Boatsetter is among a growing number of startups forging new rental marketplaces for luxuries like boats, extra bedrooms, or backyard space. Call it the sublet economy. Everything you own can become an source of extra income, and everything you want to rent can be leased from a friendly stranger.The model was pioneered and popularized by Airbnb , the now-ubiquitous home-rental platform. When Airbnb started in 2008, the idea of turning your house into a crash pad, or paying a few hundred dollars to sleep in a stranger’s guest room, was still fringe. There were some full-home rental websites like VRBO at the time, but single-room rentals were an option mostly for backpackers on a budget or cash-strapped college students.
Now, the rental economy is everywhere, and for everyone. There are Airbnb-style marketplaces for cars (Turo), for garage storage (Spacer), for private jets (Jettly). You can rent someone’s bed for a midday nap (Globe) or even take a dip in someone’s pool (Swimply).“People are interested in turning their underutilized assets into something that can make them money each month,” says Spencer Burleigh, cofounder of Rent the Backyard, which lets homeowners turn their unused outdoor space into rental housing.Rent the Backyard builds cottage-style studio apartments in empty backyards and then rents them out to singletons. The company covers the building costs; in exchange, it keeps half the rent. The website promises homeowners up to $12,000 in income a year.
In the Bay Area, where Rent the Backyard is building its first units, a squeezed housing market has sent property values soaring. For homeowners, selling backyard space offers some relief on the mortgage. For renters, it creates an alternative to increasingly costly and competitive apartment space. “It isn’t just taking a fixed pie and fighting over who gets a cut; it’s actually expanding the pie for everyone involved,” says Burleigh.Hipcamp, the “Airbnb for campsites,” takes a similar aim. The platform connects campers with empty backyards and private lands where they can spend the night. For $50, you can pitch a tent in someone's private flower garden near Mount Tamalpais State Park, just north of San Francisco. You can also find teepees, tree houses, and yurts to sleep in, along with private farmland and meadows across the country.
“Fifty percent of the US is privately owned, and often it’s among the most pristine land because there aren’t as many people on it,” says Alyssa Ravasio, Hipcamp’s founder and CEO. “Campers were so excited to have new places to go, and landowners were so excited to have a new source of revenue.”