A Desert Charmer With Airbnb Clout Is Up for Sale at $899K
Kelly Kai had long been scrolling real estate listings for the fun of it, but this particular property in Morongo Valley was the first one she felt compelled to visit in person. The listing agent felt otherwise. "[They] would not show me the house," recalls Kelly, who had reached out to schedule a viewing. When Kelly did finally arrange a visit, the agent’s reaction made a little more sense—the 1954 home was in total disrepair.
"There were no walls, really, or windows or doors," she says. "Walking in simply meant walking over a pile of rubble." Despite wondering if she would encounter whoever had clearly been living illegally on the premises, Kelly was moved by what she saw. For starters, the 2.5-acre property was lovely, and quiet. "You’re nestled in the center of this beautiful valley with mountains surrounding you," says Kelly. "It was so peaceful."
Despite the trash and bats, squatters had left a clue as to what the house could become. "I don't know if people were shooting guns in the house, but you could see through holes to the ceiling," says Kelly.
After purchasing the home, she took that clue and began a renovation that started with revealing the beautiful wood ceilings. She preserved other intact materials, too, like cinderblock walls and concrete floors. Next, Kelly wanted to emphasize the beautiful setting, so she put in as many windows as possible. "I was designing for people who are expecting a desert experience, and wanted to optimize that bond between nature and humans when they’re at this house," says Kelly. "So, the most important things to me were views."
Now, windows emphasize the peak of the ceiling in the main room, while linear units capture the mountain tops elsewhere. A cactus can be appreciated while soaking in the bathtub. There’s even an internal window in the dining room, which helps define the space and makes the room feel bigger.
Kelly arranged the home knowing she’d be listing it on Airbnb. To that end, three bedrooms and two baths make for easy mixed group gatherings, with one bedroom outfitted with bunks to maximize sleeping space. There’s a main living area with a kitchen, dining room, and a lounge, as well as a bonus living room, which is kitted out with couches, a kitchenette, and a freestanding stove. That way, if adults are cooking in the main room, the kids can play elsewhere. Or, if the kids are asleep, there’s a second lounge area for adults to spread out.
Speaking of spreading out, wherever possible, Kelly wove in outdoor nooks around the house for easy lounging. There’s a fenced yard and a freestanding fireplace, covered patios off the bedrooms and main kitchen, a dining area, outdoor bathtub, and a plunge pool surrounded by a deck. "So, even if you’re there with a larger crowd," says Kelly. "There are all these areas to go break off and do your own thing."
Since wrapping the remodel in 2019, Rancho Morongo has grown into a thriving Airbnb business. In any given month, the property brings in anywhere from $8,000 to $14,000 per month, says Kelly, and all the traffic comes organically through the website or by word of mouth. "I think it does tick a lot of the boxes," she says. "Like, it’s got that old rustic charm, privacy, and it’s really everything you would want in an Airbnb in the desert."
Though she’s now selling her beloved desert paradise, Kelly reflects on the process fondly. "I went for the hardest possible thing I could do because I love a challenge," she says. "It broke me. It taught me a lot of things, but I can’t wait to do it again."
Before: Bunk Room
After: Bunk Room
Before: Guest Room Exterior
After: Guest Room Exterior
9427 T-Circle Drive in Morongo Valley, California, is currently listed for $899,000 by Sasha Anthomé of Compass.
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