By Zachary Horner, Chatham News + Record Staff
Mark’s treehouse is way out in the woods. If you put the address in your GPS, you won’t be able to find it.
And that’s kind of the point.
Mark (he declined to share his last name) built the nine-room log cabin with his bare hands, starting in 1970 with two rooms. Forty-nine years later, it serves as a refuge for military members on leave, traveling musicians and anyone else who finds it online.
“Mainly it’s for musicians and artists — it’s not your luxury hotel,” he said. “I’ve had people that came out and said, ‘You mean I’ve got to go downstairs to the bathroom?’ It’s not for everybody. I get a lot of musicians, too, who do their gigs, and after the bar or club closes down they’ll come out and spend the night.”
Mark’s home, called the “Cozy Log Cabin,” is one of more than 100 Chatham County listings on Airbnb.com, the popular vacation rental website through which homeowners can let out rooms, cabins, houses, RVs and more to travelers and tourists. Airbnb has grown in popularity in recent years, even in rural places like Chatham County.
Last month, the company said Airbnb owners in North Carolina’s rural counties earned more than $76 million through their properties from June 1, 2018, to June 1, 2019, and entertained more than 436,000 guests. It was a jump of 74 percent.
Chatham fell a little low on the list, with hosts at the more than 100 listings on Airbnb’s website bringing in $255,000 and around 2,400 guest, according to the company. Still, that represented a 45 percent growth from the previous year.
Neha Shah, the director of the Pittsboro-Siler City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the properties can be attractive, especially in places without mainstream hotels and lodging.
“It also offers amenities that are different for guests not looking for a cookie cutter stay, and it gives them a space of their own,” Shah said. “We’ve seen that growing not just throughout North Carolina but in the country and overseas. It’s a solution to accommodation issues where things are much more remote and rural and also for longer term stays.”
Chatham’s offerings on the website vary. One of the top listings is a renovated 1953 GMC bus parked in the woods. You can also find cabins, bungalows, farm houses and apartments ready for rent.
The listing for the “Cozy Log Cabin” says it’s been “getting a lot of attention,” with hundreds of views in the last week. It’s got two upstairs bedrooms, a living room with a fold-out sofa bed and a full kitchen. The listing warns, as Mark said, that it is “NOT your luxury hotel space.” There’s an outdoor shower. Hand-built wooden ladders and outdoor staircases serve as access points to the second floor.
Mark is retired, so running the Airbnb works as a part-time income. The only pain, he says, is the housekeeping. The site has hosted four weddings and several music gigs, all located on the stage set up separately from the cabin. He said he’s in the process of adding some amenities, including a sauna/sweat lodge.
“Being retired, I need something to do,” he said. “I’m convinced Airbnb is the best.”
As far as Airbnb’s impact on Chatham, it’s still small. Shah said that while the county needs more hotels and larger facilities for overnight or weekend stays, Airbnbs often bring people to the county that might not otherwise.
“We’re excited when people say they were here versus another county,” she said. “This is another opportunity to say you’ll have your own space, accessibility to kitchen and whatever the space may be versus a traditional accommodation.
“It’s definitely the Instagram-worthy kind of stay, and we’re happy to have it because it showcases the county in a nifty light.”
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