Short-term rentals provide bargains for those in need because of COVID-19

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Imagine being an international student kicked out of your college dorm but not able to return home because of the novel coronavirus.

That's just one of the many reasons people are looking for short-term rentals after many of those reservations were abandoned when events were canceled in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Short-term rentals, now available on sites such as Airbnb, can offer something traditional short-term rentals can't, something that's a necessity right now -- social distancing.

"We offer isolation. It's not a crowded hotel with a lot of staff or full of other people. It's a home. Just as if you were in your own home," Michelle Owens told ABC 11.

Owens' Chapel Hill home includes an apartment with a private entrance.

It's a three-bedroom with one-and-a-half baths and a full kitchen.

Like many short term rentals in the Chapel Hill area, it was fully booked for spring events, including UNC's graduation, now postponed.

Those bookings are now gone thanks to the novel coronavirus.

"These are people that were coming into town for weddings and for events that have been canceled," Owens said.

But then members of a group she belongs to, the Chapel Hill Short-Term Rental Alliance had an idea.

They realized that, also because of COVID-19, there were now others who needed short-term rentals.

So the president of Chapel Hill STRA decided to market properties including some with reduced rates to those affected by COVID-19.

Owners were receptive.

"Many of them of them are willing and able to safely house temporary medical staff, temporary town workers, stranded students and travelers, anybody who might find themselves in need of some emergency accommodations who can't stay in hotels," said Alexa Nota, the Chapel Hill STRA president.

Michelle Owens cut her rate in half.

"And immediately, as of this morning, we now have our fourth re-booking. In this time period. And they are coming for a number of reasons. One way or another all related to coronavirus," she said.

Her current guests are a mother and two sons who wanted to be near the third son who is a student at UNC while all are trying to limit contact with others.

And they're having to pay just $50 a night.

"This we look at as a win-win. Offering people a good place, a safe place at a good price while we still maintain some level of the income that we've grown to rely upon," Owens said.

And in some cases, owners are offering fringe benefits according to Alexa Nota.

She noted, "Several of our hosts are offering additional services such as picking up and delivering groceries or pharmacy pickups, or local transportation."

Nota said some owners, depending on the circumstances of those inquiring, have even offered their properties for free.
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