Cool Tools: AirBNB

(example of a condo you can rent in Hawaii)

My friend Grace, who lives in a one-bedroom in NYC’s Chinatown, was suddenly deluged with family coming in to visit: her mother and father, her sister, her sister’s husband, her sister’s baby; her brother, his wife and toddler. There was no way they were all going to squash into her apartment, especially not with two kids.

She considered Craigslist, a venue she went by before; the problem with Craigslist is it can also result in scams: like the person who subletted someone’s apartment, then posed as a landlord and “rented” the apartment out to dozens of people and taking their deposits (which happened to my friend’s apartment she subletted for a month in Brooklyn). Hotels in Manhattan are pricy, especially by the week.

My super boss’s son, a clueless 18-year-old, and his 12 friends thought they were renting a house in Ocean City, Md. through a rental website and wired money to a man whose English was terrible, with whom they never spoke to, and who disappeared with the money and never turned over a house key.

Enter airbnb. I’m not sure what the Air part means, but it’s a great site that allows you to browse through people’s apartments, homes, cottages and rooms they are renting. Past visitors can post reviews on the site.

It’s a great alternative to a hotel, and it’s safer than relying on Craigslist or any other rental listing site online. I’m a big fan of staying in places with kitchens that cost under $100 a night.

You browse through the places based on location, price, number of people, private house or private room in a house, amenities and so forth. Once you’ve decided on a place, you are put in touch with the owner; the two of you arrange schedules and meeting points, and then you put down a deposit and final amount. Here’s the scam protectant: the owner doesn’t get the money until you’ve checked into the place.

So if some dumb person tries to list a fake place, he or she won’t get the money. Any of it.

Grace was even able to talk to someone about the fact that her apartment didn’t come with electricity and it was 105 degrees in New York City that week. They didn’t have to pay until the electricity was turned on.

Of course, having discovered this little web gem, I’ve already gone hunting for pads around the world. Paris! Berlin! Rio! But we’ll test out airbnb on our hopefully upcoming trip to Kauai over Thanksgiving, so we’ll let you know our experience!

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