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.

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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.

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

  1. So, the moral of the story is what is not said says more than what is said.
    Is the picture stock or the actual property?
    Did you review the place, and if so, what did you say?
    And did they delete your review?
    I realize that you generally will not comment on posts, but I think this case is much more like a regular person OP story.

  2. I agree that the thermostat was due for reprogramming (personally, I would have Googled the manual and beat it into submission), and the electrical problems and upstairs noise problems were unpleasant, but the “missing” W&D was on you. AirBnB listings have a long list of appliances that are included (as in, you don’t even have to pore through the text to figure it out) and I would not have assumed that it would have them unless the listing said so.

    I hope you wrote a scathing review of the property. There are certain things you can excuse for such an old house (like electrical outlets being few and far between), but a dilapidated exterior, flaky electricity, mis-programmed t-stat, and often-busted WiFi are not those things.

    1. The “flaky” electricity was most likely caused by the electrical overload due t the fans in the basement being operated when she was trying to use other things in the home. Obviously, if there had not been a flooding incident, then those fane would not have been there and been operating; thus, no electrical problem. I believe that was an out of the norm thing that sometimes happens. No one expects their basement to flood, but it sometimes happens. At least the owner was trying to get it dried out.

  3. Nice article. I’m an occasional user of Airbnb (10+ times in three years) and am glad to have it as an option.

    For those demanding hotel level experiences, continue to stay in hotels and enjoy. But for those willing to try something different (usually at significant cost savings), it is worth your time to investigate Airbnb listings.

  4. I hope you leave an appropriate review to warn
    orhers about the issues. If you had read an honest review that stated this- would have still rented? There should be no surprises like this when you arrive at an Airbnb rental.

  5. There is one thing that’s missing from this story (and it may be a gray area in the law because AirBnB is part of the gig economy and not regulated), but there is an implied livability agreement when you rent something. It must be reasonably clean, have heat (!) in cold climates, and other such requirements. We wouldn’t accept anything less at a Motel 6, let alone a Hyatt, so why should this be different? Not having a washer/dryer is one thing–the owner is correct, it wasn’t advertised as such, but no heat????

    1. CE mentioned a cold snap, so this wasn’t during the middle of the winter. Also the house does have functioning heat, the issue was how to set it at a certain temperature for an extended period of time.

  6. It’s unfortunately that your AirBnb experience had so many problems. Honestly, I DO think you should mention all of this in an thorough review, and I don’t really understand why you didn’t. In fact I think you’re doing a disservice to other AirBnb renters who might consider that property, by NOT providing this information. Why stick others with this?

    I rented 7 different AirBnb places this year – 3 in Scotland, 3 in Ireland, and one in Connecticut. Every single one was FABULOUS. And most of them were very old, antique-filled private houses that were also touted as “charming”. But in my case, every single one was truly charming.

    There were a few minor issues, but nothing NEAR what you experienced. If I had any of those experiences, I would have been unhappy and would have said so in my review.

    I think you are being way too kind. This property owner is not being honest in her property description, and by not detailing your findings in a review, it’s not going to be fixed and other renters are going to get stuck with it.

    When a listing says “gourmet kitchen”, you expect to be able to cook a gourmet meal in it. A couple of unusable pans and mismatched garage-sale plates and cups is NOT a gourmet kitchen! In the places I stayed at, if the kitchen was written up as fully stocked or gourmet, it had a FULL range of cookware, copious utensils, and full sets of place settings. I had one cottage that had a rather limited kitchen, but it stated so in the description, saying that it’s equipped just enough for making breakfast or a simple meal, but that’s it. So I knew not to plan making a big dinner at that place.

    The thermostat issue is a serious problem. We stayed at one house in Scotland during a cold snap, and the property owner made a point of showing us how to turn on all of the heaters around the house, and we were warm and toasty the whole stay. Waking up to a cold house is simply unacceptable, and that should have been expressed in your review.

    Construction right above you? That absolutely should have been disclosed. Bad wifi signal? I often work remotely when I travel – I NEED a good wifi signal, and I rely on the property to be honest about it. The place I stayed in CT had a great one, which I needed because I was working that whole week.

    One of the houses in Ireland was a 150-year-old farmhouse that had a huge modern add-on in the back, but the forward part of the house is charmingly ancient. The property description clearly states that the wooden floors are wavy, the staircase is creaky, the wifi signal was spotty at best, and there are bats in the attic so for pete’s sake don’t go in there. I was fine with all of that (I was on vacation), everything worked great, the kitchen was modern, new and fully equipped, and the antique aspects were the best parts about it.

    I carefully researched every place I stayed at, including reading every single review. Not every review of the places I chose were ravingly positive, but none of their complaints were things that would bother me. And there were plenty of places I DIDN’T choose, solely because of the detailed information provided by reviewers that indicated problems with the place that would bother me. The great thing about AirBnb is their review system – you CAN’T post fake reviews! You have to have stayed at the place to post a review. So we can trust them.

    Property owners need to be honest in their descriptions. And if they’re not, we need to be able to rely on those reviews, Christopher, to hold them accountable. I really think you should have posted an honest one.

  7. I’m surprised that they could update the house without bringing the electrical up to code. Certainly a “complete” upgrade would include the electrical, as 1920s era wiring would be very inadequate by today’s standards. A fuse that keeps blowing is proof that something is seriously wrong. Perhaps a phone call to the city building department is in order. Did they even get permits and inspection for their upgrade?
    The construction is also an issue. There’s an expectation that the house falls within normal bounds. Failure to disclose loud all day noise is deceptive practice.
    The rest are merely inconvenience. I suspect that the thermostat had been programmed to reset. I can reprogram it unless it’s been locked.
    A lack of specialized knives etc. makes it harder, but not impossible to prepare a meal.

    1. That was one of the things that glared – how safe is a house with an electrical system like this? I would bet the city or town would love to know that she is renting out a house this dangerous.

    2. The “update” had to have been DIY and unpermitted for the outdated and possibly dangerous electrical system to still be in place. I would definitely bring this to the attention of the building department. And I’d venture a guess that the construction upstairs is the same–DIY and unpermitted.

      1. I thought about the recent Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland. The main cause was inadequate electrical wiring and the owners face felony manslaughter charges.
        A place with unpermitted upgrades should be problematic for rentals.
        This really does merit a phone call to the city building department.

    1. He should write an honest review listing the good and bad, then let others decide whether or not to rent the property based on those points.

  8. Your article really highlights one of the dark sides of the sharing economy.

    Many cities are struggling with affordable housing issues and from your description, this home seems to be used solely for AirBnB rentals. This really exposes one of the dark sides of AirBnB when you have homes in neighborhoods being used as permanent hotels. The quality of life of the people who actually live in the neighborhood permanetly diminishes if the only people occupying homes are transients.

    While it is nice that you saved money and I suspect this condition of the home would be an “Elliot-Case” if it were not you staying there,

  9. I have mentioned in some other comments how I thought an AirBnB can provide many of the same amenities as a timeshare, and thus it was one reason why one might want to do the AirBnB rather than buying a timeshare. However, this article definitely shows that AirBnBs can provide a wide scale of compliance with what people tend to expect. On the other hand, virtually every timeshare I have stayed in that represented “full kitchen” provided a fully stocked kitchen (i.e. utensils, plates, large variety of cooking equipment, cleaning supplies). The majority have also provided washer and dryers in the unit (and those that didn’t had laundry rooms on site, free for guests). I’ve never stayed in a timeshare with heat or electrical problems or construction issues.

    1. While I see your point, I think it’s important to make a clear distinction between the two. First of all, it’s absolutely true that AirBnb offers a wide range of property types, but that’s a benefit. We don’t always want a cookie-cutter condo or resort. Sometimes a charming cottage is ideal…or a private city apartment, or the top floor of a Victorian in the historic district. You can’t get any of those from a timeshare.

      We expect property owners to be accurate and honest in their descriptions. If they are not, this can be reported to AirBnb and they will address it. And this makes honest reviews from guests even more important – if there are any issues, or anything that should have been disclosed but wasn’t, this can be stated in the reviews so we won’t pick that place.

      You will not find the same consistency or level of control of amenities in AirBnb – but that’s because these are NOT resorts or condos managed by a property management company. They are private residences ranging from single rooms inside a shared home, to small private apartments, to cottages, to single family houses, to huge mansions…even castles. It’s incumbent on the renters to carefully read the property descriptions and pick the type of property and the amenities they want.

      And you don’t have to pay for it every single year, or play games with points. You pick where you want to stay, check to ensure it has what you need, and that’s it. I don’t see how you can compare the two at all…they are completely different lodging categories.

      I’ve had nothing but excellent experiences with AirBnb, because I do my homework. 🙂

  10. For the thermostat problem, I would have just looked up the manufacturer and model online to find a manual. There is usually a key combination that can be pressed to get to a “secret menu” in which you can turn off these “features”. I often do this at certain hotels when I have problems with the climate control (usually when it lacks a way of keeping the fan on when it is not heating or cooling). I actually have a few manuals in PDF form on my laptop.

  11. Chris, nice that you ‘sucked it up & made it work’, but this is far below any reasonable standard. Rugs & tile do not make a kitchen remodel, garage sale crap does not make a gourmet kitchen. There is an implied warrantee of ‘habitability’ that goes with commercial or residential property, and a house with inadequate heat, a non-working stove, recurrent electrical outages, construction noise, lack of privacy, etc. seems out of bounds. By not addressing these things, it’s like leaving broken glass on the floor for someone else to step on. Perhaps good citizenship includes confronting the problem owner or AirB&B?

  12. The stove apparently works, it just needs a match because it’s not the kind with a pilot light or electric igniter. How hard is it to light a match? That’s how us old people lived for decades, and it’s how I cook my food when I’m in the backcountry here in AK. I have yet to set the wrong things on fire due to match lighting. Also, putting the thermostat at 70 is rather energy-hogging. Setting a thermostat high does NOT make the furnace “run harder” and warm up the house faster, it just wastes energy if the furnace keeps running after the house reaches a more reasonable 65 or so (I keep my house at 63 F during the day). It sounds like the thermostat was programmable and instead of re-programming it, you were merely doing a temporary override. Those go away once the next timer fires.

    I do AirBnBs a couple of times a year and would never assume that appliances that aren’t listed will be there. And if the rental says it has a Keurig, but you want a whole pot, you can always bring some paper cone filters (I never travel without them), make a holder out of foil (again, easy to pack a flattened foil filter holder, and in a pinch, if you cut the top off a large plastic soda bottle, it will serve as a filter holder, too), and do a pour over into the container of your choice, after boiling water on the stove. But then, I thrive on being self-sufficient and am not afraid of matches.

  13. It looks like several things were misrepresented by omission. There are certain things that are assumed correct unless you are told otherwise – and when they are different, you should be told. Hosts like this are why people like me, who could use Air BnB – don’t use Air BnB.

  14. ” OH PLEASE Christopher!! “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,” .

    YOU aren’t???I live in two 90 y.o. houses. I love the wood floors, the beautiful 6 over 6 windows with wavy glass, triple layer plaster, THE NEW BOILER heating system, the Circuit Breaker electrical system, the retro fitted insulation etc. etc. I’ve been waiting for someone to respond to your post citing safety issues: A flooded basement? Possible mold and mildew formation? a number of electrical fans drying it out…. duh where was it vented to, did the use extension cords for the fans??? WTH, fuses blowing AND then they’re reset??? Believe me, I know the charm of an older house. I do know how to travel with so called inconveniences ( Ohboy, travel in hostels all over Europe and the midEast and you will know what it’s like to deal with no heat. And less than gourmet kitchens. And like my Australian friends, wearing your clothes into the shower so you can bathe and do your laundry at the same time! ; ) ) What is an inconvenience to you may not be to another and vice versa. But safety is an issue that needs immediate attention… I’ve also been waiting to have someone respond that YOU NEEDED to tell the owner; you needed to tell them that the electrical system repeatedly failed. You needed to tell the owner that you had turned the fans off. You needed to tell them the WiFi was intermittent/non existent so that these factors could be remedied. I would certainly want to know. These factors, also deserve to be in an honest, fact based review for others.

    1. Well said! And the building department needs to be notified to inspect an electrical system that is probably not to code.

  15. We have stayed at 4 Airbnbs: SF, NewPort Beach, Ca , Cambridge , MA and Amsterdam. The Amsterdam house was over 300 years old and had all the modern appliances (small, but there). Each of our stays have comfortable, unique and adventurous. The key with Airbnb is not read between the lines in descriptions, ask a ton of questions before you book, and have a sense of adventure. If not, stay in a motel/hotel. There is a time and place for both type of lodging.
    “Let the buyer beware” becomes more important when your travels include new types of accommodation, transportation, or even local guides.

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