Backyard pools are not a traditional calling card of Portland. But perhaps they should be.
Back during the pandemic, Portland-area families began turning to Swimply—a rental website akin to Airbnb, but for pools—when public and private pools closed. Ongoing staff shortages have continued to limit public pool and swim club hours. Launched in 2018, the Los Angeles–based app currently lists more than 100 pools, hot tubs, and amenity-laden backyard leisure options around Portland to rent out by the hour for personal uses like teaching the kids to swim, celebrating birthdays or holding Love Island watch parties.
Bookings are popular year-round in Portland because of a surprising number of pool listings for the climate, and "really successful hosts who create incredible outdoor experiences for guests any time of year,” says Cameron Leel, Swimply’s head of marketing.
This includes the “Mad Men Pool,” a spa-like indoor plunge in the West Hills, will transport you straight to the 1970s with its exposed beams, wood ceiling, and natural stone tiles with built-in rock formations. It also includes cool backyards like the party paradise Swimply user Rob Nachbar built at his home in Northeast Portland, with a large hot tub, multiple seating areas, gas firepit, outdoor fireplace, Ping-Pong table, video projector with a 100-inch screen, bar and grill.
Nachbar, who renovated his yard during the pandemic, wondered whether people would be interested in renting his hot tub and yard. Since he listed it on Swimply in June 2021, his space has been reserved around 150 times and earned him income of more than $27,000.
“Every other day there’s a reservation; it’s been crazy,” he says. “We used to do Airbnb back in the day, it was just so disruptive and kind of a pain in the ass. This [Swimply] has been great.”
Nachbar says his family is usually home when people use his backyard facilities, but the way the yard is designed allows for privacy. The space—suitable for up to 20 guests—is built with flair, from the multicolored mood lighting to sexy neon signs, it looks like a villa prepared to host Netflix’s next reality dating show (for which the space has been used to hold watch parties on several occasions). Nachbar says he declines a lot more reservations than he accepts, so, for first-time renters looking to book his space, planning ahead is key. As is being respectful of the time window you booked for.
Danica Wilson’s saltwater pool in Happy Valley has a bit of a different vibe. Measuring 16 by 40 feet, with built-in hot tub and sloping stair access for newer, water-winged swimmers, it can host up to 30 guests. But it’s also different in that the pool is built on Wilson’s hilltop property which offers sweeping views of one of Clackamas County’s swankiest neighborhoods, as well as the animals—including llamas, goats, sheep, and chickens—Wilson keeps as part of her hobby farm.
“People always want to meet the animals and hear the story of how this came to be in the middle of Happy Valley,” she says. “So we do meet all of our guests ... they give bottles to [the] sheep, pet the goats, give them grain, kiss the llama.”
Wilson says her story begins much like Nachbar’s: she and her family were Swimply users during lockdown, and at the time there were only about 20 options, she says. She decided to build her own pool and use the passive rental income to help pay for its construction.
“Pools are expensive, so it will pay for itself in three to four years,” she says.
Being in Happy Valley, Wilson says, she gets a lot of families booking time for their kids to take private swim lessons since the town broke off from the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District starting in 2017, leaving them with less access to public swim programs. That drums up a lot of repeat customers who come back for birthdays, family gatherings, and other parties.
Wilson admits Simply has had its share of growing pains—such as the app bugging out from time to time—especially while ramping up during the pandemic, “but I feel like the company is working really hard to improve the app,” she says. “They’re really responsive.”
Wilson says her best advice to new Swimply hosts is to commit to safety and cleanliness, while investing in high-quality amenities, such as outdoor furniture and lounge items, to make guests feel like they’re on a mini getaway. Llamas optional.