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Airbnb hits conference stage, ignores giant elephant in the room

The hottest new site has enjoyed glowing reviews from the media and public as the hottest on-line short-term rental site. In fact, this apartment sharing startup just raised $112 million with a valuation of $1.2 billion.

The site says “We connect people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.” I wasn’t really sure what the hype was all about. Sounds like you are just renting your home to a stranger while you are away. Is that really a $1.2 billion idea? But hey, they have been featured on a jillion media outlets from Forbes to Bloomberg to New York Times, so what do I know? Their PR peeps are working overtime no doubt.

They are the media darlings of the moment….that is, until Wednesday, when an Airbnb user’s home got completely destroyed by a renter. The renter stole her ID, credit cards, passport & savagely ransacked her home over a whole week. The media who were so quick to build Airbnb up, were just as quick to break the horrific story with headlines like “Woman Utterly Pillaged via Airbnb” (gawker), “Moment of Truth For Airbnb As User’s Home Utterly Trashed” (TechCrunch) to “Airbnb Horror” (Business Insider). This literally hits close to home because Airbnb is also headquartered in San Francisco where the vandalism happened.

Airbnb’s damage control

It’s admirable that Airbnb took to their twitter feed to do damage control. Their tweets from that day are peppered with updates. And they did not blame the Airbnb customer (that would have been a major doozie). Admittedly, the woman whose house was violated to the nth degree even said on blog that “They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD.”

What is most interesting to me about this whole sordid saga is how Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia broached it to an auditorium of tech savvy real estate agents the day after. He didn’t broach it at all. (Huh?!)

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Giant elephant in the conference ballroom

The “Airbnb Horror” was splattered over the press Wednesday and Joe Gebbia was slated as a keynote speaker for Inman Real Estate Connect on Thursday. Talk about bad timing! At any rate, he was clearly there to extol the virtue of his site and that’s what he did. He praised it to high heaven.

All the while, there is a white elephant in the room. People in the audience wanted to know if is Airbnb dangerous? Is it a blow to their credibility? What is Airbnb going to do to prevent crimes against their users? Anyone who looked up Airbnb in the audience during Gebbia’s talk would have come across this horrifying experience. And yet, not a single peep.

Disconnect between Twitter feed and keynote speech

There was a total disconnect between Airbnb’s tweeter feed & the rosy picture painted on stage. What a missed opportunity for Airbnb to clear the air. Agents could be a huge proponent for a site like Airbnb. This would be great for our clients who need short term rentals, or another way to generate some rental income for clients with spare rooms.

But now in light of the grizzly incident, how can we recommend Airbnb with confidence? Any acknowledgement of the robbery would have been better than saying nothing. It is so crucial to be honest and upfront with consumers.

If you ask me, at the end of the day, it’s still letting a stranger into your home. There’s a reason why people don’t hitchhike anymore! Agents, what do you think about Airbnb? Is it a fancier version of house swapping on Craigslist? Has the Airbnb horror deterred you away from this service?

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Watch Real Estate Expert Herman Chan put the REAL back in REALTY. In his show Habitat for Hermanity, Herman skewers the real estate business and pokes fun at his fellow agents, all the while empowering buyers & sellers with behind-the-scene tips & secrets of the industry! Get a glimpse beyond the glitz & glam of real estate. It's a hot mess! Featured on HGTV, House Hunters & other media outlets, Herman is the undisputed Real Estate Maven whose helpful & hilarious commentary you just can't live without! In fact, his real estate TV show has just been optioned in Hollywood!



  1. Ken Brand

    July 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Bummer for everyone. But here's what I want to know and why I won't be cheering them on, until I do. Today it's rooms everywhere for everyone, super cheap – bleeding the hotel industry. What's to prevent them from scaling up to SELLING houses, everywhere to everyone, bleeding real estate brokers and agents like the hotel industry. It makes perfect sense once they have scale.

    I'm not against progress and innovation, more power to the disrupters of the world. In fact we should all be sprinting to reinvent, disrupt and improve what we do. What I'm not in favor of is helping the disrupters. They have plenty of money to push things forward. Seriously, if a broker/agent/competitor in your market introduces a new service that can (bleed) impact your business, do you fawn all over them, send promotional tweets and kiss their cheeks? I doubt it.

    We've seen this short sighted story over and over. First with RELO, then recently Trulia and Zillow. Basically we do all the work, hand over our data, then they sell us opportunities to monazite the very data we gave them. I get that once the cards are played, we have to play them, but personally, I'd like for us to collectively and individually disrupt the disrupters and regain the value-proposition power position. Collectively, mostly we help the tail wag the dog – the big brains at 3rd party companies have to be laughing behind closed doors. It's easier than taking candy from a baby.

    Ok, that's enough rant for now. What do you think about this? Am I a crackpot?

    Thanks for sharing.


      July 30, 2011 at 5:07 pm

      thanks ken! i responded on google plus when i saw your post.

  2. Matt Dollinger

    July 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Aside from all of this I had to share this thought brought about by Matt Lerner of

    We are all talking about buyers, local and the necessity for them to REALLY get to know neighborhood they potentially buy in.

    Enter – your buyer goes onto the website, finds homes in a couple of the areas they are considering, and spends a weekend in each one.

    Thought that this was one of the smartest ideas I came home from Inman with… courtesy of Matt Lerner of Walkscore.


    July 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    OMG, the PR for airbnb is only getting worse!
    Airbnb Pillage Victim Says Company Tried to Keep Her Quiet – @Gawker

  4. Stephanie Crawford, @AgentStep

    July 31, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Well thus was BOUND to happen, right?


      August 1, 2011 at 2:16 am

      apparently this isn't a one time thing.

      Another Airbnb Victim Tells His Story: “There Were Meth Pipes Everywhere” via @techcrunch

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