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In this episode of the Boostly Podcast, host Liam interviews James from BnB Uni. James shares his journey in the rental and management business, starting with 23 properties across Sydney and Stockholm. He focuses on rental arbitrage, leveraging Airbnb and his Boostly website, and managing properties on behalf of owners. Despite hosting a diverse range of clients, from vacationers to business travelers, James faced significant challenges, including the stress of rapid expansion and the impact of COVID-19. 

James recounts starting in Sweden, noticing a gap in rental prices, and quickly growing his business to 27 properties. He discusses overcoming challenges, such as a costly mistake with virtual assistants and adapting during the pandemic.

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[00:00:00] Liam: Welcome back to the Boostly podcast, the podcast that gives hosts the tools, the tactics, the training, and most importantly, the confidence. So you can go out there and get yourselves direct bookends. We have a mini-series here on the Boostly podcast where we get to interview hosts, people who are doing interesting things, and successful things from all over the world.

[00:00:18] And we've got a very special guest on today. We've got James from B&B Uni. So welcome along, James. Thank you for joining me today.

[00:00:26] James: Thank you, Liam. You sound much more professional and, and crisp than before we started talking before. Well done.

[00:00:34] Liam: No worries. This, uh, radio. Exactly. It's, uh, I've learned this from, uh, somebody closer to your part of the world, which is Julie George.

[00:00:42] She is amazing when she, uh, when she switched. Oh yeah.

[00:00:45] James: I remember her.

A bit about B&B Uni

[00:00:47] Liam: Yeah, she's, uh, she's around in a lot of the, um, uh, you know, she does a lot of the speaking gigs around the US and all over the world now, but James, anyway, introduce yourself, uh, tell me a bit about your business, like the elevator pitch of yours, your business.

[00:01:00] James: Um, I've got about 23 properties between. Uh, Sydney, Australia, and, uh, Stockholm, Sweden. Uh, most of my, most of my money comes from rental arbitrage, like renting with permission from the owner to sublet on Airbnb and other platforms. Um, and as, as well as my own Boostly website. Um, and then the, around a quarter comes from management deals, like managing.

[00:01:30] Places on behalf of owners and taking a percentage, uh, and I live between Sydney for four to six months a year and Europe for about the same time for the last two years since the pandemic, um, and plan to keep doing that until, until that's not possible.

Who are the people you tend to host?

[00:01:49] Liam: Can you let the listeners know a bit more about those 23 units?

[00:01:54] Who, who are the people you tend to host? Um, why do they come and stay with you? Um,

[00:01:59] James: so it's a lot of people. And so that question that they have like a concise answer, a couple of different types, but it's just completely random, um, from all different countries and all different purposes, whether it be a common, uh, vacation or business trips and so on.

[00:02:19] Um. So, yeah, it's pretty, it's pretty random.

What appeals to you about different models

[00:02:25] Liam: Got it, got it. When it comes down to those different models, what is it that appeals to you about those different models? Why did you not stick with one and go for the rest? Um, yeah, talk to us about that. Okay,

[00:02:37] James: so, so I started, I started in Sweden, like 2016, I moved there for a girl and I could either get a, I could either study or get a job like a low paying job or start a business.

[00:02:53] I noticed the gap between the long-term prices and the Airbnb prices was like 3 to 4x. So I rented a two-bedroom place. Without permission to rent out the other room. I told them that I was going to have a business associate staying or whatever. Um, so I was staying there and renting out the other room.

[00:03:11] They caught me. They said, Hey, what are you doing? Then we negotiated to just put the whole place back on Airbnb. It used to be on Airbnb like before and she was sick of the stress. So that was my first one. And then after that, I started doing management deals and I, and I, well, and also kind of, uh, it was arbitrage.

[00:03:29] It was kind of like guarantee deals where the host is trying to rent it out for 500 euros per week. I'll say, I'll get you five 50 or 600 and, um, I'll keep the rest or, otherwise we can do a per cent split. And then I scaled up to like 27 properties in two years and I was just stressed out of my mind at all different cleaners and I didn't have a car, catching taxis to Ikea and carrying bags, the big blue bags by myself, all that sort of stuff.

[00:03:53] Um, and when you have 27, well, it was probably 20 management deals and, uh, seven guarantee kind of deals. Uh, you're dealing with like 15 to 20 different people and personalities and you can't control how the place looks. So. I didn't furnish places when I was back in Sweden. Then when I moved back to Australia a few years Like a year after that, I got to 27, I just started renting places with permission and then I would furnish them as well.

[00:04:26] So I could control everything down to the paintings on the wall. And I kind of created a formula where you can squeeze out, like, in my opinion, every possible dollar, like to, to the 5%, uh, from a property by completely optimizing according to like the location, um, and the style of the property for what you're, you're.

[00:04:49] So, how long

[00:04:50] Liam: ago was when you first started in Sweden versus where

[00:04:54] James: you are now? Uh, so it was 2016 in Sweden. And then after a year I had, um, seven properties. And then another year later, it was 2027. Um, they weren't long-term deals, the 27, or probably around half of them were for less than six months.

[00:05:14] So, yeah, it was a big surge and, you know, I got scammed by a VA that was, um, I, cause I had a six-week holiday booked and I was already working like 60 hours a week or more. I was like, what am I going to do? I'm going to have to hire a manager. And she convinced me to hire loads of VAs. And I'd never run a business like this before.

[00:05:33] She's like, Oh, you need to have one VA per three properties. So I just trusted her. And, um, then we had like eight or nine VAs getting like a thousand US dollars a month. And then by the end of the summer, I don't know, they made like 15 grand or something profit. And I was like, Oh, I had to just cut everyone except for like two or three, the best ones.

[00:05:51] Was that the biggest

[00:05:52] Liam: challenge? Were there any other challenges along your journey?

[00:05:54] James: Well, COVID was a challenge. Um, that was that was probably still the second biggest challenge after that whole, that whole, you know, not making money when you have so many properties. Um, But I, I found that with a combination of, you know, creating rents or, you know, setting management deal owners expectations and convincing that it was still a better idea to keep it on so that we can capitalize from summers and stuff like that.

[00:06:24] Um, and by selecting the right properties and furnishing them in the right way, they were still worth more than, What I was paying in the rent, even though there was such a shock to the market, so I was still able to, like, make okay money through that period and not, like, lose money, like, if I, I don't know how many guaranteed rents I had per week, but I wasn't, like, losing money on each deal.

[00:06:45] I was, like, at least covering the costs on the worst ones.

Biggest wow moment  

[00:06:49] Liam: What's been the biggest wow moment or the biggest success since 2016? What, what stands out as being something that you're, you're very proud of or something which was, uh, hard to do when you got there?

[00:07:01] James: Um, the biggest wow moment is like, I reached it actually in, in like February, January, February of 2020.

[00:07:12] And it's basically when you don't need to check your phone every day or do tasks. Mm-Hmm. and you've, you get VAs that you trust and they're, you've got them, you know, covering all the periods where they need to cover like 9:00 AM till 11:00 PM and yeah, you, you could just kind of go on holiday for like at least a week.

[00:07:33] Without checking anything, rather than checking every single day to make sure everything is all good. It's kind of, I guess the word is like asana in meditation or something. It's like this, uh, promised lands on the other side of getting things like all your systems set up. And then, and then the pandemic hit and then, but then I reached it again like, uh, 18 months ago or so.

[00:07:56] Liam: How do you find that team of people so you can get to that Asana moment?

[00:08:01] James: Every time I've had a problem in VA, And then now I've had these lessons, I've learned that it was ultimately my fault. And just one little thing that ticks me off at the start of the interview or the first two months. It, uh, that ended up proving to be like going ten times that problem.

[00:08:21] You know, that red flag that was turned into like ten red flags later. So you always need to trust your gut and just be picky. And, you know, just cut people loose either in the interview, don't think, Oh, yeah, they seem okay. They can't just seem okay. They need to seem perfect. So you need to check their previous bosses.

[00:08:39] If they, if they say, Oh, some excuse, then don't, don't talk to them anymore. You need to post the ad on Upwork with like, um, please. Start your application with the word banana with a capital B and the rest lowercase. So I know you have attention to detail. You put that in the middle of a block of text. I'm not sure how to counter the AI thing, but usually, you can, you can see if someone's using chat GPT, um, GPT.

[00:09:07] In their application. And then ask questions as well to filter their application. Like, okay, what is a, what is the best channel manager that you've had experience with? Uh, why did you like that? So then you can just easily sort through all the people that are just taking a gamble and seeing if they, if you're gonna hire them, basically having a

[00:09:25] Liam: blast.

[00:09:25] Gonna get

[00:09:26] James: it's on the Bruce Lee podcast. Bruce Lee. Let Bruce Lee 'cause it's so hard on the teas, loosely, making up those rhymes. Don't write it, just do it loosely.