"Socialism of any type leads to a total destruction of the human spirit." ~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Top Ten Reasons to Love Airbnb
Column by Retta Fontana.
Exclusive to STR
For the uninitiated, Airbnb.com is an online network for connecting people who have spaces in their homes, apartments, or castles to rent out temporarily and travelers who are looking for accommodations. Airbnb is secure and worldwide, although obviously more available in some places than others. It is an idea whose time has come. Here are my top ten reasons for a libertarian to love Airbnb.com.
10.) Lack of overhead. Joining the website is free and the fee for a host who makes an agreement with a guest is extremely low. I rent out a spare bedroom with private bath in a mountain log cabin for anywhere from $45-$85 per night. At $45, the Airbnb fee is $1. This is not a typo. The price goes up from there by a dollar or two. There is no security deposit required for the guest.
9.) Freedom. As with most undertakings, with Airbnb there is a learning curve involved, which always interests me. I am free to ask $1M for the use of my spare bedroom and bath for a night. I'd only need to rent it out once or twice a year! However, I have yet to find any takers at that price. So, I originally priced the space just a bit higher than what it would be worth for me to have to clean it and live with a stranger for up to 24 hours. I used to be in real estate sales, so I did what I consider a professional job describing the space in order to “sell” it without promising too much. I aimed high with my original price point and was delighted with the number of guests who were willing to pay it.
The host is also free to select whichever cancellation policy appeals to them. A liberal one should make your listing more appealing, but you run – in my experience – a slight risk of having the space empty. A more stringent policy covers the host better, but could make listings slightly less appealing. I have found that people rarely cancel, so my policy is liberal.
As a host, I manage my own listing, and not just for price or cancellation policy but also for availability. When I have a visiting friend or family member, I simply block out those days on my Airbnb listing calendar as “unavailable” and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Every guest is welcome to use the living areas, deck, make a bonfire, etc., in my home. But I offer some pampering to my full-price guests--they get truffles on their bed pillows and I serve them warm muffins made from scratch in the morning. I pack them off with recommendations, directions and a couple of muffins and water bottles when they leave for their mountain adventures.
Also, as each week flies off the calendar, on a hunch, I experimented and so learned to lower my room rates for the week immediately following in hopes of filling the space. This works and it has not seemed to cause any decline in the quality of the guests. In fact, two such last-minute guests altered my Airbnb reality. It is my pleasure to tell you about Elaine and Howie here:
8.) Airbnb makes my life rich and more wonderful! Some people are not at home when their guests arrive or rent out a separate space altogether, so they don't have much if any actual face-to-face interaction with their guests. The human interaction may not be important to everyone, but libertarians are relatively conscious people, in my opinion and this is a real perk. It's one I didn't see coming.
Last month, as I managed my listing on Airbnb, I reduced the price for the coming week. I got a request to stay a couple of nights from someone who used Chinese characters for their name. I admit that the first thing I thought of was some kind of foreign scam. I couldn't figure out how it could work on Airbnb as I would be meeting the people face-to-face. I let go of the mental fear of being made a fool and read the reviews that were in English. The guest called herself “Elaine,” even though I knew that was probably not the one she was born with, and her boyfriend “Howie.” There was a distorted picture of “Elaine” in her profile and no photo at all of “Howie.” My gut instinct had no reaction, so I approved the stay and wondered what I would find.
What ensued was the most amazing weekend in recent memory! Here is the review I posted for them on Airbnb.com:
“I thought I understood the meaning of the word "sweet," but I never did until I met Elaine and Howie. It turns out to be a combination of kindness, gentleness and delight!
“When I moved to the South, I was impressed with the friendliness and manners of the people here, but these Taiwanese take it to a whole new level. Elaine and Howie bring into sharp contrast the stress and hurrying of life as it was for me growing up in the Rust Belt. I feel nostalgic knowing there is truly another, much better way to live.
“I want to be like Elaine and Howie when I grow up. If I meditate for the next 10 or 20 years, I might become like them. I know I have it in me somewhere. (I've seen it in fits and starts over the years like a dream sequence.)
“If you are ever lucky enough to get a booking request from Elaine and Howie, do yourself a favor and hit the "Pre-approve" button and enjoy. Your faith in humanity will be renewed and you'll get a new lease on life.”
Seeing their surprise at the things we take for granted was insightful. They told us about Tai Pan and we told them about the Trail of Tears. Elaine was stunned to see a caribou head and she wanted to know how we got it, which was even more startling to her. We captured a photo of their shock and awe at having a wolf hide tossed over their shoulders like a mink stole. Howie, a genuine, humble, happy, free person put on music and treated us to an uninhibited and very talented sort of parkour routine in the dining room, including a spinning one-handed handstand! That was our turn for shock and awe! Elaine was the most gentle soul I've ever met and nearly sang a bird-like, ever-so-gentle, “good night, Retta” to me at bedtime. It made me feel warm and fuzzy to know there are people like this in the world. I would have missed them if I hadn't taken the chance to join Airbnb!
7.) The human factor. A local host can be a good resource for insider information. If you really want to know where to get great food at the best prices, ask a local. Ditto for sights that will meet your needs or are difficult to find. This happens a lot with sketchy Internet in the mountains and points of interest that are not even marked with a road sign. In this age, when sitting on porches and chatting with your neighbors has given way to many “friends” being Internet personalities who you have never actually laid eyes on or spoken to, I’m delighted to report that many guests actually prefer the human connection of Airbnb to the relative anonymity of a motel. This surprised me.
6.) Ease of use. Don't you hate when you buy something because it was made to sound simple and then you get it home and find a tome of unintelligible instructions, or a reference to a website for directions and/or troubleshooting, or a phone number to call with a long waiting time, only to speak to someone with really poor English who uses your first name too often? Sometimes it’s just one of those moments with electronics that makes you ask yourself what were you thinking? The Airbnb website is truly simple to use, easy on the eyes and I would say downright cheerful.
I gave Airbnb my bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit on a secure server. Admittedly, this involves some risk. After my first guest, I have not looked back! Barring cancellation or dispute, the day my guest arrives, payment is automatically initiated and the funds arrive in my account in a day or two.
5.) Free dispute resolution services. Understandably, like with any human interaction, there are misunderstandings or unpleasant experiences. But I have found that on the whole, Airbnb guests are dependable, considerate and gracious. I have not had any kind of difficulty or dispute with a guest, so I cannot offer insight into the Airbnb resolution process. I rely on my gut instinct about people when choosing to work with them no matter the venue – this is the beauty of self-employment. I usually ask myself this one simple question: Is what I have to gain worth that which I think I will be dealing? The answer is usually clear.
I have hosted about 30 guests since listing my space on Airbnb in February. I have declined one guest's request to stay because he seemed to have a sense of entitlement from the get-go. It got worse from there, so I knew I'd made a good call. He was very insistent that I give him a discount because he wanted one. I am free to make that decision and sometimes I do capitulate. He seemed indignant that I would not kowtow to his whim, so I simply stopped communicating. This was an isolated incident. As yet, there is no bureaucracy trying to force me to rent to someone that I simply don't like.
4.) Security. Airbnb securely collects information from prospective guests. I don't know what a guest's credit card information is, but I know that Airbnb does. If you have a credit card, you have an address and a credit history. Ditto with a debit card. A guest can also have themselves “verified” by Airbnb, a simple process which likely gets their requests for stays more immediate attention. For instance, sometimes I get a request from someone outside of the (fiction known as) U.S.A. If I cannot decipher their language, I read their reviews in English, which can only be left by another, previous host and I feel secure that they have been verified by Airbnb.
Even though Airbnb has a mechanism for resolving disputes, I've never come close to needing it. Although people say and do things online that they might never do in person, and this is an Internet business, it culminates in a face-to-face interaction with another person in their home. Also, the guest sleeps there, which makes both guest and host nearly equally vulnerable. This makes for a more polite society.
I don’t tempt fate. My doors all have locks. I keep valuables and small electronics in a safe. I am trained in the use of firearms, so I don’t worry much about safety.
3.) For the time being, and comparatively speaking, Airbnb has a low government intrusion factor. Airbnb is forced to be a collection agency for state governments in the U.S.A. I naturally don't approve of this kind of theft, but as a host, I am not at all involved in that part of the process. Come April 15th, I will be a mark for the thieves in the state capitol, but unless you are renting out your entire McMansion 25% of the year, that damage should be minimal and rife with deductions.
2.) Airbnb is voluntary in nature. I have a space I would like to rent out. I register the listing on Airbnb. I try to describe it accurately and thoroughly. Open-minded people looking for a place to stay with particular amenities in my area read about my listing and decide if the price is right. They request to stay on particular days, I can read about them and decide if I would like to host them. They are free to choose from any listing.
1.) Finally, the number one reason any libertarian would love Airbnb is . . . (drum roll, please) it regulates itself! It does this in three ways: pricing, availability and quality.
We discussed pricing, the host's freedom to accept or decline a guest and the guest’s freedom to choose. Regarding quality, the guest and host each get the opportunity to review the other after a stay and rate the other on communication and cleanliness. Guests can rate a host on how accurately he described his space and hosts can rate a guest on how well they followed the house rules that were clearly posted in the listing. The reviews become part of the users’ profiles. Each party also has an opportunity to send a private message regarding what could be improved to the other party or to Airbnb privately.
As an aside, in my unofficial surveys, everyone who stays with me has something vital in common. Invariably they talk about how high taxes are where they live. They often discuss heavy regulation, long delays or the outright unavailability of services with all things governmental--censorship, airport security, police tyranny, etc. The biggest complaints almost always involve the “free” healthcare system. One couple from New Zealand even said that turning in your neighbors for non-payment of taxes is a national pastime. It makes me wonder why it doesn’t happen much in the U.S.A.--yet. The IRS will eventually offer incentives for it and we will be off to the races. It would create more fear and division than a politician’s wet dream.
For now, Airbnb is a great mechanism largely because it is free from bureaucracy--but beware success! Ronald Reagan (love him or not) once offered my favorite definition of government: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.” My crystal ball reveals President Clinton--no, the other President Clinton--making speeches about protecting (lie!) Americans from those horrible, unregulated Airbnbs. (Another lie--they are market regulated--the only kind that has integrity!)
The mainstream media will maximize some tragedy that may occur with or without their provocation. They will insinuate the home is an “Airbnb,” whether it was hosting or not--as usual, facts be damned. President Clinton, or others of her ilk, with incentive from the hospitality industry lobbyists, will demand that Congress enact legislation to bring Airbnbs under the umbrella of “federal protection.” (I can feel my blood pressure rising just typing those words.) The health department will, for a fee, inspect and certify Airbnbs. This will increase costs, reduce profits and drive many hosts underground, diminishing quality and increasing risk to everyone. This oft-repeated method of tyranny inevitably becomes a drag on the economy and another government debacle.
Tyranny is a putrid stench in the nostrils of free men. However, Airbnb is a good example of how a free society would work--it works very well! The fact is that the human spirit will not be denied. For every act of tyranny, one way or another, like a determined vine, human will, drive, intelligence and passion will always innovate solutions to obstacles. Tyrants be damned!