Monday, 26 February 2018


The greatest losers to airbnb were of course the hoteliers, but that is a different story: the internet-connected world and the 'sharing' economy made airbnb inevitable, even in the most unlikely places.  Although airbnb is not new to Hania, it literally took the town by storm last year, forcing rent prices up and throwing long-term tenants out of the market. At the beginning of the academic year in October of 2017, a large number of students of the TUC and TEI Hania were still searching for a place to rent. It all sounds surreal. But there is also another side to the story: in the pre-crisis times when there was more money to go round, there were a good number of tenants who weren't paying their rent on time, and who would also abscond from paying the utilities fees (water, electricity, and heating fees in apartments), leaving landlords footing the bills, or loading the financial burden onto the few reliable apartment dwellers. Tit for tat, one might say.

Now that the fog is clearing, and people are learning to live with what they have rather than what they borrow, under new forms of business, property owners are looking for ways to make more income, at the same time as cushioning themselves against unreliable tenancies. Hania is both a student and a tourist town. So airbnb provided a solution in part for owners of small apartments: short-term lets to tourists in the summer, and longer-term lets to the student population during the academic year. But what about out-of-owners and families? Presumably it forces them out of the area, as this report from a local newspaper states:
"Fewer and fewer students are attending schools in the old town of Chania, which is causing concern to local residents."
This news is not so shocking when one considers that the old town forms an integral part of the tourist zone of Hania. The rents are now too high even for immigrants, who were classic customers of the old town, with its rundown homes and cheap rents. Greeks prefer the countryside suburbs and larger houses, rather than noisy crowded areas full of tourists. But it can't be denied that airbnb is partly to blame for the loss of children's voices in inner city neighborhoods, as Athenians lament:
"Airbnb turns the neighborhoods of the city center into a huge leisure park for tourists. After the apartments for rent in Koukaki disappeared, Exarchia's turn comes; you can no longer find a place to live there (they have all gone to Airbnb). Pagrati and Mets follow. We are walking in the footsteps of major cities (Madrid, London, Paris), where the local population in the city center will soon be a protected species."
It's not all moan and groan however - some Athenians are also learning to love airbnb:
"The exploitation of empty buildings that will continue to have life after 20:00 is an element that contributes to the upgrading of the capital, especially in the daily life of the urban landscape. Even in buildings where company offices are located, one finds that on the last two floors there are apartments rented by Airbnb. The city is not just about restaurants, bars and cafes, not just workplaces, but also places of habitation by people who want to gain a personal experience of Athens. They want to cook, shop and love the city not only at the ground floor level, but at all its height."

My biggest gripe with airbnb is not so much the new way of using old properties: thanks to airbnb, people are cleaning up their old properties and making them ready for use, instead of lying around in a derelict state like they had been for a too long:
 "According to the latest figures of the Greek National Tourism Organization, there is a strong tendency for the reconstruction and restoration of old buildings into quality tourist residences, with a similar trend by professionals offering  rooms and apartments that are being modernized and improved... Many old houses, abandoned places in various parts of Chania, but especially in the old town, have been reconstructed and now function as tourist apartments, boutique hotels, tourist residences. Most are run by companies that do them up at their own expense and for a period of 15-20 years undertake to pay rent to the owner. There are also a few houses that are being rebuilt by their owners and being made available for a holiday home"
My biggest gripe is the unsustainable way people price their properties. Landlords are asking for a small fortune to book their property: they think asking 1000 euro a week for a 3-bedroom house in the inner city centre of Hania is perfectly reasonable, while they were struggling to rent out the same property for 500 euro a month in the winter. Even during the best year to date so far for airbnb in Hania, many properties were lying empty half the time.

Airbnb made me think about how I can use my late father's mid-town apartment which I have just finished renovating, after it was rented out for over a decade to the same tenant: all three children of the same family passed through it while they were studying in Hania. So I went along to some seminars being held in the town by the Greek representatives of airbnb (they all work in northern European countries). I learnt a lot of things in these seminars, some of which were more obvious than others:
- make your home unique!
- keep it absolutely spotless!
- take nice photos! (preferably from professionals!)
One usually forgets the downside of being an airbnb landlord in a summer resort town, such as the following:
- the tourist season starts in March and ends in October, but some months during that period are low season: for example, the average hotel will be filled to just 14% capacity in April, so it's unlikely that there will be much calling for a mid-town apartment on a short term let during that period. Most of the time then, it will be empty.
- an apartment will have to be cleaned and tidied after each guest leaves: factoring in a cost for cleaning on top of your price per night will add to the total cost of the apartment for the airbnb guest, who is  highly likely to choose cheap holiday accommodation on the basis of price (airbnb is not a lifestyle choice, in the way that a hotel/spa resort is).
- who exactly does the cleaning? If you hire someone to do it for you, you are losing profits. If you do it yourself, you have to pay yourself somehow - or give up your time, which you will have to do in order to let guests into the house, see them off and pick up the key, etc.

A peek inside an inner-city apartment in Hania built in 1980; some things (like the floors) can't be renovated without being completely removed. Renting to locals saves me from having to worry about airbnb guests commenting on how 'dirty' the apartment might have seemed to them. Locals have a different view of what to look out for when renting a property: above all, a quiet safe atmosphere to wind down after a a hard day's night - the gig economy keeps young people on their toes all day. 

Together with other family members, we made the decision to try airbnb-ing our parents' apartment, even if it sounded like extra work. So I got the renovations going and had just finished getting the bathroom re-outfitted. While I was waiting outside the apartment waiting for the electrician, a young woman from the next-door apartment (who had noticed that the flat was being renovated) asked me if I had 'promised' it to anyone. Mid-town apartments are all about location: my parents had made a good choice for their retirement. It was such a shame that they did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

I told the woman that the apartment was available for rent. She put me in touch with an out-of-town Greek who lives and works in Hania, a town she has fallen in love with and does not want to leave. I don't expect everyone to show the same kind of altruism that I am showing, by renting out accommodation at a reasonable price, to struggling Greeks. But the smile on their face when you show them you care is worth a lot more to me than the business of greed. Airbnb is not the only solution. Just like the crisis, this unsustainable situation will not last forever, and landlords will have to prepare themselves for yet more tax upheavals.

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