The ‘sharing economy’: Local homeowners open their doors to people — or pets — looking for lodging.

AUBURN — You could say that fine arts photographer Tanja Hollander’s current project is bankrolled by trust.

“People trusted me, so why shouldn’t I do it for them?” Hollander said. “I’ve learned, firsthand, the compassion of people. The media seem to want to scare people, that we’re all enemies and we’re all out to get each other. But that’s not true.”

Hollander’s art projects take her around the globe. She returned from a six-week tour of Europe just last month and is gearing up to head out around the country now.

That leaves her home, a quirkily decorated farmhouse, sitting empty and unused.

But instead of relying on family, friends or a hired caretaker to stop by and feed her cat, she’s put her faith in utter strangers — people that are not from the area whom she’s never met face-to-face.

It’s all handled with a few clicks on an iPhone.

“I love the sharing economy,” she said. “It’s like the olden days. If someone pulled up in buggy and needed a place to stay, people opened their houses to them.”

What’s more, they pay her — and they feed her cat.

“I actually had a person call me this winter, after it had just snowed, and asked if I minded if he shoveled my walk,” she said. “I said that was just fine.”

Hollander is one of a handful Twin Cities residents who regularly open their homes — or, at least, rooms in their homes — to travelers via Airbnb.com.

“It’s how I pay for my art project,” she said. “It certainly helps fund it.”

Airbnb is just one of several sites on the Internet that bank on that trust. For a fee, anyone with an Internet connection can find a private home to stay in, a personal car to drive, tools to borrow, boats to navigate and places to eat.

Hollander said she doesn’t have a problem being trusting, and this latest iteration of Internet services make it easier.

“It’s not like it’s not work,” she said. “You need to clean and do laundry and keep stuff in your house. But you don’t have to do the business (aspects of renting a home).”

Lodging sites like Airbnb.com, Homeway.com or the more-European based CosmopolitHome.com work similarly: People can sign up both as guests and hosts. Hosts upload photos of their home, the location, their rules and availability. Guests use the sites as a clearinghouse, finding available homes where they want to go.

Sites like Relayrides.com and Getaround.com do the same thing for drivers. You can put your car up on the site — once it’s passed a basic inspection — and let visitors pick it up and use it for their local errands. Or you can pay to borrow someone’s local ride while you are in town for business.

There are sites for pet sitting, like Rover.com and Dogvacay.com, tool-borrowing sites like Zilok.com and Loanables.com and others.

The sites handle all the details, from scheduling to paying to handling complaints. Prices tend to be a bit cheaper than local hotels or traditional bed and breakfast inns.

All bank on a similar idea: The loaner has something valuable that’s in decent shape and the borrower is willing to pay for it and treat it with respect.

Hollander, knocking on wood, said she hasn’t had that trust violated by a guest.

“You do have to have a certain kind of mindset,” she said. “You have to be open, but you have to be trustworthy yourself, too.”

She never pictured herself as an innkeeper.

“I just try and provide the kind of experience that I enjoy when I’m traveling,” she said.

Even so, she’s built up quite a following. Guests have given her high ratings on the site and many have left more personal letters for her to find when she gets home. She keeps her favorites on a bulletin board near the entrance.

“I grew up with an open house, all my life,” she said. “I’ve always had friends visiting for the summer.”

Everything goes through Airbnb. Guests contact her through the site, she can interview them and ask some basic questions via her iPhone. They pay through the site, too. She charges $110 per night per couple, plus $15 for additional people and the money never crosses her hand.

“The money is just there the next day, in my bank account,” she said.

Guests have the full use of her house. That includes bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, deck, barbecue grill and a fire pit in the backyard. She doesn’t have a TV, but has Wi-Fi, plenty of spare iPhone chargers and a turntable with an extensive record collection. It’s all fair game.

“One time I had a group of seven college kids, and I left Miles Davis’ ‘Blue’ on the record player,” she said. “I came back and they’d bought me Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue.’ It was not only thoughtful that they bought me a present, but they bought one that was directly related to something.”

She keeps an updated notebook full of area activities — places to eat, things to see, local grocers, coffee shops and directions for day trips — just like a concierge at a big hotel.

“The fact is, Lewiston-Auburn has a bad rap in the state of Maine,” she said. “I might not change it single-handedly, but I love it here. It’s really beautiful and there are hidden gems that I can share with people. I can send them down to Larochelle’s Seafood or up to Baxter (Brewing) — all these things you won’t find in a Maine guide.”

Across the river in Lewiston, Charlie and Lynda Morin offer something local hotels have difficulty matching — family. They rent out two bedrooms in their house to Airbnb guests regularly.

But unlike Hollander, they prefer to be home at the time. That lets them meet and interact with their guests.

“We had this group come in late, about 9 o’clock, on New Year’s Eve,” Lynda said. “They came up and said ‘Where can we go eat?’ I was like, ‘Sorry, dude. It’s New Year’s Eve and nothing’s left open.'”

Charlie, a member of the local band The Veggies, invited the guests to join the couple — first to an evening banquet at a bandmate’s home, then backstage at a New Year’s Eve performance at Club Texas in Auburn.

“They were young guys, we took them out and they partied with us,” Lynda said. “We’re Facebook friends now. We’ve done the same thing with others, too. We had a girl stay with us from China and we ended up taking her out all the time, all over the place.”

Lynda said it’s a logical thing for the couple. Her own kids are grown and they have the spare rooms. They acted as billet parents for Lewiston Maineiacs hockey players for a few years.

“I like the full house,” Lynda said. “I like the way it feels when there are lots of people.”

The Morins say most of their guests are in town for Bates College business — parents in town for a weekend, guests of the college, performers at the annual Bates Dance Festival. It’s been interesting and a nice way to make a little extra money. Like Hollander, the money they make goes into their travel account.

“The money goes into our account, into a vacation saving fund,” Lynda said. “We used it to pay for a Mediterranean cruise.”

Karla Leandri Rider is in quite the opposite situation. She loans herself out to sit in people’s homes and watch their pets while they’re out of town, finding jobs on Dogvacay.com, Care.com and Sitter.com.

“I’ve had much more luck with the sitter sites, Care.com and Sitter.com,” she said. “People trust me to come into their homes and stay in their houses. I do house sitting, and sometimes plant sitting — although I warn people I’m not very good at that.”

She also works full time at the Humane Society in Lewiston, but she’d like to tend to pets full time. She’s created her own business, Double Pawed Pet Sitting, with that goal in mind.

“I’d love for it to be my main business,” Rider said, “but right now this is just on the side and I really enjoy it.”

The sites make it easy for now.

“Right now, most of my clients are just people going on vacation,” she said. “I have not really pursued it because I’m working full time. But the sites let me do that.”

Auburn software designer Scott Yonts said he opens his home via Dogvacay.com more as a courtesy to other pet owners and to the site itself. When he and his wife travel, they prefer to leave their beloved poodle Deacon with a Dogvacay-vetted sitter.

“We take pets more just because we’ve found it useful on the other side,” he said. “We’re not trying to earn any income off of it. We don’t do enough volume to treat it as a business.”

He prefers the experience Deacon gets, staying at a private home versus a kennel.

“He’s very used to spending his day around people and sleeping in a bed with people at night,” Yonts said. “The sitter we’ve found on Dogvacay is very fond of him and she lets him sleep on the bed and everything else.”

Yonts said he and his wife regularly use both Airbnb and Homeway when they travel.

“Since I see both ends of it, I feel pretty good about the way they do that,” he said. “We’ve been very happy all the times we’ve used it.”

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