I Turned an Apartment in Florida's West Palm Beach Into a Chic, Money-making Airbnb — Here's How

This Florida-based travel writer bought an old two-bedroom close to the Intracoastal Waterway and the beach, and turned it into a lucrative Palm Beach vacation rental.

View from the living area of a Palm Beach Airbnb

Busy Bees Photography

Creating passive income streams is all the rage for young DINKs (dual income, no kids) like me and my husband. That’s why, following the financial success of my freelance travel writing career and his super-niche social advertising agency, we were looking for ways to diversify our investment portfolio.

Every finance guru sings the praises of investing in real estate, so we were eager to get our feet wet. Fair warning: as successful as our initial foray has been, there’s nothing passive about this income, at least not during the setup phase.

We tapped Ryan Poole, a fellow member of 1909 — a co-working space and creative community my husband co-founded in our home city of West Palm Beach — to assist with our search. Poole founded RealTrade, an innovative online real estate marketplace that brings together agents, buyers, and sellers on one social platform.

Lounge chairs around the pool at a Palm Beach Airbnb

Busy Bees Photography

We spent nearly a year searching for the perfect property, feeling torn on several options until we finally found The One: an (admittedly overpriced) “penthouse” apartment of the only building in downtown West Palm Beach that allows monthly rentals. (Most have a minimum of three- or even six-month rentals.) Also, I say “penthouse” lightly — each of the apartments on the top floor of the complex are referred to as penthouse units.

Built in 2001, the building isn’t as old as most of the rentable options in our historic city, and I could instantly see the apartment’s potential: There was abundant natural light thanks to the large windows — all of which overlook the sparkling blue pool and gym below — and, best of all, the complex is connected via private breezeway to The Square, one of the top dining, shopping, and entertainment destinations in West Palm Beach. Both locals and visitors alike head to The Square for fun any day or night of the week — there’s always something going on, but it’s also a nice neighborhood to just stroll and soak up the sun.

The hot tub at a Palm Beach Airbnb

Busy Bees Photography

Upon closing, our first order of business was clearing out the apartment. The sellers insisted on selling it furnished, probably because they didn’t want to be bothered emptying the apartment of its old, mismatched furniture (which unexplainably included — I am not exaggerating — three couches and two armchairs stuffed into the living room). We sold or donated most of the furniture, keeping just one bedroom set and bringing over some of our own pieces.

From there, we hired a contractor to do some upgrades. We painted the entire place, hung new lighting fixtures and ceiling fans, replaced all the old white appliances with new stainless-steel pieces, and installed mirrored closet doors and glass shower doors to replace the frumpy curtains. We also hired a father-son duo from Jupiter Cabinet Refacing to replace just the doors and hardware of the old, peeling cabinets in the bathrooms and kitchen. This one change provided a major cosmetic facelift but was a fraction of the cost of a full cabinet reno.

Interior of the kitchen of a Palm Beach Airbnb

Busy Bees Photography

The apartment itself is (now) fabulous, but — as they say — real estate is all about location, location, location. And the location couldn’t be better. While The Square, the Brightline, Clematis Street, and the Intracoastal Waterway are a few minutes on foot, the beach is about a mile and a half. You can drive to Worth Avenue (and many other gems of Palm Beach) in about four minutes and the Palm Beach International Airport in six. The Kravis Center, with its Broadway shows and year-round roster of performances, is at your doorstep.

After the upgrades came the most important part: theming, décor, and luxe amenities to brighten the dated space into a modern, desirable destination for seasoned lifestyle travelers like us. We knew it had to have strong Wi-Fi, comfortable workspaces, and a vibe reflective of the tropical, sunny disposition of West Palm Beach.

Dining area and entryway of a Palm Beach Airbnb

Busy Bees Photography

I had a vision in my head (and existing furniture to work around), but throughout this process, I relied heavily on the expertise of Mackenzie Rifkin, an interior designer then on Modsy, a fabulous online design platform that has, unfortunately, since shuttered. (The closest comparable service is Havenly, but I didn’t have good luck when I gave it a go on another recent project.)

The two-bedroom, two-bath apartment has a split floor plan; on one side, there’s a primary bedroom with an en suite bathroom and dual closets, and on the other, there’s a bedroom with a hallway laundry closet and bathroom. The second bathroom isn’t en suite, but the entire side has a door that can be closed for privacy. To capitalize on the second bedroom space, we furnished it with a trundle bed, standing desk, and meditation cushions — it works as a home office but also transitions perfectly into a comfortable bedroom for two.

Leaning into the “penthouse” status and abundance of palm trees visible from every window, we transformed the formerly dull space into The Palm Penthouse, the sort of fresh, fun pad we would love to stay in ourselves, where every detail tells a story. The décor nods subtly to the history of Palm Beach, with vintage-inspired art throughout, while also celebrating the cutting-edge modernity of our booming city. The bookshelves are stocked with locally written books (including an insider’s guide to the Palm Beaches) and my Book of the Month hand-me-downs; most of the art is from our own travels; the wallpaper was installed with the help of the lovely local Chelsea Lane & Co.

Interior of a main bedroom inside of a Palm Beach Airbnb

Busy Bees Photography

The Palm Penthouse has rare perks like two desks with monitors (ideal for a digital nomad couple like us, both working from home), a printer, smart TVs in every room, four different ways to make coffee, and even an Xbox Series X. We know what a difference the basics make to the overall experience during a month-long stay, so at our place, we wanted to ensure guests have vacation rental luxuries like spices in the kitchen, dish soap, garbage bags, and paper towels. From personal experience, we learned these minor costs to hosts make a huge difference for guests.

The return on investment has already blown us away, but the best part has been the glowing five-star reviews from guests who appreciate the space we crafted just as much as we do.

Did I mention I accomplished all of this over 12 days, up against the hard deadline of our departure for a summer spent touring my just-graduated cousin around on her very first trip to Europe? Not to toot my own horn, but … toot toot.

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