SAN FRANCISCO — In a sluggish economy, diversification into renting can provide new income streams for both consumers and real estate professionals, according to two speakers at Real Estate Connect Thursday.

In August 2008, shortly before the financial crisis hit, Joe Gebbia, Brian Chesky and Nathan Blecharczyk founded, a site that allows consumers to rent out their extra space on a per night basis. The timing was auspicious for a site devoted to generating income from underutilized housing space.

"Even during a down economy we were thriving," Gebbia said.

For some Airbnb users, the service has provided them with a livelihood. Gebbia shared some user stories:

  • A woman who saved her home by renting out a room that covered her mortgage payments.
  • A couple who were about to lose their apartment rented it out through Airbnb and not only earned enough to pay for the apartment, but bought another one next door that they also rented out.
  • A former fix-and-flip builder who was putting the finishing touches on a home when the housing market turned — turning the place into an Airbnb rental was so successful that he changed his business model and now buys properties to hold and rent out.
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