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The 5 Lessons I Learned when Launching My Beach House Airbnb

It is nothing like it looks on TV.

July 7, 2021
Beach house in Destin, Florida
It was a dream come true finding this seemingly perfect cottage right next to Crystal Beach. Brooke Morton

When I walked to the closing table on January 6, I was high on fantasy. Pinching myself, I couldn’t believe I’d found a screaming deal of a beach cottage just across the Scenic Highway 98 from the white beaches of Destin, in the Florida Panhandle. My plan was to take six weeks and replace the floors, as well as every piece of kitschy décor—from the glass table with an elephant sculpture base to the seahorse bedside lamps—and replace it with updated surfer appeal.

While my contractor did the dirty work, I pictured myself going to yoga every morning and drinking iced lattes at the beach in the afternoon. I thought I would even start writing the novel I had always dreamed of. It felt like the perfect opportunity for a gorgeous holiday while also diving into a new income stream. Packing what I thought I needed for this new life—flip-flops, my paddle board, all my swimsuits, and rollerblades—I set off.

Don’t expect sunny days just because that’s what we see on HGTV.

A surf-themed beach house retreat.
The overall goal was overhauling this property to become a surf-themed beach retreat. Brooke Morton

Although January 6 was a bright and sunny day, January 7 was not. I woke to a black, angry sky and rain—which should have been enough of an omen—and my contractor showing up at 7 am. I say “my contractor” but Chris was someone I had never worked with before. My home is in Orlando, a six-hour drive south of Destin.

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Briefly, I considered hiring my Orlando guy to pop up and replace my floors. I guessed it would only take two weeks to do the work. When my local guy gave me a quote that included a per diem for his meals, it seemed fortuitous when, shortly thereafter, I got a call from Chris, who found me through the tile store I had called when shopping for flooring.

Chris started straight away, taking measurements and tackling my list of everything that needed fixing in the units, from the broken bunkbed ladders to the handles on the sliding glass doors (the place was sold as one property, but was really two apartments, one above the other).

Contractors need to be managed—closely—and preferably from onsite.

Bunk beds in a bedroom
Step by step, little things like the bunk bed ladders and door handles needed to be fixed in order to move this transformation along. Brooke Morton

About a week in, it seemed to make sense that I should head home to Orlando for a week so that I would not be underfoot while Chris was replacing the floors. Plus, it also didn’t make sense for me to buy any new furniture until the floors were finished. Home I went.

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During that week, I stayed in contact with my contractor and thought we were on the same page. When I returned, seven days later, the floors had not been finished. Because I was not onsite to keep an eye on Chris during that time, he instead clocked in at his other job sites. He’d done almost no work on my cottage.

You either need to be prepared to get dirty or bring piles of money.

Bedroom with coral painted wall
With two floors to renovate, that meant overseeing the work and reimagining the décor for both kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms (second floor pictured). Brooke Morton

That’s when I realized this was not going to be a beach holiday. Rather, I would need to wear the general contractor hat and manage my one worker to make sure we finished—at all. Before I had taken my trip home, I expected the Destin house to be done by the end of February. Now, I was praying that we would finish before summer.

Every morning, I met Chris at 7 am, assigning myself the role of his assistant. I ran back and forth to Lowe’s, buying screws, light fixtures, caulk and whatever else he needed to keep moving. In between, I painted the kitchen cabinets, ordered new tile for the backsplash and ordered all the new furniture, including sofas, beds and dining room tables—all trying to time it so it didn’t arrive before the floors upstairs and downstairs were finished.

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There is no glamour in renovating.

Community pool
There was no time for rest and relaxation during this renovation, which is a shame since the pool is right there. Brooke Morton

Lucky for me, I have spent maybe a fifth of my life sleeping outside in a tent or in the back of my car while road-tripping. Camping is my norm. During the renovation, it didn’t phase me at all that the fridge was moved to the bedroom while the floor was being finished. What’s more, furniture arrived way earlier than anticipated. We pushed it to the center of the main living area, keeping the walls exposed so Chris could finish the baseboards.

I was living in a veritable box city. Because I didn’t want to unpack the sofa and risk getting drywall sludge or paint splattering on it, I instead spent my few downtime hours in a Tommy Bahama beach chair, relying on another box as a coffee table. It seems that everywhere you look, whether it’s social media or HGTV, renovations look pretty during each phase.

Not so for me. My place looked so disastrous that even three nights before my photographer was scheduled to take the “after” photos for the Airbnb listing, a friend came over and remarked that I “was off to a good start.”

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Pack wisely.

Crystal Beach, Destin, Florida
Bottom line: renovating is hard work that leaves little time for play. That’s extremely challenging when all you want to do is lounge on Crystal Beach. Brooke Morton

I didn’t need any of the cute beach clothes I brought. Rather, I wore a few pairs of yoga pants, T-shirts, and sweatshirts that all had paint and grime on them. I noticed that my contractor and electrician both wore hiking boots, so I swapped out my tennis shoes for those when my feet were sore after days of running around (and getting nowhere).

The journey started on January 6 and didn’t end until April 26—just shy of four months. I recognize I am super lucky to steal away for so long. As for the beach, I managed to go about five times, but never came close to getting a tan. And not once did I wear the rollerblades.

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