I’m buying a boat. Good lord, no: it’s not a super yacht; it’s a 31ft long, 6ft wide canal boat that’s going to double as an office/shed/storage space/weekend getaway for our expanding family. I was sceptical at first. There were more questions raised than answered. But they all disappeared when my husband, Ben, rolled out the clincher: “And when we’re not using it, we can rent it out on Airbnb!” Sold.
For the record, I am not rolling in it. We live in central London in a 500 sq ft ex-council flat. We both work from home, which means we have an irregular rota to decide who gets the (fold-down) table, and who works from the sofa. When one of us takes a phone call, the other has to leave to get work done. As an occupational environment, it’s not ideal.
I originally bought it for me and the cat, so when two dogs and a tall man moved in, it became a much more cosy – but still equally delightful – proposition. We siphoned our stuff to a storage unit around the corner at a cost of £250 a month, and started looking for office space. Three years and another, much smaller mouth to feed later, we’re still searching. And when we did the costing of the boat, we discovered the flat fee, insurance, security and licences would cost less than renting a 20 sq metre unserviced office for two within 40 minutes’ walk of our home. Subtract from that the potential income the boat could generate via the property-sharing site, and we were convinced.
I’m not an Airbnb rookie. My place has been listed since 2012, when Ben and I started doing longer work trips abroad. Our first assignment was to the US, where I was researching a book for six months. Into our teeny house we welcomed four guests for between one- and three-month stays, and they had the run of it, complete with all my precious kitchenware, the larder of spices, the board games, the Sonos music system and the library of books that we couldn’t bring with us. Their bums were on my sofa, their heads were in my bed, their clothes were in my drawers. We hid the silverware and hoped our boat-inspired interior wouldn’t give up our hiding holes.
The experiment was lucrative: it paid for the Airbnb property we rented that winter in Venice Beach, plus all the granny flats, Airstreams (travel trailers) and spare rooms we Airbnb’d at weekends as we toured up and down the California coast.
There were a few hiccups as we got used to being landlords abroad. The eight-hour time difference made emergencies a 24-hour potential distraction. Getting keys to our tenants required gentle exploitation of friends who worked or lived locally. The cleaner I employed to shine the place up between guests couldn’t get through a snowstorm to put the pieces together after a pair who had departed leaving a mess, so my host ratings went south for a little while. But overall, it was a good experience that allowed us a lifestyle we’d not have had if the site didn’t exist; it took away most of the donkey work and the fees they charged were much more reasonable than a letting agent on the high street.
The following year, we were away for eight months – Ben was offered a post-doctoral fellowship in Italy and, when that finished, we moved to Paris because it was cheaper to rent an Airbnb property in the 20th arrondissement and commute to London once a week via Eurostar than it was to rent a flat in as good a location as our place in the UK.
We upped our game for this stint, raising prices, arranging key-wrangling with our local baker who welcomed each new guest with coffee and pastries covered by the kitty we left behind the till, and paying our cleaner to come every fortnight to tidy and to keep an eye on the place. Our neighbours were informed, and also provided on-location eyeballs.
Although there were a few stressful moments – one couple were unhappy in the location and left three weeks early – we managed to cover ourselves by booking in-betweener short-term guests. Ultimately, we made enough to cover our Airbnb accommodations in Italy and France and to pay for our wedding. So of course we’re buying a boat. We need the space for ourselves, and for the rare occasions when we’re not using it, we’ll put it up on Airbnb and be quids-in in dog food and nappies. If we’re lucky, the boat will pay for itself. That’s the sharing economy, right?
Well, not really. Listing a bed is much more complicated than it used to be, and this goes beyond getting a hotel licence, gas and electricity certificates and paying tax on rental income (for the record, HMRC, I do). The so-called sharing economy is a misnomer. Since it was coined in the mid-2000s, the sharing part has been thoroughly exploited, and, as in a recent case involving an Airbnb property and a squatter in California, free-riders ride again. Instead of pooling resources for the common good, we’re back to working for our own self-interest, sweating our assets and making bucks for us. Keeping it in the family.
The first mistake of the movement was making Airbnb its poster child. It is not – nor has it ever been – about sharing. It’s barely about collaborating. It’s about profiteering from the capital people already have. Sure, it’s better to have someone occupy an existing room rather than building a new one, but it’s playing a factor in propping up property prices. Airbnb works to the strengths of the online environment: direct access between the person who has something someone else wants. It is the peer-to-peer business model of the 21st century in action.
In the early days, people listed their homes because they believed in the ethos behind the site: make it available when you’re away, and let a visitor live like a local. The connections made between host and guest were human, intangible, palpable. I’m still in touch with some of the people who stayed in my teeny flat, and the thoughtful gifts left by others are on my shelf. And Airbnb exploited that human feature. When it was a relatively small site with a community of like-minded others who were looking for interesting things to see and do when away from home, it worked.
As with most disruptive movements, the fallout is mostly in the gap between the original system and the new one. In the case of Airbnb, it’s facilitating the buy-to-let marketplace, and lets people like me – who have the assets to sweat – make a profit to cover the cost of more assets, which can then be priced accordingly to cover their own bricks and mortar (or, in my case, fuel and waterproof blacking). Functionally, Airbnb is now no different from any other vacation rental website: property owners simply see the site as a popular vehicle to get eyeballs on their stock. Its spin, though, is that it provides “authenticity”. The problem is, it doesn’t. The property site used to be a matchmaking service for people who might make connections and discover affinities; now it’s a place where property owners can fill their empty beds. When I was living in LA and Florence, the Airbnb properties I stayed in were shells with no personality and cheap filler furniture. This shift is particularly obvious in destination towns such as London. According to research conducted by the Guardian in June 2014, more than 1,500 hosts in London have more than one property, and 180 have more than five. The result? Just Another Property Site. Bye, bye community.
As a host, I’ve noticed the effects of this too. It comes out plainly on host message boards, where listers can hear about pop-up events, bake sales, the best way to solve problems and tips and tricks for making guests feel at home.
But I’ve started to see ominous thread titles such as: “Which nationalities do you refuse to host?” on the boards. These are some of the most popular conversations, with people from around the world weighing in with distinctly anti-North and South American sentiments. A recent study from Harvard titled “Digital Discrimination: the case of Airbnb” found that black hosts on average must charge an average of 12% less to book guests than their white counterparts who list equally desirable properties.
I still have authentic experiences using the site, but they’re increasingly rare. Earlier this year, I stayed in a remodelled gypsy caravan in the garden of the owner’s home while making my way back to the UK via Burgundy. I had the run of my host’s kitchen, and hung out with her chickens. I brought olive oil and Parmesan from Italy, and she invited us to her boyfriend’s house in the next village for wine and nibbles. Last Christmas, I rented an Airbnb with my family in San Diego. We stayed in what was very clearly someone’s home, and it was lovely. It made me want to treat it with respect. That’s why, when I do rent out my place, I don’t hide my furniture or books.
The decision to buy a boat is absolutely related to the success I’ve had on Airbnb. But it’s not the primary reason for buying it. We need a bit more room, and financially, it makes sense. It’s a bonus if we can share stories with strangers along the way.
If you are looking to:
1. Take a static caravan to a park abroad
2. Renovate a property abroad and need temporary accommodation
3. Import static caravans as a trade customer to a foreign country
Then look no further as we can help!
DO YOU WANT TO INCREASE YOUR CARAVAN STOCK?
As one of the UK’s largest stockists of static caravans, we are sure to have a static caravan to suit your needs. Whether you are after 1 static caravan or 100, we can assist. We have a huge customer base, links to Holland, Cyprus, Ireland, Spain and even Australia! We export static caravans abroad on a weekly basis.
ARE YOU A TRADE CUSTOMER WANTING CARAVANS ABROAD?
The majority of our export customers purchase our static caravans over the telephone or via email. Each one is described accurately. Our customers are always extremely happy when their purchase arrives. Each of our mobile homes goes through a thorough inspection and is valeted inside and outside before they are shipped. The customer buying for re-sale can do so without any delay. We are proud of our extremely high standards. This is one of the reasons our trade customers keep coming back to us.
WIDE RANGE OF CARAVANS FOR SALE
We sell to the caravan trade within the UK and overseas. Our trade base has grown dramatically over the last few years and seems to be getting bigger each year. This we mainly ascribe to the amount of stock we hold all year round and the condition of the static caravans we sell. Most customers like the fact they can pick up the phone and ask for a particular static caravan safe in the knowledge that we can almost always supply it!
DO YOU NEED HELP FROM THE CARAVAN EXPERTS?
We can advise/help arrange the shipping of the mobile homes. We deliver to any UK port. You will find us one of the most competitive sellers of caravans for export in the UK. Also, we offer a fast and secure delivery service.
If you require further information, please contact us. We are looking forward to your call!
01646 699 000 or email Hayley@coasttocoastcaravans.com