August 15, 2022

Short-term rental “potatoes” and fire lookouts may sound more odd than popular, but this designer has built a growing empire of unique Airbnbs — and has now opened up about the tricks of her shoestring-budgeted trade.

“I decided to build properties so cool that people would come to me,” said Kristie Wolfe, the mastermind behind such remote but sought-after Airbnb properties as the Big Idaho Potato Hotel, a $200 converted fire lookout, a $300 a night Hawaiian tree house and $400 a night hobbit hole, she recently told The Hustle.

Wolfe got on her current career path of building off-the-grid temporary housing around 2010, aged 27, when she learned about and fell in love with the tiny house movement. She was working at an Idaho potato factory at the time, and used her paltry income to build a 97-square-foot tiny home from scratch on the edge of Boise. “The house was basically a shed on wheels,” she told The Hustle. “But living without stuff just felt great to me.”

Enamored, she decided to build another home — this time with making an income in mind. In 2013, she found a Craigslist listing for a ½ acre overgrown lot off the beaten tourist path on Hawaii’s Big Island, on which she built a treehouse at the cost of $11,000. She then listed the property on Airbnb and, within 100 days, made back her entire investment. 

Wolfe’s hobbit house.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Wolfe’s potato property.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
While building rentals in tourist destinations means built-in demand, it’s also expensive.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Wolfe started building her empire after becoming inspired by the tiny house movement.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Wolfe prefers to find unique fixer upper opportunities off-the-grid.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
A fire lookout Wolfe converted into an Airbnb.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Wolfe has become a pro at working on a shoestring budget.
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“I could’ve stopped right then and there and chilled with the income,” she said. “But I have no chill.”

From there she built her other properties and earned herself legendary status in the DIY Airbnb builder community — and a generous passive income.. In the process, she gained a treasure trove of insights, including the benefits of building properties in odd locations (no built-in demand, but cheap land and less competition), staying on budget by being crafty (her hobbit house features light fixtures made out of willow branches) and using the word “caretaker” instead of “housekeeper” in ads for the position.

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“People always think certain things are impossible,” said Wolfe of her building research process. “But when you’re pushed into a corner, you just figure it out.”

kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
The lookout tower, located in a forest.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Wolfe grew up in Idaho.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
The exterior of the hobbit house property.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
The photogenic interior of one property.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Wolfe works closely with her mother in building out spaces.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
The personal touch makes many of her creations all the more attractive to renters.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Instagram/@kristiemaewolfe
kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Wolfe’s first income-oriented creation was a tropical treehouse in Hawaii.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Before begin building rental properties, Wolfe first built herself a tiny home on the outskirts of Boise.
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kristie wolfe airbnb secrets
Wolfe on a Nov. trip to Puerto Rico.
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