My Airbnb experience: ‘I clean loos to pay the mortgage’
Hosting on Airbnb seemed like a great idea, but now Tim O’Brien is having second thoughts
Tim O’Brien: ‘I’m getting out because I’m sick of cleaning lavatories for a bank.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
I tell people I clean lavatories for a bank. But it is more than that. I can’t go near the home furnishings section in a supermarket without coming away with tea-towels, table cloths, curtain poles, duvet covers, bath mats, shower curtains, gleaming teapots and packets of circular things that turn the water in your cistern blue. At any given time, the boot of my car contains at least one complete change of bed linen and towels and lots of disinfectant.
This is my Airbnb experience, and it is only part of the reason I’m getting out.
I turned to Airbnb when my buy-to-let apartment was left vacant and the mortgage needed to be paid. The first thing I did was spend a good lump of money on the bathroom and kitchen. A bathroom makeover is a must, a double shower is good, who takes baths nowadays? In the kitchen, it is the cleanness of new things that makes a space attractive, I told myself. It was impossible to avoid a shiny new microwave, to get a new toaster rather than get the burnt bits of bread out of the bottom of the existing one.
I started to study the Airbnb “community” advice pages. You really can’t have a coffee table that students have been putting their feet on for the previous year. I looked at adverts for similar properties. Without a flat screen, cable tv and high-speed internet you are nothing in this game.
A coat of emulsion revealed the need for gloss on the doors and skirting boards.
The place was gleaming.
Cut flowers adorned the sitting room and Cadbury’s Roses were placed on the stunningly white pillow cases which, incidentally, were located close to the bright, new bedside lights on the pristine, new bedside lockers.
I was broke.
My first guests were lovely people. I was so keen that they have a nice time I prepared a welcome pack of Irish foodstuffs and collected them at the airport. They were a Spanish family of four and they loved it. I was elated. I had discovered the pleasure of exceeding visitors’ expectations but was forlorn when they didn’t match mine.
I remember the disappointment when new duvets didn’t stand up to the toenails of 17-stone Americans. A family of five ended a three-week tour by taking the flat for a day and doing all their laundry, blow-drying clothes with a hairdryer and a fan heater. When the electricity trip switch cut out they phoned shortly before midnight to ask what I was going to do about it.
Then there was the hirsute middle-eastern man whom I didn’t recognise on check out. He had lost all visible hair, even the eyebrows were gone. I found it all in the bath. It was at this point I realised I needed help. I agreed a whole series of dates with a website offering cleaners but when the first one didn’t come I cursed everyone roundly and approached the lavatory, gloves, brush and Domestos in hand.
The Nordic people had good teeth and were full of smiles. But they left behind a small bag in the bedside locker with two small clamps connected by about 18 inches of chain. It was, I learned, a set of nipple clamps. I was reminded there are some things decent people ought not to know.
On another occasion a Chinese party phoned to say that, as their plane arrived 98 minutes late, they would go and have lunch and call later in the day. When I stressed I had been waiting, was still waiting for them, they apologised profusely and vowed to come at once. They turned up two-and-a-half hours later explaining there had been a lot of traffic, and again apologising profusely.
You have to remind yourself most people are lovely.
Things go wrong, like guests being unable to work the timer on the water heater. If you live next door you can pop around. Otherwise your evenings are busy. You tell yourself it’s hard work but the money is good.
Then you do the sums and you tell yourself at least the place gets spruced up. Then you see the broken door shelves in the fridge, the scuff marks on the paintwork. Other factors emerge. The census 2016 showed the number of vacant holiday homes in Dublin city centre has nearly trebled in five years. Preliminary statistics showed an increase from 322 in 2011, to 937 this year.
This severely impacts the number of rental properties available . But the rush to holiday market listings, including Airbnb, cannot be explained simply in terms of greed for the increased income that goes with short lets. The Government encouraged people to provide for their own pensions and then, when the crash came, the dirty word “landlord” was employed as charges were introduced and tax rules changed.
Landlords of residential property now face different, tougher rules than commercial property owners or indeed virtually any other business.
The Irish Property Owners’ Association says single unit owners are leaving the business in droves. It is also becoming politically incorrect to short let.
Critics claim constantly changing residents make for an unpleasant and unsafe mix for longer-term neighbours, and operating a B&B is likely to be a breach of planning permission.
I’d like to say I was of a similar high mind. But, to be honest, I’m getting out for one clear reason: I’m sick of cleaning lavatories for a bank.