Home-Free with Airbnb: A Couple’s Year in NYC, One Rental at a Time


Cobble Hill: Matthew Hurst via Flickr.

As far as neighborhood intimacy goes, there’s hardly a better option than Airbnb for better or for worse. Travelers that use this service are immersed in the unique quirks of their destination — including their host’s personal decoration choices, bustling neighbors and rodent problems. While some may prefer the cookie-cutter comfort of hotel rooms, Airbnb provides lived-in spaces for a lived-in experience. It’s as local as local can get.

Elaine and David’s experience was, by David’s telling, illuminating in many ways. From an insider’s perspective, their experience speaks to the benefits and drawbacks of the short-term rental business — especially in big cities like New York, where the service is hotly contested.

I’ll start with the bad news: in an expensive city like New York, “home-free” living is hardly cheap. As David notes, Airbnb and other vacation rental startups democratize travel to make it more affordable. But a $100-per-night rental adds up to $3000 a month; though this is the average for renting in New York City, it’s on the lower end of quality. After experiencing some moderate issues, the couple had to contact hosts renting for up to triple their budget. The lesson here? Sometimes you have to fork up more money than you’d like for comfort’s sake.


East Harlem: Chrissy Hunt via Flickr.

Their experience also speaks to how Airbnb handles rentals gone wrong. The startup proved extremely accommodating when one rental turned out poorly, expensing a Midtown hotel room for the couple and offering various alternatives.

Like anything, there’s a learning curve to Airbnb. Elaine and David learned to spot red flags, and came to understand the benefits of growing an online reputation as respectable guests. The two were able to get to know the distinct flavors and communities of the East Village, Williamsburg, Cobble Hill, East Harlem and elsewhere. Prospective long-term renters may want to consider taking notes — there’s really no other way to get first-hand experience before signing a lease.

Though most people don’t use Airbnb for day-to-day life like Elaine and David, frequent users of the service may have similar experiences. Peer-to-peer rental succeeds in submerging travelers into the lifestyle of the home’s original inhabitant; thus, travelers have no choice but to relinquish attachment in favor of adventure. It also encourages them to try out other sharing services like Citi Bike and Uber.


East Village: Dan Nguyen via Flickr.

David writes that the experiment invoked in them a form of “indulgent minimalism,” prompting them to sell and donate many of their belongings to make moving easier — and why not? Airbnb rentals are fully stocked with furniture, decorations and supplies. Hopping between rentals, they found, is a way of life that can be disorienting and exciting, and unique every time. This notion may resonate with frequent Airbnb users, or anyone that moves often from place to place.

Those with their eye on the short-term rental industry can glean from this story the astonishing extent to which Airbnb is flourishing. Designed for vacationers, that two people can live comfortably in a dozen rentals over a year proves that the business model is functioning beyond its original intention. What other possibilities lie beyond the startup’s design? It’s up to brave souls like these two to experiment and find out. I’ll be taking note!