- Michael and Jennifer Corbus started housing college students in 2007 when they needed cash almost.
- Inspired by European hostels, they purchased bunk beds in 2015 and listed each bed on Airbnb.
- They acknowledge that while their setup isn’t for everyone, it works for people on a budget.
In 2007, Michael and Jennifer Corbus were staring down problems that seemed insurmountable.
First, Michael lost work as an independent mortgage broker during the early days of the 2008 financial crisis, which was largely caused by a housing bubble. Months later, their daughter Kylie was born with a rare genetic disorder. Her care required the presence of a parent at home and expensive items like a $6,000 feeding chair and $5,000 sleeper.
“Our whole life was turned upside down,” Michael told Insider.
The Corbuses, who live in Oak Grove, Oregon — about 20 minutes south of Portland — were determined to make ends meet and find a way they could be at home to take care of their daughter and two other young children. They began renting out their 1,200-square-foot basement to international college students through a local program at Portland State University.
After seven years of hosting students from all over the world, a friend encouraged them to try a different setup — bunk beds — to house as many guests as possible.
When their listing went live on Airbnb, Michael and Jennifer were shocked by the interest in their humble $30-a-night beds. At first, they couldn’t believe how often their account would ding with new notifications and requests.
“The most surprising thing was the money,” Jennifer said.
The Corbuses now host budget-conscious travelers seeking out the nature and culture around Portland in five total bunks across three separate rooms. Recently, they have capitalized on the explosion of short-term rental demand among solo travelers. During the peak of summer, they are able to bring in as much as $7,000 a month before expenses.
Michael and Jennifer broke down how they set up their “bunKBnB” — pros, cons, and more — to educate others who might be interested in setting up their own.
Think of it like a hostel
The Corbuses hosted their first crop of college students in 2007. Jennifer would cook dinner for students. The couple fondly remembers their two younger boys meeting students from Japan and other countries, broadening their cultural horizons every night.
“Our kids really started to be exposed to the whole world,” Jennifer told Insider.
By 2015, a friend of Michael’s had started renting out bunk beds on Airbnb. At first, the couple was skeptical the arrangement could work. They thought that most guests on the growing platform were looking for more luxurious accommodations.
“I didn’t think I’d want to stay in a place like that, but then I remembered the hostels in Europe,” Jennifer said.
The couple scoured Craigslist for bunk beds and purchased sheets from discount retailer Ross, trying to keep expenses to a minimum.
In addition to the 10 beds, their basement unit also includes a bathroom and a kitchenette.
Each bed gets its own listing
When it comes to running “The Traveler’s Hub” — the nickname the Corbus family has given their basement unit — one strategy stands above the rest, the Corbuses said.
Each individual bunk gets its own listing. So for their one basement unit with five bunk beds, 10 separate listings are live on the Airbnb site.
The Corbuses say separate listings allow them to manage the rotating calendar and revolving door of stays.
“If you didn’t have that, you’d burn out,” Michael said.
Most guests do not stay longer than two weeks, except for travel nurses. But a long-term stay is cheaper than median monthly rent in Portland, which is $1,955, according to Zillow.
The Corbuses also keep costs low by doing their own cleaning. Each stay has an additional cleaning fee of $10, and Michael estimates the total cleaning costs for the month are usually under $200.
Michael, a Neil Diamond impersonator, and Jennifer, a health coach, run their Airbnb on the side.
Cleaning and running the unit takes about 30 minutes a day, Michael said.
This summer, the bunk-bed Airbnb brought in $6,000 in June and was on track to bring in $5,000 in July. In the past, gross revenue for some summer months has been as much as $7,000.
Bargain prices attract solo travelers on a budget
The Corbuses realize their bunks are not for everyone — and they lay that out clearly in their listings.
They say visitors are typically solo sightseers who are traveling on extended trips through the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes individuals in adjoining bunks meet and take day trips together.
Gary Brown, 58, first stayed in a bunk in 2017 and has now returned six times.
The hiking, camping, and fishing excursions draw the retiree, who lives in Dallas, to the Pacific Northwest, and he says the bunks are a hard bargain to beat for the expensive Portland area. The Corbuses’ home is not far from sights including Mt. Hood and beaches on the Pacific coast.
“If you’re a budget-conscious traveler, like so many people are, it’s very comfortable,” he told Insider.
Brown also said he enjoys meeting other travelers in the hostel-style lodgings.
“You meet a variety of people, all kinds of personalities,” Brown told Insider. He’s met individuals from Russia, Germany, and Belgium, and even run into other repeat guests during his visits.
Don’t accept guests who don’t have reviews
The unique arrangement also prevents some typical Airbnb problems, Michael and Jennifer said. Because travelers are typically on their own, they aren’t hosting rowdy groups of friends and there isn’t as big of a risk of parties.
“There’s a social accountability that naturally happens,” Jennifer said.
The Corbuses are careful about who they allow to stay in their house. After hosting 1,300 guests, they’ve made a rule to not accept requests from people with no reviews from other hosts on Airbnb. The few times they’ve had guests who didn’t get along with other bunkmates, these guests had brand-new accounts and no reviews.
“What we have realized is these people open a new account because they got a negative review,” Michael said.
But the venture has reaped more than just financial rewards.
Michael said it’s also given him the ability to care for Kylie — just as he’d hoped — and spend more time with his sons.