If someone was to ask you what you valued more, would it be your time or your money?
Serial entrepreneur Ludwina Dautovic believes many value the former — so much so, she launched a business banking on it.
Two years ago, Dautovic and her husband founded The Room Xchange, a platform that connects homeowners with an empty bedroom and people looking for long-term, rent-free accommodation.
In exchange, the guest is asked to contribute to about two hours of domestic help a day.
“The Room Xchange started just over two years ago after my husband and I had organically lived like this for about four years,” Dautovic says. “Our eldest son had left home, and, after I spent the first year walking past his room and crying, we started to think, what do we actually do with it?
“We listed the room on Airbnb for a year, which we really enjoyed, but I started to realise it was costing me an extra four hours getting my room hotel ready for the guest every time. So, we started letting adult friends of my kids and friends of mine come to stay. I have this thing about contributing; I think there’s real value in it. People would stay for free, and all we would do would ask them to help us out a couple of hours a day.”
Dautovic says in the time she was letting the rooms out for free, she didn’t do an ounce of housework.
“It ended up working really well. They added value to our lives and we added to theirs. We really believe it can change how people live.”
According to data from Finder, we have over 7 million unused bedrooms in Australia. Some of those are occupied using Airbnb, others are sitting idle. Dautovic knows this, and knows with unused space comes a gap in the market.
“We live in a country where people have huge mortgages, and are working extra hours to cover that,” she says.
We are also, almost universally, time poor. In most cases, according to Dautovic, time is something you can’t buy or put a price on. The Room Xchange, she believes, is the next best thing.
“We also have a scenario where the cost of living has risen much faster than wages.
“To give you an example, when I was 19 and living in a one-bedroom flat in Bondi, my rent was $100 a week. I was earning about $400 a week as a waitress, at $10 an hour. 33 years later, the same flat in Bondi is about $600 a week while wages for the same job are around $20 an hour.
“Xchanging is an option for busy, time-poor households who are struggling to keep up with paid work and domestic work. Work-life balance is incredibly important but with working full time, your evenings and weekends are usually spent catching up on cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping and gardening. If you add kids into the mix, there’s next to no personal time. There’s a win-win here on a practical and personal level.”
Of course, guests have the ability to live in a space rent-free, but Dautovic believes it’s not the only incentive for young people looking to be a part of the platform. She calls the process, for millennials, a “rental apprenticeship”.
“If a young person doesn’t have a rental history or enough money, they will get rejected by rental properties. We need to be giving young people a hand up in the rental market, we need to give them another option that isn’t just telling them no. We need real estate agents to say to these young people go and become a guest on a really safe platform for a year. Not only will you save thousands, but that’s 12 months of exchanging that we will accept has the same value as rental history.”
At the moment, exchanging isn’t equated to genuine rental history in the eyes of real estate agents. Dautovic hopes that changes, and eases what can be an “intimidating process” for young people.
“It’s an opportunity to be able to create a rental reference in an alternative way. The respect of property, respect of ownership and the ability to have a good relationship with a homeowner are the same qualities that are required for a real estate agent to decide if someone will be a good tenant.”
Dautovic says in the two years the platform has been active, there have been no issues with either host or guest abusing the process.
“We haven’t had any stories that have been difficult. I think the values of the guests and the hosts are of a similar ilk. They get that there is something in it for both of them and they clearly both value contribution, and understand from both sides, they can help in positive and profound way. They are starting from the same base.”
Given the minimum exchange is for a month, Dautovic says comparisons between The Room Xchange and Airbnb aren’t relevant.
“People do compare us to Airbnb, but their value is monetary and it is short term accommodation. The value for our hosts is time and it’s mid to long term accommodation.
“This is about work-life balance, about making life easier, about having more personal time.”