Two interesting developments in the past week have shown how established parts of the agency industry - on either side of the Atlantic - are trying to tame the beast that is Airbnb.
The first development came from the Association of Residential Letting Agents, which released a guide to home owners (note - this was not necessarily aimed at landlords, whether amateur or professionals). The guide explained what owners had to take account of should they wish to use the likes of Airbnb to let a property, even on a casual basis.
Good on ARLA.
A few eyebrows were raised amongst letting agents that such a guide might indirectly encourage people to let their homes via social media or direct letting, by-passing agents completely. That fear is fair enough, but let’s not be so naive as to think it takes an ARLA guidance note to encourage people - Airbnb and a few look-a-like platforms are already hugely popular and used by a surprisingly wide range of people, according to research.
The significance of the ARLA document is less in what it says, especially its optimistic tone hoping that those letting homes through Airbnb - an extraordinarily straightforward do-it-yourself service, whether we like it or not - may want to go on to instruct a letting agent.
No, the document is important because it at least shows an ‘establishment‘ body like ARLA acknowledges that new, social media-based and less formal means of letting are now growing at a very fast rate.
It recognises that the people who use Airbnb are so great in number they now have to be taken seriously, even by far more formal (dare I say ‘old school’?) bodies like ARLA.
There’s also a development, likely to have more lasting consequences, over in the United States where one of that country’s leading property portals has linked up with Airbnb.
As I have reported on Letting Agent Today, Realtor.com now offers prospective buyers the chance to rent in the area they are moving to - a real ‘try before you buy’ option.
The principle here is like the ARLA example. In this case, Realtor.com (operated by yet another portal, Home, which is in turn owned by News Corp) is part of the establishment reaching out to embrace something which might otherwise become a bigger threat if left to prosper as an ‘outsider’.
We’ve been here before, of course, at least to some extent.
That Rightmove and Zoopla have accepted online agents using their portals may, perhaps, have contributed to the UK property establishment ‘containing’ the online threat - or at least making money out of it, by insisting onliners pay for the display of properties just like traditional agents have to.
Let’s wait and see if more establishment vehicles try to draw in Airbnb and the like.
It is surely a sensible tactic, because by ignoring such platforms (or worse still branding them as enemies or parasites) the lettings industry risks being left behind in a world that’s moving in only one direction...
*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn