Amy Simpson and her husband Torin don’t own a swimming pool. But when the temperatures get scorching and they’re desperate for a place to cool off, they don’t head for the nearest crowded public pool; they rent a backyard pool of their very own.
“We like the idea of having our own private space for two or three hours,” said Amy, an Air Force attorney who estimated that, since last March, they’ve rented three different pools a total of eight times. “It’s nice not having to share.”
The Simpsons book their short-term staycations on the pool-sharing app Swimply. Like Airbnb for backyard pools, Swimply links owners of underutilized liquid assets with those looking for someplace to take a cooling dip.
Retired registered nurse Diana Palafox, who has already made almost $1,000 with her Stone Oak pool since the beginning of March, said she considers Swimply an easy way to earn what she calls “mad money.” She charges $60 per hour and said most of her guests are families coming to swim to escape the pandemic.
Founded in 2019, Swimply will have about 30,000 pools registered this summer in the United States, Australia and Canada. That a 3.6 times more than last year. In December, the company announced it had received $40 million in funding from GGV Capital, one of Airbnb’s most prominent investors.
There are 37 Swimply pools listed in the San Antonio area, although several are not accepting bookings until later in the spring or early summer. They rent for $15 to $100 per hour, with discounts sometimes available for multiple bookings.
“We’ve seen strong growth as people who own pools look for ways to profit from what’s often an underutilized asset,” said Asher Weinberger, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “At the same time, the pandemic continued to force families stuck at home to look for safe, outdoor activities.”
A Swimply advisor told Fortuna Vardeman that her pool is swanky enough to command $100 per hour, but recommended she initially charge only $60 per hour until she accumulates enough good reviews to justify the higher rate.
He said the company is taking a more hands-on, good-neighbor approach and now offers hosts up to $1 million in liability coverage and up to $10,000 in property damage protection (with a minimum $250 deductible) per visit.
New hosts are also walked through figuring what to charge, how to keep their pools sparkling clean and figuring out where guests will park so they won’t annoy the neighbors. For example, a Swimply advisor told new pool host Fortuna Vardeman that her pool outside Cibolo is swanky enough to command $100 per hour, but recommended she charge just $60 until she accumulates enough good reviews to justify the higher rate.
Pool owners, or hosts, tend to fall into one of three categories, according to Weinberger: Some are trying build a pool-rental business; others want to reduce the financial burden of owning a pool; still others are motivated simply by the desire to “give back” and share their pool with others.
While some hosts — especially those who live in warm-weather areas where they can operate their pools year-round — can earn as much as $200,000 annually, Weinberger said it’s not unreasonable for a committed host to expect to make as much as $5,000 per month.
In addition to the pool itself, most hosts include basics such as pool toys, umbrellas, lounge chairs, dining tables and access to bathrooms with their rentals. Amenities such as towels, fire pits, grills and hot tubs, are sometimes included and sometimes available for an upcharge.
Unlike most public and private pools, guests are often allowed to bring their own food, alcohol, even pets, although this is at the host’s discretion.
Hosts say that most renters, such as the Simpsons, simply want a place to loll away a hot summer day. About 10 percent of bookings are for special occasions, such as birthdays, family reunions and graduation parties. Pools have also been booked for swimming instructors to give lessons, as baptismal fonts, backgrounds for photo shoots and music videos, even to test underwater drones.
Katherine Rodriguez recently rented Vardeman’s pool outside Cibolo for a family get together. It was the first time many had seen one another since before the pandemic.
“The site was easy to use and book,” Rodriguez said. “And I liked that I was able to communicate with Fortuna to ask her things like what we needed to bring and where we could park.”
About 20 adults and children splashed in the pool for about four hours. While they brought most of their own food and some adult beverages, Vardeman catered two traditional Filipino dishes, chicken pancit, a noodle dish, and pork lumpia, the Filipino version of the egg rolls.
“They were $30 each and they were delicious,” Rodriguez said.
Swimply makes money by taking 15 percent of the host’s fee and a charging renters a 10 percent booking fee.
Not every host-guest match is a winner, however. Simpson said that one pool she and her husband booked was so cloudy, they couldn’t see their hands in the water.
“The owner blamed it on the chemicals he added,” she said. “We decided to stay, and I left a candid review. But it was removed by Swimply or the hosts.”
According to Weinberger, Swimply only removes reviews that violate its operating policies and hosts can only flag a review for Swimply to investigate.
Amy and Torin Simpson, along with a friend’s young daughter, relax in the pool they recent rented on the sharing platform Swimply. Amy estimated that, since last March, they’ve rented three different pools in and around San Antonio a total of eight times.
Sometimes it’s the guests who get out of hand. Mark Salas, a disabled veteran, runs his Oak Hills pool as a business, spending two to three hours preparing it for each new group. While most treat it respectfully, he said he’s developed a sixth sense to help him spot troublemakers and quickly shut down their inquiries about available dates.
“I’ve still had people who were real messy,” he said. “I once found a dirty diaper on the lawn and candy wrappers all over the place. And I’ve had people take my pool toys.”
Still, he’s had to blacklist only one group after their roughhousing destroyed a paddle board and a basketball goal.
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Bouyed by its success, Swimply is now testing the rental potential of other amenity areas of the house, such as basketball and tennis courts, home gyms, music studios, woodworking shops and more. Initial reports say the experiment is going swimmingly.
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