Lori Carter hit her low point 15 years ago. A husband battling addiction left her with six children to raise alone while struggling through a mountain of debt he had accrued without her knowledge.
“When your credit is ruined and you’re left with no money, it’s hard to dig yourself out of a hole,” she says.
But Lori knew two things: the art of the deal, and the value of hard work.
“My best and worst quality is that I don’t give up,” she says. “It’s a good quality to have and it’s one that’s not always in one’s best interest.”
Though we often portray folks who are top achievers in very public ways (White House doctors, CEOs, artists ) we’re just as passionate about telling the stories of those less prominent, especially when we can learn something from the way they’re tackling later life. So this week, we bring you Lori, who came from the brink of bankruptcy to create a mini AirBnB empire in a beautiful, but often overlooked area of the Georgia-Tennessee border.
Truth be told, the savvy Carter displayed in becoming an AirBnB superhost (a rare breed) was on display as early as 5, when she picked flowers from her neighbor’s yard and sold it back to them.
When Carter was in high school, she worked five jobs and still graduated a year early. She had her first daughter less than a year later. And when she and her husband found out they were pregnant, Carter became determined to be a homeowner before the baby arrived. She figured out how to secure a loan and a deposit and bought the house. She was 18. A year or so later, they did the same with another home when the opportunity presented itself.
“That was a way for folks who really didn’t have money to learn how to acquire wealth,” she says. “You could buy a house live it in for a while, paint and powder and you could sell it.”
She went ahead and started two additional businesses—a carpet cleaning business and an estate liquidation business (the latter of which taught her how to value objects)—before hard times hit in the early 2000s. It was her daughter who turned her on to AirBnB. She was falling behind on her mortgage payments on her cabin near picturesque Lookout Mountain and, with most of the children out of the house, she decided to rent out one of the rooms.
“I thought, ‘Wow, if I can just get five nights a month that’d be great,’” she recalled. “And boom, I started getting guests almost every night.”
“AirBnB made a huge—that’s not even the word. I don’t know if I even have a word to describe the difference it’s made,” she says. “ I was able to start a business without having to spend any money.”
Another point to note here: Carter is one of the most hospitable women we know, and her guests soon noticed. She had started a farmer’s market in Chattanooga, the city’s first, the same year. So visitors got a breakfast made from the eggs of chickens pecking around her yard, free-range pork and jams and honey that she had made herself.
“People started putting that in their reviews and before long everyone wanted the breakfast,” she says. “Not only was I paying for my mortgage but there was money left over as well.”
She reinvested the money into her property—getting better bedding, down pillows, replacing the carpet—because she knew that the better the reviews, the more guests she’d attract.
Keep in mind she did all this at the age of 52. To those who feel our generation isn’t tech savvy, take note: Carter was “on eBay when it was still a spreadsheet” and made a nice side business selling items she had found at estate sales.
“There’s still so much I don’t know about technology,” she says. “I just learned what I had to learn in order to do the things I wanted and needed to do.”
A year-and-a-half ago, Carter expanded her offering by getting the bank to lend to her on two additional properties nearby. She worked on the roads getting them in order to make them easier to access, but kept the rustic cabin charm because that was what was attracting guests from as far afield as Puerto Rico and the Netherlands.
“When you have your own business you have to be passionate about it and you have to live it and breathe it 24/7. It never stops,” she says. “I never stop thinking about my job. I live my job. But I love it. I get to meet people from all over the world.”
And she’s got her eye on more. There’s a bigger property of seven acres that she’s in contract on that she plans on turning into an event venue.
“I can’t even understand why people would want to stop doing things and businesses that they enjoy. You never know what’s around the next corner. You never know what you’re going to find interesting down the road.”
Secrets of a Superhost
To become an AirBnB superhost, you need to attract a certain number of guests and reviews, as well as score more than 80% in five different categories, from cleanliness and attentiveness to your overall hospitality. So we asked Lori for some insider tips on how she made it happen. Maybe it sparks an idea in some of you.
Look around. “See what other people are doing. I started noticing the people who had good reviews, people who were getting lots of bookings, and I tweaked [my cottage profiles] from there.”
Get good reviews. “You live and die by your feedback and reviews. Put your best foot forward as much as you can but still be completely square with what you’re offering.
Don’t overvalue it. “People tend to overvalue the things they have because they have a connection to them. So a lot of people will think their AirBnB should be worth so much more than others in their neighborhood. That’s where they should get input from friends and price accordingly. You can always raise prices, but it’s hard to bring them down.”
Refine, then refine some more. “Once you do it, don’t just put the listing up and leave it. I’m on my site every day tweaking.”
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