Airbnb Confidential: Home Truths on What Really Happens When You Let Strangers Into Your House

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By Sasha Gardner | 1:06 pm, October 27, 2016
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New York has declared war on Airbnb with its recent bill criminalizing and fining many short-term home-sharers.

Airbnb has close to 50,000 city listings in New York and it’s hugely popular in other U.S. big cities, too. It’s no surprise that the success of the online rental marketplace has other sectors, chiefly the hotel industry, up in arms.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed the laws cracking down on Airbnb, has clearly never needed to loan out his plush home in Westchester on the site. So as a veteran Airbnb hostess, let me offer a primer for him and others on what it’s really like to rent out your house through Airbnb.

Companies like Airbnb and Uber, which I drive for, are a godsend for lifelong self-employed arty types like myself. Those companies saved many struggling souls during these tough economic times, and yet without the 2008 housing crash and accompanying recession, those businesses probably wouldn’t exist.

But they do (thankfully). Yet there is a down side when you rent your home out.

I’m not just talking about the greedy unscrupulous landlords that seek to make more money by letting their properties out only for temporary rental purposes and consequently are finding ways to get rid of their long-term renters in flavor of the more lucrative “holiday” let.

In fact, those people are the ones ruining it for the rest of us that heavily rely on the site for income.  Hence the government crackdown.

No, I want to focus on the Airbnb experience from the point of view of the host. The big—and frankly only—major advantage of being a host for Airbnb is MONEY.

Why else would you rent your home—the place you live—to total strangers?

Let’s discuss the negatives. It’s up to you whom you allow to rent your home and for how long. I tend to be wary of the people who have hats and sunglasses on their profile pictures and don’t provide a detailed description of who they are.

Hosts feel much better about seeing clear photos of potential guests along with their full names, what work they do, the company they work for and specifically why they want to rent your home. I’m also wary of the ones that say, “We are just having a small “gathering” (read “party”) of close friends and family for my husband’s/wife’s/friend’s birthday….eight usually means 12, 12 means 20, 25 means 40.

I had one young guy wanting the house for his “honeymoon” who claimed he was an engineer in Moscow and even went so far as to list the company he “worked” for. But I sensed something wasn’t right. I did some detective work and found him on Facebook, based in LA, an “actor” with a dubious porn star-looking “fiancé.”

Had I not done my due diligence I’m sure the house would have been booked that week for multiple porn films. I recommend that every homeowner investigate and discreetly check up on their home also during the rental period from time to time—just a simple drive by to ease your mind if you suspect something is not quite right.

Alternatively, get friendly with your neighbor and have them be your eyes and ears. There have been some nightmare stories. One home was used as a film shoot for a porn film and the unsuspecting homeowners discovered it much much later.

Another homeowner I know came home to what she called a “Shit Celebration” with human excrement smeared all over the sheets. The sheets immediately went into the trash and of course money had to be spent on a very thorough professional cleaning operation as well as new sheets.

Some renters have no shame. Hosts commonly admit to finding used and full condoms either in the bed or in the trash for all to see. Blood stains, cum stains, cigarette burns in couches, headboards smashed, water stains—and worse—on precious wood tables. Glass windows cracked. Fridges, cooktops, scratched. Cabinetry damaged.

Then there is the cutlery accidentally thrown away in the rush to clean up. Plates, glasses and dishes broken, towels and knick knacks stolen or stained.

Some guests have raucous sex parties and orgies so loud that neighbors complained of the “moaning” and “screaming.” Parties where the house had been truly trashed.

Renting out my home on Airbnb is the first time I have practiced reverse ageism. I’ll take an over-50s couple any day over someone in their 20s or 30s. It’s a question of respect.

Whether the renter is old or young, fact is you are renting your home but people treat it like a hotel and they don’t care. They are paying you to do whatever the hell they want with your home. You are none the wiser, until they leave, and you start your discovery process.

Do you feel violated? Absolutely. People—strangers!—are sleeping and having sex in your bed. You have to come to terms with that. I had one guest who went out of his way to leave me a little f**k you message. After I wrote him a Post-It note requesting “Please dry off the countertop if you get it wet as it’s wood and can stain,” he duly left a puddle of water on the bathroom countertop. The Post-It note itself was soaking wet. He also left me the gifts of the two used condoms for all to see. Yuck.

And if you are worried about your AC or heater bill, or if you have a pool or Jacuzzi heater, be prepared for guests to possibly leave it on…for the duration of their stay. Again, they don’t care as it’s not their house or their utilities bill.

Then there is the blackmail nature of the review system. You need to take most of those guest reviews with a grain of salt. You see, a host needs five-star reviews. If they don’t get those, the requests and bookings go down and you will have to lower your prices to get more bookings. The guests basically have you by the short and curlies!

Even if they leave the place messy and dirty, have the AC and the pool heater on 24/7 and steal a few of your towels, as a host you have to suck it up and write a good review.

If you write them a bad review? They dish the dirt on you whether it’s true or not and then you are screwed. You can’t afford a bad review and they know this.

Finally it’s YOU who are responsible for THEIR holiday! If they have a bad time or something isn’t exactly as they want it, yep, it’s a bad review.

As hosts you have to go above and beyond by providing little touches (that, of course, cost you more money) —leaving fresh flower arrangements in every room, breakfast in the form of granola, Danishes, yogurt, fruit and coffee, not to mention a bottle of wine or champagne as a “welcome to our home” gesture.

You have to keep the home spotlessly clean either using a professional cleaning service or give up a full day or two for serious cleaning and doing four to five loads of laundry of the sheets and towels to prepare for new guests.

Ultimately it’s about not giving your guests ANYTHING to complain about.

Even with all the negatives, I will continue to host with Airbnb while praying that my house doesn’t get trashed too badly and my utilities bill isn’t too high. Keep sucking up the small things to keep that money rolling in.

For now given the state of the economy, Airbnb, Uber and all these similar companies will continue to thrive. But if other work improves and this economy gets better? You can bet I’m taking my house back for good! Airbnb will become less popular and it will have nothing to do with a politician’s agenda.