Among the many things we celebrated early in late April 2020 — like commuting and getting dressed for the office — there was arguably no bigger misfire than phoning AirBnB.
It was understandable: the company reported an 85 percent drop in bookings, and social media seemed littered with landlords sweating over vacant properties. Landlords began swapping their short-term rentals and renting them out as longer-term; rental prices fell (alongside Airbnb stock prices). There was no reason to believe this wasn’t the moment when this ever-expanding bubble would finally burst.
But two years later, the housing market has more than made up for lost time. Despite the brief rise in home affordability, house prices are higher than ever, homeownership has become even less affordable (along with rising interest rates) and travel is picking up again – bringing back business for short-term landlords who rely on vacationers. Local councils have even reported that landlords are evicting their long-term tenants to convert their properties to Airbnbs and rent them out.
And online, the influencers, self-help gurus, and business-minded life coaches are encouraging their followers to participate in this ongoing real estate boom — though their young audiences are often on the sharp end of its influence.
One of the main places landlords thrive is #PropertyTok, a subsection of TikTok full of content by and for landlords. Here you’ll find videos of landlords bragging about inflating houses they bought cheap, often charging four times the monthly mortgage, giving advice on finding and exchanging cheap properties, and themselves boasting that they live solely on “passive income” they receive from their real estate portfolios.
While #PropertyTok has some content that just talks about houses or private home renovations, some of the most popular videos come from dedicated landlord influencers. That includes the likes of Samuel Leeds (149,000 followers) and James Property (341,000 followers), who use their accounts solely to talk about and promote big landed property – and to preach how easy it could become your also a lucrative lifestyle.
These types of influencers are at the forefront of the online rental movement and play an important role in promoting a vulturistic approach to real estate investing. But beyond the broad rise of landlord influencers, more niche, targeted landlord influencers have emerged who seek to defer and gloss over the consequences: arguing that becoming a landlord can actually be an act of “self-care.”
This particular language is often used by so-called “real estate coaches,” a type of landlord influencer typically found on Instagram whose content is geared towards millennial women who use girlboss-style talking points to encourage people to connect register for mentoring. Shrouded in crude feminist language, these “coaches” talk about how – for a fee – they can make women feel “empowered” and “free” by teaching them how to build a real estate portfolio and saying that they are women can help “become successful Landlord Queens”.
These influencers make pseudo-feminist arguments and talk about there being a gender bias in renting and investing in real estate, with mission statements pointing to correcting this imbalance with more female landlords. Entire companies and programs based on these ideals have sprung up in the US in recent years, such as Lady Landlords and Real Estate InvestHER, which charge mentorship fees and offer expensive coaching packages costing thousands of dollars under the guise of educating women how to take care of themselves “mentally and physically” so they are able to “build generational wealth”.
While not exclusively geared toward female accounts — “financial freedom” is the daily buzzword for most full-time landlords — the adopted social-justice-tinged jargon helps convey the wider implications for others (not least many of her younger followers). obfuscate ) raising rents and buying up additional lots for a profit. By focusing on narratives of individual “empowerment” through wealth creation, they choose to shape full-time rental as a societal good.
While landlord content can feel almost inescapable online, its popularity stands in ironic contrast to the financial reality of most of the people who consume it. Much like many of the trends written about in the last year, such as the Great Resignation, with mass voluntary employee resignations, the Death of Ambition, a movement of people who value career success less, and the YOLO economy, in where young people have chosen to forgo work altogether, the rise of large landowners represents only a fraction of a relatively affluent segment of the population—with ample savings, resources, and salaries high enough to buy deposits and mortgages.
So its widespread popularity shows who this trend appeals to. It goes beyond those who actually have a shot at being a landlord and speaks to those for whom full-time renting will always be a goal; an extremely unlikely future reality. Like much of influencer spending online, landlord content serves both as a functional feature for those who are already in that position, and as a worthwhile bar for those who simply wish they were.
The rise of online renting doubles its negative impact: not only is it hurting the housing market and affordability, but it is also changing the minds of young renters, encouraging them to view renting as something that people not only buy for money, but also “ rightfully “doing” for self-care rather than being a core element of what is making their lives increasingly unlivable.
In the UK, governments have started to take action to reduce the number of short term rentals as well as the number of properties available for subletting. In Edinburgh, where Airbnbs accounted for one in 10 city center homes before the pandemic, the City Council has just won approval to crack down on landlords converting residential properties into short-term rentals. New rules come into force in Wales next year that can require second home owners to pay up to 300% council tax, with similar plans being considered elsewhere in the UK. Just last month, the UK government launched a consultation on the balance between tourist occupied houses and local occupied houses.
However, it seems unlikely that these relatively small penalties will be enough to dissuade would-be landlords (as well as current ones) from becoming part of the lucrative short-term rental boom, given the massive rewards being advertised online.
Until stricter rules are put in place, the gap between those who create landlord content and those who watch the videos from their overpriced housemates will only widen.