It was 10PM in Paris and my guests had already been stuck in front the door of my apartment for 3 hours. They just could not open the damned door. Oh, and I was more than 4,000 miles (6,700 kilometers) away from them, in my St Barts villa rental. This had been my first try with short term rentals and it was going really wrong. I knew quite a few thing about luxury villa rentals, but not much about luxury apartment rentals. This was not going to be one fine stay for these jet lagged tourists, because of me.
However, they were in luck and so was I: They had not found my luxury short term rental through AirBnB, but through OneFineStay (link: onefinestay.com). This meant that they were not alone in Paris and that a OneFineStay employee had been trying to contact me to find a solution (Too bad that I, in St Barts, had switched off my cell phone before lunchtime and had not been in a hurry to turn it back on).
The French way: Phone calls and bottles of wine to solve a delicate situation
However, as I returned from the beach, I did turn my laptop on and I found an email from somebody at OneFineStay. In a hurry, I called them immediately. After 2 phone calls here and there, I got the matter resolved in 15 minutes, thanks to the help of my trusted « concierge » (a sort of Parisian apartment building receptionist with super powers).
By the time these guests ended their stay, it seems that they were not finally that mad with me. It probably helped that I had left beforehand 7 bottles of wine for them and that they (actually, the 2 of them) had gulped down 4 of these bottles (and they also left a bottle of vodka in the freezer and 2 new bottles of white wine in the fridge).
Tout est bien qui finit bien (All is good that ends good).
Why did I sign up to be a host with OneFineStay?
In August 2013, I was doing some research on luxury rentals. My goal was to understand better how to market my villa rentals in Bali and in St Barts. I was looking for AirBnB clones and somewhere online I found OneFineStay, which I first thought of as luxury AirBnB. This is how I stumbled upon an interview of OneFineStay founder Greg Marsh.
As I was spending more and more time in Bali and St Barts, I thought that I could rent out my own Paris apartment while I was away. Why not try this new service, especially as I really liked the idea of them handling the guests and providing them with stunning service? I could always do with the additional revenues, before leaving Paris to St Barts for good.
I was also excited by the novelty of the concept: OneFineStay promised to offer hotel-like services, such as « 5-star Toiletries, towels and linens » , a clean-up team that would take care of my apartment before and after the stay, an iPhone for local calls and personal local recommendations from the rental owner (me). The company positions itself as the « unhotel » and I wanted to see how it worked, for my own education and to get ideas for my own rentals as well.
Becoming a OneFineStay France member, before the official launch
At that time, the Paris OneFineStay.com website had not yet launched. But somehow, it was logical to me that they would tackle the market soon, as the British and the Americans like spending time in Parisian flats / apartments as holiday lets / vacation rentals.
I left them a message via their website and I soon got an e-mail from OneFineStay France’s MD, Keyvan Nilforoushan. He was very kind and referred me to his inventory manager. In early September, when I was back in Paris, I had a visit from Keyvan’s team. 2 young, motivated and extremely polite persons explained the rules to me and inspected the apartment.
Apparently, it was to their taste. They sent a very nice photographer who took lovely photos of the apartment. She was helped by a stylist who brought in the exact same linens and toiletries that would be used by the guests. I was quite impressed (Now, my own linens were also by Frette, so I was not that jealous).
Fellow rental owners, always read the fine prints
Signing up to the service was a bit complicated, as I had to sign contracts with 2 different entities, one handling the online booking, and another one handling the guests in Paris. I also discovered that I had become a Member of OneFineStay and that I was entitled to discounts on my own short term stays in other cities served by the company, like London and New York.
Even though I signed contracts with OneFineStay, it did not mean that they were legally handling the bookings. Just like with AirBnB, they consider that the guests contract with me, i.e. “The Fine Print – We arrange the bookings and provide services to you during your stay, although your contract for the accommodation is with the member directly.”
Telling a story, not describing an apartment
OneFineStay also hires writers to create the apartment description. This is about telling a story, much more than about describing the rooms of the apartment. Here’s the example of a paragraph from the description of my apartment. You can see yourself there and feel what it is like. Very well done.
“Majestically poised atop one of the city’s former trade gateways, Boulevard Lannes is a residence worthy of royals, overlooking their historic hunting woods. Surfaces gleam inside – varnished hardwoods, smartly polished floors and shimmering granite of the kitchen countertops. And there’s a dazzling view across the verdant Bois de Boulogne towards the winking skyscrapers of La Défense. Recline inside, mimicking the paintings that hang on the bright walls, as you settle into your personal realm.”
Send in the cleaning brigade
Before and after the stay, OneFineStay sent a cleaning team to my apartment. These people did not just clean everything, they also packed my own belongings, personal toiletries and put stickers all over the place.
Stickers? Yes! I had previously indicated that some drawers, for instance, should not be open (the ones where I had left my clothes). OneFineStay has a very clever system where the sticker turns black if removed or tampered with. Then, the guests know that they should not open the drawer. More than this, the cleaning team also takes photos of the apartment before they touch anything, so that they are able to put all your belonging back where they were.
This is also a way to resolve disputes, if an owner says that something is missing after a short term rental. This happened to me: an unopened bottle of perfume went missing after a stay. I am not sure what happened. OneFineStay was great about it: They checked the before / after photos that they had taken and noticed that the perfume was indeed missing. They went to great pains to hand deliver me the exact same bottle under 48 hours.
What wrong during my experience with OneFineStay?
However, I got 2 short term rentals through OneFineStay and both started badly.
Not only the first guests, but also the second ones could not open the door! This had never happened to me, the owner, in 15 years, and it had to happen twice in a row, with paying guests. Anyway, my trusted concierge was able to get the situation resolved.
This was a bit weird, as I had had 4 new sets of keys made just for OneFineStay to use. In both instances, it was not the keys that were at fault, but the door itself. Bad karma?
Why did I stop being a OneFineStay member?
At first, I thought that it could be a great solution for me, as I was frequently leaving Paris to go St Barts and Bali. But I after a while, I realized that OneFineStay was a great option for people who leave their home from time to time, not for people leaving for several months in a row.
Financially, it makes more sense to find a long term tenant than giving out 50% of the rental revenues to OneFineStay. That was pretty steep.
What I did not like with One Fine Stay
Something that surprised me and that I did not like was the absence of seasonal revenues for owners.
To my understanding, rental owners get a flat nightly fee, whatever the season. For instance, an owner gets the same revenues in the busy Christmas season as in March (low season). However, OneFineStay can change the pricing of the apartment on the site according to the season, get the additional revenues and keep them.
This was not something I really liked, as it is obviously different from what I do with my St Barts rentals, where the villa agencies work on a commission basis. It means that we have a common interest in having season pricing. I am not a big fan of the flat revenues structure for owners. This can only create frustration for some owners who feel like they are leaving money on the table on this transaction.
In the end, I would recommend OneFineStay to owners who:
- want to get some additional revenues from their primary home
- leave their home from time to time, maybe for several weeks in a row, but not for months
- do not want to have to take care of welcoming guests and cleaning up the apartment (and are ready to shed revenues for this service)