The economy of sharing

The SF Bay Area is a hub for a new type of economy, where things aren’t bought but borrowed. Let’s call it the age of sharing

Of course, like all pioneers, the new services have hit some road bumps. Airbnb experienced a PR disaster in June, when a woman came home and found that the lodger had trashed her place. Airbnb has since improved its vetting process and now protects covered property up to $50,000 for loss or damage due to theft or vandalism. Reputation systems (the ability to rate users) are now part of many sharing companies, making people feel safe.

Neal remembers when he tried sharing a car with a housemate before car-sharing services existed. The borrower got it towed and Neal had to retrieve it, costing him a day of work. “Man, that’s not cool. We didn’t have a written agreement on what we would do.”

Agreements on paper now exist, but sharing services in general, says Berkeley lawyer Janelle Orsi, live “in a murky, still-evolving legal domain when it comes to issues of liability, health and safety regulations, even labor laws.” Something as seemingly innocuous as a group of people getting together to buy groceries could be considered a commercial activity subject to regulations.

Janelle, coauthor of The Sharing Solution, says that shouldn’t scare us off from sharing our possessions with those around us. She talks warmly of using the Neighborhood Fruit website to score tasty local treats. A lot of people focus on the financial and environmental benefits, Janelle says. “But I’m finding that the biggest benefit is that just getting to know my neighbors makes me happy. The general happiness level tends to go up with sharing.”

Neal, who shows no regret about his plunge into the sharing economy, agrees. “People can have more fun when they share things with other people. They can have a much better experience than simply buying something from a big corporation.”


Neal Gorenflo estimates annual savings of $16,800 from his adventures in sharing.

  • Transportation: $4,000. Neal donated his car to charity and relies on his bike, public transportation, and (during the workweek) car sharing. (He added up what it cost to own his car, then deducted what his costs are now with car sharing and public transportation. AAA estimates that driving a big car costs 92.6 cents per mile, at 10,000 miles per year, everything included.)
  • Travel: $1,250. Airbnb instead of hotels for two family trips.
  • Kids’ clothes: $450. Buying used, borrowing, getting and giving hand-me-downs.
  • Child care: $10,800. Participating in a nanny share 36 hours per week (rather than a day-care center or hiring a private nanny). “Instead of the normal $16 rate for one kid, we pay $10 per hour and the other family pays $10. This saves us $6 per hour or $216 per week.”
  • Technology: $300. Canceling landline and using an Internet router shared with neighbors for long-distance calls via Skype.



  • 4 popular sharing services

    Hey, Neighbor! ( This social network is bringing back the old-fashioned spirit of lending for free the stuff gathering dust in your garage. You can also swap favors, like watering plants while on vacation.
    Airbnb ( Founded in 2008 in San Francisco, Airbnb lets people with space connect to those who are looking for it. The company handles all transactions, and charges hosts 3 percent of each accepted reservation. Guests pay a 6 to 12 percent booking fee.
    Getaround ( Getaround, started in 2009, bases its business model on the fact that cars are idle 92 percent of the time.
    Crushpad ( The perfect solution for enophiles who crave the experience of making their own wine, but can’t afford to spring for their own vineyard.

  • Did you know you can share ...


    1 | Eggs. Eggzy connects people who want fresh eggs but don’t have backyard chickens to locals who do. Punch in your zip code to find nearby eggs, then pick them up. Available in many cities;
    2 | A cider press. Millers’ Equipment & Rent-All stocks equipment that people in the community can rent for a day or a week at a time. A cider press costs $60 per day or $180 per week in the Seattle area.
    3 | Experiences with strangers. If you love sailing and own a sailboat but are feeling pinched financially or miss sailing with others, you could offer an “experience” for sale via Vayable. You set the price. S.F. and L.A. only for now;
    4 | A bike. Bike shares, like car shares, are growing in popularity, with Denver B-cycle one of the programs leading the way. It has 52 stations around the city for pickup and drop-off. A day pass is $6. Similar city programs are coming soon to the Bay Area and possibly L.A. County.
    5 | An office cube. Offices put empty cubes up on Loosecubes so the cubeless can rent the workspaces on an as-needed basis. Find empty spaces at 200 locations in the West.
    6 | A pig. Buy a share in a pig from a farmer who can house, feed, and send the animal to slaughter. You get part of the meat. Shares sell out quickly and are distant cousins of community-supported agriculture, where members share a yield from the farm for a fee.  – Haley Minick

Most Popular

  1. 53 favorite backyard projects

    Our favorite DIY patios, paths, trellises, planters, fountains, and more
  2. 10 raised bed garden ideas
  3. 20 favorite perennial flowers
  4. Top 45 hikes in the West
  5. 20 colorful plants for shade gardens