He Made Millions Buying Airbnb Properties, Rental Arbitrage

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Syed Lateef, a 36-year-old Airbnb Superhost in Chicago. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

I’m the CEO of SyedBnb, a short-term rental company with over 300 units and 100 employees.

After dropping out of college for one year before returning to get my degree, I started working in finance, but I didn’t aspire to have the lifestyle of the company’s VPs. I wanted wealth, exotic cars, luxury vacations, time, and freedom, so I pivoted to real estate.

I started my business in 2017, and in 2023, we made $11.5 million in revenue and $1.4 million in net profit.

Real estate was the key to the life I wanted

After being let go from my first role as a financial analyst, I landed a job at Allstate. I was promoted three times within five years, but the salary increases weren’t meeting my expectations.

I realized that the people I knew in my community who were wealthy and had nice homes or cars were involved in real estate, which made me believe that was one of the main drivers of wealth.

I started listening to the “BiggerPockets” podcast and read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” which motivated me to pursue financial freedom. I expected it to take me 15 years to replace my salaried income through real estate, but I was determined.

In 2016, I purchased my first multifamily building in Chicago using savings from my finance job and a loan on my 401(k). I put one of the units on Airbnb with a goal to make double the rent in one month that I could expect from a long-term tenant.

I hired cleaners and virtual assistants to do the admin work and implemented pricing software from the outset (I use PriceLabs).

Within four months, I made three times the expected market rent for a long-term tenant. I realized what an incredible opportunity this was and converted all the units in my building into Airbnbs. I was addicted and wanted more.

Three to four months into my side business, even though my family and friends encouraged me to keep my salaried role, I gave my notice to leave. I was now a full-time entrepreneur.

Since its launch, I’ve scaled the business to over $35 million in revenue

One of Lateef’s units in Chicago. Courtesy of Syed Lateef

I became an Airbnb Superhost in 2018, which means my average reviews are above 4.8 out of 5.

In the second year, I expanded into rental arbitrage (renting units from landlords and subleasing them on Airbnb) after realizing it was an easier way to grow my business. After furnishing my units, I lacked the cash to buy more rentals. I now own 13 apartments and arbitrage 320.

My revenue hit $2.8 million in 2019. 2020 was a down year due to COVID-19. By 2022, I had my first eight-figure year, reaching $10.5 million in revenue.

I only work a few hours a week

With the help of my employees and the implementation of author Gino Wickman‘s guiding principles of the EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System), my workweek hovers around two hours.

EOS is a set of concepts and tools for entrepreneurs to have people in the right seats, track scorecards, document processes, identify issues, and get traction on their business. Weekly leadership meetings using the EOS system help me achieve a two-hour workweek, but those two hours are intense meetings.

I also handle my landlord relationships and business growth, but that’s periodic, as well as the occasional proverbial fire.

The biggest mistake I made was growing too quickly

The biggest mistake I made was being too optimistic about growth in the winter before the pandemic. I started scaling and ran out of cash, but I didn’t expect COVID-19 to hit me with a knock-out punch. My revenue went to zero. Airbnb refunded all my future guests. I didn’t have the money to pay the landlord’s rent.

I negotiated with all my landlords to allow me to stay in business. I purchased assets from bankrupt companies and was able to scale significantly. For example, I bought furniture for $250 per apartment from a bankrupt company.

Here’s my Airbnb advice

My best advice to other aspiring Airbnb Superhosts is to learn from other hosts’ experiences. Get in the Airbnb Facebook forums and connect with others. Attend networking events. Hire a coach or purchase a course to help you start the business.

Then, take action. If you can’t afford a property, consider rental arbitrage. So many people get stuck in the learning and planning process. Inevitably, you’ll learn while being in the actual business.

When I got started, I asked my sister, who’s into interior design, to help me furnish my first Airbnbs. For guests’ needs, we modeled hotels to see what items created a good stay. I learned everything myself through experience.