Q + A with Interior Designer & Realtor Jess Martin

Thinking about starting that Airbnb? Jess Martin is an interior designer turned Realtor. In addition to being a founder and managing broker of Mayright Property Co., she and her husband own and operate several Airbnbs. Martin discusses tips for running an Airbnb as well as suggestions for one’s own home.

Paula Katz: Could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today?

Jess Martin: I moved to Indy 13 years ago, during the recession, with a degree in interior architecture. I was lucky enough that I found a job quickly after I relocated in commercial design; it was kind of my dream job. And then as we continued plugging through the recession, my husband and I bought our first house. I loved the process of buying a house.
During that time, the design build world had become really challenging. I had taken a pay cut, but we didn’t work any less hours. In that industry, it quickly became really apparent I could not continue that career at that moment and have children. So, I switched to sales in the architecture and design world. It just wasn’t my calling. At that point we were buying our second home and realized how much I loved buying and selling properties. My husband encouraged me to switch careers again. And I jumped into real estate. We’ve lived here 13 years and we’ve moved six times. We’ve always bought low and fixed up and put in a bunch of sweat equity into a house. Through that process we were fortunate enough to be able to keep one of the properties located in Kennedy King, right on the Monon and started an Airbnb. From that point on we discovered how much we love Airbnb.

PK: So, you have had six houses. How do you manage not always wanting to buy a new home? Can you tell me about the home you are in now?

JM: I love staying busy. I have never really bought a house that I was like, “this is perfect, I don’t need to change a thing.” I love to buy house where I think, “there is really great possibilities here.” I loved all my homes, but I am always taking on big projects at the properties. The house I am in right now is a historic home built in the 1890s. The exterior is historic charm, but inside all the character was stripped out. Outside it was 1890; inside it was like 2008. They had torn everything out, and so now I am adding the “old” back.

Martin on the stairs she had rebuilt to add back in historic touches to her current home.

PK: When considering buying a property to turn into an Airbnb, should one consider that space different than their own residential space?

JM: Yeah, definitely. I have had several clients purchase homes for Airbnb. People don’t necessarily want to rent a house that looks just like what they live in. When we live in a home people tend to go with designs that have a lot of longevity. When it comes to Airbnb design, you want something that is a little bit bolder. You want something that has that artistic flair, that feels special. I think those are the Airbnbs that stand out when people are looking for a place to rent.

There is also size to consider. Personally, for our Airbnbs, we have a different model than a lot of people think of when they consider buying a property. A lot of people go big, wanting to put a lot of beds into a large house. All our Airbnbs are small models, with one or two bedrooms. For us, that has really worked. Our Airbnb’s get longer stays with smaller families and people traveling for business, not just large groups coming in for the weekend for a bachelorette party.

Kitchen view of “Urban Cabin”

PK: Do you have any specific tips for people who might already own a property they are considering turning into an Airbnb?

JM: We owned something and decided to turn it into an Airbnb. Honestly, we packed up our clothes and we moved out. We left all the kitchen appliances, the hangers, we left everything. For an Airbnb, most often people leave them too minimal. People want something that feels cozy, that feels lived in. They don’t want something that is sparse with one painting on the wall. Make it feel lived in, like a home. Have that personality that you want your own home to have. Don’t be afraid to add that personality. It doesn’t need a white box; I think it needs to be the opposite.

“Boho Cottage” Interior view

PK: What would you say to someone who has a limited budget? Where would you put your money to make a property feel special?

JM: I think it comes down to the property. You don’t want something that feels like a white box. I own an Airbnb that is a white box. It’s a newer build. We had to do some things to make it feel special, by adding some texture and pattern and color, to add that interest. I love houses that have exposed brick. Natural wood in a space adds a lot of texture. There is not one specific thing I’ll tell people to spend money on, it’s more like, let’s focus on this space and see what kind of character this space naturally has and then play off that.

Living Room View of “Urban Cabin”

PK: Do you have any tips for people that are working on renovating or thinking about it soon? Also, do you recommend renovating before listing a house on the market?

JM: Everyone has different goals with what they want to achieve with their home and how quickly they want to sell it and if they have the money to put a bunch into a renovation. There are usually small projects you can take on, like touching up paint, changing out cabinet hardware or light fixtures. Just changing out that cabinet hardware can make it look so new and fresh.

PK: How do you recommend working with a designer if you don’t think it’s in your budget for an entire home renovation?

JM: I have clients all the time ask about a designer that they can hire just to pick out furnishings. That is all they need or want. The designer will pick up furnishings and source them and even pass on a designer discount for a lot of those places. I don’t think people realize that.

And, even if you choose to do one room then you can borrow some of that design and add into other elements in the house, whether it’s from colors, texture, or where to source things. It doesn’t have to break the budget to hire a designer and it can be really special.

“Urban Cabin” Bedroom

PK: Are there any trends that you have seen lately that you love or that you wish would go away? And are there any emerging trends you think will grow or you are starting to see more?

JM: Yes. The gray-on-gray trend. It drives me nuts when I’m flipping through real estate photos and suddenly wonder whether my screen went to black and white. Do I think everyone needs to go bold color? No, but add some earthy tones somewhere. The gray floor, with the white walls and white cabinets and black counter tops. It’s all too black and white for me. That is one trend I am very much over.

Vintage vibes is something that is on trend. People are getting creative and using more of the existing home. If you can stretch your budget by keeping existing cabinets and replacing the Formica countertop with granite or stone, I am all for that.

“Boho Cottage” Living Room

PK: Are there any local products or makes that you love to use?

JM: Local art is huge. One of the biggest things you can do is get out and go to local shops and buy those unique items rather than shopping in those big box stores. I love putting vintage pieces in almost every room, having one thing that feels a little bit worn and gritty. In our Airbnbs, we always leave a little gift basket, and we buy all those things from downtown. Homespun on Mass Ave is my go-to.

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