along with experience. It has to have the right amenities. 

Dabs: The Mathematician always says “tick that hot tub box”.

Benjie: I got the advice to stay away from hot tubs. At the time, right after COVID, they were crazy expensive. Then my other friends advised me to get a hot tub, because it will help fill it up the weeks in the winter.

Dabs: We went to Niagara last year, and we picked the Airbnb based on the one that had a hot tub. If you’re traveling with kids, after the kids go to bed the adults want to go outside and sit in the hot tub. That is all we want to do – escape. [Giggling from me]

A nod to my summer vacation companions . . .

Benjie: What happens is you run out of money.

Dabs: Yes, at some point.

Benjie: Once you put your money down, fix the paint, etc., you start looking at everything and deciding what has to wait.

Dabs: Do you have an extra liability rider since it sits on the water? What does that look like?

Benjie: A whole bunch. 

Dabs: People are extra stupid on vacation. 

Benjie: Stuff happens every once in awhile. Things break, naturally.

Dabs: Do you have boats?

Benjie: Yes, we have boats. It’s a separate company we formed to own the boats.

Dabs: Smart. Wow. How do you have time to do your day job?

Benjie: I work a lot, but I get a lot of help!

Dabs: Have you had any bad guest experiences?

Benjie: [meaningful pause] Yes. Usually a bad guest experience falls on the cleaner. One, they left the bathroom a mess. [cue the groaning from Dabs] Let’s leave it at that. Then another one, they had too much weight on the deck, and they broke part of the deck. It was an easy fix, but . . .

Dabs: So who is your target guest? 

Benjie: You never really know what you’re gonna get. We don’t want parties.

Dabs: Do you have a “no party” rule?

Benjie: Yes, it’s all in the guidelines, but people are celebrating or there for a birthday. That part is okay, but if they’re going there just to party, no.

Benjie’s worst nightmare.

Dabs: What is the one thing you were not prepared for?

[His look said “oh no, I have to think about that.” In an evil little twist, I did not give him the questions in advance.

Benjie: Overall logistics. It being a little bit far away, you need to have someone who is boots on the ground. We got lucky with who we have, but when there’s a leaky faucet, you better have someone reliable. When something small happens, people want it fixed because they’re paying money. It’s all about systems.

Dabs: Or you’ll get a bad review!

Benjie: Luckily, we have help there, but I know other people who bought houses in the area, they ran into not being able to get stuff done fast enough. Example – somebody wanted a better pot, to make pasta. We had a pot there, but might be gone. Amazon is your friend. You buy a $20 pot and get it there right away. Everyone gives constructive criticism. It’s usually pretty good. There’s a checklist for the cleaner, a checklist for the cleaner, there’s a checkout list, a booklet with the amenities, etc.

Dabs: When did you launch?

Benjie: We bought the first property in June 2022 and the second in September 2022. They rented right after. We couldn’t even get in there to fix them because they were pre-rented for the summer. We honored those bookings. 


Well, I hope you found today’s interview about Airbnbs on the lake as fascinating as I did. I definitely want to plan a group excursion out to check out these units. If Benjie springs for that hot tub, I’d entertain a trip in the winter.

As always, thanks for joining me this week. I’m here to help with all things homeownership!

Leave a Reply

More Wisdom from Dabs