In the current economic climate, when you somehow manage to break into the property market, you then wonder how the hell you’re going to afford the huge mortgage for the next thirty years.
This was our first thought when my partner and I were first approved to buy a small house in a seaside town in Victoria. We thought our biggest problem would be scrounging up the twenty-percent deposit, then came the next eighty.
So, after much discussion, we decided that in a town that gets overrun by tourists every summer holidays, we’d lease out our new place on Airbnb over the Christmas break.
The idea was simple enough, we’d stay at my parents place (which is, fortunately for us, just down the road), so we’d have the ability to keep an eye on things at any hour, and come the end of summer, we’d be happy, relaxed, and our mortgage would seem far less daunting.
We were wrong.
Over the eleven weeks of summer, we learned a whole lot about ourselves, and about other people – filthy, thievin’ people.
And in that time, came profound realisations about our world, and the humans who occupy it.
So, in a Public Service Announcement of the highest order;
Here are the top five life lessons we learned when renting out our home on Airbnb:
Life Lesson One: Everyone’s A Critic
Everyone, and I mean everyone. No matter what line of work they’re in, irrespective of their lack of design credentials, or how their own house may look back home – once people step inside your front door, they’re ready to dish out some seriously direct interior design feedback.
I personally blame the likes of Matt Preston and Margaret and David for making critiquing so popular in the mainstream. Every single person who walks through the door suddenly becomes Shayna Blaze and talks shit about everything in your home. Seemingly carrying around their Scotty Cam blackboard, as they revel in rating each of your rooms out of 10.
Now Airbnb ask every single one of our guests to give feedback on the house, and on us as hosts, which as far as I understand, is meant to help us ‘deliver a better service’. It’s with this digital soapbox that people left us some truly horrific, and hilarious, reviews.
We received such feedback as ‘the linen didn’t breathe well’ (from someone with a ‘Such Is Life’ tattoo), ‘the exterior paint job was so haphazard’ (from three eighteen year old’s who drank two slabs of VB in one night), and, my personal favourite, ‘I can’t wait to see what the place looks like after you renovate it’, from the person who was staying in the house after we’d renovated it.
We were also called up at 10pm one night, and asked to come over immediately to fix our ‘faulty’ hot water unit. When we got over there, we discovered the family of four that had booked, had multiplied to a family of ten – who were shocked that our sixty-year-old hot water unit couldn’t heat showers for all of them…we didn’t get five-stars from them.
So develop a thick skin (nay, a hide) before opening up your home to strangers. Because once they’re in, the claws will come out.
Life Lesson Two: People Will Take Everything That’s Not Nailed Down:
It’s better to hear it now, than learn the hard way later: your tenants will have extremely sticky fingers, and will try and pocket as much of your stuff as possible during their stay.
There’s a newfound skill I have now when I walk back into my home after having tenants in. It involves me being able to do a Terminator-like scan around a room and in one glance, notice things that have been moved, marks that have been made, and above all, things that have been taken. This new sense has been going off the charts this summer, as the list of things being taken from my home steadily grows and grows. And with every item that is taken, a little piece of my soul dies with it.
At the end of summer the tally stands at: one house key, two teaspoons and a fork, one towel, two books, and two hats gone (well the one hat, which was sheepishly returned to me by one tenant when I asked for it back, then taken the next week by another). Fortunately nothing of value was ever taken, because, well, I own nothing of value in the first place – but things were taken nonetheless.
As a human being, you want to see the best in people (and the world for that matter). You want to believe that people will treat you and your home with respect. My heart wants to believe my guests when they say “No, none of us have seen it”, however, my head tells me that if it looks like a duck and quacks, it’s a duck.
There is a strange sense of discomfort that comes from having a guest in your home, and having them genuinely believing that they have the right to take things out with them.
One tenant – when asked where my copy of the book Wonder had gone – told me straight up that she had taken it, because the story had really struck a chord with her. That’s great, and I get it. The book struck a chord with me too, that’s why I bought it. But I didn’t read the blurb standing in a Dymocks store, then just walk out with it because it “struck a chord with me”. It’s not a bad excuse though, the next time you want to walk out of Kmart with a five-finger discounted stack of homewares…’they just spoke to me’.
Life Lesson Three: People Are Gross
When it comes to people on holidays, it seems once they enter your home, everything pours out of them all at once – and I’m not just talking about their ‘feedback’.
It’s a given that when renting out your home over the festive season, you’re bound to find puddles of beer and orange juice dried into your floorboards and onto the kitchen vinyl – annoying, sure, but expected. What I’ve learned this summer, however, is that the liquids that come from a bottle are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the liquids that come from inside the body that you’ve got to watch out for…
I’ve picked up doonas soaked in piss, cleaned up blood and bloody tissues left for me on the kitchen counter, and even found myself on my hands and knees in the bathroom scraping a crusty brown substance off the floor (that for the first time in my life I hoped was just vomit) wondering if the $80 cleaning fee, and the decision to do the clean ourselves, was really worth it. I’ve also considered getting a blacklight into the house, but on second thoughts, I’d rather not know.
It’s also not just liquids that get left behind; be prepared to truly see for the first time, how much hair a human being can shed in the short time they have between check-in and check-out.
As a host, amidst the mad scramble of cleaning the house from top to bottom in as short a time as possible between tenants, there’s one sign of inhabitancy that cannot be left behind for your new guest – hair.
No matter your age, social status, or background, everyone can agree that finding a hair that isn’t yours, whether it’s in the shower, the bed or the kitchen is one of life’s most toe curling, gag-inducing moments. Who knew that something as small and as light as a stray hair can carry with it so much power. So, as the cleaner of the house, it is your job to ensure that no hair is left behind – and so, your “finding a hair follicle in a haystack” journey begins.
The top hiding place for a tenants discarded hair is in the shower, the white backdrop makes it easy to spot. But the mixture of a fine hair and a wet surface leaves you dragging a cloth around the shower trying to pick up that one, teeny tiny hair that seems intent on living out the rest of its days in your grout.
After a game of cat and mouse for over a minute, the reality of your situation dawns on you, the cloth just isn’t going to cut it, instead, you’re going to have to pick up this hair in your fingers. It’s long, but not long enough to be sure it’s from a head. And worse still, once it’s decided to move and take up residence on your finger tip, it isn’t going to make it easy for you to shake it off into a bin. The hair soon decides it quite likes its new home on your finger, and the game of transference into the bin is a long one.
But the shedding doesn’t take place just in the containment of your bathroom – oh no. By the time you’ve shaken out the doona, swept under the bed, flipped the pillows on the couch, and looked under the rugs, you’ve accumulated enough strands of different hair to knit a sweater. A sweater thick enough to keep you warm on the lonely winter nights when no one wants to pay you money to come and stay in your beach-side home.
Life Lesson Four: We All End Up The Grumpy Old Neighbour
Once you’re lending out your home to complete strangers, you begin to sympathise with the grumpy neighbour that everyone seems to have had at one point in their lives. The one that seemed intent on ensuring you had no fun in your life.
And you don’t just sympathise with them, you end up becoming them.
You leave notes, and strict rules, that forbid any of your guests from enjoying themselves during their stay, and triple-zero is on your speed-dial should you hear any laughter or general cheer coming from the house past 10pm.
You rationalise to yourself that you’re not doing this to be a fun sponge, as you want people to enjoy your home.
But there’s generally two reasons for your suddenly becoming a Holiday Grinch:
- The more noise and alcohol consumed on your premises, the more likely it is that there’ll be a puddle and a broken glass for you to clean up tomorrow, and
- You only get one set of neighbours, and you’ll be living next-door to them for a long, long time to come, so you don’t want to subject them to a summertime revolving-door of noisy guests and loud parties.
On a hot night in January, I remember at 1:30am one night, sleeping at my parents home some fifty-metres from my own (we’ll get into the creepily-close proximity of my house to my parents at a later date). Lying in bed, I woke to the sounds of Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ floating through my open window, and knew with a gut-churning certainty, that it would be my tenants, infecting the silent summer night with such a damn good song. I groaned, thought of how angry my neighbours were going to be the next morning, and rolled over and fell back asleep.
That morning, they were very angry.
But your new role as Irate Neighbour doesn’t just come with wanting to silence an entire home. With it comes an undying desire to find out what’s been happening inside your house while you’re not there; to snoop. I can now be seen sifting through my bins after a tenant has left, looking for evidence to piece together clues of what was done in my home the previous night. How many glasses were broken, and what was cooked.
I walked past my house at least five times a day once the tenants check-in, wondering if it’s legal just to have a quick peek through the tightly closed curtains.
I also had a security camera installed in the driveway, and could be found at all hours, watching a live feed of the camera, counting the number of people coming in and out of my home, scrutinising every move they make. I counted thirteen friendly people coming out of the house one night, which was interesting because the tenants had only booked for five.
Being an Airbnb host has changed me, and I don’t like who I have become…but there can be no turning back.
The Fifth and Final Life Lesson Learned: Don’t Have Nice Things
You may think that having a nice house is one of life’s many goals. It is something you can treasure, and also means that you can charge more per night when putting your place up on Airbnb. You may find yourself wanting to decorate your place with lovely things that will induce a ‘wow’ from your guests when they walk through your perfectly windex-ed glass front door.
Airbnb brings out people’s inner slob. As soon as it’s not their house they’re in, everything is fair game to be used as an eating surface, and a place to rest their beer (always, always sans-coaster). Everything that is not able to be wiped clean will have a stain on it, there’ll be cigarette burns on everything outside, and everything made of glass will be treated like rubber. We started with twelve wine glasses in November, and come February are now the proud owners of four and a half.
We’ve had people spit out their chewing gum on our rugs, and although the minty fresh smell is pleasant, the bright green lump that came from someone’s mouth, that is now permanently attached to your new shagpile rug is not.
We even had a couple, who by all estimations must use Fifty Shades as a warm-up act, bust every single one of the slats in the queen bed and fall straight through to the floor – no mean feat given they were holidaying with their three kids.
And lastly, for the love of god, don’t paint your floorboards white. Yes, our initial thought was that it would transport our guests away from the Surf Coast and make them feel like they were walking in a quaint cottage somewhere in the south of France, but with your guests feeding your floor more beer than they feed themselves, seeing your once chic flooring turn into a Jackson Pollock painting will truly shatter your soul.
So at the end of the day, when your tears have dried and your hands are thoroughly washed, you wonder if it was worth putting your home, and your emotions, through an entire summer of being an Airbnb host.
Sure, it feels nice to allow others to experience the community you call home, and a 5-star review every now and then does do wonders for your spirits.
But will a couple of dollars really undo the stress and sleepless nights that come from the never-ending quest to appease the unappeasable?
Well, as we tally up the money we’ve made from having a house booked out for the entirety of the summer, the answer:
And so we count down the days until we do it all again next December…
Because we’re greedy people.
Greedy, sadistic, idiotic people, who will never learn.