Why airbnb can kiss my butt

72 Replies

Ok, so I understand that everyone's situation, property, location is different and thus I'm stressing that this was just my own personal experience and I'm over it - after only 2 weeks ;-)

Beginning of the year I decided that I wanted to do airbnb on some properties that I was renovating. I was so excited and read every discussion thread on various websites and joined local airbnb meetup etc. I had so much fun coming up with themes and decorating and finding all of the item to fit the themes etc. and was looking forward to interacting with travelers from all over the world. 

Now, my 3 properties are in a transitional neighborhood, but within a fenced block that is an artist community. We are incredibly central (2 miles from downtown) to everything in Atlanta, that's intown. I have explained that all in my listings, as well as in the welcome email with details of codes etc. 

First I did everything you were supposed to do to get as much exposure as possible: Instant booking , smart pricing . I had a professional photographer. Smart pricing was very low and I think that attracted the people that soured this for me. 1 bedroom apartment for $ 35 and 3 bedroom for $ 65. Well, I went with it, because I knew that I needed good reviews. 

First booking was for 1 week. Person had no prior reviews, told me that he was in between apartments and has several service animals (sorry, but nobody has more than 1 service dog, because it costs about 10K to train one0. I actually allow dogs, so this obvious lie set up a huge red flag for me. I Did some research and found a bunch of evictions for him. His profile says that he's in Missouri, but he's been living in Atlanta for years, so obviously not a traveler. I got really worried, as I didn't want someone that would turn into a squatter and called airbnb and they agreed to cancel the reservation. The guy then threatened to have me thrown off airbnb. 

Had my first guests arrive Friday, 2 weeks ago. It was raining and she texted 'we're here'. I looked out the window and didn't see anyone. Went outside of our compound and see their car further down the road, facing me. I'm standing in the middle of the street, in the pouring rain, waving my arms. There's no way they didn't see me. They turned right, away from me and towards the main street again. I'm running after them, yelling, waving my arms, but they don't stop. They get stuck at the main road, because there are cars and they can't turn. I finally catch up with them and they agree to turn around (only hit me later that they really were leaving and were not lost) . Anyway, I walked them through and then they said that they'd go to dinner. 30 minutes later they called and said that they wouldn't be back. I told them that I'll get them a refund. Was my first guest and I didn't want to start off as a bad host. They cancelled and I made the mistake of after canceling them on my end, thinking that that was the process for them to get their money back. Turns out that I was then being penalized, because this cancellation on my end would have made it impossible for me to become super host for at least a year. I called airbnb and they said 'don't worry, everything's fine'. But I could see on my stats that because of this cancellation I was at 75%, when I would have required 100%. 

2nd guests were awesome. They loved it so much that they came back the 2nd week and rented my other unit. And they just came back for the 3rd time. 

3rd guests was a young couple, that seemed to fit right in. He's a musician, she had dreadlocks and they both worked as bartenders. Both told everyone there how much they loved it. They actually contacted me at 2pm and asked, if they could check in at 3pm. I told them that I didn't expect anyone and would have to clean first and that the unit wouldn't be ready until 5 or 6 earliest. Would that still work for them? They said that that was fine, but would there be any way for them to just stop by at 3 and drop off their stuff and come back at 6? I agreed. So, the boyfriend came with his things and then went into the bedroom and closed the door and stayed. Ok, no big deal, we cleaned the rest of the apartment, as we had had a plumber there earlier. And since these were the first guests in this unit, the sheets were new. 

Being bartenders, they worked nights, so, we didn't see them much. Check out was 10am on July 5th. Sent a message, asking if they had checked out at 10.10. No answer....Tried calling at 10.45...phone turned off. Tried several more times to call..off.  At 11.30 I finally knocked on the door. They had still been sleeping and were clearly upset. I told them that check out was at 10, they insisted that it was 11. I pointed out that it was 11.30 now and that they had still been sleeping and that I had another guest coming at 3pm and needed to clean. I was still on the property when they left around noon. I waved good bye and they didn't acknowledge me.  Got a scathing review how terrible it was and how there was noise all night long and they couldn't sleep and that this was a dangerous neighborhood (I did describe that this is not a neighborhood for walking around in and they didn't have a car and walked around in the middle of the night, coming from their bartending jobs), that I was late and wouldn't let them check in until 6pm, instead of 3pm, that I loudly woke them up at 10am, when check out was at 11 and so on and that they wouldn't recommend anyone to stay here. I had given them a 5* review, because it wasn't such a big deal with the check out - even though in retrospect I Wished I hadn't. Guests in the neighboring unit told me that they didn't come home until 5am, when their dogs loudly welcomed them, so, they hadn't even been there when there was supposedly all of this noise. Besides, even if they had, it was 4th of July and I'm sure there were fireworks and parties all over the U.S. 

I contacted airbnb in tears, told them that I have other airbnb guests that are willing to vouch that these people hadn't been there at the time they claimed and that my email trail through airbnb shows that I told her ahead of time that she couldn't check in at 3pm...they opened a case, but never did anything. 

Then I had this couple with 4 children that booked for 4 days over July 4th. I tried to explain to her that our artist community property is for common use for everyone, but that it's somewhat raw, with walls and places where children could get hurt, if not supervised etc. She said that was fine. Again, the neighborhood was explained in text and email. No problem. 2 days before she writes that they had a death in the family and whether they could cancel. I told her to just go ahead and cancel through airbnb (I had the easiest cancellation policy). Next day the reservation was still there. I asked her to please go ahead and cancel, as I was now in limbo land. She then changed her trip to 2 days. Came on the 3rd. She and her husband walked through the main area of the house and walked back out. She came back and said that her husband didn't like it and they were going to leave. That she had no problem with anything, but that she had only shown him the pictures and he didn't like the area. She wanted a full refund. I said that that really wasn't fair to me, but that she needed to contact airbnb. She never cancelled, so I could never open it up again to anyone else. 

A few days ago she asked for the refund and gave me a scathing review: the pictures must have been 10 years old (were taken 1 week before by a professional photographer, no editing and nothing was changed since) and all of the walls and floors were dirty. That there was a man on the front porch (this is a duplex and I have a painter living in the other unit) that must have been the community bum. That I didn't look like my picture (sorry, but I was cleaning the unit all day and didn't wear make-up and had my hair in a ponytail). 

Then I had some great guests, who didn't write a review, so, I couldn't balance it out. Got a few good or great reviews. 

Yesterday morning I got a letter that said that I was suspended, but that I still needed to host the current reservations and if I got my average back up above 4 stars they would reconsider. I was going to hang in there, but then I got a call from a guest, that had come the night before, who told me that she couldn't stay there, because the lighting wasn't bright enough for her to put on her make-up and that she found a piece of trash under the sofa and why I wouldn't check the place before I let guests in. 

That was it. I sort of had a break-down and called airbnb and told me that I was done. Those past 2 weeks were so stressful. Every guest I was worried that they'd find something wrong. I felt I was being held hostage by potential good or bad reviews. You're not allowed to turn down too many inquires or you get penalized. Almost everyone I booked had no reviews. You can only put a contingency of having had good reviews, if you do instant booking. 

I met every guest myself, even those arriving at midnight. I had water and snacks in the fridge. I walked them through everything and told me to call me if there's anything wrong, missing, even if it's 2am, since I just live 2 blocks away. 

Basically, I feel really relieved today. I'm a great landlord, but I don't want to feel that I'm held hostage by guests like this. This was not for me. But at least I don't have to look back some day and wished that I had.....

Running a hotel is a tough business. This sounds truly horrific, though. Sorry.

@Michaela G.

I have long term rentals and one Vacation Rental.

Maybe your places are better suited for long term tenants?

I have some properties like you describe and I would never try and market them as STR's.

I also feel that Homeaway and VRBO has a higher end renter paying more for a rental.

At least that is my experience so far. I can see that it is very frustrating trying to do everything right and then getting poor or no reviews for your efforts.

Good luck in figuring out your niche.

john...i had thought I'd have sort of a niche because there are all of these artists here and they may hear someone play guitar or watch fire dancers practise or whatever. Figured that we have our own fenced compound that it would work. The ones that liked it really liked it. 

I think the smart pricing had a lot to do with it. The low prices attracted people that were trying to save money any way they could.

I'm now going to offer fully furnished month to month to creatives and the larger one i rent the 3 bedrooms individually furnished for 600 all in. My artists already have people lined up. Just have to wait until guest move out today to show.

Look into renting to traveling nurses or other medical professionals. They do 13 week contracts, pay really well, and rarely complain. 

@Michaela G. - Wow! You have really been through the ringer here. 

I have just started hosting AirBnb myself. The only difference it sounds like is that I am actually living in the unit I am AirBnbing. I have had great guests thus far without a single problem. 

If you want to give AirBnb another shot, you might be able to create a separate AirBnb account so your illegitimate bad reviews go away. Then maybe raise your prices a little bit and only accept tenants that have had good reviews previously. 

Also - I only provide the essentials. A bed with clean sheets & towels and I like to think I am a fun person to talk to :). 

If they want fancy snacks, towels folded like animals, and all of that stuff, I suggest they check into a 5-star hotel. 

Craig, It's over. All of my reservations were cancelled and I'll be paying a penalty to airbnb for every one. There's no going back.

Following this discussion. We have hopes to airbnb our current house in Gresham Park, but wow, this sounds really unappealing! I have a neighbor who airbnb's two bedrooms in his home, but he also lives there, so maybe that prevents certain ppl from booking. I would def try to raise your price and only accept guests with good reviews. I see why you said you didn't do that to begin with - because it meant you had to instant book - what is instant book?

@Michaela G. Sorry to hear of your troubles.

Your experience is exactly why I'll never do STRs or Airbnb. I got into real estate investing for passive income. Not to run a hotel. Not being able to screen people (allowing people with 0 reviews) is like doing a normal rental without checking their credit or background. It's just too risky.

Sure, people are making hand over fist doing STRs. But it definitely isn't passive and at this point in my business, I'm looking for less work, not more.

Instant book means that people can go ahead and book without you having to approve. And if you don't have IB you can't just pick people with reviews because you'll get penalized by airbnb if you don't approve enough inquiries.

@Michaela G. sounds terrible. I wonder what the other AirBnB hosts in the areas are like.

This is why I only do traveling professionals for my STRs. They come, looking for a bed to sleep on, and go to work most of the time and leave.

@Saj Shah , I had that same mentality, until I got my systems in place and now my returns for the amount of work I put in is insane!

@Michaela G. ,

So sorry to hear this. I know you've been working for a while on this project, and bummer it didn't play out as you had expected. If you're still interested in giving it a shot, I believe you can do it. Feel free to give me a call (same number as when you lived here in the Bay - and on my profile) or contact @Al Williamson who would also have some good advice. I wish you would have posted earlier. I have several Airbnbs in the ghetto, and it's very different managing expectations, descriptions, etc.

For anyone that's experienced something similar and wants to hear some tips....

1) EXPECTATIONS, EXPECTATIONS, EXPECTATIONS - I have 3 Airbnb apartments in the ghetto. I used to live there. I know what's up. And I have a shared driveway there! So can't even keep the riff-raff from next door out. Top of description should include accurate description of neighborhood. There is graffiti (not murals - gang graffiti). Trash gets dumped on the street. When we receive a request, we repeat what's in the listing, and have them confirm they understand.  This is in Richmond, CA, just south of the BART station. 

@John Underwood,
I never would have tried this property on Airbnb if a former property manager of mine didn't insist. And she was right. I was shocked. It totally opened up my eyes to what is possible. 

- PICTURES - With professional photography, it can make your home look amazing with the right light, and create unrealistic expectations for a place that has rough edges. Consider posting non-professional pictures. Or have professional photographer tone down the "heaven lighting", and also take pictures of unfinished areas, damage, etc, so people don't just see the glowing, zoomed-out glamour shots. Like selling a used car. If you took photos of your used car newly waxed, in a photo studio, with no up-close pictures of all the nicks and dings.. do the pictures really match the expectations? 

2) REVIEWS - if you're nervous about your guests, check the reviews. The more nervous you are, the higher the bar should be for # of reviews, overall rating, and quality of individual reviews. A glowing review with details might hold more weight than several brief reviews that some host just pasted, or a boilerplate good review because they didn't want to leave a bad one. 

- ENCOURAGE GOOD REVIEWERS - Let guests up front know how important it is for you to earn their 5-star review. If they are likely to leave a good review, follow up with them to thank them for the brief time to leave a review to reflect their stay. Leave them a great review, then you can even copy and paste it and message it to them and let them know how much you appreciated them staying. Do not leave reviews for people that you dont think will leave a good review. They might think you are "pre-retaliating" and you don't want to remind them to leave one. 

3) PLATFORM - Try Homeaway/VRBO if Airbnb doesn't work. Look at one of the other 100 or so platforms. Different geographic areas, rural/urban, demographics, etc all play in to what works best. 

@Michaela G. Damn, that sucks. I'm sorry to hear about. I've had my share of run-ins with people on Airbnb, but none like what you described. I've followed a bit of your process here on Bigger Pockets. I know you've put a lot of effort in, so I don't mean to say you should have done this or should have done that. But here are some thoughts:

Up front, I agree with @Craig Curelop that you may be able to set up a new account and hit "refresh" so to speak. You'd probably have to sign up with a different email but could probably still use the same pictures. I'm a big believer in Airbnb and think your experience, while probably a bit traumatizing,  is not the norm.

About expectations
I agree with @J. Martin about setting proper expectations. Reiterating that in the first message exchange can go a long way. To be fair, it sounds like you did a good job of setting expectations, so after that then I would ...

Trust your gut
It sounds like you were leery of a person with four service dogs and leery of a person with kids who wanted to stay in such a "raw" place. I tell people I consult with to listen to that voice. 

Reconsider Instant Book
I know Airbnb gives preferential treatment to Instant Booking, but I've never liked relinquishing control over screening of my guests. If you are as you say in a great location, then your space should override the barrier of not allowing instant book. 

Don't use smart pricing
Their smart pricing tends to undervalue the price you could get. Sometimes by a lot. $35 is ridiculous for a whole space. If you're determined to use smart pricing, then set a minimum price that will filter out bad apples

Yes, ask for reviews
If I know someone had a great time at the place, then I would have no problem asking for a review. I'd wait five days or so to let them settle back from wherever they came. But if they haven't reviewed me within 5 days, then I send them a message explaining how much I enjoyed hosting them, how reviews are vital to your profile and ask, if they have time before the 14-day review period is up, if they could leave a few thoughts.

Again, this is terrible to read. @Chris Kelly  had a good idea with traveling nurses. My wife and I actually have two furnished rentals in Capitol Hill in Denver that we rent to traveling nurses and make roughty 50% more than we would if it was a conventional, long-term unfurnished rental. If I could do Airbnb in these condos, I would, but since I can't, I'm happy to take that money.

Good luck. 

Sounds terrible! It's turns into a job and you are a slave to reviews. Lol I'm too lazy for all that. Also, when you do short term rentals like this, it is considered commercial property and the IRS makes you depreciate it over 39 years.

I pulled my airbnb listings (4 of them) when they became a political advocacy origination.

Last time I used them as a customer to book (which made me feel dirty) I had to agree to some terms that I wouldn't be biased against xyz. Eye roll. Why do they assume people would? And that "agreement" does zero except allow airbnb to puff their chest out for the liberal cocktail circuit as if they're oh so progressive.

Pardon my language but..... some people just suck!! Online reviews aren't going anywhere, anytime soon, but in reality they are complete BS unless the reader has a critical mind when interpreting them....and most people don't. With most online reviews situations, as the "customer" I can say whatever I want, however I want and there is very little the business can do about it. My accounting of the situation or interaction can be a complete lie...1000% inaccurate....complete ********..... and there is very little the business can do about it. In the majority of cases, you cant prove them wrong and you wont win a online "argument" with them, so you are just screwed......and the customer knows that and use it. Best you can do is encourage people to leave positive reviews to overshadow the a-hole customers and hope that people really analyze the review, nit just believe it all..

@Andrew Wong can you recommend web sources to review and explore for STR corporate / healthcare housing? I was thinking about getting into airbnb next year, but would rather provide a furnished rental to the professional / corporate customer.

@Michaela G. I am sorry to hear about this experience as well. This sounds really horrible.

Your space sounds amazing though. Is there a thread where you describe the process of acquiring it and turning it into and arts space? Also, which city/neighborhood is it in?

@Sebastian E. , it's in Atlanta, about 2 miles south of downtown. It's gentrifying right now and investors are snapping up everything. 

It's actually a block that has 8 duplexes on it. I bought 2 of them in 2009 and then another one came on the market in 2015. And I wrote to the other owners and bought a 4th. Then I got another investor involved and he bought 2. The other remaining 2 - the owners won't sell and won't renovate to be part of it. So, we sort of fenced them out lol. 

I would do this again in a heartbeat with a small MF of 8-12 units, if the units are multiple bedrooms each. 

The block was really dangerous before, different owners, duplexes boarded up. Stolen cars were stashed there and taken apart. Whatever tenants were there wouldn't call police - didn't want to get involved. 

Once we had control of everything, we decided that we wanted other tenants, than the ones that are so typical in a C-D neighborhood. So, that's why we decided to do artists/creatives. 

We attracted people that were creatives and who were all looking for community and that's how it turned out. One of the best buys I made is a firepit. And my partner brought in a load of wood. Someone would start a fire in the evening and others would come out and hang out. Everybody here knows each other and they won't let a stranger walk up.

We've really turned this whole block around and the neighbors are very happy. 

The ones I had previously, my high point in rent was $ 495, now those same units are $ 850.

The icing on the cake is that the Beltline is just across and within the next 5 years or so, we expect a developer wanting to buy this block

I just started airbnb this summer. I think you are doomed by the unsafe neighborhood. if guests can not feel safe walk out in the nights. what do you expect? people spends a lot of money traveling and they don't feel their money's worth if they don't feel safe, let alone enjoyment. You will have a different experience maybe in a few years when neighborhood transitions to a safer place.

@Michaela G. Would you be open to the idea of having the units managed for you to avoid the pitfalls that Airbnb can cause?

Michael...i already have people lining up for furnished rooms to look at

Forgive my ignorance here. I keep seeing STR. What exactly is an STR?

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