During the blazing hot days of the summer, Michael Zeigler greets strangers up to seven times a week at his home in the Ridglea Hills neighborhood of Fort Worth. They all arrive ready to use the pool in his backyard. 

This is the second summer Zeigler is using an app called Swimply, a website similar to Airbnb that allows people to list and rent their backyard pools by the hour. He charges as much as $35 an hour for up to 10 people to use his pool. It helps him pay his monthly water bill, which watering his lawn makes as high as $500, he said. 

Zeigler said his pool isn’t as lucrative as others because his listing bans guests from using the bathroom inside his house. While he doesn’t want to make renting it a full-time business, he believes he could.

“If I wanted to stay home and put the pool out there and advertise on all the different media, websites and things, I could probably pick up 20 to 30 grand off of (renting) it,” he said.  “That was never my goal.”

Many other people in Fort Worth also rent out their backyard pools through Swimply. In July, the company reported more than 2,000 bookings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a 27% increase from the same time last year.

Swimmers have limited options in Fort Worth. Right now, the city has only one functioning public pool while it renovates Forest Park Pool, which is set to open next May. The city also partners with the William M. McDonald YMCA, which is open to the public with the same entry fee as Marine Park. But hosts and Swimply users believe backyard pool rentals are a niche market.

Gary Kasprzak, a Chick-fil-A manager in Fort Worth, decided to give Swimply a try in 2021 and has been using it ever since. He initially felt skeptical about swimming in a stranger’s pool. As he pulled up to his first house with his three children, his skepticism faded, and the family was hooked. 

“We had an awesome time, and just kind of was like a little mind-blowing that this thing exists, that you can do this,” Kasprzak said.

Swimmers like Kasprzak believe Swimply doesn’t fill the gap of Fort Worth’s lack of public pools. Swimply is more private — and special. 

“It’s more something you do once in a while, I guess,” he said. “It’s a treat for the family. You know, like going to the movies.”

Some hosts, like Zeigler, limit the size of groups that come to the pools. Others, like Sherry Boyd, who rents out her sizable Benbrook space on Swimply as “Aunt Betty’s Backyard,” can host more than 30 guests. Boyd, a retired caterer and bar owner, said her backyard has a large pavilion that seats up to 40 people. She says the pool has been successful since she first listed it on Swimply in June, noting that many book her backyard — not just her pool — for events.

“Some people brought their own TV the other day to watch the Cowboys game,” she said. 

Swimply has expanded to renting yards, pickleball, tennis and basketball.

Renting a pool to strangers doesn’t come without risks. Last year, a 7-year-old girl drowned in a Swimply pool in New Jersey. Hosts such as Zeigler said he initially had concerns about the liability of renting his pool should something catastrophic happen. But he feels reassured by the company’s liability policy, which covers up to $2 million in any claim or lawsuit made against a host for injuries. The company also says it covers up to $10,000 in damaged property. 

Both Zeigler and Boyd said they have had no incidents related to people renting their pools.

Joel McElhany, assistant director in Fort Worth’s Parks and Recreation Department, said more pool access is on the way for those who prefer public pools.

Forest Park pool is estimated to open by Memorial Day 2024. Another public pool in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth is expected to open in 2026. McElhany said the department is also in talks with the YMCA and exploring partnerships with independent school districts to expand access to pools in the area. He also said the department is kicking off its aquatics master plan update in 2024, which will involve public input meetings about pools.

“I think it’s an issue because we hear from citizens that we need more pools,” McElhany said. “We can look and benchmark, compare ourselves to other cities, that sort of thing, but we’re also hearing it from our citizens.”

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.
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Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....