A fast-growing vacation-rental company finds a happy, permanent home in the Pearl.
Eric Breon has an unusually close relationship with real estate. He’s the founder of Vacasa (926 NW 13th Ave, 503-345-9399, vacasa.com), a Pearl-based tech firm focused on vacation rentals. The company connects homeowners who wish to rent what’s typically a second home to vacationers, and it manages the entire process, from marketing to handling housekeeping and household repairs.
Breon, 38, started the company with co-founder Cliff Johnson in 2009 in his Northwest Portland home, and since then has overseen meteoric growth. The company now employs a team of 1,400, operates in 16 US states plus six countries, and is ranked ninth on the 2014 Inc. 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies list.
Vacasa’s rapid ascendance has necessitated a number of physical moves since its humble dining-room-table beginnings. “We’ve been in six offices over the past five years,” says Breon. When a space in the Pearl’s RiverTec building became available last June, Breon knew he wanted it. He’d been there before—four years prior to conceiving of Vacasa, Breon had sat in the conference room of what is now his current office. He was then just a 27-year-old kid interviewing for a job.
“While we were exchanging pleasantries, I commented that the office was pretty much the coolest spot in Portland—the location’s incredible. And they said, ‘Ooh, sore topic, we’re moving to Beaverton in a month,’” Breon recalls with a laugh. He decided against that job, but the Pearl office space made an impression that stuck.
“We have a 40,000-square-foot building, which we’d generally have to go to a corporate office park to get. At the same time, right downstairs, we have great restaurants and street life.”
Another experience around this time left an indelible impression on Breon. He learned that owning and renting vacation homes is kind of a pain. His wife’s family owned an 1898 vacation cabin on the Washington coast. “We’d go up every spring to clean up after the mice, fix broken windows. It was hard labor every day we were there. Then we wouldn’t have time to return all summer and come October we’d go back to close it up again for winter. We didn’t want to part with the cabin, so decided to rent it out. A local property manager told us we could get $3,200 a year in rental fees, but our taxes and utilities were $4,000 a year.” Instead, Breon rented it out himself, for about 180 nights that year. He took in $24,000 in revenue.
He realized this wasn’t just a tidy personal windfall but a promising business opportunity. He reasoned that second-home owners aren’t looking to spend their vacation time on upkeep and maintenance, nor do they wish to invest endless hours on marketing and managing a rental business. And that many travelers prefer vacation homes to hotels but lack efficient resources for finding them. Breon decided to develop a tech platform to connect vacation home owners and renters.
You may be thinking of another nationally well-known company, based in San Francisco, that came up with a similar notion around this same time. But Breon distinguishes Vacasa from Airbnb. “For an Airbnb homeowner, this is a gig, an entrepreneurial activity,” says Breon. “They’re putting a ton of work into it, scheduling cleanings or doing the cleaning themselves, helping guests with any issue that arises.” In comparison, he describes his clients as owners who want their homes to be in perfect shape whenever they come back to enjoy them. “They don’t want to worry about maintaining their second home, and they want to make money when they’re not using it.”
“Most properties in the city are not allowed to be used for shorter-term rentals. Ironically, that’s one factor that made us a great business”
Although nearly 50 residents of Northwest Portland list their vacation homes with Vacasa, and there are also likely people who use their Pearl condos as a part-time pied-à-terre, the company doesn’t do much business locally. “Most properties in the city are not allowed to be used for shorter-term rentals,” explains Breon. “Ironically, that’s one factor that made us a great business. Had Portland allowed short-term rentals, we probably would have just become a good local company,” he reflects, adding that he’d nevertheless like to see Portland evolve on this issue and change its ordinances to allow owners to rent their homes short-term to vacationers.
Regardless, Vacasa takes its role as a Pearl community member seriously. The company makes its space available to groups like PDX Women in Tech for events. And last fall, Vacasa launched a Home for the Holidays campaign to raise money for Central City Concern, a local nonprofit with a mission to combat homelessness. The company asked its Oregon homeowners to donate $100 from their Thanksgiving reservations, which Vacasa matched. In addition to corporate donations, the campaign raised more than $30,000.
Vacasa’s 300 local employees enjoy working in such a dynamic neighborhood. Breon points out that besides his fond memories of interviewing for a job here more than a decade ago, the Pearl was the perfect place to locate his growing company. It’s an easy, central neighborhood for employees to commute to, whether by bike, mass transit, or on foot. “We have a 40,000-square-foot building, which we’d generally have to go to a corporate office park to get. At the same time, right downstairs, we have great restaurants and street life,” adds Breon.
Take it from a guy who knows a lot about real estate: “It’s hard to beat this neighborhood.” – Alison Stein | Photos by Stuart Mullenberg; Courtesy of Vacasa