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Published on April 12th, 2016 | by Simon

Making the most of Airbnb

I have stayed in around 20 Airbnb rentals over the past four years. For any stay over five days, I tend to prefer renting for the flexibility it offers over a standard hotel room.

But there are pitfalls in selecting the right place. So I offer these tips, especially if you are wanting to rent an entire home:

  • Use the Airbnb filters – this may see obvious, but aside from selecting the city and the dates, there are multiple further filters available. If you only need one bedroom, start out with that as a criterion – no point in paying for space you don’t need. If free wifi or aircon/heating is important, be sure to select that. Start out with the perfect set of filters and only remove if you cannot find the right place.
  • Expand the map area using the zoom keys to cover the maximum area you are prepared to consider. This will ensure that all the properties in this area are listed on the left. If you start with a map area which is too small, your initial listings will be overly restricted and you will only see more as you move to subsequent pages.
  • Use the price slider to restrict your acceptable range, but be aware that monthly rentals may look very different from 30 times the daily rate.
  • Get an initial impression from the image on the left. When you see one you like, do not open full screen, but use the arrow buttons you see when you mouse over the image to run through the remaining pictures. Only open the full screen for the places you like on that basis.
  • When reviewing pictures, be very cautious of places which have a majority of images of local sights, and less of the property. Look carefully at the lighting. Full artificial light probably means the place is dark even in the middle of the day. See how many windows you can see and whether the view is obscured, because that view may be of a brick wall.
  • Check the kitchen equipment quality and range – this is usually a very good indicator of overall furnishing age and quality. Some places are furnished with items drawn from the local secondhand market and others with the cheapest items available in Ikea – which do not stand up well to constant abuse. The size and quality of the television is also a good indicator of how much money has been spent on equipping the property.
  • Check the access details. If the description or the pictures suggest a penthouse – especially in an old building – be aware there may be plenty of stairs. Twice I have had 100 stairs to tackle in order to access the rental every time I chose to leave the apartment – even if only for a baguette…
  • Read the property description. It’s amazing how little effort some owners put into describing what they are trying to rent. This is a good indicator of how much the owner cares – as is the house rules section. And check the cancellation policy bearing in mind you will be paying 100% of the rental upfront.
  • Look at the owners profile. If they do not live in the town where you are renting, they are probably using an agent or caretaker to handle the property and prepare for each new rental. In my experience, this very frequently leads to a lack of care. Almost all the problems or disappointments I’ve experienced have been in places where the owner is absent most of the year.
  • Read the reviews but take them as a broad indicator only. Most people do not want to leave a negative review, and even though Airbnb try to check the validity of reviewers, it is still quite possible to ‘game’ their system. Try to assess the rental wishes of the reviewers – there is a world of difference between the needs of a college group looking for a party and a small family looking for a quiet break.
  • Use the ‘favourites’ button to maintain a shortlist of the places you like. Once you’ve added them all, the wishlist section will allow you to review your options with greater care and to share with others traveling with you.
  • Even if the owner shows availability do not make payment immediately. Airbnb will put a hold on your card immediately for the full amount. Unless it is an instant book listing, the owner may still come back and say that they cannot rent to you. This may be because they want to wait in the hope of a longer term rental from someone else, or they may have instructed the system in such a way that it has miscalculated the correct rental. So write to the owner via the Airbnb message system setting out your rental dates and what matters to you in terms of the facilities available. Ask them to come back to you with a pre-approval and the price. You are then safe to accept this. If they refuse your request, you will not have already locked in a card pre-authorisation which could remove your access to those funds until the authorisation reverses after several days – or even longer if you used a debit card.

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