Along with Clorox wipes and toilet paper, the demand for backyard swimming pools has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic.
Across the country, swimming pool and hot tub suppliers struggled to meet a sudden wave of demand. But putting in a pool is a pricey proposition, and not everyone who wanted to swim could build their own backyard oasis.
That gave Ned Gilardino an idea.
He has a pool his three older children rarely use. In 2019, he listed it on Swimply — like an Airbnb for swimming pools — so families near his Aurora, Colorado, home could rent the space for an hour or two.
At the outset, there weren’t too many bites. Then the coronavirus crisis shuttered public pools along with everything else. “Suddenly around this time last year, I started getting emails,” Gilardino said.
By June, Gilardino’s backyard was fully booked as families scrambled to find Covid-friendly activities. He even started a waitlist that grew to 90 names. “It was absolutely wild,” he said.
As a retired teacher, Gilardino was on hand to greet guests and clean up in between appointments. He even walled off the lower floor so guests could use the bathroom and basement for changing without accessing the main part of house. He also added backyard games like bocce and touted his firepit.
By the end of the season, Gilardino had made roughly $50,000, he said.
“There was a pent-up demand for what we were offering,” said Asher Weinberger, co-founder and chief operating officer of Swimply. “We succeeded in some ways because Covid made us a more relevant story.“
Weinberger estimates the business grew more than 4,000% last year. Swimply is now active in every state in the country.
Currently, there are more than 3,000 pools listed on the site, many of which cost less than $100 an hour to rent. (Gilardino charges $60 an hour for up to five people on weekends and $45 an hour for weekdays, but discounts are available for multiple bookings.)
Swimply’s web platform facilitates the booking and payment process and then charges hosts and renters a fee.
Admittedly, insurance was an issue, according to Weinberger, who also rents out his own pool on the platform. The company now uses a third-party insurer to provide coverage for hosts, and and renters must sign a waiver that indemnifies the pool owner should any accidents occur.
Still, “it may not cover all the gaps,” cautioned Eric Kollevoll, owner of Kollevoll & Associates, an independent insurance agency in Pennington, New Jersey.
Kollevoll advises hosts to carefully review that policy with their own insurance carrier and check that it covers casualty losses in addition to property damage. “Make sure medical payments are included in the case someone gets injured,” he added.
“There are various scenarios where losses can occur, and they are more frequent around pools.”
Buy extra coverage where you can, he suggested. “The homeowner should be aware that there are significant risks.”
“It’s one thing to have good insurance and it’s another thing to not get sued,” said Pierson Backes, a partner at the law firm Backes and Backes, also located in Pennington.
Beyond insurance, “pools themselves are terrifying, from a legal point of view,” he said.
There’s reason to be concerned that this could change the designation from a family use backyard pool to a semi-public one, according to Backes. That brings a new level of liability, which may mandate certain signage, self-closing gates or rescue equipment — in addition to abiding by Covid-related restrictions, he said.
Further, depending on the municipality, there could be an ordinance that restricts renting out a portion of your house or property as an amenity.
“I would love to see more shared resources,” Backes said. “But from a liability vantage, I just can’t imagine trying to navigate that.
“You are walking in a minefield, for sure.”