Traveling nurses and specialized clinicians are in historically high demand, in markets large and small, exotic and ho-hum -- and they command higher fees (and commensurately, housing stipends) than ever before. Most of them would rather not stay in a hotel or motel if your comfy, homey-feeling rental property is available.
I learned this through experience (quite accidentally) while renting out my family condo in Hawaii mid-pandemic. Among all the folks looking to relocate to the islands, the traveling contract workers were among the fastest-moving and most cash-flush of the applicants.
Construction workers went on the Reject pile because their relocation agencies tended to want to stack up several occupants like herrings in a small tin. But the traveling healthcare workers were a different story. One nurse wanted to rent the entire place -- no roommate, significant other, or even a pet. Also, as we spoke to her relocation agency, we came to realize she would have paid much more than the market rate we were asking.
We said no -- but you might say yes, and gladly.
Why are healthcare workers on the move right now?
The answer to this is obvious: As COVID-19 case numbers rise in a certain area, overwhelmed hospitals find the money to bring in traveling short-term staff. They get these healthcare workers through recruiting/staffing agencies that have always existed and specialized in "filling in the gaps" among hospital staff.
The pandemic is pushing healthcare recruiting agencies to scale up their numbers dramatically -- and the longer it goes, the higher the compensation climbs. So, while you may have thought nurses don't earn enough to afford living alone in a rental on the higher end of market rate, these days their weekly rate might be upward of $5,000 to $7,000.
Traveling healthcare worker housing placement is a close cousin of corporate relocation but not exactly the same, because healthcare recruiters are often placing staff in small communities that don't have corporate apartments or even extended-stay hotel options. Also, recruiting agencies don't usually try to dictate where their people stay; they only provide suggestions and support.
These days, with the super-urgent turnaround time to get temp staff into hospitals, the traveling worker and the agency might be scouring the web simultaneously, looking for appropriate housing available within one to two weeks. Higher-than-usual budgets mean these workers can rent places they would have considered excessive even a year ago.
The upsides of renting to a traveling healthcare worker
There are many of these, starting with your conscience screaming YES YES YES! They're in the area to save lives. But on a more practical note:
- For as long as they stay, their rent is assured. In many cases, the recruiting agency pays it -- with a credit card, if you're firmly anti-check.
- They do require furnished rentals, but the furnishings can be bare-bones.
- They're working most of the time, so they tend to be quiet, unobtrusive tenants.
- Since these people have passed hospital background checks, you can be fairly well-assured they're good citizens, not just tenants.
The downsides of renting to a traveling healthcare worker
There's a giant elephant in the room, and we'll address it: Yes, if they're arriving to care for COVID-19 patients, you're bringing into your rental someone who risks exposure daily. And a lot of healthcare workers get the virus -- actually, this is a major contributor to the worker shortage. The neighbors will likely hate that you did this. But that's ironic, because in theory the neighbors would claim to love and support these healthcare heroes. Just, you know, not living 500 feet away.
This is a fear-based reaction. Listen to the guidance of professionals when it comes to safety and sanitation. Tell the neighbors to practice social distancing, i.e., don't drop by to ask overly personal questions if they're worried.
Also, if you're really nervous about moving in someone who's working in a COVID-19 unit, see if you can find out what type of worker is applying. These days, many hospitals, home health agencies, and skilled nursing facilities are bringing in relief staff to care for non-COVID patients whose care was delayed in the first part of the year.
Short-term rental realities
One major issue a lot of owners can't avoid is that the typical assignment is three months, which is a short-term rental. If a healthcare professional likes their location and situation, they can extend for an additional three, six, or nine months -- but an agency will not sign a six-month lease if their person is only assigned three months. They won't even commit to moving another person in three months later. It doesn't matter much, because HOAs that don't allow STRs would see both scenarios as against the rules.
This was what ultimately forced us not to rent our place to a traveling healthcare worker. If we didn't fear the HOA's prying questions and strict rules stipulating that units only be leased once per year, we absolutely would have.
How do you get your place(s) in front of traveling healthcare workers?
There are a few ways:
- Make sure you're listed on niche sites like Furnished Finder, Travel Nurse Housing, and Transplant Housing, in addition to the larger sites like VRBO and Airbnb (NASDAQ: ABNB).
- Yes, healthcare professionals know all about VRBO and Airbnb and use them "in a pinch," but they're cautious about getting charged vacationer rates. Therefore, if you specifically want to connect with healthcare workers, put a note in your headline and listing like hotels do: COVID-19 responder rates available.
- Connect with recruiting agencies placing healthcare workers in your area. Parallel to the office job recruiting field, a handful of large healthcare worker staffing agencies, such as FlexCare and Axis, fill the majority of jobs, but boutique agencies with much lower turnover are often better liked because they provide more hands-on service. Most agencies keep a list of housing options, so if you've got units sitting empty, it's a good use of time to search the large agencies and boutiques staffing in your area, call them all, and provide information on your rental(s).
Healthcare workers: Great STR tenants in a pinch
It's true that healthcare workers are not going to step in and pay peak season nightly rates for 120 nights. But these hardworking, quarterly-migrating individuals might keep your properties occupied in an extended down season that experts are saying could last through most of 2021. They don't expect the Ritz-Carlton, and they're only in the community to help -- so solving their housing situation and your lack of bookings is a win-win.