I survived a week in this “charming” Airbnb. Here’s what I learned

It’s 2 a.m. and it’s 49 degrees in my bedroom. I wrap myself in a cover and hobble through a pitch-black living room, feel my way past the tiny kitchen, and jab the thermostat in the hallway.

50 degrees, it lights up.

I’m staying in a 100-year-old house rented through Airbnb. How do I know it’s 100 years old? Because my host keeps telling me. The fuses blow out because “it’s a 100-year-old house.” There’s no washer or dryer because it’s a “100-year-old house” and there’s nowhere to install the appliances.

I paid $1,140 for a week in this three-bedroom “private” home. I endured incessant construction noise, numerous power and internet outages, minimal privacy, a thermostat that continuously reset to 50 degrees during a cold snap, and an ill-equipped kitchen. I’ve only had one worse rental experience in my life, a VRBO apartment in Ottawa that I quickly abandoned.

But I’m not complaining, because in the end, Airbnb and my host delivered what they promised in writing, and nothing more: a house only a few blocks from downtown in a big city. My experience illustrates the promise and perils of renting a home in the sharing economy.

But back to that thermostat.

I push the “up” button repeatedly until it hits 70. The heat kicks on and for the next two hours the house returns to a livable temperature. But by the time I’m up at 5 a.m., it’s back to freezing again.

Thermostats can be set to run and then cut off in order to save energy. Did my Airbnb host do that in order to save money on energy bills or is this just user error?

A two-hour cutoff may work eight months out of the year, when conditions are relatively mild, but with the temperature outside falling below freezing, it doesn’t really work for me. My 11-year-old daughter refuses to get out of bed because “it’s too cold.”

The Airbnb listing is a little heavy on hyperbole. It offers “1920’s charm and glory…but with modern updates for comfort” in the heart of the city. “You cant [sic] get a more convenient location to downtown activities and conventions!” it says.
Also, it promises:

Original 10-foot ceilings, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath. It has been completely renovated including custom gourmet kitchen with Bosch appliances, gas stove. Comfortable great room with 4k Ultra TV.
Did I mention the water pressure?! Great water pressure and comfortable and cozy beds. I provide complimentary coffee (K cups) and tea is provided.

The description, while accurate, is somewhat misleading.

There’s nothing “charming” about most depression-era houses. They’re usually spare and functional.

How do you define a “complete” renovation? If you mean an updated kitchen, laying down new carpet and tiles, and painting a few walls, then yes. But from the outside, this place looks like a fixer-upper.

Also, details were missed. Important details.

While there are blinds on the front windows, there are none on the side windows. From the street, you can look through our windows to see what we are doing at any time. And we see people doing it.

The gas stove doesn’t light up. You have to use matches, which can be dangerous if the burner is in the “on” position for too long. There are no handles on the new kitchen cabinets, so you have to pry them open by their sides. (All photos in this story are of the actual property.)

The kitchen is stocked with garage-sale artifacts: mismatched plates, two small pans that can’t be used for anything except a personal meal, and a Keurig coffeemaker that makes a small cup of tea or coffee. There’s no bread knife or paring knife, making meal preparation a challenge. Clearly, some of this was an afterthought, presumably by a property owner who wanted to capitalize on the sharing economy.

To call this a “gourmet” kitchen would be a stretch.

But my first 48 hours are the most eventful, so let’s scroll back. The moment I arrive, I look for the washer and dryer. After five days in Moab, Utah, we have lots of laundry caked with red dirt. I look, and I look. No appliances.

I text my host and she calls back.

“This is a 100-year-old house,” she informs me. “There’s no place for a washer and dryer. Also, I didn’t say I had one in the listing.”

Sure enough, there’s no washer or dryer in the listing. My fault for assuming that every house has a washer and dryer, at least on Airbnb. Time to find a laundromat, which is fine.

During the day, there’s construction noise — relentless hammering above one of the bedrooms. Apparently, there’s some work going on “upstairs.” I didn’t even know the unit had an upstairs. That was also missing from the listing.

The following day, the kitchen suddenly goes dark. I call the host and ask for the location of the fuse box. She shows up two hours later. It turns out the basement, accessible only from the outside, flooded a week before. There are fans downstairs and they’re putting a strain on the electrical system. I can’t access the downstairs without a key, but she resets the fuse and leaves the basement key.

A few hours later, the fuse blows again. It’s 9 p.m. and I’m reluctant to venture outside in the dark to access the basement, so I wait until the next morning to reset the fuse. This time, I turn off a few of the fans downstairs. That seems to fix the problem.

And then there’s the Wi-Fi. A day after we check in, the signal just disappears. Instead of calling our host yet again, we decide to use our own hotspot. It’s worth the overages just to avoid another visit from our host, another empty apology, another reminder that this is a “100-year-old house.”

There’s so much more about the property that’s bothersome, from the noisy bar across the street that keeps me up until 1 a.m., to the trolley that starts running at O’dark hundred and makes a creaking, submarine-like sound as it rounds the bend at the intersection.

My kids don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. That’s because the bed is the best part of this rental, other than the home’s central location. The memory foam mattresses on the beds are really comfortable. And when it’s 49 degrees in the house, wouldn’t you want to stay in bed, too?

Why didn’t I say something to my host or at least leave a review? Because these are little laundry-list complaint items, the kind I advise my own readers to keep out of their legitimate grievances. Maybe I was following my own advice a little too closely. Maybe I wanted to see how bad it would get. And in retrospect, it wasn’t that bad.

I’m not angry at my host or at Airbnb. I don’t want a refund. Actually, I think this is terrific — and here’s why.

Airbnb is keeping the market for accommodations competitive. Take away the sharing economy — Airbnb, HomeAway or Vacasa — and you’re suddenly much closer to an oligopoly in the lodging business. That’s where only a handful of hotel chains own or manage most of the inventory.

I love competition. Not the phony, for-show kind of competition the airline industry claims exists in the United States. I mean the real thing, where a lot of companies are vying for your business.

Will I rent from Airbnb again? Oh, absolutely. I think this was as much a confluence of unfortunate events as it was the result of misguided marketing.

My Airbnb host didn’t lie to me, but she sugarcoated a couple of important facts. The next time I see the words “charming” or “gourmet kitchen” in an Airbnb description, I’ll probably click away to the next listing. She also caught a couple of tough breaks with a flood and the construction and the cold snap. You can’t really control that.

But the nonworking stove, the poorly stocked kitchen, the missing blinds, the broken Wi-Fi, the washer and dryer — that’s something within my host’s control. You can write your way around those shortcomings in the property description, but in the end, that kind of carelessness will put you out of business.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.