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I just returned back to the office and while picking through all the press releases, one from AirBNB caught my eye. Apparently they have just launched a longer-term, monthly rental offering. What’s the first thing when you hear “sublet rental”? Craigslist – is Craig the real target of AirBNB? I checked out a few of the blogs that posted about the news and so far only Kara Swisher has mentioned Craigslist.
If you have ever tried to rent an apartment in NYC, it can easily bring you to tears. The brokers post their sometimes scam, nearly almost always somewhat fake listings on Craigslist for $10 each. Even if you don’t have any interest in renting an apartment in NYC, head over to the Craigslist apartment section (make sure to pick Fee and No-Fee!). I was so excited to look at one of the apartments I saw on Craigslist when I first moved back to NYC. The pictures were great – the apartment wasn’t in the best location but it looked huge. When I got to the apartment, the broker showed up late, took me up to the apartment and it looked NOTHING like the pictures or the description. I showed her the photo and said uhm this isn’t the right apartment. She replied, “sure it is, those photos are just examples of an apartment”. I realized at that point that the search would be pure hell.
Frankly I believe Craig has no interest in changing his system (even adding a real search) because then the brokers would go elsewhere. But maybe, just maybe, AirBNB’s can start to woo over users which might force brokers to start to post listings which would have to include real photos and a reputation system for the landlords and brokers. AirBNB could potentially even become an online payment/facility management hub for landlords.
There are many startups out there trying to “beat” Craigslist and I’d bet a few are even on the YCombinator company list and might be open to an acquisition by AirBNB.
The press release mainly talks about the monthly offering focusing on the sublet market but clearly we can see where this might be headed.
AirBNB had an interesting summer with the issues they faced around trashed apartments. While I am still sure I wouldn’t use their service for a vacation or business trip, I may very well be open to using their service as a research tool for my next sublet or apartment rental.
In the wee hours of yesterday morning, I found a link to an absolutely horrible story on Hacker News about a person named EJ and her accounts of the Airbnb rental she provided last month. I noted on Twitter that while the idea for Airbnb seems interesting, I’d never rent my apt (or part thereof) to someone I don’t know. Airbnb has blown up over the past year receiving tons of press and $100 million in VC. Other startups are now referring to their companies as the, “Airbnb of xxxx”. I think part of Airbnb’s appeal pulls on our greed card and the ability to generate some quick cash.
You can read EJ’s original story, her update and Techcrunch’s combined snippet copy with Mike’s commentary. The short version is that EJ rented her apartment to a person while she was out of town and the apartment was completely trashed, very valuable items were stolen and the apartment ransacked. Just an absolutely horrible story as the criminal actually went through all of her stuff. EJ’s update seems to suggest serious differences between what she and Airbnb staff have publicly reported.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky posted on Techcrunch an overview of what Airbnb is doing with regards to safety.
First, let me play the other side…where is EJ’s renter’s insurance? I am curious, if you become a “seller” on Airbnb, do you let your renter’s insurance company know? Does that make your apartment a B&B? I wonder how many sellers on Airbnb do this research before renting. Video learning site Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis notes that EJ should have, “understood the risks”. He goes on to say that hotel rooms are trashed all the time and that, “this is such a BS issue”. I am not sure that comparing trashing a hotel room with stealing and ransacking an apartment is even remotely the same.
So why do I think this rental mess isn’t about the stuff that so many are making it out to be about? To me the biggest fear I have of ever using Airbnb is physical crime. What if EJ came home when the criminal was in her apartment? Many of the rental experiences I’ve heard about on Airbnb are where the owner rents out a part of his or her home which could just open the doors to physical crime. I hate to even think about it – I’d like to hear what Airbnb is doing to make sure this type of crime never happens for their customers. I should note that Airbnb claims over 2 million rental nights to-date with no issues of this nature.