Channel 4’s “Airbnb - Dream or Nightmare?"

We were really interested to watch Channel 4’s programme “Airbnb: Dream or Nightmare?’ that aired last week. The programme raised some of the reasons that inspired us to launch the company back in October 2015 which was great to see. It also continues to motivate our team in providing the best service to ensure that our clients whose properties we manage (and the guests we look after) get the most positive and problem free experience.

Horror stories and preventative measures

Channel 4 documented some real horror stories of properties being used for huge parties and essentially being trashed by guests; Nigel took a last minute booking for New Years eve - sadly, a decision he quickly came to regret. The enquiry for his high-spec central London apartment came from a man in his early 20s with no reviews, just hours before for one of the biggest “party” nights of the year - circumstances that immediately set our alarm bells ringing. We take vetting guests very seriously and take an approach that combines openness and trust with caution and reasonable doubt. We engage in conversation with all potential guests in order to establish the purpose of their trip and get a feel for who they are before we accept a booking. And we are extremely careful of taking last-minute bookings requested less than 3 days in advance. While most guests have good intentions, these preventative measures provide us and our hosts with the sense of security we believe is necessary (and achievable) when opening up your home to guests.

What about when things do go wrong?

Sometimes though, things can go wrong, and it would be unfair to charge Airbnb with not taking any accountability when they do. As far as insurance cover goes, Airbnb offer host-guarantee cover which provides £600,000 protection but won’t cover small damages and breakages incurred by guests. We recommend that home owners take out Short-Let insurance to protect themselves and their home - some home insurers offer an ‘add on’ package to existing policies or alternatively there are a number of reliable independent short-let insurance companies.

The programme featured one very unfortunate case in Canada where some hosts accepted a booking. The night the guests arrived they were phoned by neighbours who informed them that a huge party was in full swing at their home. The guests incurred as much as £50,000 damage. This is thankfully an extreme case certainly the worst we have ever heard of by a mile! Airbnb paid for all of the refurbishments to the property and furthermore paid for the family to stay elsewhere while they did the works. That said, if you want to protect yourself from broken mugs or an accidental muddy carpet - get yourself some short-let insurance. Better safe than sorry!

Airbnb - a faceless company?

A number of the hosts interviewed expressed dissatisfaction with communication/contact/response from Airbnb. Companies like Airbnb that operate primarily online do have technical support and customer services departments that are contactable via e-mail and online, through the Resolution Centre but they are more difficult to reach, because they are just a platform. Working with an online booking platform offers numerous benefits - ease, organisation and low cost to name a few - but we understand the importance of having someone to deal with things on the ground, which is exactly what our team does. The Air Agents operate both online and offline (we’re sort of the ‘on the ground’ managers). Due to our wealth of experience having managed hundred of guest bookings, our team understands that when issues arise there is a need to persevere until the issue is resolved. We also know that our hosts are busy individuals who don’t always have the time to do this, so with our expertise we act as a bridge for communication between Airbnb and our property owners, reflecting one of the many key benefits of working with The Air Agents; step by step we are there for you.

Does Brexit mean disaster for London tourism?

While the feeling of ‘Bregret’ seems for us and many inevitable, now is the time for coming together to encourage constructive conversation and decisions for the reality of a Britain outside of the EU. Here at The Air Agents we strongly believe that London will remain a travel hub that attracts people from far and wide for the richness of its culture as well as the global connections and business opportunities it offers.

We believe that the 60% of Londoners who voted to remain speaks to the cosmopolitanism, diversity and multiculturalism that not only makes London a wonderful and unique city but is indeed celebrated by the vast majority who call it home. Tourism is a huge contributor to the UK economy raising £22 billion in 2015. And with half of that figure being spent in London, tourism makes a crucial contribution to the growth of smaller and emerging businesses here. This boost to our local business is further enhanced by the increasing number of people opting for short-stay accommodation in one of the properties we manage across the city’s 32 boroughs. 

An incredible 18.6 million people visited London last year - a figure up by 23% since 2009 - and according to figures released by Visit Britain, 72% of those visits are for between 1 and 7 nights. Indeed short-stay accommodation has made the capital more accessible and attractive to many people here on city breaks, family holidays and business trips - whether in terms of a more local, personal or more cost-effective experience. And while the weakening of the Sterling will unfortunately have a negative affect on some UK businesses (particularly those importing from EU countries) it will strengthen the purchasing power of tourists travelling to London, especially in the near future while the currency stabilises.

The government has rightly viewed the increase in short-lets as a positive for our communities and local businesses and in light of Brexit we urge them to continue to support these ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ who need the governments pro-business, pro-sharing economy stance to continue, now more than ever.

As the dust begins to settle and we experience the inevitable ups and downs in the months ahead, we will continue to fulfil our role both in encouraging the entrepreneurship of the property hosts we represent and their contribution to the sharing economy. And just as importantly continue to extend a warm welcome to visitors from all over the world who come to explore, experience and enjoy this great city we call home.

21,000 empty homes during a housing crisis... a unique London problem with a modern solution?

You may have read the recent article in the Evening Standard regarding the unbelievable number of empty homes in London; figures show that more than 21,000 homes, including those privately owned have been empty for over 6 months. This represents almost £12.4 billion worth of housing and according to Dan Ganesha, property expert at crowdfunding platform Property Partner, is a “shocking waste of opportunity and nothing short of a scandal”.

The sheer volume of under-utilised housing in the capital indicates the problem is not just limited to all those Kensington penthouses that have been bought up by oil tycoons. Numerous other factors seem to be at work here and as Sadiq Khan outlines his goals during his term stating “The key thing for me is to tackle the housing crisis”, we think a very modern trend can be harnessed to provide more homes for professional Londoners -

At The Air Agents we believe there is an opportunity to use the principles of the sharing economy to pioneer a completely new approach to help ease the crisis. We all know that many Londoners are opening up their homes to tourists for short term holiday lets via platforms like Airbnb. Well imagine if that brilliant idea was applied to hundreds of empty London homes via a government backed website that allowed people with empty properties to source professional UK based tenants for 3-12 month periods? A ‘domestic Airbnb for UK based workers’ if you will.

Property owners would not have to lock themselves into a long term tenancy agreement and would have complete flexibility in determining exactly what dates are available for letting. They could access a government approved tenancy agreement via the platform, (amending it as per necessary) and of course stipulate what type of tenants would be considered. To use the service, potential tenants would require a verified ID (just like Airbnb guests today) and would gain access to an easy-to-use database of potentially thousands of properties, not currently available in the lettings market. Furthermore they would be able to quickly and efficiently see what was available and at what price in their chosen area.

As a company with plenty of experience in short term lets, we at The Air Agents know how flexible the model can be. Whilst we predominantly deal with holiday-makers, previous guests have been as diverse as contract workers requiring accommodation for a few weeks, to a family in zone 4 needing a place to live for a few months whilst their home was being renovated. The point being that new technology opens up new possibilities, bringing with it the chance to make under utilised space available for renters at a time when young Londoners need it the most!

Sadiq Khan listed this issue as the main priority in his manifesto. We say it’s time to explore this new avenue to help deliver on this promise.

Airbnb host? Expert tips to earn more 5-star reviews!

John Lewis have launched their £925 Airbnb host pack, is this really necessary?

There are many ways of defining a ‘craze’. But when John Lewis starts selling an ‘Airbnb starter kit’ for £925, we’d say that's a pretty good indication London is in the midst of a holiday lettings frenzy.

Yes Airbnb is here to stay. Londoners are waking up to the opportunity of being able to pay for your holiday whilst actually being on it.. a neat idea for sure but for every person you hear who's making a killing, there are many more looking at their empty inbox wondering what all the fuss was about.

But fear not there is no need to fork out a grand to put you ahead of the pack! Our insatiable appetite for 5* reviews has taught us a few things about hosting and we want to share these with you. Just follow our 6 hot tips for Airbnb hosts and you'll be checking-in smiley German tourists in no time at all.

  • Photos - Absolutely key. Consider getting a professional to take them or at the very least a friend with a tripod and decent camera. Choose a sunny day and remove all clutter from sight
  • Linen - A comfy mattress and good linen are also a must. Aim for at least 250 thread count and use a laundrette to properly wash sheets on a high temperature. Always choose white linen and iron (or better yet press) those sheets
  • Kitsch - Get yourself some union jack pillows, colourful bed throws, pictures of red phone boxes and such like. Ok, for us locals this stuff is pretty cheesy but it really can make all the difference as guests choose somewhere to book. These can all be bought for minimal expense - sorry John Lewis but £925 is rather on the steep side!
  • Advice - You can't beat a bit of local knowledge. Tourists love the idea of ‘living like a local’ but ending up in Pret for lunch probably won't make memories that last a lifetime. Tell them about your favourite backstreet boozer or corner cafe and their stay will be made extra special
  • Treats - Welcome chocs (or champagne if you want to go big!), morning croissants, fresh milk. A simple, inexpensive way to butter up those guests
  • Reviews - Apply the rule ‘dont ask, dont get’, theres nothing wrong with asking for a good write up especially if you’ve made a big effort and really deserve it.

Following these simple tips should get all you aspiring hosts off to a good start. However if the extra money sounds appealing but all the hassle does not, you can always get a specialist property manager to take care of everything for you!

Is virtual reality going to rock the property world?

So there’s been a lot of talk around virtual reality recently with the likes of Zuckerburg and many large tech players investing heavily into it. So is it a fad like the mini disk or is it here to stay like the iPhone? And how could it affect the sharing economy and property investment? Here’s our take...

VR is likely to play a part in many people’s homes in 2017 and there’s been lots of speculation as to how. The technology obviously has many applications in the gaming industry, but there’s also been talk of ‘virtually’ going to concerts, travelling to exotic places and being in the films you watch - however we’re most excited about the ways it could impact the sharing economy and property investment.

When booking holiday accommodation potential guests could walk around the property they’re considering. If they’re sharing a flat with the host, imagine being able to have a chat with the host at the property itself. If you are a host, imagine being able to vet your guest in person, instead of via email. These things will help alleviate guests concerns about using holiday letting sites like Airbnb as well as ease concerns from hosts contemplating putting their home on these platforms.

For property investment, imagine being able to attend 20 initial viewings in an hour without even having to get into the car. Eventually you’ll still want to physically go to the property, but you could sort out the wheat from the chaff very quickly and from the comfort of your living room. As the world continually gets smaller with people increasingly living and investing their money further away from their town of birth, this could revolutionise the market opening up all sorts of exciting possibilities. I’ve got a property up North which is rented out and if I could have spent a few less rainy Saturdays in Salford, I would have! If estate agents added this functionality to their offering they could be far more efficient in many aspects of their business


So, ultimately we’re excited about the virtual reality revolution and we want to use it in our business as soon as possible -  we just need the likes of Airbnb and Homeaway to embrace it and we’ll make sure our properties are ready

So where CAN I afford to buy in London?

You’re a Londoner with a job and aspirations to actually own a place to live instead of paying somebody else a fortune every month?

Well you’re not the only one… this weeks blog looks at where is left to live in the capital that is actually affordable and (how to put it delicately?)... somewhere you’d actually want to live.

We examined one and two bed average house prices in the 127 London postcodes, looking at areas where you can pick something up for under 300k, 250k and finally 200k.

Whilst there’s no shortage of areas restricted to your made-in-Chelsea-daddy-bought-me-a-penthouse types, the ‘good’ news is that there are a full 39 postcodes averaging under 300k for a 1BD coming down to 14 for properties under 250k and even two areas costing less than 200k….. thanks BR4 and BR7! (wherever that is..)

On the 2BD side it's predictably rather bleak out there, that said there are still six areas where you can get your foot on the ladder for under 300k. But before you decide all hope is lost and move to the Shetland Islands, remember the data is an average sample so it's entirely possible you’ll find a 2BD within your budget somewhere not listed below; but if that's in South Ken best double check it's got a roof before you buy it.

See below for the full results and our top picks of areas you might consider living; taking into account commuting distance to central London, nice local pubs and restaurants, community feel and our arbitrary take on where would be good to live based on talking to people in pubs..

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* Data taken from www.londonpropertywatch.co.uk, sample is an average of prices from the 11k properties listed on their site

* The Air Agents recommend readers do their own research on the areas listed and are not responsible for the accuracy of the data

 

The Air Agents are here to help Londoners make money from their property via short term lets. We will list your place on sites like Airbnb and take care of everything from vetting guests and key exchange, to arranging cleaners and supplying linen. Contact us today for a free assessment of how much you could make

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The Economist - we’re questioning your integrity!

We’ve been talking about writing a London property blog and have written a couple of really useful pieces that we were almost ready to publish, but today, getting a plane back from Dublin, reading The Economistand in particular this article here ‘Build them and they will come’ (economist.com) - I knew we had to set the record straight..

With their industry under threat the behemoths of the hotel industry are spreading negative PR and using their influence to attempt to damage and undermine the ever growing sharing economy. Londoners I implore you not to listen to this nonsense; there is enormous demand from overseas visitors wanting to rent holiday homes in the capital and YOU can profit from the sharing economy.

As a business that provides property management for short-term lets, we have first hand experience of what's happening on the ground - we are having property owners approach us each week to sign up as clients and we’re filling their properties every day with tourist families, couples and business travellers. Both supply and demand are booming as smart Londoners realise there is a great opportunity to generate an extra income or at the very least help pay for their next holiday whilst they are away.

There has been a lot of pressure on the sharing economy of late, with the House of Lords suddenly taking an interest and a flurry of negative stories coming out, it doesn't take a genius to work out that the extremely well connected hotel chains are influencing this wave of negativity. If I'd just built a £50 million hotel in London, maybe I’d be doing the same; but have The Economist forgotten that the sharing economy is a benefit to ‘the people’ and it's better to help ‘the people’ rather than topping up Paris Hilton’s trust (vodka) fund?

Whilst the article refers to “apps that allow people to rent out their spare rooms to.. budget-conscious holidaymakers” nowhere is there any mention of entire house/apartment rentals which, for example account for 53% of all listings on Airbnb (insideairbnb.com). It is precisely these type of rentals that hotel owners are fearful of as they are the most attractive to their mass market customer base i.e. the tourist families, couples and business travellers we mentioned earlier who would prefer to rent an entire property and ‘live like a local’ instead of living out of a suitcase in another hotel room.

Take for example the distribution of Airbnb listings across London here (airdna.co), clearly shows the huge variety of areas in which you can rent anything from an entire detached house to a private room; From Barnet to Merton, Lewisham to Lambeth we see people embracing the sharing economy and using these platforms to generate an additional income - and when you are living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, we for one would applaud that.

Indeed over 60% of Airbnb profiles are single listings i.e. in which the host is advertising just a single room or one property (Source: insideairbnb.com), which indicates many regular Londoners are getting switched on to the possibilities of using these platforms.

The Economist we know there is always going to be a demand for central London and zone 1, but its missing the point to suggest that with around 18 million international visitors expected in 2016, the collective desire of those people revolves around being within a stone's throw of Big Ben and watching the Changing of the Guard. People come to our great city for all sorts of reasons, with a multitude of agendas and tastes that are not necessarily catered for by a new Ibis in Piccadilly or £400/night boutique hotel in Knightsbridge!

As for the supposed slowdown in rooms for rent on Airbnb, hoteliers should take note of PwC UK Hotels leader Samantha Ward, who said in a recent speech that in 2015 hotel numbers would have grown by 5 per cent while Airbnb would have exploded 100 per cent. She went on to say "Given it (Airbnb) is such a young supply it's huge in comparison" (meetpie.com). Considering there are roughly 30,000 rooms available via Airbnb in London (up from precisely zero just a few years ago) and notwithstanding the stock on massive sites like Homeaway and Tripadvisor, it is no wonder the hotel industry is running scared... unfortunately this seems to have resulted in this respectable magazine publishing an article about ‘Why the room-booking app has had so little impact in the capital’. Well that is simply not true.

So Londoners, please don't listen to the negativity, speak to people around you and feel the buzz for yourself. The Economist, if you want to write a balanced article about the sharing economy give us a call after you speak to Mr Hilton and Mr Marriott next time!

Rant over - next blog post will be about first time buying in London, so please come back - you should find it useful.