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.”


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

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

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How far can an electric car really go on a full charge? What can you do to make it go farther? We answer these and other questions that EV buyers might ask.

By Bart Ziegler
Wed, Nov 29, 2023 7 min

Many people considering an electric vehicle are turned off by their prices or the paucity of public charging stations. But the biggest roadblock often is “range anxiety”—the fear of getting stuck on a desolate road with a dead battery.

All EVs carry window stickers stating how far they should go on a full charge. Yet these range estimates—overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and touted in carmakers’ ads—can be wrong in either direction: either overstating or understating the distance that can be driven, sometimes by 25% or more.

How can that be? Below are questions and answers about how driving ranges are calculated, what factors affect the range, and things EV owners can do to go farther on a charge.

How far will an electric vehicle go on a full battery?

The distance, according to EPA testing, ranges from 516 miles for the 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring with 19-inch wheels to 100 miles for the 2023 Mazda MX-30.

Most EVs are in the 200-to-300-mile range. While that is less than the distance that many gasoline-engine cars can go on a full tank, it makes them suitable for most people’s daily driving and medium-size trips. Yet it can complicate longer journeys, especially since public chargers can be far apart, occupied or out of service. Plus, it takes many times longer to charge an EV than to fill a tank with gas.

How accurate are the EPA range estimates?

Testing by Car and Driver magazine found that few vehicles go as far as the EPA stickers say. On average, the distance was 12.5% shorter, according to the peer-reviewed study distributed by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers.

In some cases, the estimates were further off: The driving range of Teslas fell below their EPA estimate by 26% on average, the greatest shortfall of any EV brand the magazine tested. Separately, federal prosecutors have sought information about the driving range of Teslas, The Wall Street Journal reported. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The study also said Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup truck went 230 miles compared with the EPA’s 300-mile estimate, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV went 220 miles versus the EPA’s 259.

A GM spokesman said that “actual range may vary based on several factors, including things like temperature, terrain/road type, battery age, loading, use and maintenance.” Ford said in a statement that “the EPA [figure] is a standard. Real-world range is affected by many factors, including driving style, weather, temperature and if the battery has been preconditioned.”

Meanwhile, testing by the car-shopping site Edmunds found that most vehicles beat their EPA estimates. It said the Ford Lightning went 332 miles on a charge, while the Chevy Bolt went 265 miles.

That is confusing. How can the test results vary so much?

Driving range depends largely on the mixture of highway and city roads used for testing. Unlike gasoline-powered cars, EVs are more efficient in stop-and-go driving because slowing down recharges their batteries through a process called regenerative braking. Conversely, traveling at a high speed can eat up a battery’s power faster, while many gas-engine cars meet or exceed their EPA highway miles-per-gallon figure.

What types of driving situations do the various tests use?

Car and Driver uses only highway driving to see how far an EV will go at a steady 75 mph before running out of juice. Edmunds uses a mix of 60% city driving and 40% highway. The EPA test, performed on a treadmill, simulates a mixture of 55% highway driving and 45% city streets.

What’s the reasoning behind the different testing methods?

Edmunds believes the high proportion of city driving it uses is more representative of typical EV owners, says Jonathan Elfalan, Edmunds’s director of vehicle testing. “Most of the driving [in an EV] isn’t going to be road-tripping but driving around town,” he says.

Car and Driver, conversely, says its all-highway testing is deliberately more taxing than the EPA method. High-speed interstate driving “really isn’t covered by the EPA’s methodology,” says Dave VanderWerp, the magazine’s testing director. “Even for people driving modest highway commutes, we think they’d want to know that their car could get 20%-30% less range than stated on the window sticker.”

What does the EPA say about the accuracy of its range figures?

The agency declined to make a representative available to comment, but said in a statement: “Just like there are variations in EPA’s fuel-economy label [for gas-engine cars] and people’s actual experience on the road for a given make and model of cars/SUVs, BEV [battery electric vehicle] range can exceed or fall short of the label value.”

What should an EV shopper do with these contradictory range estimates?

Pick the one based on the testing method that you think matches how you generally will drive, highway versus city. When shopping for a car, be sure to compare apples to apples—don’t, for instance, compare the EPA range estimate for one vehicle with the Edmunds one for another. And view all these figures with skepticism. The estimates are just that.

Since range is so important to many EV buyers, why don’t carmakers simply add more batteries to provide greater driving distance?

Batteries are heavy and are the most expensive component in an EV, making up some 30% of the overall vehicle cost. Adding more could cut into a vehicle’s profit margin while the added weight means yet more battery power would be used to move the car.

But battery costs have declined over the past 10 years and are expected to continue to fall, while new battery technologies likely will increase their storage capacity. Already, some of the newest EV models can store more power at similar sticker prices to older ones.

What can an EV owner do to increase driving range?

The easiest thing is to slow down. High speeds eat up battery life faster. Traveling at 80 miles an hour instead of 65 can cut the driving range by 17%, according to testing by Geotab, a Canadian transportation-data company. And though a primal appeal of EVs is their zippy takeoff, hard acceleration depletes a battery much quicker than gentle acceleration.

Does cold weather lower the driving range?

It does, and sometimes by a great amount. The batteries are used to heat the car’s interior—there is no engine creating heat as a byproduct as in a gasoline car. And many EVs also use electricity to heat the batteries themselves, since cold can deteriorate the chemical reaction that produces power.

Testing by Consumer Reports found that driving in 15- to-20-degrees Fahrenheit weather at 70 mph can reduce range by about 25% compared to similar-speed driving in 65 degrees.

A series of short cold-weather trips degraded the range even more. Consumer Reports drove two EVs 40 miles each in 20-degree air, then cooled them off before starting again on another 40-mile drive. The cold car interiors were warmed by the heater at the start of each of three such drives. The result: range dropped by about 50%.

Does air conditioning degrade range?

Testing by Consumer Reports and others has found that using the AC has a much lower impact on battery range than cold weather, though that effect seems to increase in heat above 85 degrees.

I don’t want to freeze or bake in my car to get more mileage. What can I do?

“Precondition” your EV before driving off, says Alex Knizek, manager of automotive testing and insights at Consumer Reports. In other words, chill or heat it while it is still plugged in to a charger at home or work rather than using battery power on the road to do so. In the winter, turn on the seat heaters, which many EVs have, so you be comfortable even if you keep the cabin temperature lower. In the summer, try to park in the shade.

What about the impact from driving in a mountainous area?

Going up hills takes more power, so yes, it drains the battery faster, though EVs have an advantage over gas vehicles in that braking on the downside of hills returns juice to the batteries with regenerative braking.

Are there other factors that can affect range?

Tires play a role. Beefy all-terrain tires can eat up more electricity than standard ones, as can larger-diameter ones. And underinflated tires create more rolling resistance, and so help drain the batteries.

Most EVs give the remaining driving range on a dashboard screen. Are these projections accurate?

The meters are supposed to take into account your speed, outside temperature and other factors to keep you apprised in real time of how much farther you can travel. But EV owners and car-magazine testers complain that these “distance to empty” gauges can suddenly drop precipitously if you go from urban driving to a high-speed highway, or enter mountainous territory.

So be careful about overly relying on these gauges and take advantage of opportunities to top off your battery during a multihour trip. These stops could be as short as 10 or 15 minutes during a bathroom or coffee break, if you can find a high-powered DC charger.

Before embarking on a long trip, what should an EV owner do?

Fully charge the car at home before departing. This sounds obvious but can be controversial, since many experts say that routinely charging past 80% of a battery’s capacity can shorten its life. But they also say that charging to 100% occasionally won’t do damage. Moreover, plan your charging stops in advance to ease the I-might-run-out panic.

So battery life is an issue with EVs, just as with smartphones?

Yes, an EV battery’s ability to fully charge will degrade with use and age, likely leading to shorter driving range. Living in a hot area also plays a role. The federal government requires an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on EV batteries for serious failure, while some EV makers go further and cover degradation of charging capacity. Replacing a bad battery costs many thousands of dollars.

What tools are available to map out charging stations?

Your EV likely provides software on the navigation screen as well as a phone app that show charging stations. Google and Apple maps provide a similar service, as do apps and websites of charging-station networks.

But always have a backup stop in mind—you might arrive at a charging station and find that cars are lined up waiting or that some of the chargers are broken. Damaged or dysfunctional chargers have been a continuing issue for the industry.

Any more tips?

Be sure to carry a portable charger with you—as a last resort you could plug it into any 120-volt outlet to get a dribble of juice.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

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

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