How a hand-built home helped two Superhosts semi-retire

Administrator

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For Superhosts Mary and Buster Reynolds, hospitality and home building have been a part of their lives for 40 years. “It’s a way of life,” Buster said. He and his wife Mary have been building their home by hand since 1980, and sharing it with guests. “With all these new people coming in, you get to look at your home again with fresh eyes. We are really proud of what’s happened.”  The property —located in a former bird sanctuary, a 30-minute bus ride from Johannesburg, South Africa— has a main house with three guest rooms, as well as two guest cottages. And the couple finally completed it “last night!” Mary laughed, “I literally just finished tiling the new bathroom.”

 

Mary and Buster took some time away from tiling to tell us how they started hosting, how it’s helped support them through retirement, and why there may be another house just like theirs 3,000 miles away in Nigeria.

 

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Hand building a home seems like a massive undertaking. Did you both work in construction before? 

 

Mary: Actually, no. Buster is a retired cinematographer, and I worked most of my life in education. We used to have a landlord who built cottages, and they were built so poorly that we thought, if he could do it...we could do it better. So Buster did a bricklaying course, and I bought a plumbing book.

 

That’s your training?

 

Buster: (laughs) We didn’t have the money to buy a home back then. It was the only way we could get the house we wanted on the piece of land we wanted. So we started with 3,000 rand ($218 U.S.) and went from there. It was every weekend, every spare minute, every spare cent that went into the home.

 

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Mary: Buster did the structure and I worked on the inside. The beams are made from local gumtrees, and a lot of the other wood came from the Crown Mines scrapyard, one of the first goldmines in Johannesburg. The only thing we contracted out was the electricity and the thatched roof because it’s very specialized. Thatching is a traditional craft, so we hired local experts to thatch the roof with grass hand-cut by their wives. It’s like Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, spending almost a lifetime up and down ladders. It’s like living in a work of art.

 

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Has chatting about the house become a good way to connect with guests?

 

Buster: Yes, definitely. The house is open-plan, which in 1980 wasn’t even in the dictionary. Now times have finally caught up with us! Guests come in through the kitchen door and immediately connect with [the home and] what we’re serving them for breakfast: homegrown and homemade jams, pickles and chutney as well as home-baked granola and muffins. There’s always a variety of breads, plenty of coffee and Rooibos tea, which is a South African thing. We spend at least an hour at the breakfast table talking.

 

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Mary: We had a group from Nigeria who had anticipated a 5-star hotel. When they walked in their faces dropped, but it wasn’t long before they mellowed into the experience. By the time they left, one asked for a copy of our house plans because he wanted to build a house like ours. So somewhere in Nigeria there may be a clone of our house.

 

 

That sounds like the highest compliment! How did you get started hosting?

 

Mary: Through the AFS — American Field Service, an international exchange program. In 1984, we did an amazing trip to America and, upon our return, AFS was looking for host families. Since then, we’ve hosted seven students, each for a year, and from all over the world. Hosting became a way of life for us. We also added two cottages, originally for our parents, and then as rentals. In 2017, our daughter Katy encouraged us to join Airbnb, and we started getting bookings almost immediately.

 

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What do you enjoy most about hosting?

 

Mary: It’s the people. We’ve always enjoyed having people here, learning about different cultures, and learning about why people come to South Africa. We had an amazing group of African-Americans from Chicago who wanted to discover their roots. We directed them to places where we thought they’d enjoy authentic African experiences. And they were completely bowled over and felt a great affinity with the culture.

 

Buster: There was also this Argentinian man who was so fascinated by our composting system that he wanted to go back and start a compost business. It’s stories like that that keep us going.

 

Mary: Plus, Buster had to take early retirement and as I am semi-retired, this supplemental income has made a huge difference. It’s allowed us to continue to live in our home. We also employ two domestic workers and a gardener. If we didn’t have the Airbnb income, they would also lose their jobs. Our intention is not to make a profit or a killing—absolutely not—but just to retain our home and keep Nelly, Elizabeth, and Mishek employed.

 

Do you have any advice for hosts?

 

Mary: You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing otherwise it’s not worthwhile. We do enjoy it. And when people appreciate things, you know you’re doing it right.

Labels (2)
64 Replies
Jue in
Nairobi, Kenya
Level 2

Beautiful! So inspiring...would love to do this...Bravo. Jue

Cari in
Taguig, Philippines
Level 1

Nice place. I wish to visit that oneday...

Ademar & Carole in
New South Wales, Australia
Level 2

Will definitely inform fellow travellers

Melanie in
Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
Level 1

Proudly South African. Well done!

Colette in
Tralee Road, Ireland
Level 2

Hi Mary & buster amazing job its fab.  All the hard pays off.

Henk in
Cape Town, South Africa
Level 2

Mary and Buster well done you two. A high five 🖐 for your wonderfull inspiring journey

With your house building. 

A Wonderfull example of

"hang your dreams in the open and let them get wings and learn to fly "

Would love to be a guest at your "Dream house" one day.

Mariane in
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Level 2

I am blown away by your fortitude!!!

if you ever want to visit Trinidad n Tobago,

i will host you free of charge!!

lejeune s garden cottage

mariane [Surname hidden]

Rishka in
Cape Town, South Africa
Level 2

I am motivated by the idea of your house building. 

I would love to see it when next I am in Johannesburg 

 

For me the joy of providing work for an extra person or two by doing airbnb, is rewarding and such a blessing. 

Toni in
Cape Town, South Africa
Level 1

Well done to both of you!  Thank you for sharing your story. 

Sandy in
Cape Town, South Africa
Level 2

Congratulations ! Your entire ethos resonates so well with me ! Proudly South African together 

BáTrung in
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Level 2

Being close, peaceful, romantic is what I feel. Congratulations ❤️

Amanda in
Phoenix, AZ
Level 2

I ❤️ every bit of your story and that you created 5 jobs (including for you two). I truly enjoy hosting as well and am glad to be a part of this community. 

Ray&Catherine in
Rotorua, New Zealand
Level 2

Sounds exactly what we are doing , you both sound like wonderful people , couple, loved to hear your story 

 

Sarah in
Lüneburg, Germany
Level 3

Dear Mary and Buster,

your idea to build a house for guests of all cultures is great! Congratulations to you! You are focused treating your guests as family members, you enjoy being together with them showing proudly how you life in your self made house.

All the problems of rassism, political tensions stay out of that peaceful place.

Wonderful, keep on doing that. 

I definately will visit you once. My best friend Memory lives in Mahikeng and Groot Marico. She works for women and children's rights a's a member of the gov.

I will tell her about you. How can I make connection from you to her? She is a great hard social working lady in her district. She needs short holidays in between the year. Me + her can meet in YOUR beautiful house. Greetings from Lueneburg/Northern Germany from Sarah (** whatsapp)😊I am a superhost too.

 

**personal details hidden

Cally in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Was very interested to read your inspiring story Mary! Many years ago when our children were small we all used to get together with Di and Andy Burton before they moved to the UK. We still live happily in the same old thatched house that we also bought in 1980 in Rivonia .

We are Airbnb hosts in Kalk Bay where we have a 2 bedroomed flat. We have a teriffic co-hosting couple, André and Marnie, who really do a great job. Would be good to catch up again some time! 

 

Sylvia in
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
Level 2

Dear Mary and Buster,

I will be passing through JNB in August when I take my husband and kids to Swaziland where I grew up and am intrigued by your story. Would love to meet you.  Do you have rooms available on 13. August? 

All the best! Sylvia

Level 2

Very inspiring story, congratulations on your hard work 

Molly in
Detroit, MI
Level 1

What a lovely couple! This story is inspiring! Thank you for sharing. 

Margie in
Surprise, AZ
Level 2

Nicely Done, 

I  love the roof line and the looks of your home.

Margie Nicely

Surprise, Arizona

USA

Margie in
Surprise, AZ
Level 2

I also started hosting to supplement my income, and I love the people who come to my home.

I have met the nicest people, and some of them have become friends.

This is a blast, meeting folks from other countries, although I have travelled all over the world, I still enjoy meeting new friends.

Margie Nicely

Surprise Arizona

USA

Kathleen in
Austin, TX
Level 1

This was such a lovely, inspiring story.  I relate to 


@Cally wrote:

Was very interested to read your inspiring story Mary! Many years ago when our children were small we all used to get together with Di and Andy Burton before they moved to the UK. We still live happily in the same old thatched house that we also bought in 1980 in Rivonia .

We are Airbnb hosts in Kalk Bay where we have a 2 bedroomed flat. We have a teriffic co-hosting couple, André and Marnie, who really do a great job. Would be good to catch up again some time! 

 



@Cally wrote:

Was very interested to read your inspiring story Mary! Many years ago when our children were small we all used to get together with Di and Andy Burton before they moved to the UK. We still live happily in the same old thatched house that we also bought in 1980 in Rivonia .

We are Airbnb hosts in Kalk Bay where we have a 2 bedroomed flat. We have a teriffic co-hosting couple, André and Marnie, who really do a great job. Would be good to catch up again some time! 

 


 

Gil in
Newmarket, Canada
Level 2

I would love to come one day and stay at your lovely place.

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Thank you Henk. Always happy to welcome folk from the Airbnb community.

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Thank you Melanie. Definitely proudly South African. We love sharing the good news and that's what MATTERS!

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Thank you Mariane. When we need to take a break we'll remember that! 😊

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

You'd be welcome anytime! And as a fellow South African you will understand the importance of keeping jobs going! Mishek supports 4 people back in Malawi and Neliswa is putting her oldest child through university now.

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Great! Keep at it ... brick by brick, plant by plant. All worth it in the end.

You know you've made it when people stop and ask you for advice! 😊

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Heavens Callie! That was nearly 40 years ago. Still have some pics of the kids together. So good to hear from you. Let's get together some time. 

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

You'd all be very welcome! No August bookings yet.

You come from such a beautiful part of the world. I passed through there en route to hike the Zugspitze. Would live to go back there one day ...

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Thank you everyone for your messages. We love being part of this community and appreciate all that Airbnb has enabled.👍

 

Pamela in
Madison, MS
Level 2

Your story is like our story. We live in Mississippi in an old farm home that has and is being renovated on an ongoing basis. We became so busy that we turned our barn into a Bunkhouse. I have been amazed at how many international guests come to stay with us. My husband is retired and I am semi retired like you. Great story. I enjoyed reading it. 

Daniel in
Kittredge, CO
Level 2

Beautiful and inspiring. Saddly, the US has too many code and permit requirements getting in the way of building creatively on your own land with your own hands.

Susan (Susi) in
Houston, TX
Level 2

What a great story.  I grew up in Johannesburg and looking at the pictures of your home made me home sick.  Will definitely look you up when I finally make my trip home from Houston.  Regards, Susi Knight

Melany in
Toronto, Canada
Level 2

This is so inspiring, and you're right, it's the human connections that make the difference.  I haven't been back to my homeland of South Africa since 2001, but when I do, I'm definitely gonig to add  Mary and Buster's home to the itinerary.

Gail And Doug in
Vancouver, Canada
Level 2

Well done to you both!! Inspiring story. Wishing you continued success!

Boris in
Radovljica, Slovenia
Level 2

A wonderful story. Life full of work, care, joy, happiness, help and especially love on all sides.

Annelise in
Auckland, New Zealand
Level 2

How lovely to read this. Well done you guys. Was lekker om te lees. Can you provide a link to your booking page which I can safe for when I visit family again. 

Veronique in
Austin, TX
Level 2

Great story, LOVELY home.  Thank you for sharing.

Veronique

Austin, Texas

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Groete Annelise. Dankie vir jou boodskap. You would be very welcome anytime you find yourself back this way. I'll send a link when I'm next on my laptop.

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Thank you Susi. We'd love to meet you!

Mary in
Johannesburg, South Africa
Level 2

Thank you. We'd love to meet you when you're next down this way.

Emma in
Pointe-Claire, Canada
Level 2

Mary and Buster, congratulation for your wonderful success!

What I appreciated most was your comment "Our intention is not to make a profit or a killing—absolutely not—but just to retain our home and keep Nelly, Elizabeth, and Mishek employed." 

This is the most wonderful attitude you have and the essence of what airbnb should be about !  

 

Eversince I ended up alone in my house since my family moved out airbnb allowed me to keep the house in good running condition comfortably!  I enjoy the coming and goings of an international young crowd  coming through the nearby airpott and depending on their schedule I show them around by bike  or car in the winter to let them know a bit about the history and beauty of the Saint Lawrence riverside , the Western part of the Island of Montreal. I treat all guests as family and I think the appreciation is mutually satisfying. 

Thanks for sharing your airbnb history, wishing you further great times with your guests! 

 

 

Tata in
Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
Level 2

Wonderful story! I’d like to visit you one day!))

Andrew in
New York, United States
Level 2

Congratulations!

Di in
Underberg, South Africa
Level 2

What an inspiring story. Especially the employment opportunities created, which are much needed in South Africa. We have a similar set-up of a self-built home and a cottage which is now let out through Airbnb. This helps to justify the employment of two women who would otherwise be struggling to support their extended families.

 

Aline in
Providencia, Chile
Level 1

A huge conratulations for you both!!! We know the hard work on it, planification and efforts to be the best that you can. My couple have being working one year and a half in our apartment with a special decoration of bamboos, putting so much energy and hard work on it, so we know what this mean for you. 

Congratulations again, it feels cozy, gorgeous and natural energy through the pictures!

Level 1

Thank you for shering your story!

Level 1

Your place looks lovely.  Thanks for sharing your  'amazing and inspiring' experience. Come to Alaska.

Karl in
Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
Level 2

Inspiring Mary and Buster! Thank you for sharing.

Anne in
Saskatoon, Canada
Level 1

Would love to travel to Africa someday. I will definitely keep your home in mind if i do. sounds like a very wonderful place and you go the extra mile to make sure it is a wonderful experience for you Guests. 

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