Four Stars for Peeling Paint and Broken Doors? What’s Behind High Airbnb Ratings
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Four Stars for Peeling Paint and Broken Doors? What’s Behind High Airbnb Ratings

With a jump in rental properties on Airbnb, hosts care more than ever about their ratings, and some guests feel pressure to give positive reviews

Fri, Feb 24, 2023 8:35amGrey Clock 6 min

Airbnb properties have a grading problem, hosts and guests say: Most U.S. rentals earn near the top rating of five stars.

Hosts are facing more competition for bookings because Airbnb has added more properties for rent, and as a result hosts say their ratings matter more to set them apart. Some hosts are experiencing what they’ve named an “Airbnbust,” or a drop-off in bookings due to the jump in short-term rental properties.

Adding to the pressure is the Airbnb algorithm that determines which “three-bedroom-with-a-pool-and-fire pit” comes up during a guest’s search. Superhosts who have an overall average of at least 4.8 stars—among other factors—typically earn more than regular hosts. The Airbnb algorithm factors in many criteria, including availability, price, responsiveness of host, number of cancellations by the host, as well as superhost status when ordering search results. Also, hosts who receive repeated ratings of one to three stars are told to improve or risk being delisted.

The average rating for homes in the U.S. on Airbnb, excluding room rentals, was 4.74 stars in 2022, with nearly identical or identical averages in 2021 and 2019, according to market research firm AirDNA.

With most listings ranking above 4.5 stars, guests say they can have trouble discerning what separates a 4.6-star property from a 4.8-star property. Others admit to leaving a positive review so as not to harm the host—or receive a negative review of their performance as a guest in turn.

Recently, at an Atlanta Airbnb currently rated 4.67, the doorknob on an automatic door to the bedroom got jammed, trapping Ashanti Carey inside. The 25-year-old lawyer from Kansas City, Mo., was visiting Atlanta with her mom and sister, who had to pull on the door from the outside to free her. She left after one night.

The host issued a partial refund, Ms. Carey says. Ms. Carey says she didn’t want to leave a five-star review due to getting locked in a bedroom, and because the property was dirty and dated. But she also didn’t want to damage the host’s livelihood.

She left four stars and a vague reference to her experience, mentioning she only stayed one of three nights “due to some issues with the property.” The house could be a good fit if the host made improvements, she wrote in her review.

“I felt somewhat pressured to not necessarily be forthright,” she says, adding that she is more skeptical of reviews now.

Airbnb says its reviews aren’t inflated. The company believes most guests leave ratings and reviews that authentically reflect their experiences, a spokeswoman said in an email. The company says it removes hosts who consistently earn poor ratings and don’t show signs of improvement, which is why most available listings are highly rated.

U.S. short-term rental availability hit a peak in 2022, according to AirDNA. Airbnb said in an earnings call that it added more than 900,000 listings globally in 2022, a 16% increase from the previous year, excluding listings in China.

More than 120 million reviews were left between hosts and guests on Airbnb between Oct. 1, 2021 and Sept. 30, 2022, the company says.

Airbnb guests rate rentals on factors including cleanliness, location and communication from the host. Some hosts are taking it upon themselves to ask guests for high ratings, both directly, which runs afoul of the platform’s rules, and by posting signs in their rentals.

Airbnb’s rules state: “Members of the Airbnb community may not coerce, intimidate, extort, threaten, incentivise or manipulate another person in an attempt to influence a review.”

Erin Kirkpatrick started renting out her two-bedroom apartment in downtown Burlington, Vt., this past fall. After more than 30 guests, she earned superhost status with a 5.0 rating.

Then, earlier this year, one guest said Ms. Kirkpatrick was very accommodating and the unit was “immaculate” — and left four stars for the overall rating. A second four-star overall rating dropped Ms. Kirkpatrick’s overall rating from 4.98 to 4.91, which alarmed the superhost, she said, because she needs an overall average of at least 4.8 stars to keep the status.

Ms. Kirkpatrick said she wondered what, if anything, she could have done differently. She says she’s now more conscious of her pricing so that guests feel that they’re getting a good value. She says she won’t charge $500 a night during an upcoming college graduation weekend despite demand, so her guests who do book feel they’re getting a good value. She makes sure to keep snacks, water and seltzer in the unit well stocked.

Her two most recent guests rated her apartment five stars for the overall experience.

Online reviews proliferate, and some other travel sites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor focus on stamping out fake reviews from people who have never visited a hotel or eaten at the restaurant that they rave about or trash.

Airbnb says it works to make the review system as fair as possible, including only allowing reviews between hosts and guests with confirmed bookings and requiring reviews within 14 days of checkout so they are timely. At Airbnb’s smaller rival Vrbo, top hosts have at least a 4.3 overall rating, the company says, and the average rating globally is 4.6 stars out of 5.

People who leave ratings on sites where they themselves are also rated, as with services including ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft and Vrbo, are generally more likely to leave positive reviews, researchers say.

“It’s very different when you’re dealing with a big, faceless corporation like an airline versus an individual human,” says Camilla Vásquez, a professor of linguistics at the University of South Florida who has been studying online review systems for over a decade.

As short-term rentals have exploded, travelers have increasingly made direct comparisons to hotels, where the number of stars signifies the quality of the property, hosts say.

Airbnb says it provides guests with definitions of the overall star rating and individual category star ratings. For the overall rating, a five-star stay is defined as great, a four star stay is good, and three stars is OK.

Still, many hosts say the rating system isn’t clear enough to guests or to hosts.

Caitlin Bates, who rents out her property outside of Sedona, Ariz., on Airbnb, made a refrigerator magnet to guide her guests. Five stars means the guest enjoyed their stay and any issues were addressed. Four stars means the experience was just “ok” and issues weren’t addressed. The dreaded one star equals a “horrific experience.” The magnet says hosts with less than 4.7 stars are at risk of being delisted, something Ms. Bates says she heard from other Airbnb hosts. She sells the magnet on Etsy for prices starting at $10.95 and estimates she has sold at least 300.

Ms. Bates has an average rating of 4.94.

Airbnb says it doesn’t automatically remove hosts with averages under 4.7 stars. Listings might be removed if there are severe or repeated instances of not meeting quality standards, a spokeswoman said. Ms. Bates’s magnets aren’t endorsed by Airbnb or an accurate reflection of the company’s review system or policies, the spokeswoman said.

Airbnb hosts who receive multiple low ratings—one to three stars—may receive an automated email from the company. The subject line: “Improve your ratings to keep your listings active.” Listings receiving a rating between one and three stars are at higher risk of being suspended, which means the property will be removed from search for five days, according to the email. The emails also provide resources and tips to hosts to help them improve, Airbnb says.

Some guests choose to give low ratings in the hopes of getting freebies such as a refund, hosts say. It is against Airbnb policy for guests to leave negative reviews to punish hosts for enforcing the property’s rules.

Airbnb says it generally doesn’t mediate disputes over the truth of reviews. The company encourages hosts and guests to post responses to reviews within 30 days as the main form of recourse for what they see as unfair reviews. People can report reviews that violate Airbnb’s policy, and the company will investigate whether to remove them.

A recent Airbnb rental that was rated 4.8 stars had ratty furniture and he could hear noise from a bar down the street, says Baird Kleinsmith, a 40-year-old from Durango, Colo. In another, rated 4.6, there were water stains on the walls and the apartment was beat up, he says.

So he gave them bad reviews, including rating one a 1 star. In the past, Mr. Kleinsmith, who rents from Airbnb about 10 times a year, seldom left ratings under four stars because he didn’t want to harm the host, he says. “As a guest, I want to know from prior guests what was good and what was bad about the property,” says the owner of multiple self-storage facilities.

“So I’ve changed my approach.”


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Luxury watch collectors showed ongoing strong demand for Patek Philippe, growing interest in modern watches and a preference for larger case sizes and leather straps at the June watch sales in New York, according to an analysis of the major auctions.

Independent and neo-vintage categories, meanwhile, experienced declines in total sales and average prices, said the report from  EveryWatch, a global online platform for watch information. Overall, the New York auctions achieved total sales of US$52.27 million, a 9.87% increase from the previous year, on the sale of 470 lots, reflecting a 37% increase in volume. Unsold rates ticked down a few points to 5.31%, according to the platform’s analysis.

EveryWatch gathered data from official auction results for sales held in New York from June 5 to 10 at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s. Limited to watch sales exclusively, each auction’s data was reviewed and compiled for several categories, including total lots, sales and sold rates, highest prices achieved, performance against estimates, sales trends in case materials and sizes as well as dial colors, and more. The resulting analysis provides a detailed overview of market trends and performance.

The Charles Frodsham Pocket watch sold at Phillips for $433,400.

“We still see a strong thirst for rare, interesting, and exceptional watches, modern and vintage alike, despite a little slow down in the market overall,” says Paul Altieri, founder and CEO of the California-based pre-owned online watch dealer, in an email. “The results show that there is still a lot of money floating around out there in the economy looking for quality assets.”

Patek Philippe came out on top with more than US$17.68 million on the sale of 122 lots. It also claimed the top lot: Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe GrandMaster Chime 6300G-010, still in the sealed factory packaging, which sold at Sotheby’s for US$5.4 million, much to the dismay of the brand’s president, Thierry Stern . The London-based industry news website WatchPro estimates the flip made the actor as much as US$2 million in just a few years.

At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire
Richard Mille

“As we have seen before and again in the recent Sotheby’s sale, provenance can really drive prices higher than market value with regards to the Sylvester Stallone Panerai watches and his standard Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1a offered,” Altieri says.

Patek Philippe claimed half of the top 10 lots, while Rolex and Richard Mille claimed two each, and Philippe Dufour claimed the No. 3 slot with a 1999 Duality, which sold at Phillips for about US$2.1 million.

“In-line with EveryWatch’s observation of the market’s strong preference for strap watches, the top lot of our auction was a Philippe Dufour Duality,” says Paul Boutros, Phillips’ deputy chairman and head of watches, Americas, in an email. “The only known example with two dials and hand sets, and presented on a leather strap, it achieved a result of over US$2 million—well above its high estimate of US$1.6 million.”

In all, four watches surpassed the US$1 million mark, down from seven in 2023. At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire, the most expensive watch sold at Christie’s in New York. That sale also saw a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM52-01 CA-FQ Tourbillon Skull Model go for US$1.26 million to an online buyer.

Rolex expert Altieri was surprised one of the brand’s timepieces did not crack the US$1 million threshold but notes that a rare Rolex Daytona 6239 in yellow gold with a “Paul Newman John Player Special” dial came close at US$952,500 in the Phillips sale.

The Crown did rank second in terms of brand clout, achieving sales of US$8.95 million with 110 lots. However, both Patek Philippe and Rolex experienced a sales decline by 8.55% and 2.46%, respectively. The independent brand Richard Mille, with US$6.71 million in sales, marked a 912% increase from the previous year with 15 lots, up from 5 lots in 2023.

The results underscored recent reports of prices falling on the secondary market for specific coveted models from Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet. The summary points out that five top models produced high sales but with a fall in average prices.

The Rolex Daytona topped the list with 42 appearances, averaging US$132,053, a 41% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, with two of the top five watches, made 26 appearances with an average price of US$111,198, a 26% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Perpetual Calendar followed with 23 appearances and a US$231,877 average price, signifying a fall of 43%, and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak had 22 appearances and an average price of US$105,673, a 10% decrease. The Rolex Day Date is the only watch in the top five that tracks an increase in average price, which at US$72,459 clocked a 92% increase over last year.

In terms of categories, modern watches (2005 and newer) led the market with US$30 million in total sales from 226 lots, representing a 53.54% increase in sales and a 3.78% increase in average sales price over 2023. Vintage watches (pre-1985) logged a modest 6.22% increase in total sales and an 89.89% increase in total lots to 169.

However, the average price was down across vintage, independent, and neo-vintage (1990-2005) watches. Independent brands saw sales fall 24.10% to US$8.47 million and average prices falling 42.17%, while neo-vintage watches experienced the largest decline in sales and lots, with total sales falling 44.7% to US$8.25 million, and average sales price falling 35.73% to US$111,000.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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