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The Mountain House

Our Lake Arrowhead House Has Been An Airbnb For 3 Years Now – Here’s How It’s Going (And Why It’s So Special)

This last time we were in Arrowhead over Memorial Day Charlie, while playing with his toys from when he was four, said “I feel both happy and sad right now”. Elliot agreed and we explained the concept of nostalgia to them. Some of the best memories of our lives were created living here (both before and during lockdown). We moved to Oregon 3 years ago and listed our Arrowhead house to rent, leaving it in the hands of a very competent and wonderful property management team (To Dwell Here). I always knew I wanted to do this, but Brian was nervous about giving the home that we loved so much over to strangers. Well, after the first few months, he turned from being nervous to being thrilled as we saw our risky investment start to be a good one. We are endlessly grateful to have been able to do all that in the first place! It was always part of the plan that this would be a long-term investment property and we’d have to first suffer through a lot of financial nausea with occasional barfing to feel any sort of relief. We would have to spend money to someday, hopefully, break even or make money (obviously the appreciation of the house will help, too). Some people play the stock market, but as a design content creator I play the real estate market to varying degrees of success and failings (read this post about when I lost dough on a super high-end flip). But to have such a successful year in the first year was a real thrill.

And Yet That Didn’t Remain Our Trajectory…

The first year (fall of 2021 – summer 2022) it was rented every weekend and many full weeks even in the spring and fall. People still weren’t back in the office and many schools still weren’t open (or were very lax) so people could happily and easily pop up to the mountains and get out of the city. Who didn’t want a change of scenery? Also, people were likely excited about staying in our specific house (thank you). There were also very few luxury houses that were designed like this up there at the time. So if aesthetics mattered greatly to you, you might have found yourself in a bit of a desert until recently…and now there are like 15 dope houses to choose from.

But…It’s No Longer 2021 (Thankfully For All The Reasons!)

Our house isn’t inexpensive as it’s meant to comfortably house 3 families (three king suites and a bunk room) which means that people likely need to plan way more in advance, and coordinating multiple families is hard. Three-day weekends or holiday breaks, sure. And of course, you can rent on your own but it’s clearly more affordable to go in with more than one family. So as kids got back into school and grownups went back to hybrid work, schedules were less flexible and rentals were way less during the weekdays or off months. This is not a complaint because wow are we thankful to all be in such a safer position now!

So Many Pretty Houses (But None Like This LOL)

As I said, Arrowhead has had an explosion of really beautifully designed houses (mostly managed by To Dwell Here). I think overall this is great for the town as I’m a huge proponent of “a rising tide lifts all boats”. There is room enough for all of us. The more people that know how wonderful Arrowhead is the better for all of us long term – we love this town so much and want people to come and love it too. I used to be terrified that it was going to become crowded and congested with people moving up from LA so I never mentioned where we were for like 3 years, but ultimately the cliffside curvy drive makes it unattractive to commute (especially in the winter) and the likelihood of it “exploding” is low. Regardless, I definitely think that the more robust inventory might convince a potential return renter to have a different experience at a different house (which I totally get).

from: how i spent my summer vacation (a.k.a the best summer ever)

The lake is private so beyond the Lake Arrowhead Queen (vintage-style cruise) and the ski school (that books charters), short-term renters don’t have a lot of lake/boat access. We live close to the lake and with Airbnb passes you can walk around the lake and play at the beach (which is awesome, shallow, safe, buoyed off, and has a playground). We are just a 15-minute walk to the lake (through a forest which we love) or a 3-minute drive to Tavern Bay. So from our property even without access to a boat, you can enjoy lake life. Yes, I’m plugging:)

With All the Awesome Houses Up There Why Rent Ours??

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house primary bed reveal

I never really needed to promote the house – it was just always booked non-stop. We had to buy a second larger washer and dryer to turn around the house in less than a day because we were that slammed. But things have naturally dipped a tiny bit and I think it’s mostly because of the fantastic inventory up there (i.e. competition). So I figured I’d take this time to pitch this house to you, and convince you why we love it so much even when I go without Brian to drive the boat, ha.

We Have A Flat Enclosed Back Yard (With A Tiny Stream)

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house upper deck reveal
from: all the “hows”, “whys” and “how much’s” of the turf at the mountain house + introducing my landscape designer – brian henderson

While there are so many houses on the lake (very few rentable, but some are) they are almost always very vertical houses that don’t have a yard (just decks). Now that’s fine for many renters but if you are a family with multiple kids, you can feel a bit trapped without anywhere to let them just play outside (and then you have to get in the car and find something to do, etc). We have spent so many hours with blankets on the shady grass, with the kids catching frogs. It’s just so easy. It’s not big but it’s kind of the perfect size and we play so much out there.

We Back Up To 50 Acres Of Family Camp For Hiking And Fort Making

from: how i spent my summer vacation (a.k.a the best summer ever)

While it’s not technically our property, we are allowed to respectfully hike around and build temporary forts just outside our yard. Our kids love it so much and we feel so safe letting them wander and play as they know the property so well now. So if you want to go on walks in nature without having to drive to a hiking trail then we got you. Again, I walk/run through the forest most mornings to my morning jump in the lake (and so can you:)). It’s incredible and spoiled me to the point of buying a cold plunge for our house. And if you are scared of the 50 acres, know that it has barriers – it’s not like your kid could get lost – there are cabins around the perimeter on all sides.

We Have EPIC Sledding In Our Back Yard In The Winter

In winter this is a destination for snow (under two hours from LA is crazy), but again many houses (most) are very vertical with no yard = no place to play. The acreage behind us has many cleared paths that when the snow comes become the most incredible sledding hills – WITHOUT HAVING TO GET INTO YOUR CAR. Most parents of young kids will know the importance of that last part. Some of you can be sledding while others nap. Someone can be making lunch while others are making a snowman. A flat backyard with seemingly unlimited sledding hills right outside is priceless in the winter (and we arrange driveway clearing, don’t worry). It’s sooooooo dreamy (and then we cold plunge in the lake in the winter and all your problems are solved!).

We Have A Play Attic For Kids

The kids go upstairs to the play attic we put in and stay there for hours. It was stocked with toys, costumes, a toy “store” and a crafting table (but no longer stocked with crafting supplies because we were spending a decent amount of money a week restocking it). Point is, they have a designated space without screens to play. You’ll be shocked at how long they’ll hang out there because they think it’s their secret clubhouse.

We Have a Bunk Room That Sleeps 6 And More…

before the new bunk beds:) | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house kid’s shared room reveal

I’ve never shot it professionally, but we have 2 twin over full bunk beds that sleep six – all so comfortable. Then even better the floor is huge and can sleep 4-6 more on the most cushiest carpet ever (it has memory foam underneath). Sure you could bring a blow-up mattress, but you really don’t need to (we even have sound machines!). This 4th of July we’ll have 7 kids in there and they are so excited.

We Have KID GEAR: High Chair, Baby Gate, And Pack N’ Play AND TOYS!!

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house family room reveal

I once had two under two, and then two toddlers – it was SO. MUCH. GEAR. So while we might not be able to predict and meet all of your needs we have one high chair, one pack ‘n play, and a baby gate. The house is honestly so kid-friendly (besides having stairs) and all rugs and sofas are now medium-toned fabric. OH, and it comes with bins of games, legos, magnatiles. AND YOU KNOW how much kids love other people’s toys even if they are old Legos or marble runs. There are so many kid books to read (and our kids get super nostalgic for when we lived up there and now read their favorite books to each other or to us – CUE THE CRYING EMOJI).

We Have The Best Property Management Team With Incredible Customer Service And Goodie Bags

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house upstairs guest room

Y’all, I can’t say enough good things about To Dwell Here. As I said, we just stayed there for Memorial Day and I got to show up like a guest. I was so impressed with how Marie and her team pampered us as they do all guests – cute wine, shopping bag, smores ingredients (we have two firepits), and really chic QR codes with all the information. TBH we spend a decent amount a month on these guest goodie bags and I think they make a huge difference. Alexa (one of her employees and our kid’s favorite former babysitter) lives on the street currently so if/when any guests need anything she is there (she’s also sweet enough to answer questions like restaurant recommendations).

I swear they take WAY better care of our house than we would if we lived there (doing seasonal maintenance like spraying for spiders, repainting the decks that chip off, keeping the BBQ propane tanks full, managing our hot tub and pond maintenance). Of course, we pay for it all, but they are so dialed in that it feels extremely streamlined and well executed. We share a decent percentage of the rental dough as we should and they are super reasonable in negotiations (for instance since Mondays/Tuesdays are typically harder to rent out they are authorized to give big discounts to stay an extra day or two rather than it staying empty for no money). Marie makes really great common sense business decisions and runs her business so professionally which I admire a lot. We feel very confident in her hands and have never once needed to question her decisions – they are exactly what I would have done.

So aside from the hammock, hot tub, and fire pit, we have three indoor gas fireplaces, a generator, in case power goes out, and live on such a quiet street. We are on North Shore by Tavern Bay and there isn’t any commerce around here which is likely the only criticism of the house – it’s 12 minutes to the market. But we love how quiet and safe it is, with no traffic and only minimum congestion on Saturdays near Tavern Bay Beach Club.

It’s So Quiet, Peaceful, And Surrounded By Trees

There are a lot of mountain houses that feel cramped or near too much action/slammed against neighbors, which in my opinion defeats the purpose of the getaway. I love how open and spacious this house is, with not a ton of “stuff” that you have to remember where it goes and surrounded by so much nature (but so close to the lake). I know I’m biased. My emotional connection to this house is extremely high and I know there is no way that all of you will love it like I do, but I hope if you ever want to stay here that you’ll really, really enjoy every square inch of it.

Is It Still Profitable?

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house primary bath reveal

Luckily, the answer to that is yes! But if you’re looking to Airbnb a home for yourself there are some things to note: like some years will be busier/more profitable than others. Because our mortgage is low here (comparatively), we don’t need to book the entire month for it to pay for itself. Many months are still pretty full. But I’m a huge energy person and I want happy energy in this house which comes from people enjoying it. We have zero intention of ever selling it so it is not like we chose between selling at its recent peak or renting it out. The options were to rent it out or keep it empty all year. We are SO HAPPY that while we get to have this home, other people can enjoy and appreciate it as well as having it create another form of revenue to support our projects up here in Portland. Oh, and that we still get to enjoy it 2-4 times a year. It’s been a real win/win we are just so grateful for.

If you made it this far it means that you are likely a real reader or a new reader who appreciates my long-windedness so I want to give you a 10% discount (which might not sound like a lot but with the PM cut it’s the best we can do). Email through Airbnb and Marie can arrange a discount for your booking:)

Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House Reveal: Our Light-Filled Neutral & Textural Living Room

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Cici Haus
1 month ago

I love this recap AND the pitch! Except you lost me at “windy cliffside road” – hands down my biggest fear in life! (Also I live in Atlanta, on a lake, so it’s impractical to fly to California for a lake house vacation.) Thank you for sharing yourself, your homes, your life, your vulnerability, and your insights with us!

1 month ago

How does the neighborhood feel about the airbnb visitors? I live in a city, so maybe it’s just that we have a lot more volume of guests around here, but a lot of neighborhoods get really cranky about short term rentals and put up signs saying things like, Keep Neighborhoods for Neighbors. (I am sure that your guests are much more respectful than a lot of the behavior around here that is being complained about–which are often rentals used for late night parties that end up being pretty disruptive and even occasionally dangerous). But reading about all the amenities that are shared with the larger community, I was realizing how if I were airbnbing, I’d be nervous about using some of these things, in case the neighbors hated it!

1 month ago
Reply to  Aileen

Yes, I think even on this site we’ve seen both sides of the story as the younger team members shared how hard it is to get in the housing market in CA in part because of Airbnb investors.

Sarah Grace Romer
1 month ago

Hi! A little synchronicity moment I think. I have been looking at the house all week, thinking about booking! My family has been looking for a vacation for us, brother/sister in law and kids, and grandparents (to celebrate their 70th birthdays).
Would it be a good location to hop over to Disneyland for one day?
Would it be a good location to hop over to Big Bear Resort for a ski day?
Is there a time of the year where you can do both of those things (haha!)? But seriously- like Spring Break in March?
Thank you so much for posting this.
-Sarah Grace

1 month ago

@Sarah Grace Romer – I know you didn’t ask me, but here’s my 2 cents anyway 🙃 Driving time from Lake Arrowhead to Disneyland is going to be 1:45 – 2 hrs each way with light traffic and could easily be 3+ hrs which is a lot of your Disney day to spend in traffic. If Disney is an important destination, I’d recommend staying in or near the Disney parks for a night or 2 at either the beginning or end of your visit. Staying for the fireworks on your last night could be a very fun grande finale to your vacation.
For skiing, Snow Valley is on the way to Big Bear so it only takes 30 min or so to get there from Arrowhead so it can save you time in sometimes congested roads and it’s less expensive than Snow Summit/Bear Mountain but both are do-able for a ski day from Arrowhead.

1 month ago

That price is insanely cheap for your gorgeous house. I was expecting multiple thousand dollars a night based on accommodations and what you wrote. It is beautiful. I just need to find a time to get to California!

K. M.
1 month ago

I own a luxury vacation rental company that rents mountain homes in Colorado for over 20 years and I just wanted to say that rentals have been way down for us this year too. So I think any slow down in rentals could be based on what feels like everything in life just being more expensive nowadays and people traveling less maybe more than more competition of well-designed homes in the Lake Arrowhead area. Just some anecdotal information that might make you feel better about the design rental market becoming more saturated up there :).

1 month ago

I don’t remember the drive being all that scary, but I only did it once in winter. I loved going to the local mountain areas (Arrowhead and Gregory and Big Bear) when I was a kid. Life was slow paced, and you stayed in cabins, not fancy houses, but I guess that’s all in the past. Sigh.
I had a co-worker who lived in Wrightwood (which is a bit down the mountain from Arrowhead), and he made the commute o.k. I wouldn’t go any higher than that if I had to commute M-F.

1 month ago

My second comment on this post, but it would be amazing if you did a post of how to furnish an Airbnb – furniture ideas that can take a lot of guests and hold up to the use and aren’t too precious but still look good and are comfortable. Thank you!

1 month ago

Hi! One thing I would have been curious for in this post is how you think about furnishing/decorating this particular AirBnb, since it’s one you used to live in and one you like to bring your family back to. Are there locked closets where you keep some of your own items? Are things like wall art and knick knacks more sparse? I’d love to hear about how you think about making it Airbnb friendly (and not anxious about your things while away) while still making it something that feels like home when you’re there.

1 month ago

This was really interesting to read. I will have to temporarily relocate for work in two years or so for 10-12 months, so I am just now starting to face the reality of having to rent my beloved house. It’s a similar “don’t-want-to-sell, can’-have-it-sitting-empty” dilemma, although it is not really similar: I live in a 3br, 2ba townhouse in a neighborhood with no rentals and want 1, maybe 2 mid-term renters who are looking for a home-base in a good school district before they buy on their own and let me move back in… But it is good to hear a rental story that is not full of regrets and wild tenants and legal headaches. And it’s a lovely house!