Four Stars for Peeling Paint and Broken Doors? What’s Behind High Airbnb Ratings | Kanebridge News
Kanebridge News
Share Button

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.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

Related Stories
China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West
By GREG IP 08/06/2023
How Hackers Can Up Their Game by Using ChatGPT
By Cheryl Winokur Munk 08/06/2023
World Bank Brightens View of Global Growth This Year, Downgrades 2024
By YUKA HAYASHI 07/06/2023
China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop