This post is about my experience dealing with both AirBNB.com and VRBO.com. Given I have 2 very different kind of rentals, I want to share my experience for your information.
[SUMMARY] VRBO exceeds expectations for true vacation rentals in my experience, hands down. AirBNB exceeds for corporate short term rentals in my experience, period. Both attract people wanting a lower price that what is posted, and both have varying features you may find important when making your decisions.
Where my limited supply of 2 rentals are not enough for a statistical conclusion, my experience varied widely between my 2 different condos, one in an urban area of Chicago, and one in a peaceful oceanfront community in the Treasure Coast of Florida. The differences are so vast I thought I would share.
I advertised both properties on both platforms, with the requisite A/B testing. I began my testing prior to them either being ready or prior to the “season” in order to prove there was a demand for short term rentals.
I received responses early in the spring, especially for medical students on rotation, people coming in for a show at McCormick Place, Graduations, Weddings and the like. Since VRBO takes such a hefty commission, and encourages you to buy into their subscription service, I signed up temporarily. For various reasons I chose to cancel that subscription as I felt it was too high compared to the AirBNB commissions. In addition, AirBNB collected and paid the local taxes for me. That is something I probably would have let fall through the cracks, out of laziness. So I was thankful AirBNB would keep me honest.
At the same time, others spoke to me of their experiences, saying that AirBNB brought the craigslist mentality – always asking for a better deal. However, I didn’t find that to be totally true.
Treasure Coast, Florida
The particular HOA for this condo allowed for 2 month rentals, once per year. If you don’t already know, the HOA laws in Florida tend to favor the Association. This is important to know in case there is a misunderstanding of your intentions.
I advertised on both platforms, with most of the inquiries coming from VRBO. Even though I still wasn’t ready to commit to the VRBO subscription, it may have been more beneficial had I subscribed. I suspect VRBO’s commissions will be higher than had I subscribed with them.
There were many VRBO inquiries that didn’t fit the personality of the complex, or couldn’t commit to the length required, so I had to turn many away. I ended up getting a rather upsetting message from VRBO that my account was at risk of being closed, mainly because I had to turn so many away. I’m not fond of “bully marketing”. However they said I could restore my good standing by, you guessed it, subscribing to their service!
HOWEVER, I was getting ZERO inquiries from AirBNB. None, zippo, zero.
I played with the settings, looked at my listing from a competitive standpoint, even to the point where I changed the minimum stay as 2 days, knowing the HOA required a 2 month minimum lease, just to solicit some interest and discussion.
Don’t do what I did
I forgot about the AirBNB listing that was left at 2 days minimum stay. Somehow the HOA found that listing and assumed I was renting it to transients. Without asking me, which I will never understand, they chose to get their attorney involved with a Cease and Desist letter. A little overkill I thought, but this is Florida and I’ve heard many stories of abuse of power by HOA boards in Florida. In fact, it makes me feel even better about the win with the battle I had with my Tax Deed Purchase in Daytona Beach.
Just to follow up on what happened with that purchase, the HOA demanded I pay the previous owners arrears, which had accumulated to over $30k. Luckily my attorney quashed that issue in pretty short order, the rest of the time was spent bickering over them paying my attorney fees, which they did. Now that I know more about the entitlement attitude of the HOA Boards I should have celebrated that win more.
Sorry, but I digress.
There are a few other issues that make a big difference: AirBNB pays on check-in, VRBO waits a while. VRBO offers insurance on damages (or will collect a deposit), yet AirBNB offers a host liability insurance.
If I still own the Florida condo next year, I will most likely register for the VRBO subscription service and ignorethe AirBNB option. However, I plan to keep the AirBNB service for the Chicago condo (pictured here) which is currently available on a month to month basis.
Should I get another property with the idea of short term rentals, I will probably perform the same tests. However, I will be a little wiser if an HOA is involved, especially if in Florida.