San Francisco resident Nancy Niederhauser found herself freshly divorced and recently retired in 2011.
The former social worker had a decent pension but she wanted to meet new people, and had heard about a newfangled service called Airbnb. Despite reservations about having strangers in her Potrero Hill home, she listed her spare room on Airbnb and had her first booking within three hours.
“I was scared,” she recalled. “I was worried I’d be murdered in my bed. I thought, well, at least Airbnb will be able to tell the cops who did it.”
For $75 a night, guests could stay with Niederhauser in her funky, mauve-colored Victorian home with a romantic garden in the backyard. In the beginning, guests were mostly young tech workers, but as Airbnb became more popular, Niederhauser started getting more guests from all over the world, especially from the United Kingdom.
Niederhauser, who is naturally friendly and curious, loved learning more about her guests. Over the welcome breakfast and through kitchen run-ins, she developed lifelong friendships.
In 2014, a couple from a small town in England’s Wiltshire came to stay with her. Niederhauser enjoyed speaking with the woman, who she says had a special ability to listen and empathize. The man, Martin Stickley, was quieter but had a kind twinkle in his eye.
“The best treat was just chatting with them over the breakfast table, learning about their lives and trading tales,” she wrote in her guest review.
Stickley’s review was equally glowing.
“Nancy has a beautiful house and a warm welcoming spirit...we were privileged to share both,” he wrote. “Do stay, you will love it.”
Niederhauser loved traveling but had never wanted to visit England. After the couple’s visit, she thought, “maybe someday I’ll go to England.”
In 2017, she decided to visit England and made plans to see Stickley and his partner as well as another couple who had stayed in her Airbnb. She had such a good time that she made her England trips annual and became closer, albeit still platonic, friends with Stickley. They would catch up via Skype and email regularly. Stickley was a software engineer who also had a way with words, which Niederhauser, an English major, loved.
“He still amazes me with his great vocabulary and choice of words,” she said.
In 2020, they found themselves both single at the same time, and realized they both had romantic feelings for each other.
“He came to visit in February 2020, and it was just like, 'This is it,'” she said. “He stayed a few weeks.”
Before he left, they made plans for him to move to San Francisco.
But five days after he went home, San Francisco was under Covid lockdown.
The couple hired an immigration attorney, and had a Zoom relationship for five months. Then since Stickley couldn't come to the U.S., they signed a lease on an apartment in Bristol, England, and Niederhauser spent the pandemic flying between Bristol and San Francisco.
Finally, at the end of 2021, Stickley was able to come to the U.S by making a stopover in Saint Lucia. They then had two weddings: one in the Presidio of San Francisco, and another in Clifton Observatory in Bristol.
Niederhauser wholeheartedly recommends Airbnb hosting for those looking to connect with new people.
“It helps if you are genuinely curious about people and interested in their stories,” she said. "I'm a friendly soul which helped immensely. Also, I loved sharing information about my neighborhood.”
At both weddings, there was a table set aside for Niederhauser’s former Airbnb guests.
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