I have stayed in my fair share of AirBnb’s. Just like any online transaction, you purchase it before you try it or see it. Some listings will look much better in a photo and get a kind description. In person, these AirBnb listings are often tiny, awkward, or plain nasty. To book a better AirBnb requires you to ask the right questions. More so if you are planning on staying for a while.
Here are 11 points that I now pay a lot of attention to before booking an AirBnb long-term.
How To Book a Better AirBnb
Every person has different criteria for their AirBnb booking. Some only care about the price and are willing to suffer damn near anything. Others are planning on using AirBnb to stay in a new location for several months and need something more livable.
To book a better Airbnb, think like the landlord who is trying to make money on their listing – what will they hide or not mention?
The reviews which are left at a certain price point reflect the standards of those traveler’s. That’s the most I can say without being ruder than I already am.
What we take for granted at home can be a deal breaker when we are on vacation or trying to live out of an AirBnb. In fact, I would say AirBnb is not an ideal way of finding a short-term rental that’s longer than a month. But with some research, it might work.
I booked an AirBnb for $1,400/month in Barcelona last year for 3 months. Everyone said I paid too much but you are paying for a convenience through such short-term booking sites.
1. AirBnb Reviews
You might be reading a gang of amazing reviews for a particular AirBnb unit without realizing that those individuals have different criteria than you do.
Especially when it comes to certain price-points, some are accustomed to loud, smelly, and unsafe environments. Therefore, when they stay at a place for $24/night, they feel like they hit the jackpot.
Duration of Stay
One AirBnb might be amazing to stay in for just a week. In this time frame you don’t have to deal with poor ventilation, mildew, smell of trash, or doing laundry.
Once you are planning on a longer stay, you might start smelling the septic fumes which don’t always drain well. The mildew will start showing since th ventilation sucks. You might use the washing machine to have the whole house smelling like Tide.
Some places have regular electricity outages and won’t make for good long-term rentals. This is hard to figure out unless you ask specific questions to the AirBnb host.
2. AirBnb Photos
Photos are highly edited. Depending on the use of particular camera lenses, a unit can seem larger and brighter.
Reading the reviews can help. People will comment on what their impression was of the place after seeing the photos.
My current AirBnb is tiny compared to what the photos show. I can now see from which angles the photos were taken which isn’t intention misleading – just the host trying to get the highest price for their unit.
If you’re planning on a long-term stay, ask the host to send you more pictures of the unit. A video is the best option. I had one ready to go for anyone who requested it when I was renting my own place in Portland.
3. The Smells
If you’re not sensitive to smells then skip this part. For many, the smells can ruin a trip. I can handle 100 degree ball-sweat weather but can’t have someone chain-smoking near me.
Older building with shitty sewer vents can let off a lot of nasty gases especially after you use the shower which is the lowest drain to the ground.
If you are booking what seems to be an older building then look for this in the reviews or ask the host. I stayed in a unit in Barcelona which would have such smells every once in a while – I suspect whenever others were using their bathrooms in other units, the sewer lines would get overloaded.
I had to place a wet rag on the shower drain which solved the problem. I doubt I would have run into this if I only stayed a couple of days.
You can’t escape the smell of cigarettes in Spain. It seems that everyone smokes. In my current place in Seville, the host smokes inside her house which is directly below me. And… and, the woman next door smokes right outside of her unit which happens to be right outside of my window.
Portland is a little more weed intense. Usually you’ll smell it in the hallways of an apartment complex. It’s one of those smells that can find its way in from the window and doors as well.
I will definitely be asking about the smell of smoke next time.
People who idle their cars right out from of your place will have give you a healthy dose of CO. My Portland unit is like that – once traffic starts, cars slow down, and all that delicious smoke comes right into my place.
If you can get it in writing from the host that these aren’t common smells in your unit and should such smells be fairly common once you move into the unit then you have the option of cancelling your AirBnb rental. More on that towards the end of the post.
A lot of AirBnb units are thrown together to earn a quick buck. The construction is often subpar.
In a new city or country, location and safety go hand-in-hand. Don’t assume that a touristy location is safer. It’s best to be just outside of such areas to avoid the pick-pockets.
Google Maps is a good way to scope out the neighborhood and see what kind of people walk around. There are websites as well that report hotspots for crime in various cities.
Duration of Stay
If you’re in a city for only a week then it’s probably best to be near a tourist destination since that’s why most people travel for such short periods.
But think twice before booking an AirBnb for a couple of months in such loud locations. It’s not fun to hear loud, drunk people walking home from bars at 3:00 am.
A good AirBnb host will show you pictures when looking out of a window. They will show you what the streets looks like and the neighborhood.
Currently, I am renting an AirBnb where I have to walk through someone’s house to get to my place. Next, I have to walk through another person’s patio to get to my patio which is how I get into my unit.
These are things I wish I could have known before booking. I should say, I wish I had asked these questions before booking. I’m the consumer so it’s on me to ask all the right questions.
Finally, wi ll your host come into your place when you’re not there? They have the right to. So be sure you discuss this with them beforehand.
Most hosts understand the importance of a good internet connection. But some are cheap. To book a better AirBnb ask your host what their internet speed is.
I usually do work from an AirBnb so I tell them that I need it for work. If they have a 10 mpbs download speed and both you and the host are online, it will slow to a crawl.
Of course, most of the time you have the whole place to yourself. You don’t know if your host has given their password to neighbors as well.
Some cities have poor electrical infrastructure. It’s common for electricity to go out on hot days.
If there are any utility issues whatsoever, the host should mention it to you on the ad or at least communicate with you after you feigned an interest. To book a better AirBnb you must have all the facts and ask all the right questions.
8. Hot Water
In Spain there are propane tanks that many home owners have to replace regularly for hot water. There isn’t as much natural gas infrastructure and electricity is damn expensive.
Hot water will often take a while to come and if the tanks go empty then you’re left with cold water. It’s not the end of the world but if you like your hot showers then you’ll be miserable.
I book a better AirBnb most times because I send them a list of questions, specifically asking them how reliable their utilities are. I have that coming up at the end of this post.
My Portland studio has some major construction going on around it. The jack hammers outside, the trucks going by, and the loud yelling from the construction workers nearby would drive any AirBnb guest crazy.
If there are bars under you, if you live on a main street that people pass through on their way home from the bars then you will likely experience quite a bit of noise.
There are certain buildings and neighborhoods that are AirBnb heavy. These will have guests arriving and leaving at all times of the day.
Getting everything in writing is helpful for when you need to request a refund or cancel a booking.
But communication also has to do with how and when you get the keys and how/when you return them. Do they prefer you meet with a 3rd party?
I had a problem with my AirBnb host who didn’t meet me at his unit when I arrived. I waited 30 minutes and had no internet or cell connection and he never showed up.
I recommend performing all communication through the AirBnb chat and as a second best option, use text messaging. Again, you want documentation and believe me, the hosts know that and that’s how you book a better AirBnb.
Getting a Refund
Always follow the proper channels. If you don’t like something about your unit then let the host know. If it’s something minor that they can fix then give them a chance to do so.
If it’s something more major then let them know that you will need to cancel it and that you’ll like a fair refund. It’s okay if they say no as long as you have a valid reason.
I booked an AirBnb and wasn’t able to lock down a good time for the host to meet me to give me the keys. I was still within the check-in time so I cancelled the reservation and asked for the refund. The host replied respectfully that he wouldn’t be able to refund my money. I contacted AirBnb who refunded the entire amount and apologized on the host’s behalf.
Question List to Send to Your Host
It’s good to be nice about it, naturally. For my longer stays I’ve just told the host that I’m traveling for work. I then send them a few questions I have. It’s only after writing this post that I have refined this list to be much more inclusive. Here we go.
“Your home is beautiful and since I’m traveling for work and will be staying a while, I was hoping you could answer the following questions if you are able to.”
- Do I have my own entrance or do I have to pass through someone’s home to get to my place?
- Does anyone smoke on the premises that will let smoke into my unit?
- Are there any issues with the internet such as others using it and degrading the speed? Do you happen do know the speed?
- Does the hot water or electricity cut out often? If so, for how long?
- Is there any active construction going on nearby that might cause a lot of noise?
- Are there any major mildew or sewer smells I should know about?
- Will anyone enter my AirBnb during my stay or will they give me an advance notice first?
- Do you prefer communication through text, WhatsApp, or the AirBnb messaging?