Who hasn’t fantasized about buying and restoring one of the city’s grand old homes to its former glory? Living that dream are Brandon Suman, 37, and Miranda Steinhauser, 28, who transformed their once-unlivable home in the University District to a show-stopping inn and hang space. Their home is many things at once — never-ending project, a secondary revenue source and neighborhood focal point. We talk to the founders of Between 6 and 7 about building community in the University District, one Airbnb reservation at a time.
Sometimes the right house comes along at the right moment. Back in 2016, Ohio natives Miranda and Brandon were doing a long-distance relationship between Detroit, where Miranda was working for GM, and Cincinnati, where Brandon was managing the city’s Tesla store. They found out that Brandon was being transferred to Detroit in the same week they bought their house.
But that didn’t mean they moved into their house. “It was not livable at all,” Brandon remembered. “There was major water damage — the entire back of the house had flooded. There wasn’t a kitchen, one of the bedrooms was gone, it didn’t have a working toilet.” Read their blog post for details on how they financed their renovations with a Purchase and Renovate Loan from Wells Fargo.
“We were… misguided, crazy and naive,” Brandon said about buying a home that required so much work.
“To Detroiters though, it really wasn’t a new story,” Miranda pointed out. “Our family members thought we were in over our heads, but our neighbors understood.”
Let’s make it clear — this is no run-of-the-mill Airbnb. Miranda and Brandon restored a three-story brick Tudor Revival built in 1927, measuring 3,600 square feet. Some of its finest features include a glass-walled sunroom, carved and curved plaster ceilings and a classic fireplace. The decor manages to be charmingly traditional and refreshingly modern all at once — picture a saddle-brown Chesterfield sofa placed by a modern, design-y leather chair, paired with jewel-toned walls and a fantastically large piece of art.
They had a goal they were pushing for: an appearance on the University District home tour, which only happens every other year. After a year of renovations and another six months of painting, decorating and small projects, Miranda and Brandon made it on the home tour — and began thinking about hosting guests in their home.
The Airbnb idea was inspired by a trip to Iceland they took with neighbors in the University District. “We stayed with families and farmers and teachers and Northern Lights photographers,” Miranda said. “We had such a great experience meeting people and their children, one we never would have gotten in a hotel.”
They realized they could be to Detroit what their hosts were to them in Iceland: “a positive force to meet the community, learn about Detroit and its history, and have a personal concierge help you find things to do,” she said.
Brandon and Miranda still live full-time in their University District home — but they’ve now opened three of the home’s additional bedrooms for guests to book. And their family Airbnb venture is undoubtedly successful. In their first year, they are booking summer weekends two months in advance. “We didn’t realize that by decorating the house really well, with high-end furniture, we’d get things that aren’t typical Airbnb bookings,” Miranda said. They also hosted pro golfer Rickie Fowler during the Rocket Mortgage Classic and have rented out their home for private dinners and professional photography shoots.
And while they are grateful to Airbnb for sending them visitors from across the globe, they are quick to address why their experience differs from many hosts on the site. “The biggest resistance we’ve felt has been from other neighbors, they’ve heard negative things about Airbnbs in New York or San Francisco,” Miranda explained.
The difference, they feel, is their approach of welcoming visitors into their home, not renting a vacant space to strangers. “Yes, we have strangers living in our house, and we’re often bringing them to BBQs or exploring the city together,” Miranda added. “We have friends now living around the world.”
But they’re still both keeping their day jobs. While Airbnb revenue helps defray the costs of maintaining a large, historic home, it isn’t paying for their lives. And they’re OK with that. “We’re still thinking about it in terms of doing the house — projects and landscaping,” Brandon explained. “What do we want to do and how can hosting help us afford the house?”
To any Detroiters considering hosting guests in their home, they cautioned, experience it as a guest first! Miranda said their prior Airbnb reservations taught them many lessons about what not to do. “Having some bad and mediocre experiences is really eye-opening,” she said.
The pair authored a blog post with more tips for running a successful Airbnb, like: Hire a professional photographer to take great photos, and invest in smart technology to keep guests safe. And they’ve learned the importance of communicating with all of their guests, no matter where they hail from. Sure, you’ve figured out the logistics for how to check people in — but can you do it in another language? Or you’ve installed smart locks on the doors — but can you explain how they work to your 70-year-old guests?
Also, get used to doing laundry. “We had nine guests staying with us in the house last night!” Miranda said. “You have to make sure everything is staying really clean… and that there are three sets of towels in the house for everybody.”