CNN Travel has an article today about a guy who moved to Hong Kong and only lives in Airbnb accommodations to “get out of the expat bubble.” CNN likes to think that this is an important experiment — trying a well-known service like Airbnb in a single metropolis where it isn’t widely used.
I’ve checked Airbnb in Hong Kong, though not in a long time, because I had thought about staying there for some time to visit friends. I decided against it because there was nothing even close to my price range — and I was willing to go as high as $900 per month.
After staying in Airbnb accommodations over 10 of the last 14 months, I know a bit about what to look for and what to expect. I have used Airbnb in Tokyo, Osaka, Ho Chi Minh City, Seoul, Taipei, and Perugia. I know that I could easily find something cheaper if I was set on staying longer in each city — it’s fair to charge more for a short-term rental than for a six-month lease. I have, however, discovered some places with reasonable rent, but I always stay for a month or more in each place. My landlord in suburban Tokyo offered a nice deal if I wanted to stay long term — it would’ve saved me more than $100 per month if I had found a job to keep me there. She was a nice enough host that I contacted her when I returned to Tokyo because I knew it was better deal than anything else.
I have seen the good and not-so-good of Airbnb throughout Asia and even in Italy. The only negative experiences I’ve had have been with landlords during email exchanges — I have never stayed with these people because the red flags kept me away.
In Hanoi, I searched for apartments but they were all through real estate agents — only a few people were renting out dozens of properties. They all insisted that I pay a $400 deposit to stay for one month. I didn’t trust these people enough to pay that in cash, so I spent a little more money and stayed in two hotels for the month. It cost me $200 more for the hotels, but I got my room cleaned each day and free breakfast and coffee.
In Saigon, the Airbnb apartment wasn’t ideal, but it was acceptable for $400 for the month. I had a communal kitchen if I had wanted to cook and a free laundry service (there was a woman who cleaned the rooms almost every day and even took my laundry). The only problem I had was with the gate and door locks to the building — I broke two keys (one on the last day).
Surprised in Taipei
I was only surprised by my accommodation twice. The first time was in Taipei. I followed the directions and read the street signs until I came to my street and found it full of Japanese prostitution bars (this neighborhood was locally known as the high-end prostitution district). Somehow the apartment was quiet enough for me to stay for three months (it was also only about $500 per month). The landlord even replaced the air conditioner when I told him it was broken and reaching 90 degrees in the apartment.
Airbnb in Seoul
The second surprise was my closet in Seoul. Seriously, my bedroom in Tokyo was the same size as the entire apartment in Seoul, and that closet had a bathroom and kitchen. I was told after a month that I was paying about twice what I should for that claustrophobic experience. Still, I managed to stay there for two months before heading to Italy.
My Airbnb stay for a month in Perugia was surprisingly cool…or maybe cold for August. I noticed that most listings around Italy didn’t have air conditioning. When I inquired about the temperature in the apartment, I was told that because the building had thick walls, it stayed cool. This was a pre-Renaissance building converted into apartments, and the walls were thick. I actually wore a sweatshirt in the apartment (actually needed it outside at night because it got unseasonably cold).
One thing I learned about Airbnb in Asia is that most hosts don’t want to deal with the site. They don’t like the fees. Not only do they lose some from Airbnb, but they lose more from PayPal foreign exchange fees. A few asked me to reserve the apartment for a week and then pay the balance in cash on arrival for a slight discount. After the first two times, I began asking about staying cheaper if I agreed to pay cash on arrival. The landlord in Saigon insisted that I not reserve through the site — I was told to see the apartment first. After seeing it the first night I was told I could pay cash or go through Airbnb, whichever was easier.
So, what was the advantage to using Airbnb? Not much. Convenience was about it. There was a greater level of trust with the people I chose to rent from. I’m sure some local rental sites would’ve had cheaper options, but they would’ve been more difficult to sift through. There was also the added benefit of having a washing machine, wi-fi, and utilities included in all the places I stayed. If I was traveling instead of working 50 hours a week, I would have rather stayed in a hotel or hostel to meet more people.
Have you used Airbnb? What has your experience been? If you haven’t signed up, you can give it a try here.