Last September, wedding photographers Adriana Krause and Stephan Alvin did something unusual. They bought a second home during a global pandemic.
The home, a cabin in Oakhurst, California, is their business's headquarters, located near Yosemite National Park where they shoot small ceremonies. When they're not in California, they're in Rio de Janeiro, where they purchased a condo in July 2020.
Krause, 29, and Alvin, 38, split their time between the two cities. When they're in one home, they rent out the other on Airbnb. The resultant income, in just nine months: $18,000. A majority of that income has come from their Oakhurst cabin, which cashed in $13,000 after listing the property at the end of July, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
"It took months of work to make both places feel like home," Krause tells CNBC Make It. "But now, we only work one hour per week."
That hour is spent confirming bookings and coordinating cleaning staff to ensure the properties are ready for the next guests. But the real estate side hustle is a risky and costly venture. Together, the couple's homes will cost roughly $487,000 between renovations and both mortgages, according to Krause.
While the revenue from Airbnb bookings hasn't yet covered the homes' price tags, Krause says the couple — who made $215,000 from their photography business last year — is on track to cover their bills, and then some. Profits pending, they have a grand plan: Once their second home is paid off, they intend to put that passive income toward travel.
"It's both a safe and crazy way to start a business, because nobody really wants to rent out where they live," Krause says. "But we're both willing to take calculated risks, and the rewards have been pretty huge."
Krause and Alvin met while working as skaters for Disney on Ice. In 2018, they retired from showbiz, got married and moved into an apartment in Fresno, California, near Alvin's family. Within a year, they started their wedding photography company.
Living in Fresno while working hours away in Yosemite and Sequoia National Park wasn't exactly convenient, and Krause says the city "never quite felt like home."
"Business was going great in 2019, and we had put all this work in to make 2020 great," she says. "But when the pandemic happened, we found ourselves wondering, 'Why are we living here?'"
The couple pooled their savings to buy the Rio condo, formerly owned by a friend, for the equivalent of roughly $127,000, Krause says. Because of wildfires and snow, they don't book wedding shoots during summer and winter months — so they bought the three-bedroom condo as a place to spend those six months, a short walk from the beach and near Krause's family.
While in Brazil, they use their time to edit photos, update their website and vacation. The money they earn during their photography season is enough to sustain them through their offseason, Krause says.
Since listing the condo on Airbnb in November 2021, Krause and Alvin have earned $5,600 from six visits — an average of one visit per month before the couple returned to live there again.
The couple kept their apartment in Fresno as a temporary U.S. base while searching for a replacement closer to their work. They wanted to keep renting, Krause says — but the one-bedroom red cabin's charm lured them in and convinced them to buy it as a second home.
The cabin cost roughly $325,000, plus another $35,000 over six months to renovate it, repair water damages and decorate it, Krause says. Even once it was livable, she adds, she spent weeks adding personal touches and taking virtual classes to learn how to make both properties profitable on Airbnb.
In just five weeks on the rental platform, the cabin has already brought in $13,000 for the couple.
Now that both homes are up and running, Krause says the expenses are minimal — primarily because she already pays for things like internet, shampoo and toilet paper as a resident. Cleaning staffs are one notable cost: roughly $50 per session in Rio, and $126 per session in Oakhurst. The Rio condo gets cleaned two or three times per month, and the Oakhurst cabin gets cleaned two or three times per week, Krause says.
Airbnb also takes a 3% fee from every booking, which cuts into profits. But Krause says the platform's ease of use has kept her from even thinking about listing on competing sites like VRBO, which charges hosts a 3% payment processing and a 5% commission fee.
The couple say they use their Rio money on cleaning costs, bills and aesthetic improvements for both homes. Revenue from the Oakhurst cabin goes into their savings and travel fund, which will pay for a planned trip to Honduras in November.
Plus, always living close to either Krause's or Alvin's family is a "reward grander than money," Krause says.
"Listing these homes wasn't about money, it was about being able to spend time with both of our families," she says. "We're lucky to have money to live our lifestyle in two different places, but having the option to be near both families is what make us work so hard."