Why Did Our Crappy Airbnb Have So Many 5-Star Reviews?

One of the more awesome perks working at ProdPad is that we can work from anywhere in the world. We’re scattered around Europe, so every few weeks we rent an Airbnb for team offsites, where we take some time to dig down — sometimes with gorgeous views — and make the most of our limited time together.

Our experiences have mostly been great until this week, when we ended up in an apartment full of prostitutes in Italy.

So why did it get so many 5-star reviews?

Here’s what happened

We picked a flat that was listed as ‘perfect for business travelers,’ with high speed internet and plenty of coffee shops in the heart of an Italian seaside city. We thought we hit the jackpot.

The host also included a carefully worded description: It’s a colorful neighborhood, a historical (and current) red light district with ‘working ladies’ around the area. OK cool, we were totally read for an adventure.

The moment we knew things went wrong

As we waited at the top of the narrow staircase our first afternoon to let one of the ‘ladies’ walking pass by with her gentleman caller, we quickly learned that this was a slight bend of the truth. The women didn’t work “in the area” but rather in our building.

You could call this a euphemism or a flat out lie, depending on how generous you’re feeling.

As two single women staying here, it wasn’t the ladies that made us feel uncomfortable — they were actually really nice! — but the stream of men walking in and out of our building at all hours of the day.

But there were other, more pressing issues.

When I jumped in for a quick shower before bed, I couldn’t get hot water. We texted our host — who to his credit responded super fast — telling us something we should have known earlier: due to a new Italian energy efficiency law, the boiler has to be off at night.

When we did finally get hot water — mornings only, and only enough for one person— there were no bath towels. Just a lot of hand towels, so you couldn’t properly dry yourself without making a mess in the bathroom.

Besides that, the flat wasn’t actually equipped for business travelers like us. The “super fast internet” was a weak 15mbps. With more than one device connected, it dropped to a sluggish 2.3mbps. (For reference, internet speeds in Italy average up to 31mbps — actually higher than England’s average 28mbps.)

The apartment was clean, but still made us wonder what the £48 cleaning fee was for. There was an optimistically low number of toilet paper rolls, a mostly empty bottle of dishwashing liquid, and no instructions for taking out the trash.

At the time we booked, we were thrilled he had accepted us so quickly. Now we knew why he was so eager to have us over. The place was not as advertised.

Where the 5-star review breaks down

What exactly was so off-putting about this Airbnb? What made us look at each other and agree that we would definitely not rent this place again? There was no single deal-breaker, but you couldn’t quite call it comfortable either.

We started out thinking we would give it 4 stars, but gradually pushed it down to 2 as we realized that the little inconveniences added up to an overall negative experience that we wouldn’t recommend to others:

-He wasn’t transparent with us. He used creative language and euphemisms to hide the fact that his flat was an active part of the red light district.

-He let the details slip. We should have known hot water and solid wifi would be hard to come by.

-He didn’t consider the specifics of our stay. Airbnb asks guests to send a quick intro about who they are and what their purpose of traveling is. Based on that, our host knew we were staying for five nights, that we were colleagues and working during our stay.

But then again, he was really responsive. He responded with lightning speed to let us know why the shower wasn’t hot or the internet had blacked out.

So why did this flat have so many 5-star reviews? Rarebit CEO Hampton Catlin has a pretty good explanation:

“The issue is that for most people, it’s against our nature to say bad things about people we just met. It stresses us out and makes us unhappy. So we find it far easier to say “everything’s fine” than “your house isn’t very nice.”

So anyway, now we’re in Como, lounging around with this view.

We don’t have perfect wifi here either, but our Airbnb host was proactive, letting us know her limited internet might not be enough for our digital workday. We knew what to expect and came prepared.

This itself is a 5-star treatment — our host read our listing, made sure it was the right fit for us and didn’t oversell the experience with euphemisms and hidden truths.

As for our rating to the first AirBnB we booked on this trip: ⅖ + a very detailed review.

Will not be booking again.