Have you noticed there are some companies that will book your Airbnb property and guests for you? Steer clear: they help Airbnb by keeping you from getting paid and getting guests to rent a lousy place to stay. This comes from both ends of the spectrum – host hell and guest hell – where a third party is in the middle preventing either from reaching a resolution.
How it works: Airbnb is using start-up companies that only book with Airbnb, promising they will communicate with both hosts and guests, provide property maintenance, cleaning before and after each rental, let guests in (and secure the rental when they leave), help with any issues both hosts and guests have at any time of the day or night, collect any rental and damage fees, pay the hosts directly, and have a customer support line 24/7. I answered a local ad through Craigslist out of curiosity to apply as a “licensed cleaner” for Airbnb properties. After spending an hour or so clicking through a basic “do you know how to clean” on my computer, you are not given a background checked at all. You are signed up immediately and can take ‘tasks’ from your smart phone, including cleaning and stocking rentals. So first off, neither the host nor guest has any guarantee the rental will be damage free, clean and maintained. For someone like myself who is certified in the cleaning industry with over 20 years’ experience, state licensed and bonded, in one day I could tell this was a huge scam and mistake, but wanted to see what was up on how all this worked.
The first “claim job” day was a Sunday. There were three rentals that needed cleaning, clean bedding, and linens and a mini-stay pack (like hotels). Everything was sent to a storage unit. All jobs needed to be finished by 3:00 PM, so I got to the storage unit at 10:00 AM. I needed time to find what I needed since I’d never been to this storage place before which was in downtown Seattle, right off the most notorious intersection the city has. At least it was Sunday, so I had that going for me. Right off the bat, I couldn’t get into the unit from the code they gave me. I waited an hour and a half for someone to send me the proper information. This was after calling their “worker support line” which no one answered, and their customer support line, finding not one person knew I worked for them. So much for being listed as a cleaner – and I had full access codes to three properties. Eventually I got a single text and entered the storage unit, which was a mess: Cintas was supposed to be supplying linens but they were out of just about everything. It was disorganized, so I had to hunt to find enough supplies for three rentals.
I tried to find the first unit; the address was wrong and again, I spent almost an hour trying to get a response from anyone at this company. Then I found the unit and just about fell over: my son had rented an apartment right next to the building years before. He left because of two problems: there was a small fire station you couldn’t really see but hear go off at least every two hours round the clock, and crime was high in that area. I entered the unit which was a three story, two master bath, two bedroom plus skinny, and very trashed rental. They had a kid who loved peanut butter, which was stuck solid to the windows, walls, furniture, floors and all over the kitchen. The upstairs master bath didn’t drain at all, which is why the downstairs one was used so heavily.
This unit had been booked for a two-hour cleaning. It was already 1:00 PM when I arrived. Panic set in and I notified the company there was no way I could get all three properties finished in time. They assured me this wasn’t a problem so I set to work running up and down stairs, and unclogging drains. Thankfully I had brought my steam machine to get the peanut butter off everything. It took 3.5 hours to make everything clean and presentable. The company charged the guests an additional $300 for cleaning. This was exorbitant for an additional 1.5 hours more than they quoted, though the guests had been there a full month. I’m not sure what they expected but I am sure the guest and host both got screwed on that one.
Off to another property that had an address that did not exist on any map, and more calling the company to receive a text to find the property. I should mention in between these visits my phone kept going off from SMS messages received. They turned out to be from one of the company’s employees – the one giving me the proper information – on who his pick was for the NFL super dream team. It couldn’t have been less professional.
Next was a 2700 square foot home in the older part of Seattle, which meant uneven climbing up zigzag steps where the cement was old and broken. The guests had arrived and the wife was furious. The place was trashed from a frat party on Friday night (the guests had to do a two-night minimum booking). I hauled all my cleaning stuff up, asked them where would be best to start (the bathroom, they wanted to shower), and got on it. I then moved to the kitchen where I found broken plates, glasses, a broken microwave plate, and no less than 27 empty bottles of liquor. The guests had a concert to attend so I was able to clean like mad without running into anyone but again, had to reach customer service to figure out where to put the duvet cover that had an entire bottle of cologne spilled on it. The entire upstairs smelled of this horrific men’s cologne and it was the host’s duvet cover. “Bag it and drop it off when you are done” is what I was told but no one would know to whom or where it belonged. I pinned a note to it, bagged it, and wrote the host’s address and last name on the bag.
Once that was finished at 8:00 PM, it was dark with no lighting to see the steps. I eventually tripped on the last one hitting the cement sidewalk. Still, I got up and headed off to the third rental. The week-long guests were compensated for three days and the host had to go over to the property to see the damage. It wasn’t fun for anyone and later I learned the guests were charged $1,200, with the host getting $200 after a month of fighting with Airbnb and the middleman company with which I signed up. I arrived at the third property greeted by some kids on skateboards who glared at me, circling my truck. I decided to take in all my cleaning stuff (Miele vacuum and steam cleaners are expensive).
This place was creepy and not well marked on how to access the basement rental as the top is the house with no lighting on either side indicating the “entrance in the back”. I walked through some bushes, a spider web, and some rocks and found the door. However, I couldn’t find the lock box for the key which had been buried under a planter, not beside the bench. It was pitch black and I was using a military grade flashlight. Still, it took half an hour to find the key. Luckily there was no one there as they were out for dinner and it was small, and not heavily used. I sighed in relief and went to work getting all the linens changed. I cleaned the entire unit and was almost done when the guests arrived. It was an awkward moment to say the least but I was very apologetic and polite. We struck up a conversation, I gave them additional towels (marked in my phone for reporting later to the company), bid them good night, and headed to the storage unit to drop off the dirty linens – which of course, was closed. I hauled them back home.
The next day they had one rental that needed an early clean and since I still had some clean linens, I headed to that home, arriving at 11:00 AM. The guests were from England and their flight didn’t leave for awhile so they were told not to worry, and they could check out before 1:00 PM. I was not notified of this and got a coffee, sent pictures from the day before to the main office of this middleman company, and also told them to get me off the SMS football list. That home was supposed to be two hours of cleaning and while the guests had done a great job of keeping it clean, it was just under 2500 square feet of brand new high-end home space: two stories with the entire downstairs hardwood, upstairs two master baths, four bedrooms. I took my time, disregarding the set pay for the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Given how the company paid me, it worked out to under $8 an hour on each house.
Here is the kicker for hosts and guests: guests leave a 1-5 star rating on their stay, cleanliness, and amenities which is reported to Airbnb. Since all but one of four rentals was trashed in one way or another, and I was way behind due to the company not having all information handy, those ratings went against the host and some didn’t make it against the guests. Airbnb found a way to really screw over everyone by using a middleman booking company that does very little for the additional cost both hosts and guests pay for, up to 17% more per booking with a monthly cleaning cost of $500-$700 for each property no matter the size or bookings.
The really scary part for everyone else is I told this booking company I could not work for them in such a manner. I’m a professional and it costs money to pay my insurance, license, bond, gas, and cleaning supplies. So even after I told them “no, thank you”, they started emailing me bookings for other clients. I had all the information of the host, guest, payment type, link to both host and guest, plus access information. Because I was still curious, I didn’t tell Airbnb nor the booking company about this; I wanted to see how long it would take before they figured it out. After a week of getting booking notices to my email account for six days, I called Airbnb.
Airbnb had no one single person that I could talk to about the booking company or emails. I was put on hold until the line was dropped twice, transferred to nonexistent extensions, and muddled through why I was calling with agents who did not speak English as their first and possibly second language. Eventually I sent an email to every Airbnb address I could find along with a text and email to the booking company who by the way, were operating in Seattle from San Francisco with no one here at all from their office. In fact, I couldn’t find anyone who’d even been here before which explains the terrible access to things they want you to use for each rental.
About two hours after sending a text message to the booking company, someone called me back and apologized for “the mix up” though I had to let that person know that I wasn’t going to continue working for them. If you are wondering how I knew about the “Frat Party House” and how that shook out, it’s because the guests lived closer to me, hired me on a regular basis to clean their home, and told me what hell they’d been put through to prove the previous guests left such a mess… as if my pictures didn’t already show that? They were almost on the hook for the extra clean up and damage and only Airbnb would deal with them, not the booking company. Luckily I did two things: take a ton of pictures and use a stopwatch for the exact time which can be uploaded to show the date and time. Hopefully this will help some hosts and guests at the same time. I won’t be a part of it for the rest of my career.