Sarasota couple Valerie Wadsworth-DeLieto and Lee DeLieto Jr. have the traditional side of real estate covered: Wadsworth-DeLieto handles residential estate, while her husband is in commercial real estate. The duo, both with Sarasota-based Michael Saunders & Co., has a combined 30 years in the business.
While not giving up their day jobs, the couple has also recently invested in a second gig: hosting Airbnb properties.
The online hospitality marketplace, surging in popularity in the past few years, offers a wide range of places to stay, from boats to mother-in-law-suites to full houses. Guests love it for the variety and convenience and because it's not a hotel, while hosts have capitalized on the opportunity to earn extra money — many cases in something they already own.
DeLieto and Wadsworth-DeLieto have seized that opportunity and taken it a step further, creating a pair of high-end Airbnb units with Ritz-Carlton-like touches, mints on the pillows and robes in the closets. “I always do my best to wow them and go above and beyond,” says Wadsworth-DeLieto.
The couple offers two properties on Airbnb. One, dubbed Sea Turtle Cottage, is a 350-square-foot studio unit they own next door to their own house, on Sixth Street in Sarasota's Gillespie Park neighborhood, just north of downtown. The other unit, the Mermaid & Corkscrews Loft, is a new-construction property, a 650-square-foot loft.
Led by Wadsworth-DeLieto, the couple hosted guests in the Sea Turtle Cottage since late 2015, while the Mermaid & Corkscrews Loft debuted on Airbnb in July. Getting into Airbnb isn't a gateway drug to owning a bed-and-breakfast, the couple says, but more of an obvious use of land and space combined with zoning rights and the hospitality industry disruption Airbnb provides.
“It's a lot more welcoming way to stay somewhere,” says Wadsworth-DeLieto, 44. “You can experience a whole community and it's more personal this way.”
The couple has used Airbnb on the guest side for years, staying in ones when traveling to Montreal and Easton Pa., among other places. They had annual tenants in the smaller cottage they own for a three years, up until they decided to give Airbnb a try in late 2015.
The Sea Turtle Cottage's amenities include a front-load washer and dryer, internet TV and a queen size bed. There's also an outdoor loveseat and rocking chair under mature tree canopies. The property, which can accommodate one or two people, was booked every night during season last year, says Wadsworth. Nightly rates averaged $150 in season, around $100 in the summer months.
The couple's second Airbnb unit stems from a bigger master plan: DeLieto, 52, wanted a man cave, Wadsworth-DeLieto (and DeLieto) sought a wine cellar and they both wanted a garage. So the couple built it on land behind their home, a 1920s Craftsman bungalow they've owned and lived in since 2010.
Instead of a one-level building, they went up, built a second story, where the separate entrance is on the alley behind Sixth Street. They designed the building and concept with the idea of making the second floor an Airbnb unit. The construction and interior design cost at least $400,000. “We had a big piece of property,” says DeLieto, “and we knew we could do it with the zoning.”
Like the Sea Turtle Cottage, the one-bedroom Mermaid & Corkscrews Loft is high-end, including cork flooring, a fully equipped kitchen and a stone, tile and rain-head shower. Wadsworth-DeLieto leaves a bowl of fruit and flowers for guests, and a bottle of wine and cookies in the fridge. A maid service comes after every stay to prepare for the next guests. “I've added a lot of special touches,” says Wadsworth-DeLieto.
The Mermaid & Corkscrews Loft will run from $225 to $250 a night in season, and around $150 a night in slower months.
Wadsworth-DeLieto says a lot of what she does for guests is natural hosting instincts — and a reflection of what she looks for when she travels. In the process of hosting on Airbnb, she's learned a lot about hospitality. On the down side, she's discovered not everyone is honest: guests recently stole towels. On the up side, she and DeLieto have connected with guests visiting everywhere from Cape Coral to Marin County, Calif.
“I've learned when people travel, they really want an experience,” she says, “and I try to provide the experience as best I can.”
Valarie Wadsworth-DeLieto calls her foray into Airbnb hosting a nice “retirement income” for her and her husband, Lee DeLieto Jr.
But in developing her host skills over the past 18 months, the couple has become ambassadors of sorts for the Sarasota tourism industry. Hundreds of people have stayed at the couple's first Airbnb. They've used the unit as a place to stay after a day at the beach, golf course, Sarasota Film Festival and even trips to scout out houses for sale.
More than 35 Airbnb guests have posted positive comments on Airbnb about Wadsworth-DeLieto, her high-end personal touches and the Sarasota area in general. Wadsworth-DeLieto has so many positive comments, and no negative ones, that she was recently named an Airbnb Superhost for the high-quality stays.
Hometowns of guests who have visited the couple's Airbnb units, the Sea Turtle Cottage and the Mermaids & Corkscrews Loft, include Portland, Ore., Lindenwold, N.J., and Canal Winchester, Ohio. Orlando, Canada and Wisconsin are represented, too.
“Val & Lee provide such a precious place to vacation!” wrote one couple from Sugar Hill, Ga., on Airbnb's comment page. “Both are so welcoming, and are available should you need anything! We will definitely be back!”
Another comment highlighted the “super clean and beautifully decorated” unit. It had “everything we needed to cook meals and enjoy a glass of wine out on the patio, and had plenty of storage and hangers in the closets,” commented a guest from South Milwaukee. “(We) found it to be a great home base for exploring the beaches around Sarasota. One of our best Airbnb experiences ever!”