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WILL AIRBNB KILL THE CARETAKING BUSINESS MODEL?

The effect of Uber on the taxi industry is well known. It has been completely disruptive to the point where the values of taxi licenses  are decimated and class actions have been taken in retaliation. The question is now being asked whether the same effect will occur in the caretaking industry as result of AirBnb and similar businesses.

Caretakers derive the majority of their income from two areas of operation. The first is from a contract with the body corporate or owners corporation to provide caretaking services, and the second is from the letting business. Whilst the caretaking income is generally stable, rising annually in accordance with an agreed formula, this is not true for the letting business which frequently provides the majority of the income. 

Worrying trends emerging

As a consultant to the caretaking industry I see some worrying trends emerging as a direct result of the disruptive influence of companies offering short term letting services online. It is not uncommon for unit owners to bypass the on-site manager or caretaker and let their properties directly using AirBnb or similar share services. I know of one large complex where approximately 50% of the available units are managed and let by an independent company using AirBnb to place lettings, competing directly with the on-site manager.

I’m also aware of complexes where individual owners acquire three or four units in the complex and run their own letting business in competition with the on-site manager. This trend is increasing. In response, there are now a number of third party companies who offer investment unit owners a full letting and cleaning service as an alternative to the on-site manager.

It was recently reported that Dr Schwartz, who is Australia’s largest private hotel operator, is offering to subsidise the cost of renovations for investor owners at the Hilton Surfers Paradise, where he owns the management rights, if they cut their ties with AirBnb and return to the letting pool. In another related move, Bank of America financial analysts recently downgraded the stocks of several hotel companies, including Hilton and Hyatt, citing pressure from oversupply and competition from home share services.

Owners no longer bonded to onsite manager

Traditionally, investment owners in residential complexes were bonded to the on-site manager because he was the principal means through which owners let their property. Occasionally owners would use the services of an outside real estate agent, but for most, this was not the case.

With the advent of online share services, owners do not always see the on-site manager as the principal source for short term letting services. There is now an incentive to aggregate groups of units, either unilaterally or in conjunction with other owners, and offer them to the market using AirBnb. This is the trend that I see occurring, particularly in older complexes.

Older units more at risk

The Accommodation industry has always been price sensitive. The problem has been reaching the market. Whereas apartments in older complexes were once sold off at cheaper prices to people wishing to use them as their permanent residence, they are now increasingly being sold to investors who let them through the likes of AirBnb. This trend will continue.

The complexes that will be most affected are situated in the tourist hubs, including capital cities around Australia. This constitutes a large proportion of the available strata accommodation. Whether the trend is powerful enough to destroy the current caretaker business model remains to be seen. There are government inquiries currently being undertaken with a view to curbing the influence of AirBnb. The question is - will it be enough?

David Leary
Managing Director
Leary & Partners Pty Ltd, Quantity Surveyors