I first heard about Airbnb back in 2011. “Do you have a spare room to let for the Royal wedding?” The question popped up on Facebook. Interesting, I thought, but who are Airbnb?
My friends in the U.S. seemed to think it was a legit platform. It certainly sounded promising to me. I have a spare room in my flat in London and while I have thought about letting it, I didn’t want to do so long-term. I want to keep it free for friends to come and stay and besides, what if the tenant and I were incompatible?
My flat is quite small. I have one bathroom and the kitchen and the living room, where I work, are open plan.
There was only one way to find out, and that is by doing it. I registered on the Airbnb website, gave them details about me and about the flat and its location, and I waited.
I’ve been letting my room on and off ever since, and for the most part it has been an entirely positive experience.
I’ve hosted men and women and sometimes couples from all over the world from the US to China to South Korea, Canada, Australia and various countries in Europe. I have learned about their politics, their culture and their often weird (to me) culinary habits. I have learned that a country like Romania has a largely ‘peasant population’ (a direct quote) and is not totally in harmony with the EU.
Sometimes, oddly enough, they don’t intrude enough. Many guests like to keep themselves to themselves so much I barely have a chance to talk to them. Some shut themselves up in their room all day and then I begin to worry about them – are they okay, they don’t seem to have eaten anything all day.
The worst was a guy who never left the flat, even in glorious weather, and who cooked two complicated and extremely pungent meals every day (on occasion I had to nervously ask if I might please just have the use of the kitchen for a brief moment while I made my own dinner) and complained about everything.
There was another guest who imported his girlfriend overnight without asking and broke my weighing machine without telling me and then made a huge fuss over an invoice.
People who spend a long time in the bathroom just as you’re preparing to leave the house. People who use your own special mug, or sit in your own special chair, or who don’t put things back exactly where they came from. All of which is a reminder of how ludicrously fogeyish one can become about such things when you’re living on your own.
When someone makes a request to stay, I like to know something about them, either from reviews from other hosts or from the guest themselves, and preferably both. I had a recent run-in with Airbnb when a potential guest sent me a request with no information at all.
I replied asking to know more about them, but they didn’t respond and so the request expired. I was then reprimanded by Airbnb for not replying. The Airbnb rep at the end of the phone was not helpful, though I’ve had better experiences in the past.
So-called, which doesn’t mean much to me, but it does help to push one up the search engines I believe. I now have a steady stream of guests, nearly all of whom I have grown to like hugely. I don’t socialise with them outside the flat, but I love to chat with them in it.
This means I can afford not to fret too much about day-to-day expenses. I have also on occasion let my entire flat when, for example, I made extensive trips to Australia to research my books. Again Airbnb – and its European sister Wimdu – was invaluable, as letting agents here in the UK generally won’t take on properties for less than six months or a year. The rent I received paid for my trips.
Not everyone likes Airbnb. Especially those in the hotel industry, and in places where landlords have switched from letting long-term because they make more money through Airbnb. I imagine some letting agents aren’t fans either.
Apart from reviews, which are very helpful, and gut feeling, likewise, there are no guarantees that a guest will respect your space, or wash up, or not generally get in your way. If guests cause damage, Airbnb have an insurance scheme which presumably pays for it.
But as I said, in my experience, and in the case of friends of mine who also host through Airbnb, these things don’t happen. I have never had a guest who has made a mess of the common spaces, or who hasn’t washed up, or who has stolen or damaged any of my property. Most people are kind and thoughtful and respectful and generally good to have around.
I have learned a lot from my tenants. For instance, how London appears to the tourist, why perhaps surprisingly some Europeans consider it to be a more friendly and tolerant place than their own country.
I have been impressed by the bravery of some young women, often with little English, who have come here on their own for the first time just to witness the famous sights of London. I have learned things about my home town I knew nothing about. I have learned a good deal about countries I’ve never visited and are unlikely to.
All in all, it’s been and continues to be a highly positive experience.
Have you tried Airbnb? As a tenant or a host? What is your experience with the platform? Would you mind sharing a story?
Tags Small Business