Elsewhere in this post
What a relief! With Sue back in the podcast saddle, and now that we are very much in holiday season, we can lighten the mood a little – especially since we have just registered our 50,000th download.
But first we talk about a block that has a limit on home swaps, where overseas owners exchange homes for a couple of weeks at a time. The restriction may have been legal a couple of years ago but, under NSW Airbnb laws, probably isn’t now.
Will the block change its by-law or wait until someone challenges it? It may be a case of “don’t mention the war” at that particular not-very-faulty tower.
Then we take a different view of Airbnb from a guest perspective and see how it stacks up against the hotel experience.
Sue checks in to the tallest hotel in Europe – and the most expensive she has ever slept in.
We both check out the refurbed Rocks YHA with its budget rooms and million-dollar rooftop Opera House views.
We compare our hotel experiences with Airbnb stays overseas. And while we’re in the mood, we nominate our favourite hotels in the whole world.
Yes, after two weeks of Jimmy’s rants we’ve turned the Flat Chat fury down to a simmer – it is nearly Christmas after all. But don’t worry, we can maintain the rage into the New Year and well beyond.
TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
Yes! Back to the warmth; away from the snow.
Right, it sounds as if it’s getting pretty cold in Europe?
It is. Well, it certainly was when I was there and it’s got even colder. I thought I was going to die at one point; my organs started shutting down I think, from the cold. I’m just not used to it anymore.
I saw the British comedian, Rob Beckett the other week, and he was saying that Australians don’t deal with cold very well. He said he was in Melbourne and it got to 19 degrees. He said people were walking around with full-length puffer coats on. He said 19 degrees in London, you decide you’ll take the day off and go to the seaside.
That is so true!
While you were away, we had our 50,000th download.
Wow, that’s a lot of downloads!
It is. I mean, okay, that’s over two years. I mean, don’t get overexcited; it wasn’t 50,000 in one week. But in terms of the success of our podcast, we are up there in the top 30 or 40% in the world. Because there are people out there, diligently producing podcasts, that get about 12 people to listen. We’re doing better than that. And the number of weekly listeners is going up; you know, it’s getting up above 300-350, which is great. As somebody once said, if you hired a local church hall and arranged a meeting every week, you’d be really pleased if 300 people turned up.
Yes, that’s fantastic. And so many of our listeners seem to be really enthusiastic about the subject and really connected, which is great too.
We’ll see what we can do about that, then. So today, we’re going to talk (because we’re getting into holiday season), we’re going to talk about Airbnb and hotels. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
We were having a chat with a friend the other night, about the rules in her apartment block, because they like to do house-swaps, or in their case, apartment-swaps. So you know, somebody comes and stays in their apartment, and then they go and stay in their house, overseas. Which sounds like a great idea. This building must have a lot of people who’ve got that kind of arrangement going, because a while ago, they brought in a bylaw, saying you could have a maximum of 3 house swaps a year.
Well, that sounds kind of reasonable, because you wouldn’t want every apartment having 12 house swaps because there’s a lot more people from outside coming into the building, using the facilities and lots of strangers around the corridors and stuff. And you wouldn’t really want that. It doesn’t help the atmosphere of a building.
Yes. Unfortunately, it’s totally illegal…
To put a limit on the house swaps?
Yes. In New South Wales, you can have a bylaw that restricts the number of short-term rentals, which is effectively, what a house swap is.
Even though no money passes hands.
Well, you know, there’s a benefit somewhere. There is another fundamental bylaw, that you can’t interfere with people dealing with their homes. Greater Sydney, apartment blocks can bring in a bylaw that says you cannot have short term rentals in the building, but it only applies to investors; it doesn’t apply to residents.
So residents can can effectively have up to 180-nights, or thereabouts a year of short-term rentals, because any more than that would mean that they were not full-time residents of the building. So, if they are staying more than six months in the building, then they can have as many short-term lets as they want, in the other time.
So that negates all the apartment buildings that have passed short -term… Well, have passed bylaws, restricting short-term. It lets more owners; for owners who residents and that doesn’t mean just the owners who have resident all the time, that the visitors come in and stay in and that’s their room; that’s different.
Wow. So does that come down to, really, the only people who can actually effectively ban, or restrict short-term lets are local councils? And there’s no limit on that. So you know, if you’re a genuine bona fide and use dictionary definition of the word ‘share,’ and you share your apartment with somebody and they stay in a separate room, that’s different. But, in terms of people who own the apartment and spend most of their time in that apartment, the rest of the time, they can let it out, however they want. No they’ve had that power taken away from them.
They can’t do it either?
They can’t do either. So your only restriction can be on investors and that’s valid. For a number of reasons, you don’t want investors buying into nice apartment blocks, and immediately putting them over to short-term lets. As has happened in Victoria, where some buildings in the Docklands area and the city-centre area have between a third and a half of their apartments, given over to short-term rental.
And they wonder why their residential rents are going up. I mean, it astonishes me, that the government… You know, everybody’s running around, wringing their hands about rents going up. And there’s this thing happening, where you get more money from (or potentially, you get more money), putting your home on the market as short-term rentals.
I think the government doesn’t want to upset people that it sees as you know, just making a bit of extra money off their own homess.
No, they don’t want to stop tourists coming in.
You know, there are lots of mum and dad investors, who are kind of making a little bit extra off their homes. But for many people, it’s like a big commercial exercise. You know, maybe, ten or twenty.
There’s, somebody in Sydney, who basically as soon as Airbnb came in, they started buying (and more significantly), renting residential apartments and then putting those rented apartments on Airbnb and became a millionaire, almost overnight, because they went at it aggressively. That’s unusual, but it does exist. So a lot of people are not aware of what the law does in New South Wales and Sydney.
No, absolutely. Because I didn’t realise there was such a big distinction between investors and owners.
Fair Trading, I was talking to them about this, so this was months ago. And we were totally talking at cross-purposes, because they’re saying, “yes, you can; you can restrict” and I’m saying “no, you can’t,” and I suddenly went “hang on, is there a difference between residents and investors?” And they said “oh, yeah, these things don’t apply to residents.” There you go. Now, everything made sense. A lot of people don’t realise that.
They don’t advertise that, do they really?
They certainly don’t. We have both, at various times (overseas certainly), made use of Airbnb. I mean, people will call me a hypocrite; I call it research. Sue, you’ve had a recent experience in Paris?
Yes. I’ve just come back from England and Paris… London and Paris, Edinburgh, Scotland and France. And in Paris, I met up with four friends and one of them rented a three-bedroom Airbnb in the Marais District, which was very nice. So we wanted an apartment and this building had a lot of Airbnb-style rentals in the whole building. One day, me and my friend went to the wrong door. We got the lift up to the wrong floor, then we went to the wrong door. Our keys wouldn’t fit, so we knocked on the door, and the owner came to the door, very annoyed. And presumably, because this happens a lot. So the lift goes to the wrong floor, and he gets lots of people knocking on the door. And I couldn’t really understand what he was saying.
Angry French person.
But I did feel for him. And the Airbnb itself was fine. You know, because there was a group of us, we could sit in the lounge room, we could have breakfast together, we could sit and talk and more importantly, we could watch World Cup football together. So that was great. But you know, at the same time, you kind of think, well, should we have gone to a hotel instead? Well, we wouldn’t have had the extra space. But then again, we would have known exactly what the hotel was, like. You know, there would have been decent reviews of the place. There would have been somebody to complain to if there were any problems, you know, 24/7. The Airbnb was quite nice, but the first evening, suddenly this noise started and the rooms all trembled and we said “gosh, what was that?!” And then we discovered that the building is directly above the Metro. So every time a train went under us, the whole building shook. And it was fine, because the trains finished about half-past midnight, so there was some respite, and they didn’t start again till about 5:30. But of course, 5:30 woke you up with the first train, immediately. There’s things like that.
That will now be on their Airbnb review.
Probably, yes. Well, it has to be in French, so my friend Karen, who speaks perfect French, she’ll be looking after that as well. Also, we hadn’t realised that there must have been a school directly behind us, or in front of us. We couldn’t actually find it, but from about 8:30, until about 5:30 every day (during the week), there was lots of screaming and shouting and talking from lots of little kids and yeah, that was quite disturbing as well, really. You wouldn’t really have had that in a hotel.
Right? Well, my experience in Airbnb… Well, there’s two actually, now that I think about it. The one that was a conscious one; going to Saigon (I loved Saigon and staying there), and I wanted to stay somewhere. I found this place really near the cathedral (for people who know Saigon). I mean, it was so close. It was up this little alleyway and in the morning, you’d get out and the people who lived in the other apartments in the alley way, would be setting up their little shops. One person was making that kind of rice-soupy thing, that’s very popular in Vietnam. It kind of felt like I was really, really, really in Vietnam then. There were two things… A little apartment next to the one that I was in, was being renovated, and quite clearly, to be used for short-term rentals. As occurred, the guy moved in, when I was still there. And the people who lived in the other apartments; the looks…. I mean, you’ve been to Vietnam a couple of times; you know that they’re generally a very friendly, welcoming people. The looks of absolute hatred. They are looking at me going “oh, so this little enclave here; we’ll be the next ones to be kicked out, to bring the Airbnb tourists in.” I mean, it was such a good position. And the other thing was, it had been lofted, this apartment, so the sleeping area was upstairs, as was the bathroom. But it had these really steep wooden stairs, to the point where, I think one night, stumbling around, I went down backwards (deliberately). Like I was climbing a ladder. I thought “I’m gonna do myself a mischief here.” And it was quite funny, because I think there must be a red flag against my name, somewhere in the Airbnb system. I phoned them up; I wasn’t trying to cancel to get out early, or to save money. I just said “look, this is just not appropriate. I’m not comfortable here. I’m going to move out, but you need to come and get the keys.” That’s why I called her up. Within about 20 minutes, a refund had appeared on my bank account and she’d sent an Uber around to pick me up and take me to the hotel I was going to.
Oh my goodness! So she didn’t want you to write a negative review, presumeably?
I don’t know if somebody in Airbnb central had gone “oh, my God, look after this guy; he hates us already!”
Or maybe it had happened before and somebody had written a bad review and she wanted to avoid that happening again, perhaps.
And the other one I just remembered, was when we were in New Zealand recently and you had booked us a motel in Waihi, but the rest of your family was there for a birthday party, in Waihi Beach.
Which I’d assumed was the same place.
And it was actually quite a long way away. And so we get to the motel in Waihi, which I have to say, was the one of the least pleasant places I have ever spent any time. It was okay; it was clean, but very basic. And I thought ‘stuff this,’ you know, ‘we’ve come all the way to New Zealand. I’m not going to stay in a hovel for the next two days.’ And I went online and found this thing that turned out to be an Airbnb. I didn’t realise, when I was looking at the right place. We were the very first people to stay in that place. They hadn’t quite got it ready. So they said “give us two hours.” But it was great; it was actually great.
It was interesting, because the people lived upstairs, but the downstairs they’d turned into a number of little apartments.
That was their business, really and they had the properties onsite and there was a little cabin place next to it. And they were really nice people. But as you said to me…You accused me of hypocrisy. You said “I thought you would never stay in Airbnb.” I said “not in Australia.”
Actually, I think that Airbnb was exceptional really, because they wouldn’t have had residential renters in there, because they were too small for units. And they were there onsite all the time. It was kind of like they were operating a little B&B, really.
To all intents and purposes, although there wasn’t much breakfast. But they were nice. Yes, you’re right. They weren’t depriving anyone of a home.
I think you can sleep peacefully.
When we come back, we’re going to talk about (a bit of self- indulgence here, but it might be a handy guide for somebody); our favourite hotels. That’s after this.
Sue Williams, you have just been staying in what must be possibly, the most fabulous hotel you’ve ever stayed in?
Yes, I think so. In London, I was lucky enough to be doing a travel job, writing about The Shard. You know, that huge building in London, which is…
A big, pointy glass thing.
That’s right, which you see on lots of TV shows, figuring in the skyline. I think it’s the tallest hotel in Western Europe. Basically, it’s apartments at the top and then it’s a hotel on a number of floors underneath and then it’s offices, and then it’s shops and restaurants; that kind of thing. So I was staying, it was Shangri-La at The Shard. It was just fantastic, because I was staying on the 44th floor and the views over London were incredible. It was right at London Bridge, so you were right on the Thames. You could just look either way; up the Thames, down towards Tower Hill, or up towards other places. My geography of everywhere is appalling, really. It was kind of like glass walls, so everywhere you were in the apartment, you could just see out on these incredible views everywhere. In the bathroom, you’d lie in the freestanding bathtub, and you just looked down over London; it’s quite incredible. And you’re obviously not overlooked at all. There’s couple of restaurants; one on the top floor, is cocktail bar and restaurant and then one on another floor. It was just splendid. Even better, on the second day I was there, there was a knock on the door at about three o’clock in the afternoon and a woman appeared with a big box of doughnuts.
What?! You didn’t mention this before!
I don’t know how many people she thought were in the room, but there were quite a lot of doughnuts and they were fantastic, I must say. I thought “I’ll just eat one,” and then I thought “I’ll just have another one…. It would be such a waste, not to eat them all.” So that was my top hotel experience.
Right? And apart from the doughnuts, was the level of service commensurate?
Yes, it was fantastic. There was also a swimming pool on the top floor, and a gym on the top floor, as well. The only thing is, you had to book everything in advance.
Right. Well, I suppose they do, so they could limit the numbers. Because you don’t want to go to the swimming pool and find it full of screaming kids.
It was very nice; service was great.
Yes, I think very expensive.
But if you were treating yourself?
Look, it’s not much fun travelling at the moment, in terms of air travel. The planes are really packed full. I mean, I was actually on Qatar Airways, which is a fantastic airline. Their seats in economy are perhaps a bit more comfortable than other people’s. But because I booked through a code-share, I was never allowed to select my own seat. So every single flight I went on, I was in the middle seat of the middle row, at the back, by the toilets. So I could hear the toilets flushing all the time and that would make me want to go the toilet, then I’d have to wake up the person next to me to ask if I can push past them, to go to the bathroom. I mean, look, it’s not great at the moment and a lot of people say “well, I’m going business class,” but the fact is, that there’s very few business class seats and so they’re incredibly expensive at the moment. So yes, it can be quite difficult. So if you get all the way over there, why not treat yourself to a couple of nights in a fabulous hotel?
Right. And just at (possibly) the other end of the scale, hotel-wise; we just sampled the refurbed YHA, The Youth Hostel Association billet, in The Rocks in Sydney.
I remember staying in youth hostels when I was younger in Britain, and you always used to have chores; you used to have to chop the wood and you used to have to clean the bathrooms and clean the kitchen and all that kind of thing. And you weren’t allowed to stay there during the day; you had to go out. They assigned you all these different chores, and it was kind of quite hard work. But YHA’s have changed enormously in the past 30 years. The one we went to last night in Sydney… The rooftop; I think they’re planning to create a bar there. There isn’t a bar at the moment, but you can take alcohol up there and sit there.
There were people sitting, eating, having their dinner there and having a glass of wine.
That’s right. Because it was an open-top rooftop and you can just look right over the Opera House. I mean, these stunning million-dollar views, from a youth hostel. It’s quite incredible.
Now the room we were in was the top room; a big double-bed, huge TV screen. A very comfortable bed.
It was fantastic.
It was like a hotel.
That was coming in at about $280, which is just about their top price for that room.
For a weekend and that kind of thing.
Now, right next door to it, is the Shangri-La Hotel, who are the same people who run The Shard. You got a price on a similar room?
I think that was about $355.
So, you’re saving a bit. But the thing about that YHA place, was there wasn’t exclusively young people; there were a few mature people around. But it just seemed so easy. You know, there was tables, there was little booths with plugs for your computers, like they know that people are going to be sitting, there doing laptop stop.
That’s right. There’s a cafe being set up there, as well.
There is also a big kitchen with shared food. You can label your food and say ‘this is mine; hands off.’ I noticed a shelf that said ‘anything on this shelf is free.’ So people who are leaving, and they don’t want to carry half-a pot of jam around with them, can stick it on that shelf, so somebody else can use it. I thought it was a nice kind of community thing.
Yes, absolutely and there was also that games room there, as well. Lots of facilities. They do breakfast there as well, I think. I mean, we stayed in a really fabulous room, but there are also lots of smaller rooms and there’s also dorm rooms, with shared bathrooms and stuff, so the price comes down remendously.
You can stay they’re very cheaply, especially if you’re a group, or a family. There’s lots of signs saying ‘don’t make any noise after 10′ oclock at night’ in the corridors, which is reasonable.
It’s an interesting place, isn’t it, because it’s right next to ‘The Dig,’ which is a big archaeological dig of the colonial Sydney.
I think you say it’s ‘next to;’ It’s actually on top of. They’ve built over the dig, which is quite clever, because it’s protecting the exposed stonework from the old buildings. I thought they could have made more of that.
Because you you look down and it’s kind of the courtyard.
It looks like you’re walking into a building site, which is kind of off-putting. But you know, a bit of coloured lighting; sort of highlighting each of the areas and moving around, would make that look quite special. I mean, they’ve got a terrific way of dealing with old buildings in Europe. You know, when they do these light shows at night. They should be able to do that.
Yes, absolutely. Because it was all kind of, the foundations of a house from 1816 and you can see the steps and you can see the outlines of the different rooms and things. But yes, you’re right. They could they could have really highlighted that.
But as you said, the first thing on the information sheet said ‘the original house was demolished when they cleared the area, due to the bubonic plague.’ And you said “they’re not really overselling this, are they?” So that was nice. Now, I’m going to put you on the spot here, because we have spent an inordinate amount of time in hotels around the world. What’s your favourite?
Oh, it’s hard, isn’t it? I think my favourite hotel in the world would be the COMO Uma, and that’s in Ubud, in Bali. And it’s just such a beautiful hotel. It’s just beautifully designed. It’s not really over-the -top fabulous; it’s just really well-designed. It’s really comfortable, it’s really luxurious. But it’s just great. There’s a lovely cafe just right on the pool, which is a really beautiful pool and there’s chairs around the pool and things. The rooms themselves are really simple, but very well -designed. The COMO hotels are just great. I’ve been to a few.
There’s actually a picture on my Facebook page; my little ID picture. Remember the picture you took of me, sitting, working in the courtyard through the wooden gates? That’s the picture on my Facebook page.
Because we’ve been to COMO’ss in Bali, and I’ve also been to a couple of COMO’s in London, as well, a few years ago. They are a great hotel group; really nice, classy. What’s your favourite hotel then?
My favourite; I haven’t been back since the Hilton built out the view, But the Myst Dong Khoi. A beautiful little hotel; you’ve stayed there with me, at least once. The corridors are kind of very quirky, because they’ve made the corridors to be like laneways in Saigon. So you’ve got little roof bits coming out of a room. I mean, they’re purely decorative, and they’re all twisty. They’re not long straight corridors; they are twisty and windy. Great roof up there. Used to have a fabulous view from the restaurant, over the Saigon River and you’d see all the big boats coming up. That’s now gone, because there was a tiny space between the Myst and the main road and it’s now occupied by a huge Hilton Hotel; thank you. I remember the service in there was fantastic and the breakfasts and the afternoon teas, because they would have Western food and because they would have local Vietnamese food and little delicacies made, and it just felt really nice. I just always felt really comfortable there. And it was real atmosphere of Vietnam in there, wasn’t there? You know, some hotels you can go to and they can be a little bit sterile. You could be anywhere in the world, really. But that was really evocative, you know, the room and all the common areas. The foyer; do you remember the tiles on the ceiling? The tiles on the ceiling had been taken from the old wharf on the Saigon River. They were very proud of the fact that the tiles on the ceiling were older than the tiles on the Notre Dame Cathedral, in the city centre. So I’d go back there in a heartbeat. That’s what I ended up going, after I left my Airbnb.
And it’s actually nice, because I think hotels are getting a bit of a revival. I mean, Airbnb, and other short-term lets were a huge boom (and they still are a bit of a boom), but I think hotels are really fighting back. I think people are really appreciating what hotels can give them, which short-term lets can’t give them more. I mean, in Sydney alone, we’re seeing a lot of new hotels being built. And in Melbourne, exactly the same. It’d be nice to see hotels going back. Maybe, COVID was a factor as well; people like the idea that hotels are going to be really clean and pristine. I’m sure lots of short-term lets are as well, but you know, with hotels, they kind of feel it is more guaranteed.
Well, you know, the one thing about hotels is if you get woken up by a loud party in the next room, there’s somebody you can call. If you’re in an Airbnb and you’ve got a football club who’ve… Or even if you live in the apartment, and football club supporters have taken over an apartment and they’ve got three times as many people as they should have there and they’re partying all night…. A lot of the time, there’s nobody you can call, until they’ve gone. That’s one of the great things about hotels; they’re just secure and safe and if you pick the right one, you can have a very pleasant time. If you can afford it, you can stay in The Shard, in London. And while we’re talking about hotels and travel, if you haven’t already, please check out our other website, which is mildrover.com Lots of our travel adventures and recommendations and a few really good travel deals that you can pick up now. Go and have a look at that. Thanks very much, Sue. Great to talk to you again. Great to see you back here on the other side of the table. Thanks, Jimmy! Nice to be back. And thank you all for listening. Talk to you again soon.