Analysis: Enjoy your Airbnb — just don’t forget to do the laundry and take out the trash

New York CNN Business  — 

Anyone who’s stayed in an Airbnb knows the experience can be a roll of the dice. Anything can happen when you roll up to your rental. That’s part of the charm — you might be pleasantly surprised by a free bottle of wine waiting for you in the kitchen, or you might have an adventure just trying to unlock the door with the weird skeleton key that you had to dig out from behind a tree in the backyard.

But renters are getting increasingly fed up with lists of do’s and don’ts that await them inside. Strip the beds, wash the linens, load and unload the dishwasher, water the plants, mow the lawn, don’t touch the record collection…

And that’s on top of triple-digit cleaning fees.

The backlash against persnickety hosts is growing, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal. One traveler told the Journal that her $299-a-night Airbnb in Sedona, Arizona, came with a $375 cleaning fee, plus a list of chores.

Which is pretty much the last thing anyone wants to do on vacation.

Airbnb hosts say there are two reasons for the higher fees and the chore demands: Covid-19 raised sanitation requirements, and — you guessed it — inflation. The cost of hiring cleaners is up, as are utility bills. And hosts aren’t renting out their properties just for fun — they’re running a business.

Airbnb allows hosts to set their own rates and encourages them to avoid cleaning fees if possible. The company says a little over half of its active listings charge such fees, which on average make up less than 10% of the total reservation cost.

For some travelers, those added costs and labor have served as a reminder that, once upon a time, before the gig economy, there were these other places you could rent in buildings across the country where the cleaning is done for you. Ah yes, hotels! Remember them?

One frustrated traveler told the Journal that the lakefront cottage she rented didn’t have a working dishwasher or vacuum, so she spent the last day wiping the floor by hand. Then the host gave her a lowly three-star review for cleanliness.

Her next trip will be in a hotel.

“It’s 50 bucks cheaper,” she told the paper. “And we don’t have to clean anything.”

To be sure, some travelers with bad Airbnb experiences are fleeing to hotels, but there doesn’t appear to be an existential threat to the homestay model Airbnb pioneered.

It’s a bit like choosing between Starbucks or the local indie coffee shop when you’re in a new city. At Starbucks, you know what you’re getting. Will it be the best cup of coffee of your life? Probably not, but at least you can count on it. The local spot probably has unexpected charms, quirky art on the walls, maybe even superior coffee, but it could also smell weird or play pan flute music or just take too long to make your order.

Hotels cater to the Starbucks crowd; Airbnb is counting on the indie café set who tend want to feel as if they live wherever they’re visiting.

BOTTOM LINE

The social media outrage about cleaning fees and chores is certainly a PR headache for Airbnb, but it’s far from a crisis. The Airbnb model is now fully woven into the fabric of the hospitality industry, even if it still has some growing pains to work out.

Pent-up demand this year has helped the company swing to a profit in the second quarter, even as inflation ate into travelers’ budgets.

Airbnb is also leaning into the work-from-anywhere model — its own CEO, Brian Chesky, announced earlier this year that he’d be living full-time as a digital nomad, bouncing around from one Airbnb to another every few weeks. That’s something hotels can’t sell in the same way (according to me, someone who spent three full weeks in a 100-square-foot hotel room earlier this year and nearly lost her mind in the process).

For more on the Airbnb vs. hotel discussion, check out our latest Nightcap show, where host Jon Sarlin and I get into all of this. Plus, Jon speaks to Redfin’s Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather about what homebuyers need to know about mortgage rates. And the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor explains how employers can track you while you work from home, which is just as creepy as it sounds.

NUMBER OF THE DAY: 13 million

Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football” debut was a hit, drawing 13 million viewers to watch the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers.

The event “exceeded all of our expectations for viewership” and led to “the biggest three hours for US Prime sign-ups ever in the history of Amazon,” said Jay Marine, Prime Video’s head of sports.

Why it matters: For the first time, the NFL, TV’s most valuable product, is carving out a package of games exclusively on digital. CNN Business’ Frank Pallotta has the story.

HOUSING MESS

Trying to buy a home anytime in the past two years has been… tricky, to say the least. In late 2020, the problem was supply — buyers were flush and mortgage rates were low, there just weren’t enough houses on the market (cue the all-cash bidding wars).

Now, though, the problem is demand. Buyers are dropping out of the market because listing prices remain high and mortgage rates, which have already doubled over the past year, are poised to keep climbing as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

Consider this mind-blowing calculation from my colleague Anna Bahney:

  • A year ago, a buyer who put 20% down on a median-priced home ($359,900 at the time) and financed the rest with a mortgage rate of 2.86% (the average 30-year fixed rate at the time) had a monthly payment of $1,192.
  • Today, that same buyer would find the median price has shot up to $403,800, and the average mortgage rate is more than 6%, so their monthly payment would come out to $1,941. That’s $749 more every month!

That’s just one of the myriad ways the Fed’s rate moves affect real people.

BOTTOM LINE

The housing mess is worse than a one-two punch. It’s really a one-two-three-four punch when you consider (1) still-elevated prices for homes, (2) still-low inventory thanks to supply chain problems, (3) the rental market also sucks because so many would-be homebuyers are flooding in, driving up prices for people who have no choice but to rent, and (4) the cost of literally everything else in your life is up at the same time. Honestly, there’s probably a fifth, sixth and seventh punch in there, too, but we don’t have time for all that.

So, will it get better? Eventually. Prices are starting to come down (yay!), but mortgage rates may keep going up as long as the Fed keeps raising interest rates. That likely won’t happen until 2024 at the earliest (boo!).

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