Although I blast AirBnb in my title, I will also include HomeAway, VRBO, and any other home-away-from-home kind of site where private homeowners are thrown into the job of professional property manager.
Mere mortals were not meant for property management. I should know–I have over 14 years in real estate and as of this writing, the thought of managing property seems above my abilities. Property Managers deserve respect because they get and take sh*t all day long, listening to unhappy renters who feel someone needs to come plunge their toilet at 3 a.m.!
I’m willing to admit that maybe my experiences have been outside the norm, but maybe not. You will have to let me know if you’ve had similar experiences. I’ll also say that my worst experiences have been in the U.S. and Canada, and do not include Europe where the people seem to be more capable and honest.
Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Reasons I Will Never, Ever, Ever Be Caught Dead in Another AirBnb Home Ever Again, here goes:
1.) Homeowners lie. One even admitted it to me after we were in her property in Vancouver and we discovered that although she listed her home as quiet, tranquil, serene and every other quiet adjective in an upscale Executive neighborhood, she failed to mention that the neighbor next door started constructing a whole new home weeks before we got there. She should have informed us of this huge change and either offered us a discount, a reduced time period, or a full refund. She did none of these. She pretended the construction next door was purely cosmetic.
We could have gotten our money back but she decided that she needed our money to take her girls to Morocco and Europe (she told us this). HomeAway wouldn’t give us our money back despite their satisfaction guarantee because their rules state we should have left the home within 3 hours. The only problem with that requirement is we had 4 kids with us and it was high season in Vancouver when we arrived in July so no hotels were available. Even though the property was highly misrepresented, we had no recourse.
The photo below shows our incredibly serene view. In Vancouver, construction is allowed to start at 7 a.m. and go until 8 p.m. five days per week, and from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays, so the only time it was quiet was when we were away from the house and on Sundays. No wine out on the deck in the evenings or coffee in the mornings like the ad promised.
In addition, the house in the back of us was also under construction. Even though they hadn’t worked on their house in months (according to the deceitful homeowner), they decided our visit was a great time to restart.
In another property I stayed in October of last year in Pennsylvania, I asked specifically, and in many ways, if the home was located in a quiet area. The daughter of the owner answered positively each and every time I asked. After the Vancouver experience, I felt I had learned a lesson. It seems I will never learn.
My friend had told me that the PA house would be noisy because the road had its own freeway exit. I decided to trust the homeowner (mistake) and hope for the best. Although the guest house was adorable, clean, and somewhat maintained, it was located about 5 feet from a two-lane highway. I could sit outside on the porch and wave to the thousands of cars that went by.
Every night I had a routine of turning the heat way, way up, leaving the bedroom window cracked, turning on the overhead fan, turning on the fan/light combo in the bathroom, and laying down a towel to cover the light coming from the cracks of the door–all this to drown out the sound of the never-ending cars.
But, the one saving grace of this PA rental was the homeowner herself was a real treat to get to know. I talked with her for hours one night–amazing tales, so although the house wasn’t quiet, the woman was worth the noise. She fed me the first night I got there because I had arrived late and no stores were open and then gave me some kind of herbal remedy to calm my pre-flight nerves back to California. Definitely a sweet experience.
2.) Homeowners defer maintenance and repairs. I’ll be honest and say that I also have deferred maintenance issues on my home, but I’m not trying to pass my house off as a luxury rental! The list of repairs for the home we are currently in (our last AirBnb experience) is endless and include something from every room in the house. Some repairs are serious, some just a nuisance or an inconvenience.
So far, we have repaired a bed that was rigged to look like it was usable but collapsed on one of the kids, replaced the shower head in the master because the other one was from 1998 and only dribbled out water, tried to repair the dishwasher but am still waiting for the repairman who doubles as a bartender/gardener/caretaker, cannot use the pool/jacuzzi, fire pit, ice maker, garage opener, there’s a leak under the bathroom sink in the master, the solar doesn’t work, the fence fell down, and probably many other things that I’m forgetting.
The cabinets in the kitchen make so much noise when opened or closed that no thief could ever steal any of our Cost-Plus fine china. And dirty? Holy crap. The homeowner said he has a housekeeper. Yea, me thinks the owner takes the $300 and wipes down the counters with Chlorox wipes in between guests. When I smelled the sheets, they had definitely not been cleaned–no telltale Tide or Bounce smell (the brands the homeowner has in the laundry room). Fortunately, I had brought my own sheets and changed those germ infested ones as fast as I could.
Let’s not forget the mushroom that was waiting for us shortly after move-in right next to a toilet. I cleaned the hell out of that bathroom after discovering this little gem.
3.) You don’t know what you’re getting until you’re there, and by then, it’s too late unless you get the right kind of insurance. Lesson learned for us–we bought cancellation insurance for the trip to Vancouver, not cancellation and vacation interruption insurance. Huge difference. I highly recommend getting advice on the right kind of insurance to buy and through which reputable carriers. Do what we didn’t do–ask a travel agent.
With a hotel, if you don’t like the room for whatever reason, you can either be moved to another room, or your reservation can be canceled and you can be moved to another hotel where you’ll be more comfortable without any financial penalty. Hotels are in the business of making people happy. If you’re not happy, they know you will tell TripAdvisor and anyone else who will listen.
Homeowners don’t seem to understand the power of a 1-star review.
4.) Refunds for deposits can be impossible to get back. I stayed in an Idyllwild cabin for a few days right before Christmas in 2014. My family and I loved the cabin and its view was beautiful. The furnishings were better than most places we had stayed before–it was a charming place. I had had good luck with another rental in Idyllwild in August so I was expecting the same kind of experience.
The rental price was $750 and the refundable damage deposit was $500. Yes, you read that right, the deposit was almost as much as the rental. I had to harass the owner for two weeks to get the $500 back. Two solid weeks when it should have been given back within a day or two of vacating the property. Meanwhile, the owner lied about why the money wasn’t returned to my account in a timely manner (“retarded property managers”) and went on vacation. She was unreachable and seemed unperturbed that I had to wait so long. She then offered me $25 off my next rental…um, sure. Next!
5.) While some services like HomeAway and AirBnb have easily reachable customer service, they’re not helpful in any meaningful way. They are in the business of making money and sometimes forget that we (the customer) are what is paying their salaries.
They seem to be pro-landlord rather than pro-customer. I prefer the Marriotts and Hiltons of the world where they know that without the traveler, they are out of business. I had exceptional customer service from the Marriott in Manhattan Beach last September; homeowners, AirBnb, and HomeAway could learn a thing or two from them.
When I called HomeAway about the Idyllwild incidence, they could not get my money back. I had to do it on my own. When I called HomeAway about Vancouver, their only authority was to send an email on my behalf. I had already sent numerous emails on my own behalf to the owner who was enjoying herself in Europe with our money.
I tweeted the hell out of HomeAway and got absolute silence in response. Most giant companies provide help (well, Wells Fargo, Stitch Fix and a few others have responded to me) because they don’t want that kind of negative attention on Twitter, but it was crickets with HomeAway.
I have not yet complained about our current situation to AirBnb because our term with the rental won’t be up for another month or so. If I were a betting woman, however, I would bet that we will have a very hard time getting our damage deposit back from this homeowner. Why? Because this guy has been hell bent on getting more money from us in any way he can. He sent me a text to pay a San Diego Gas & Electric bill (despite the fact that we had prepaid through AirBnb and we were only in his property 14 out of the 30 days billed) and asked for us to pay his water bill (we weren’t even here for the one he wanted us to pay and the water bill was never mentioned prior to us moving in). He charged us $300 for the “cleaning lady” (a cleaning crew in San Diego is about $100) and he said that if we turned the jacuzzi on, he’d charge us $50 per hour. I am imagining a huge issue with the damage deposit. Nevermind the fact that we have improved his property while here, and have not caused any damage.
In order to learn from my mistakes when renting a home through AirBnb, HomeAway, or other similar type of company, my next blog post is the “Top 5 List of Things to Do if You’re Going to Rent from an AirBnb or HomeAway Type property for Spring Break or Your Family’s Summer Vacation.” Long title, sure, but I’m a little long winded on this very important subject–YOUR vacation.