Growing up in a family that moved more than 20 times during his childhood, John Hildebrand had an early introduction to real estate. “My parents would take us around and show us properties,” he fondly recounts. Then, when it was time for Hildebrand to head to college, his family decided to buy a condo where he could live in one of the rooms, while renting out the remaining ones. “We sold it when I graduated, and it paid for my entire tuition. That was my first real taste of the real estate/’house hacking’ world,” Hildebrand says, “and it was super fun.”
With that early experience, it’s no surprise that Hildebrand gravitated towards real estate investing when he moved to sunny Malibu after college to pursue a career as a photographer. What was a surprise—to Hildebrand as much as to anyone else—was that he turned that investment into a short-term-rental. One that would eventually grow into a full-fledged STR business, and lead Hildebrand to the forefront of the short-term-rental industry in Arizona—the state where his family settled, and where he’d return to live.
Along the way, Hildebrand encountered some serious obstacles—the biggest being a growing resistance to short term rentals in the communities where he owned properties. A resistance that seemed to be fueled by both real frustration, and a lot of misinformation.
Here’s how he met those challenges head-on, what he learned along the way, and how NoiseAware, and community-building platform Rent Responsibly, became the greatest tools in his advocacy arsenal.
Hildebrand’s early short-term-rental experiences were overwhelmingly positive–if a little less than…professional. Newly arrived in Malibu in 2015, and looking for a way to generate income to support his photography ambitions, he recalls a friend asking him a fortuitous question:
“‘Have you heard of Airbnb?’ And I was like, ‘Nope. What is that? You want me to open up my house to a bunch of strangers, on an app?? This idea is NOT going to work. This is the weirdest thing ever.’”
-John Hildebrand, Hilde Homes
Fast forward a few months, and Hildebrand was singing a different tune. After initially renting out rooms in his Malibu townhome, he eventually shifted to renting out the entire property while traveling or staying at friends’ houses.
“I never thought about it as a business. And the money was fantastic, because I was competing with not very many others. The saturation just wasn’t there. There were just a very, very few. I could almost charge whatever I wanted. Even though I had no idea what to charge. I just charged what I thought was right.”
He jumped into his next STR investment—a house in Los Angeles’ Inglewood neighborhood, where ground was just breaking on SoFi Stadium, the soon-to-be home of the NFL’s Rams and Chargers teams—with his realtor brother. There, things were even better than in Malibu.
That is, until…THE ONE.
It seemed like a totally normal booking: a mom and her kids, no red flags, nothing to prompt Hildebrand to ask a lot of questions. But once the guests arrived, things started to “get weird” real fast. “More cars showing up,” he says. “Then I noticed my front door camera got taped over, and I’m like, ‘Uh oh, this is not a good sign.’” So Hildebrand contacted the guests, who promptly replied: “You can’t tell us what to do!”
“Fortunately,” says Hildebrand, the guests’ constant smoking triggered the property’s smoke detectors, which eventually brought out the police and fire department. But it was up to Hildebrand, not the authorities, to force the guests off the property. “It was this horrible situation where we were trying to kick people out, and they were cussing me out on the cameras and saying they know where I live. And I was like, ‘Wait, what? Do they?? This is nuts!’ I was so scared.”
“I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better solution. This is insane.’”
Hildebrand eventually moved to Arizona, where his parents had settled. And that’s where he discovered NoiseAware. But not until he’d immersed himself in industry podcasts, videos and webinars, determined to professionalize his business as he continued to add more properties to his portfolio.
At that point, Hildebrand had short-term rentals in Los Angeles, Malibu, and Old Town Scottsdale, which he describes as a “mini Las Vegas—major noise issues.”
News stories about Airbnb parties were starting to ramp up. And Hildebrand thought, “I do not want to be a part of that bad crowd. I do not want to be a part of that conversation. That sounds horrible.”
While digging into industry-related content wherever he could find it, Hildebrand discovered STR advocacy and education platform Rent Responsibly. And he soon connected with Rent Responsibly founder David Krauss. “Dave became a mentor to me. He really got me into advocacy. He really took me under his wing. And he was like, ‘Oh I started this company called NoiseAware, too.’”
Hildebrand immediately tried out the noise and over-occupancy solution. And once he did, he was sold. “I liked the branding, I liked the message, I liked the software. For me, it just made total sense. And I said, ‘These are going in all my houses. Let’s go.’”
At the same time that he was rolling out NoiseAware protection across his properties, Hildebrand was becoming more involved in local, then statewide, short-term-rental advocacy efforts—with a big boost of encouragement from Krauss.
“I went down to a city hearing one time just to see what was happening. There were two other hosts, and like 300 people that were saying, ‘We need to ban short term rentals!’ We were the devils. We might as well have been selling drugs at that point,” Hildebrand says.
Determined to protect his business, and the industry he had come to love, Hildebrand started joining Zoom calls with members of Rent Responsibly, Expedia Group, and local agencies. He began attending city meetings…and noticing that more and more hosts and property managers like him were also showing up. And eventually, with the help of Rent Responsibly, he was instrumental in founding statewide STR alliance Arizonans for Responsible Tourism.
As Hildebrand explains, AZRT is “a statewide coalition who wants to protect reasonable policy. Our biggest job is educating hosts, educating the opposing side, and educating the politicians, and city councils, the state, the mayors, the police departments, and just trying to be a really solid resource for information.”
One significant source of that information: NoiseAware’s data on the effectiveness of indoor and outdoor noise monitoring in preventing STR nuisances and noise violations, and protecting community harmony. “We were able to present NoiseAware’s results from their noise monitoring programs in Big Bear and La Quinta to the state, and to any city person who would listen to us,” Hildebrand says. “That really helped us to come up with good solutions.”
Part of the Rent Responsibly network of city and state alliances, AZRT now has 2,500 members, and is rapidly growing. The STRA played a major role in shoring up Arizona’s 2016 statewide law protecting the rights of short-term-rental owners, in recent years.
As for Hilde Homes, which now includes Hildebrand’s own properties, along with a select group of properties he manages for other owners: “NoiseAware is in my conversation on all levels,” he says.
Hildebrand plans to purchase three to four additional short-term-rental properties by the end of 2023. He also intends to expand his management portfolio to “10-20 homeowners who really let me do my thing.”
Most importantly, he says, “If I’m going to be property managing a homeowner’s home, they’re getting NoiseAware. I let them know, ‘It’s going to make your neighbors happier. It’s going to help you as a homeowner relax. It’s going to help me relax. I will not manage your home without it.’”
-John Hildebrand, Hilde Homes