We’re all hote­liers now – at what cost?

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - MONEY -

Hosts made a to­tal of £850m rent­ing out prop­erty on Airbnb last year, but how well pro­tected are their homes? Sam Mead­ows re­ports

The boom in short-term hol­i­day lets has cre­ated a handy mon­ey­mak­ing op­por­tu­nity for those with space to spare. The av­er­age Airbnb host in Bri­tain earned £3,100 last year from let­ting out their home or spare room, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s an­nual re­port, and that was on an oc­cu­pancy rate of just four nights a month.

For the unini­ti­ated, Airbnb is a web­site that al­lows or­di­nary peo­ple to list their un­used rooms as if they are ho­tels. Guests can search for a spare room in some­one’s home, an en­tire apart­ment or house – or even a unique or lux­u­ri­ous des­ti­na­tion such as a tree­house, a yurt or a cas­tle.

In its re­port the com­pany said its Bri­tish hosts made £854m in the year to July, en­ter­tain­ing well over eight mil­lion guests.

Since Airbnb be­gan a decade ago, a huge num­ber of com­peti­tors have burst on to the scene, with tra­di­tional ho­tel-book­ing web­sites also try­ing to get in on the act.

But that rosy pic­ture ig­nores the hor­ror sto­ries. In one well-pub­li­cised in­ci­dent in 2015, two Lon­don­ers who let their flat on Airbnb re­turned to find the place lit­tered with con­dom wrap­pers and laugh­ing gas can­is­ters. Not only that, but a cher­ished print by enig­matic street artist Banksy, val­ued at £8,000, had been stolen.

Airbnb says that just one in 25,000 book­ings re­sults in a claim for dam­ages, but if you’re let­ting strangers into your home it pays to be pre­pared.

Humphrey Bowles of Guard­hog, an in­surer, warned that most home in­surance poli­cies would not cover Airbnb-style lets, class­ing them as com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity.

“Home shar­ers don’t un­der­stand the ex­tent of the risk with peer-to-peer plat­forms, re­sult­ing in them of­ten be­ing unin­sured or un­der­in­sured,” he said.

“At the very least hosts should tell their in­surer that they’re home-shar­ing and take the nec­es­sary steps to fill any gaps in pro­tec­tion.”

How do the var­i­ous plat­forms com­pare on fees and, cru­cially, on pro­tec­tion for hosts?

Airbnb

Airbnb, the big­gest player in the mar­ket, ap­pears to of­fer some of the most com­pre­hen­sive pro­tec­tion to hosts, de­spite the hor­ror sto­ries.

The com­pany says prop­erty dam­age is cov­ered up to a max­i­mum value of $1m (£758,000). Host pro­tec­tion in­surance is also pro­vided “in the un­likely event some­one files a law­suit or claim against you”.

It would not of­fer more in­for­ma­tion on pre­cisely what is cov­ered or whether there is an ex­cess payable. Loss or wear and tear dam­age is not cov­ered.

Airbnb charges a ser­vice fee to both hosts and guests. Hosts usu­ally pay 3pc, but could pay more, de­pend­ing on fac­tors in­clud­ing how strict their can­cel­la­tion poli­cies are. Guests are charged a ser­vice fee of be­tween 0pc and 20pc, de­ter­mined by fac­tors in­clud­ing the length of stay and the type of list­ing.

Book­ing.com

A lesser-known func­tion of the book­ing gi­ant is that it al­lows hosts to list their own apart­ments or spare rooms.

It is a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive than its ri­vals, charg­ing hosts an av­er­age com­mis­sion of 15pc on book­ings, but of­fers ac­cess to a huge mar­ket as a first port of call for many hol­i­day­mak­ers.

The com­pany said it had 8,000 cus­tomer ser­vice staff should any­thing go wrong. It does not in­clude any in­surance for hosts as stan­dard. How­ever, hosts can re­quest a se­cu­rity de­posit from guests.

HomeAway

This web­site of­fers hosts a choice of an an­nual sub­scrip­tion fee of £249 (not in­clud­ing VAT) or a com­mis­sion fee of 8pc per book­ing. Those who use the com­pany’s pay­ment sys­tem can charge a se­cu­rity de­posit to cover mi­nor dam­age.

Like Airbnb, HomeAway of­fers li­a­bil­ity in­surance to a max­i­mum value of $1m. This works in con­junc­tion with any ex­ist­ing home cover.

One­fines­tay

This high-end spe­cial­ist does not have a straight­for­ward charg­ing struc­ture and in­stead cal­cu­lates what it calls a “unique rev­enue share”.

A spokesman said: “In­stead of a stan­dard­ised fee struc­ture, our model is based on a unique rev­enue share with each in­di­vid­ual home­owner, which en­tirely de­pends on the in­di­vid­ual home.” It does pro­vide in­surance for hosts, which works in con­junc­tion with any ex­ist­ing home or con­tents in­surance.

The firm said it also took “proac­tive steps” to min­imise risks to hosts, in­clud­ing a “dili­gent vet­ting process for all stays”.

Homes­tay.com

Homes­tay.com, a site for hosts who will be present dur­ing their guests’ stay, says it is com­pletely free for hosts but charges a fee to guests. The fee is 15pc, capped at £199 (or €199) for stays of more than 30 nights.

It says it of­fers no in­surance as stan­dard and hosts need to make sure they are ad­e­quately cov­ered. Like oth­ers, the com­pany does of­fer a me­di­a­tion ser­vice. Hosts can also opt for a de­posit model whereby, in the event of a fail­ure to show up or late can­cel­la­tion, guests will be charged 25pc of the book­ing fee.

A spokesman stressed that guests would never be stay­ing in a prop­erty on their own.

The Plum Guide

An­other spe­cial­ist in lux­ury ren­tals, Plum Guide says it pro­vides a guar­an­tee in the form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that al­lows all guests to be traced should any­thing go wrong.

It also of­fers me­di­a­tion be­tween the par­ties, but says the in­ci­dent rate is “ex­tremely low”.

Each host has a ded­i­cated ac­count man­ager, who is usu­ally re­spon­si­ble for around 100 clients, and 80pc of book­ings are as­sisted by a mem­ber of the match­mak­ing team.

It does not of­fer in­surance as stan­dard but has in­surance part­ners that it rec­om­mends. Hosts are charged book­ing fees of 3pc and guests are charged up to 14.4pc.

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