Gardendale’s Eric & Anna Firestone Built a Short-Term Rental Success Story

Tell us a little about you and your journey to the short term rental business?

Our family and I moved to Gardendale in the spring of 2018 after living in several communities in Alabama.  We are a teaching and coaching family.  Gardendale quickly became home for us.  In all the towns we have lived in, Gardendale was the most accepting and best fit for all five of our family members. So when the small, half-empty storage units on main street went up for sale in fall of 2021 we saw that as a way to plant roots and start something for our family’s future. We were able to take out a loan, make some improvements to the property and have been blessed to retain 90%-100% occupancy since purchase.

Firestone Storage in Gardendale.

We also have been able to purchase two other properties as long-term rentals just as God brought the perfect tenants into our lives.  We once again were approved for loans. These properties yet again support themselves, and provide two beautiful families a home when they most need it.  That wasn’t us.  That was God working.

Unfortunately, not long after this, my wife Anna had some health issues and had to resign from her teaching position at Fultondale High School in early 2022.  Her health requires weekly medicinal infusions and therefore necessitates a much more flexible daily schedule. We needed an avenue for her to use her talents and skills, as well as a means that our family could use to help supplement the loss of her income for our family.  We were once again approved for a loan and bought an additional house with the plans to use it as a short term rental in June of 2022.

How successful have the rentals been and what types of folks rent your homes?

Since then we have rented to over 50 people and their families.  To our knowledge we have had zero complaints for our Short Term Rental.  We have rented to people for a variety of reasons including those who are visiting family here in Gardendale, those traveling here for work, those who are in town for funerals/weddings, and so many more reasons.  Each of our guests share their own stories for visiting.  And yes, we’ve declined tons of requests because they just don’t fit our place or neighborhood, or because we just got a weird feeling.

What is crazy awesome is that ALL of our guests have loved our town just like we do! Which is really not hard to believe at all, because Gardendale is Amazing!

How has your family embraced the business?

We are a small, family owned business.  Each of our family members has been involved in various aspects of running our rental.  We are teaching our children hard work and the importance of working hard for our family.  The kids help us with yard work and maintenance, and even helped us with different aspects of the renovations. Anna manages the day to day aspect of the business as well as guest relations. Then on weekends we work with our cleaner (a single mom) to refill items in the home that are needed for guests, and to ready the home for the next guests before they arrive. We are not absentee landlords, we are there multiple times a week, and we communicate often with each guest. When we need work done we hire other locally owned small businesses to do that work for us.  After all expenses being paid we are not making much money at the end of each month, and that goes right back into our reserve account for the property.  We are far from being a large corporation that is trying to ruin the community feel that we love.  We want to be an alternative place for families to stay while in Gardendale.

If you have ever gone through the process of purchasing a home then you know that a realtor cannot legally give you information on the neighbors or neighborhood.  The sellers of the home being sold cannot legally know anything about any of the potential purchasers of the property.

So, to say that we had an advantage over someone else in order to purchase this home is untrue.  We went in and made an offer just like the next guy.  The difference? Our bank made us come up with a 25% down payment instead of the 3% down payment that someone residing in the home would have been able to “come to the table with”.  However, none of that is up to the seller or even privy to the seller.  The seller only hears the offers and makes their decisions based on those facts alone. We have made enhancements to this home which in turn benefits the neighborhood’s home and property values.  It helps with neighboring home appraisals, curb appeal, and much more.  Our property in fact is better kept up, and more consistently kept up than many of the properties around us.

Some believe that having these short term rentals in residential neighborhoods means you can’t know for sure who will be in the home and what they may do?

When it comes to the argument of not being able to control who comes and goes in and out of the house, I must ask if you are able to do that with any of your neighbors? As mentioned before, when purchasing or selling a home the realtors cannot legally divulge information on the sellers, buyers, or the neighbors.  Therefore, how in the world can anyone make those decisions whether long-term, short-term, renter, owner, or visiting for dinner? I know I didn’t choose any of my neighbors or who visits them, nor did I choose who purchased the house three doors down when it sold a few months back.  If the one unhappy neighbor/family wishes it had never sold the house to begin with then it sounds like sellers’ remorse to me and not an issue with Airbnb specifically. They could be just as upset that Johnny and Sue moved in over Bill and Donna. Who knows?  I mean it could’ve been a crack house…I have lived next to one of those before and guess what… was absolutely out of our control.

We only want to help be a part of making our local city grow and thrive.  We do not want those huge corporations coming in and taking over our neighborhoods either.  We also are against guests who are coming through just to party and leave. We are for working with the City Council and coming up with solutions on ordinances that work for everyone so that our locally owned and run Airbnbs can stay and the City can benefit as well. Why build up more restaurants, shopping, travel ball parks, grocery stores, and more but not provide options for travelers to make their own choices?

After years of a career that resulted in relocation, we have finally planted some roots in a place and called it our home.  We’ve invested in a community that invested in us.  We saw an opportunity to build something new and exciting in a community that is growing and expanding; a community that seemed to be welcoming growth.

*Feature Photo: Kathy Caufield Photography.