You’ve already pictured the scene, and it starts with the casual swing of an arm next to your prized porcelain vase, an animated gesture while setting down a glass of red wine, a too-vigorous pull on the blind cord. You know the nuances of your home like nobody else – so can you trust a stranger to rent it without causing damage?
Many can’t, as the findings of new research reveal. In a survey of more than 400 members of the UK public, almost half (46.5%) named damage to their property as the primary concern when it comes to renting their home, or rooms within it, on Airbnb.
And this particular worry stands far higher than other perceived risks involved with passing on your keys, which include not receiving payment (20.9%), squatting in your home (14.9%), noise complaints (9.4%) and other complaints from neighbours (7.6%). So, if you’ve decided against opening your home to guests through the site for any of these reasons, you’re not alone.
The sharing boom
The findings of the poll, conducted by Airbnb host insurance provider InLet, come as the sharing economy – services that see people ‘sharing’ their assets, typically for a fee, via the internet – experiences remarkable growth. In fact, research by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests the UK’s sharing economy, which includes platforms like Uber and JustPark, has grown the fastest in Europe, with transactions doubling to £7.4bn from 2014 to 2015. And the trend shows no signs of slowing: the report projects 30% per year growth over the next decade and transactions reaching £140bn by 2025.
The good news for the UK public is that a large proportion, in theory at least, could take a slice of the pie. For example, recent figures show the average two-bedroom property in London brings in £106 per night (excluding cleaning fee) through Airbnb. And a study by the site itself revealed that 63% of UK hosts said the income they receive through renting out their home helps them cover bills they would otherwise struggle to pay.
Yet there is still a large number of boroughs in the capital, and areas across the UK more widely, that remain relatively untapped on the platform. Could this be down to the fears our survey exposed?
Breaking down our data into demographic groups, we picked up slight variations in what the biggest risks were perceived to be. For example, the findings suggested women are more concerned about damage to property (56%) than men (44%), who appeared to be more wary of not receiving payment (57.8%).
The top worries voiced by different age groups also varied; from neighbours’ complaints among 18- to 24-year-olds to non-payment among 25 to 34s, to property damage for the 35 to 44 group. But for prospective hosts aged 45 and over, concerns were more focused around noise complaints and squatters.
With around 168,000 active Airbnb listings in the UK – a relatively small fraction of the population as a whole – you might be unfamiliar with how renting your property through the platform works. Doesn’t it offer financial protection against damage by your guests?
Well, yes – you can add a security deposit when advertising your home, just as a landlord would for a long-term rental. According to Airbnb, you can choose an amount between US$100 (around £74) and $5,000 (around £3,688) and claim on the deposit within 14 days of your guest(s) checking out if they had caused any damage to your property.
Although the policy is designed to offer peace of mind to hosts, there are two obvious drawbacks, namely: the risk of putting prospective guests off renting your home or rooms in the first place due to the total listing cost (which requires upfront payment) being inflated by a high security deposit; and what happens in the event that the cost of replacing or fixing the damaged item exceeds the amount you can claim on your security deposit.
The first concern is one that a number of existing hosts appear to have encountered, with some claiming that the cost of replacing or repairing damage is far smaller than the revenue they feel they’re losing out on by demanding a large deposit, and others stating they’ve removed their deposit as a result. And to address the latter issue of more substantial damage that potentially costs more than the deposit amount, Airbnb has in place a ‘host guarantee’. According to the site, this “provides protection for up to $1,000,000 [£600,000] to a host for damages to covered property in the rare event of guest damages above the security deposit or if no security deposit is in place”.
However, there are question marks around how much protection this actually offers hosts, and indeed whether it’s enough. For example, while £600,000 sounds like a large amount, in fact it is the total ‘pot’ for all Airbnb hosts worldwide, meaning it’s highly possible any serious damage to your property will not be covered. In addition, the fund does not cover damage to communal areas or lost and stolen keys, which means you would have to pay for replacement locks out of your own pocket.
Silencing the scaremongers
Clearly, to feel truly reassured hosts, and those thinking about renting out their home, need access to proper insurance cover that protects them against all eventualities. And there’s no shortage of horror stories from hosts for whom substantial, sometimes criminal, damage has not been covered and who are locked into lengthy disputes with Airbnb to claw back even small amounts of compensation. It’s enough to put off even the most seasoned hosts.
compensation. It’s enough to put off even the most seasoned hosts. Surprisingly, many of the big insurance providers are proving slow to catch up with the boom in the sharing market, meaning Airbnb host cover still isn’t offered under the majority of home insurance policies. However, the recent emergence of bespoke cover that can be added onto an existing policy, for as little time as is required and at low cost, appears to be changing the landscape of the sharing economy and giving many more people the opportunity to embrace it.
At a time of undeniable uncertainty for the UK economy, the Airbnb community reportedly generates £502m in economic activity, supporting more than 11,000 jobs and helping residents to meet the increasingly high cost of living. Although you may share some of the valid concerns raised by our survey, with the cushion of proper cover hosting is starting to lose its scare and encourage many more to open up their homes.