It used to be that short-term rental sites were populated mostly by individual homeowners like ourselves, looking to help pay travel costs and have someone caring for their home while they were away, or second-home owners seeking a little cash to pay the mortgage. The process was grounded in communication and trust. Listing sites focused mostly on connecting people with one another.
But within only a few short years, short-term rentals have become BIG BUSINESS. Home Away, parent of VRBO, recently inked a deal to sell itself to the Expedia empire of travel brands. Airbnb is in nearly every country of the world, even China and Cuba, and copycat sites sites are springing up, one after the other.
That’s a good thing, right?
Not for us.
The focus of the new mega-sites isn’t on individual homeowners like us but on people who want to turn their homes into cash cows and property managers who rent out multiple homes or apartments. Relationships and trust, which used to form the foundation of successful short-term renting, no longer matter, and communities are experiencing myriad problems as a result.
As “real” homeowners, we feel as if we’ve been crowded off the listing sites by multi-property owners and companies whose watchword is “SELL!” Focused on getting people to click “Book Now!” these slick, glossy, highly automated sites put up a firewall between travelers and homeowners, allowing them to communicate only through the site until the booking has been made – and paid for.
I’m sure that system works fine for people who are renting primarily – or only – to make money. But it doesn’t work very well for us. There’s a reason we’ve rarely had problems with our guests: We talk to people before we accept their money. We try to get to know them so we can feel confident that they will take good care of our home and respect our neighbors. As I discussed elsewhere on this site (see Screening Prospective Tenants), the back-and-forth of direct phone, Skype (and when possible, in-person) conversations help us build trust, spot potential problems, and discover whether the arrangement is a good fit.
The ability for direct communication is one reason we’ve been paying an annual subscription to VRBO, instead of listing our home on Airbnb or another site where we can talk to people only after they’ve booked. But VRBO and its parent, Home Away, have been bought by Expedia and recently announced that annual subscriptions will not be renewed unless owners sign up for online booking. Clearly, the individual homeowner’s interests are no longer of concern to the new owners. If that happens, we need to find a new listing site. Unfortunately, we may have little choice if we want to continue reaching a large audience when we advertise for a short-term guest.
Update: In 2017, VRBO notified subscribers that they will no longer renew annual subscriptions, leaving homeowners to sign up for online booking or look elsewhere. See my article for Tripz, “How Short-Term Rental Sites Have Changed – For the Worse,” for more on this topic.
What do you think? Have you used a commission-based site like Airbnb? Do you think it’s important to have direct phone, Skype, or in-person conversations with people before renting them your home?