The vacationing couple from Hattingen, Germany, showed up at Michael Naess’s shipshape Queens apartment at the end of February. They had never met before. Nonetheless, here they were, digging into scrambled eggs, sipping coffee and chatting companionably with him on a Saturday morning. A German radio station, plucked from the Internet, rendered a flavor of home.
The couple consisted of Dark Bontkowski, 52, a test driver for a German shock absorber maker, and his girlfriend, Martina Held, 48, a graphic designer for a financial newspaper. Mr. Bontkowski mentioned that, implausibly, he is a test driver who owns no car of his own. It was a needed expense reduction after he got divorced. He pedals to work on a bicycle, 22 miles each way.
The couple was occupying Mr. Naess’s spare bedroom for 10 days.
Awkward, but not really awkward. They were paying guests.
When you rent from Michael Naess, it feels as if you are staying with your favorite uncle, the one who dotes on you.
His only rules are that you smoke only on the balcony (and deposit butts in the coffee can) and refrain from drugs and late-night parties. He tells renters to go ahead and indulge in his groceries. Make coffee. Use his milk. Eat his English muffins. (Most guests replace what they consume, though he doesn’t mandate it.) He leaves a snack basket in the spare room with granola bars, peanuts and almonds. Often, he offers his visitors complimentary concert tickets he gets at work.
By and large, they do not accept strangers in their homes because they relish phenomenal amounts of company or washing soiled bedsheets. They do it for the money.
When he bought his two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium in Astoria at the end of 2009, Mr. Naess found himself financially pinched. He is a senior marketing manager at Carnegie Hall, where he focuses on seat retention (“Once we get someone in a seat, we want to get them back,” he explained). His income is not nearly hedge fund large, and he shoulders more than half the mortgage payment on his mother’s home (his sister picks up the rest) in Virginia.
The desire to save money is what puts renters in Mr. Naess’s apartment. Hotel prices in New York average about $300 a night. When Mr. Bontkowski and Ms. Held visited the city a year ago, they spent nearly double Mr. Naess’s rate on a hotel, and they didn’t even like the room. “I asked my boss where do college students stay when they go to New York, and he told me about Airbnb,” Ms. Held said.