Selecting an Airbnb or any accommodation in Europe can be stressful and overwhelming to non-Europeans. Furthermore, Airbnb’s model makes it difficult for travelers to write honest reviews. More on this in a bit.
This post is written from the perspective of an American. America is a big country with a lot of space. A country where homes have entire separate rooms for washing machines and the typical mattress is as big as an average European bedroom. Properties are designed differently – sometimes drastically different – than in Europe.
This post will walk you through what to look for in Airbnb listings so that you can minimize the number of surprises you’ll encounter when you arrive at your chosen accommodation.
1) Setup an Airbnb wishlist
Set your Airbnb search filters (location, price range, wifi selection, smoking, etc.) and start scanning listings based only on property photos.
As you find listings that you think may fit your needs, add them to your wishlist and continue your search.
Stop searching once you’ve acquired about 10 listings on your wishlist. Any more than 10 listings will be too overwhelming to sift through on a second pass.
2) Review the overall property rating
The overall property rating is extremely deceiving.
The majority of reviews for any listing on Airbnb are going to be positive and that’s because no one wants to be mean. Airbnb reviews work two ways – the guest writes a review of the listing and the listing owner/manager writes a review of the guest.
I’ve scanned hundreds of Airbnb listings and I’ve never seen a listing with an overall rating that is less than FOUR stars. Not every Airbnb experience is magical and we know that low-rating listings exist, yet we never see them on the site.
In turn, this leads to a two-star rating scale (not a five-star scale) on Airbnb. The overall rating for listings on Airbnb ranges between four and five stars. That’s not a lot of wiggle room.
Why are there no listings with less than four stars?
First, as mentioned above, it’s personal. Guests meet listing owners/managers and it’s very difficult to write a negative review when you’ve forged a personal relationship with someone and you’ve stayed at their listing, asked them for assistance, etc.
Second, it’s survival of the fittest. Let’s imagine and say a listing actually does receive negative reviews or even reviews that are less than 4-stars.
The competition is so fierce that these listings simply will not withstand the test of time. They will get pushed to the very bottom of the inventory list, have less-and-less bookings, and eventually disappear from the site entirely.
Third, there’s secret review feedback. During the review process, there is a field where the guest can write feedback that will be sent to Airbnb. This feedback is not seen by the listing owner/manager. Additionally, the guest can flag the property as recommended or not.
I have used both the secret feedback and the recommendation flag features to let Airbnb know that a listing is not what it seems and should be removed from the site. In both instances, Airbnb did nothing. They did not even respond to me. In fact, one of the listings is still available to rent as of August 2021.
Secret feedback and the recommendation flag should ultimately kill bad listings, and maybe it does when enough guests have the courage to use these features.
On the surface, a 4-star listing sounds pretty good but once you understand that Airbnb only has listings with overall ratings between four and five stars, then you realize that 4-star listings are the worst listings on the site.
I recommend omitting all listings from your wishlist that do not have an overall rating of 5-stars.
3) Review the host’s bio
Every listing has a host. Every host has a bio. Read that bio.
To access the host’s bio, click on their profile photo in the listing. This will take you to the section of the listing that gives a summary of the host, like if their identity has been verified, how many reviews they have, and what their average response time is.
From that section, click on the profile photo again. This will take you to a separate page that lists the host’s bio in detail like where they live, their listings, and their full reviews written by guests and other hosts.
A few things to consider when reading the host’s bio.
- Did the host take a minute to upload a profile photo? Is that photo of a human or an object?
- Did the host take a few minutes to write something about themselves? Something personal? Something that would clue you in that they are a host that cares about their property? The more time a host takes to build-out their bio usually carries over to the amount of time they spend caring for their listing and guests.
- Is the host a “superhost”? Hosts are nominated to be superhosts by their guests. This is a badge of honor and I can attest that there is a different between hosts and superhosts.
- Has the host’s identity been verified by Airbnb? I’ve never come across an unverified host bio, however, be smart about where you stay. Don’t book a listing that has an unverified host.
4) Review cleanliness and communication ratings
Review the individual category ratings like cleanliness and communication.
A listing that has less than 5-stars for cleanliness is, realistically, a listing that should have 2-stars for cleanliness. I have experienced this on multiple occasions.
Remember, guests are primarily writing positive reviews so as to not hurt the host’s business.
And I’m not referring to a little bit of dust or an odd fork that’s not clean. I’m talking about filthy bathrooms, hair on the floor, dirty counters, bleached towels, and floors that have not been swept.
I recommend removing all listings from your wishlist that have less than a 5-star rating for cleanliness.
The same goes with communication but this is somewhat dependent on your personality and your expectations of hosts. I expect hosts to respond to my questions and provide clear check-in and check-out procedures. In my experience, listings that have had less than a 5-star rating for communication have been problematic.
5) Read the reviews
Spend the time to read the 20 most recent reviews of every listing on your wishlist. Keep in mind my comment about guests not wanting to be mean and only writing positive things about their experience. Take everything with a grain of salt and read between the lines.
Guests tend to camouflage serious problems with lighthearted commentary or will mention something negative and then immediately offer an excuse or a solution to the problem.
In my two examples below, let’s assume the area surrounding the listing is loud due to nightlife and/or a busy street.
Example 1: “There was a bit of noise by drunk revelers passing by but it didn’t affect us because we were just as tipsy.”
Example 2: “There was some traffic noise from the main road but it’s nothing a pair of earplugs couldn’t fix.”
First, I don’t know of any earplugs that actually drown out noise. I hate it when people say that earplugs “did the trick.”
Second, what the two examples really mean is that if you are a light sleeper and/or someone who will not be “getting tipsy”, then the area surrounding the listing is very noisy and you probably will not sleep.
As a general rule, anytime noise, water pressure, or faulty air conditioning are mentioned, remove the listing from your wishlist. These are major problems and are serious enough for the guest to warn future guests by writing about them in a public review.
6) Examine photos for hidden clues
For the remaining listings on your wishlist, examine the photos with a detailed eye. Take out a magnifying glass is needed. Channel your inner detective.
Here are a few general questions to ask yourself.
- What size is the bed?
- Are there matching sheets and pillow cases?
- Is the bed against a wall? (usually indicates a very small room)
- Is there a shower or only a bathtub with handheld sprayer?
- If there is a shower, where is the shower head mounted? (good info for tall people)
- Does the shower tile and/or glass look grubby/dirty?
- Is there an oven? (many shorterm rentals in Europe do not have ovens)
- What types of kitchen utensils are on the counter or shelves?
- Are there knives? A kettle? Glassware? Etc.
- Is there a fridge/freezer large enough for your cooking needs?
- Is there ample counter space in the bathroom? How about in the kitchen?
- Is there a table or desk to work at? (if planning on working during your stay)
7) Examine the amenities
Based on the length of your stay and the purpose of your trip, you may need specific amenities like a washing machine. Review the list of amenities in the listing and make sure the listing has what you need.
Here are a few other things to consider when choosing an Airbnb listing.
- If you plan to cook food that requires a spatula (i.e. eggs), bring your own. It’s rare for listings to have spatulas in Europe.
- Corkscrews are usually available but they don’t take up much space or weight, so probably best to bring one just in case.
- Voltage for electronics varies by country. European countries range from 220-240. All of these are greater than the voltage in North America. Check the tag on the cord of your electronic devices and ensure it has a max limit of 240v.
- Verify the plug type of your destination and bring plug adapters when necessary.