I have to tell you our experience with Airbnb as a company and about the flat which we rented for the first part of our trip to London. This is not for the faint of heart, so grab a cup of coffee and get ready to both laugh and be horrified.
First of all, one of the reasons we selected Airbnb to book our flat was cost. The other services like HomeAway seemed much more expensive and didn’t offer long stay discounts. Since we were planning to stay for several months, we thought this was a better option than simply staying in a hotel. The ability to do laundry and cook meals appealed to us along with having a bit of space to relax.
One of the things that we found with Airbnb is low availability in London at short notice. Because our plans were pretty fluid with a family crisis and work commitments guiding our stay, we booked only three weeks out. This left us with next to zero choices for the area we wanted and our price range. Our tiny one bedroom flat in the center of London costs us more than our huge house per month, so we thought we were going to get something really nice in a good area. $3,000 per month gets you pretty much nothing at the last minute in London. Be warned. I imagine San Francisco would be worse for those of you planning to stay inside that city.
One of our mistakes in booking our flat was that there were no reviews on the place we were booking. I can’t tell you how important that little fact is. Despite looking at all of the photos of the flat, knowing the approximate area it was in, and knowing it was where we wanted to be, we had to trust that the landlord was going to have a good place. Let’s just say, we were really disappointed.
One of the benefits of the apartment we chose was location. It is located in Southwark, London just over a mile away from David’s office so he could walk to work. It is also located by many of the big attractions in London and by Borough Market which is a huge gourmet foodie market that has been around since 1014! (I had envisioned myself cooking up amazing meals with all of the gourmet treats on offer.) The street the apartment is on is surrounded by useful shops, restaurants, dry cleaner, and everything you would need to make your stay convenient.
The booking process for Airbnb is both simple and maddening. You request your booking with your host and they have 24 hours to respond to you. Well, that’s great except you then may lose out on other properties that are available if they don’t get back to you quickly. This happened to us. We had to start our search all over again because none of the properties we picked were available after the host said that we could not rent their flat.
When we arrived in London it was Sunday afternoon. We should have thought about this fact as we knew that London rolls up their streets on a Sunday and nothing is open. We let our host’s property management company know exactly what time we would be there, even texting them on the way from the airport.
Needless to say, the property management company was not there to meet us. It was winter so it was freezing cold. We were dropped off by our taxi in the middle of the street with all of our luggage with nothing, but the betting shop, open on the street. There we stood for nearly an hour freezing with nowhere to go.
When we got into the flat finally, more drama. The place was FILTHY and there was stuff left over from the last tenant. When I say our flat is small, I mean two people fill up the place.
Imagine our shock and horror to find a huge 6ft professional punching bag for boxing in the middle of the living room, along with gloves, blockers, shoes, etc..
Then, the bathroom was filled with dirty used personal products as well. Although the bed had fresh sheets and linens, the floors were filthy, all of the furniture had a thick layer of yuck, and the bathroom had urine stains up the wall from the last tenant.
Seeing all of this we wanted to leave, but the property management agent who was French and claimed to be an intern for the company begged us to stay and let them fix it first thing in the morning. Nothing is open on Sunday. We grudgingly agreed thinking it would be sorted out in the morning.
That night, we were kept awake all night by a light shining into the bedroom through the blinds. There was zero we could do to help this situation and we found that our entire stay we had a bright security light beaming into our bedroom.
Monday arrived. Monday morning was filled with countless phone calls, emails, texts and finally calls to Airbnb our problems weren’t sorted out and we were beyond angry. When we asked Airbnb to cancel our reservation they refused, saying that our situation wasn’t severe enough. WHAT?!?!
Finally around 5 p.m. on Monday our problems started to get fixed; the punching bag was removed and the apartment cleaned. However, that was not the end of the drama. The property management company kept sending us French interns who had no knowledge of the property, our previous conversations with their colleagues, or any idea how anything worked. We had no clue how the heating system worked, or even where to put the trash. We had to ask our neighbors where to put the trash and finally figured out the heating. *Hint, it was on the baseboards”.
As we lived in the flat we found out so many things. Whilst the owner tried to put many things in for the young professional like tons of power points for electronics, underfloor heating and modern decor the flat is lacking any kind of comfort or any place to relax. There were no utensils to cook with, no kettle or coffee maker (the owner told us that he installed an instant boil tap – but it is both difficult to use and actually doesn’t boil the water – so no tea could be made and our coffee tasted terrible), we had no idea how we were going to clean the linens – (as there was no tumble dryer as stated in the Airbnb posting – and no way to really hang things out on a line either), and the pots and pans that were provided to cook with were useless as they didn’t work on the fancy induction stove. Nice huh?
The other thing was that although the flat came with a dishwasher, the dishes were too large to fit in it, so you still had to wash everything by hand. Grrrr. There was no kitchen bin for trash, no storage for laundry, no place to put extra linens. The closet was built at an angle so it only accepts half a dozen shirts. The hangers are too large for the other half of the closet so the doors won’t shut.
We complained and spoke to the owner of the flat, but although he’s very nice, he really didn’t seem to understand our plight. He left this all up to his property management company who believed I was being impolite for having the nerve to complain. The owner would not let us out of the contract to rent the flat. He did offer us two days credit, but we never received it. In the end, to be fair he did send us new pots and pans, dishes and a basic set of kitchen tools after having been there for five weeks with none of these things. In the two months that we were in the flat, we saw 4 different “interns” from the property management company. I spoke to two of the representatives on the telephone to try and deal with the issues. They would downright lie to me to say something would be fixed only for no one to show up.
We did find out that there was a linen service that would pick up and drop off linens. But, there is no schedule. They showed up unannounced. They would leave a bag of laundry outside your door. If we weren’t there to give them the old stuff, we were stuck storing huge bags full of laundry. Did I mention how tiny the flat is and that there is no storage space in it?
The breaking point, though, was when the linen service made a mistake with our laundry. I got a phone call on a Saturday saying they were there to drop off new linens. I ran around the flat collecting all of my old linens and exchanged them with the delivery person. Twenty minutes later the phone rang again with another heavily accented English speaking voice telling me that they need to collect my linen. I explained nicely that someone just collected it and that I didn’t have any. Ten minutes later, another call from the same man demanding my linen. I again said I didn’t have any and come back in two weeks for more. About twenty minutes later, the front door to the flat opens and this strange woman comes strolling in. After being very upset, she told me in her broken English that they had made a mistake and had delivered the linens to the wrong apartment. Now, remember, I had just stripped all of the beds and given over all of the dirty linens, so all I had was what she was taking with her now. Exasperated, I gave her the new linens and contacted the owner. I couldn’t believe that they could just walk into the flat, without even knocking. Horrible!
So, according to our contract, we could give 1 month’s notice, so we did that but still ended up staying for 2 months in this horrible situation as we had no choice. Why that long? Because we had to go through the entire process again to find another flat. We weren’t staying 6 months, so short-term rental agents here in London didn’t want to lease to us. We were stuck with Airbnb yet again.
It took three of us, Audrey, David, and me to find a new place in London. This involved hours and hours of searching. We lost out on places as we would request to rent one place only to find out the current tenant had decided to extend their stay but they were still listed on the site. Very frustrating.
We finally found a new place in the hip and trendy area of London called Spitalfields with lots of great reviews, and thankfully, we have just moved in. This experience has been much better. Our host was there to meet us the night before with the keys, he gave us a thorough tour of everything we needed to know, and answered all of our questions. The flat is both clean and comfortable and outstandingly quiet. We are also in a much better area of town. However, the new flat is what real estate agents like to call “Bijoux”- which stands for SMALL!. But that is what you get when you have to book without seeing a place.
All and all, I’m really disgusted with Airbnb and would not recommend that you rent with them if you can help it. If you do, don’t expect much in the way of customer service. Know that you are at the mercy of your host. They can cancel on you at any time, or not hold up their end of the bargain or leave you in filth. You have absolutely no fall back from our experience. You could be stuck like we were paying a lot of money and being miserable.