I’ve been meaning to write about my experiences with Airbnb for some time now because in my humble opinion, it ranks pretty high up there as a thing that is awesome. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the site, Airbnb is an online service that provides a platform for individual “hosts” to rent out their homes, rooms or other lodgings to short-term guests, or alternatively, for “guests” to rent accommodation in a private space. Listings include private rooms, entire apartments, castles, boats, manors, tree houses, tipis, igloos, private islands and other properties in 33,000 cities and 192 countries (thanks WIkipedia!). I have acted as both host and guest on multiple occasions in various cities and have had only amazing experiences.
So, first things first, why would I (a) want to rent my house out to strangers? and (b) stay in a stranger’s home instead of a hotel? As a host, the primary motivation is without a doubt, profit. When my fiance and I were in Europe last fall, we made more money renting out our place here than we spent on accommodation over there. In the summer, we made more renting our place on Airbnb during a weekend away at the cottage than we could possibly have spent on the food, booze and gas required to take us away. As a guest, I’ve found that Airbnb listings are almost always less expensive than even mid range hotels, and likewise, typically much nicer. While listings vary greatly, we’ve stayed in an incredible open concept modern loft in Montreal (best team Osheaga accommodation ever!), an adorable Danish one bedroom in Copenhagen and a large open concept bachelor pad in Amsterdam. All of these were equipped with full kitchens, typically stocked with some basic items by the host (our lovely host in Copenhagen really stole our hearts by greeting us in her candlelit apartment with a bottle of wine, a long list of her favourite spots in the city, and everything we needed to make a delicious breakfast the next morning). Particularly when travelling, renting an apartment on Airbnb allows you to connect with at least one local and immerse yourself in the culture to a much greater degree than you could in a hotel. The accommodation options range greatly, from inexpensive spare rooms to swank tree houses and private 10 bedroom castles, such that the accommodation itself is what can make the getaway. I love browsing through the “popular” or “wish list” places on the site and have already flagged a few amazing looking retreats for an upcoming trip to bali and thailand.
Okay, that’s all fine and good, but HOW does all this work? This is where the real magic of Airbnb kicks in. The site is much, much more than just an advertising platform. In exchange for a nominal service fee charged on all transactions, Airbnb insures hosts, collects and holds a damage deposit of your choosing, manages all financial transactions, and requires that hosts and guests alike create online profiles. These profiles include information about the guest/host, recommendations by other users, reviews from previous guests/hosts, as well as a response rating and private messaging system. You are entirely in control of who you rent to and from, can review the other person’s reviews and profile, and are able to ask questions or seek further information before agreeing to anything. We don’t rent to guests or from hosts who don’t already have multiple positive reviews and detailed profiles. We’ve typically rented to couples, usually here from out of town visiting friends or family, require a $250 damage deposit, and rent for a minimum of two nights. Airbnb collects the damage deposit and rental fee upon check in and holds the deposit until the host has given them the go ahead to release it. The site itself provides loads of information for both hosts and potential guests, but I’ve compiled my answers to a few of the questions we’re more commonly asked below. If you’ve got more questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them the best I can!
As a host, what do you do with all of your belongings?
This will depend on your personal preferences, level of comfort, housing situation, and particular possessions. While we were slightly more cautious our first few rentals, shifting certain items down to basement storage or stashing them away out of site, we generally clean out the top shelf of the fridge, remove our personal toiletry items from the bathroom, close the closet doors and otherwise leave our house as is. Our house is a duplex and our downstairs tenants are close friends, which means that there is always someone here to keep an eye on things, but perhaps as importantly, our most expensive (and readily moveable) possessions (laptops, cameras, etc.) tend to travel with us. Given that guests are putting out over $500 for a two night stay (including the damage deposit), we figure it would quite frankly not be worth the effort involved to try to steal anything. As guests, we’ve noted that some of our host apartments have had locked wardrobes, which I think would be ideal.
How can you be sure what you’re getting?
As a guest, there is a little more guess work involved that there would be with a hotel, but good hosts have very extensive profiles with loads of photos. At the host’s request, Airbnb will send in a professional photographer to take “Airbnb verified” photos, so if you want to be certain, you can limit your search to places featuring photos with the Airbnb stamp of approval. More importantly though are the reviews from previous guests. Because everything is processed through the site, these reviews cannot be faked (unless you actually went through the process of exchanging payment, etc.) and often provide great insight into other guest’s experiences.
Isn’t it strange staying in someone else’s home?
Although our Airbnb rental is very much our primary residence, we’ve found that a lot of places we’ve viewed as guests appear to be relatively unlived in. Whether because the host travels a lot or is using the unit as a rental property, it has generally been our experience that the places we’ve stayed have been cozy, but not overly personal. That aside, because reviews are so important, hosts and guests alike are very careful to ensure that the rentals are in good condition. Places we’ve stayed have always been spotless, with clean linens, extra towels and basic items in both the bathroom and kitchens. As hosts, we’ve always been pleasantly surprised to come home to a house every bit as clean and well organized as we left it.
How do you arrange to get keys?
As hosts, if we are able to be home when guests are arriving, we will great them and give them a set of keys. Often, however, we are already out of town when guests are arriving. We have a lockbox that we leave on our front porch that we provide a code to via email the morning of check in. As guests, we’ve always had the host arrange to meet us at the apartment, give us keys, show us around and answer any outstanding questions.
Is it safe?
Airbnb lists the neighbourhood and approximate location of the rental unit but it is up to the host to give the exact address to the guest before check in. This way specific homes are not identified as being empty at any particular time. As a guest, it does mean that you are meeting a stranger who will, in most cases, have copies of the keys to the unit. To be safe, I’m not sure I would go this route if travelling alone, but I don’t think this is any greater risk than travelling and staying anywhere. Be smart, safe and trust your instincts.