I have never actually used Vrbo, Airbnb, and similar businesses that offer accommodation. I had been vaguely under the impression that they offered cheap, short-term, accommodations because people were renting out spaces in their homes that were under-utilized, often because their children had left home. They provided basic things like a bed and bathroom access and enabled the renter to make a little extra money and for the budget-conscious traveler to avoid expensive hotels.
But recently I was planning a trip where there was no hotel near the place I wanted to be in. So I looked up Airbnb. I was surprised at how expensive the accommodations were, close to and even more than hotels. It seems like this so-called sharing economy has gone from providing cheap accommodation to being expensive ‘experiences’. I decided that I might as well stay a little distance away in a hotel where at least you have some idea of what you are getting.
Jen Sorensen has a cartoon about this transformation. What is worse she says that this trend is resulting in long-term renters being squeezed out of their homes because the owners think that they can make more money on short term rentals.
As I said, I have never used these services and thus have no first-hand experience but in a commentary on her cartoon, Sorensen expresses my own reaction.
Whenever I look at Airbnb listings, I’m amazed by how expensive some of them are. People are apparently paying big bucks these days for flashy, Instagram-friendly “experiences.” In many tourist areas, long-term renters are getting priced out. Part of this is due to the raging real estate market — though the money to be made these days from short-term rentals can quickly outpace income from traditional tenants. This isn’t exactly helping to stabilize things for working people who just need a home, not an experience.
In another cartoon, Sorensen says that this is part of a trend where institutional investors are buying up homes, sometimes entire subdivisions, including rental properties, and then raising prices.
She also quotes a Wall Street Journal article about older, wealthier people who are now finding it harder to sell their huge McMansions because few can afford them.
For their retirement in a suburb of Asheville, N.C., Ben and Valentina Bethell spent about $3.5 million in 2009 to build their dream home: a roughly 7,500-square-foot, European-style house with a commanding view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Bethells said they love the home but it now feels too big, especially since their adult son visits only about once a year.
It is only now that it feels too big to them?
Is this the brave new world, where older, wealthy people rattle around in huge homes that are hard to sell while young people work in the gig economy with no steady job or benefits or hopes for retirement and are forced to live a nomadic life with no steady home?
I find it unfathomable that someone could dream of building a mansion in their retirement. Maintaining a home is a nuisance and a large home is a damn nuisance. When I retired, I decided to get rid of pretty much everything and live in a small apartment with the minimum of stuff, which is what I did. It was one of the best decisions of my life. My most expensive possessions right now are my eight-year old car and my laptop. Last year when there was a fire near here, we were asked to prepare for potential evacuation. I found that everything that I needed could be packed into a small suitcase that I could load into my car and drive away. All my other possessions would not add up to more than a couple of thousand dollars worth and could be replaced. It was an enormously liberating feeling.