While looking through a particularly beautiful Airbnb listing, you might think to yourself: This place is too good to be true. You browse the listing’s photos, read about its amenities, which include a pool and a sundeck, and it’s around this time when you discover the listing has zero reviews.
For the most part, there’s a pretty simple explanation: The listing is new and hasn’t received enough or any guests to review it. In other instances, however, it’s entirely possible you’re buying into a scam, though Airbnb claims to perform background checks on at least some of its members. Before you book an Airbnb with little or no reviews, it’s important to take a closer look at the listing and contact the host before completing the reservation.
Avoid contact outside of Airbnb’s direct messaging system
In most instances, requesting an Airbnb is fairly simple: You choose your dates, request the reservation, and a host accepts your request. (Using Airbnb’s 'Instant Booking' feature for some listings, this process happens automatically. For the vast majority of listings, however, a host must personally accept a reservation.)
You might find that a host will reach out before or after accepting a request, even asking for an email address to contact you. Here’s why this could raise a red flag, especially regarding listings with zero reviews: Your host will already have the ability to email you after a confirmed reservation and shouldn’t need your personal address.
Airbnb sets up anonymised, temporary email addresses between you and your host once they’ve confirmed your stay. Any emails to your temporary Airbnb email address will be forwarded to your personal email address. (Your host has no way of finding your actual email address unless you decide to provide it.)
Once you move from Airbnb’s messaging system to personal email addresses, you’re no longer protected by Airbnb. If there’s an issue with the listing, Airbnb can usually look at your messaging history to help resolve the issue, which presents problems for those who’ve made contact via their personal email addresses.
Of course, not every email is a scam; in the past, I’ve provided an email address to hosts with excellent reviews who have provided directions, photos or have asked for my full name for identification purposes. (In Japan, hosts are required by law to ask for copies of your passport, for example.)
If you’re dealing with a host with no reviews, however, there’s no reason you can’t politely ask to keep conversations to Airbnb’s messaging system. Also, you should do an online search for your destination’s particular laws regarding Airbnb listings in case a host asks for travel documents - the easiest way to to do this is just to search for the country and 'Airbnb'.
If you do make contact via email, scrutinise the email carefully and avoid clicking on links that ask for your information, as part of possible phishing scams. Airbnb also warns its guests of advance fee scams - when a host provides an especially good deal if you pay through a service outside of Airbnb. This is another huge red flag: You shouldn’t pay any part of a fee directly to a host.
Scrutinise the listing itself
If a price is too good to be true, especially when comparing it to other available listings at your destination, that’s another reason to be a little sceptical (though new hosts may offer a slightly reduced price to remain competitive). Here are a few other things you should ask yourself before booking:
Does the host have reviews for other listings? If so, check those listings and see how well-reviewed they are.
If you reverse image search some of the listings’ photos, do they come up elsewhere? This is a huge red flag, barring circumstances in which they might be listing a home on a competitor like VRBO. A lack of photos is another red flag. I have a friend who booked a stay at an Airbnb in Costa Rica with just two photos, neither of which revealed that the walls were not floor-to-ceiling. It made for an especially intimate stay with the other guests.
Do the photos include the amenities mentioned? If you’re promised a hot tub or a second bed, it’s worth confirming via the photos.
Is the description of the accommodation well-written? A short description with little details might be a reason to reconsider your stay.
Does the host warn you that you shouldn’t contact the property management or leasing office? This is another red flag. You don’t want to tip-toe around your Airbnb, especially if it’s not legal.
Once you have the address, is the description of the location accurate? You might want to confirm this to make sure the listing isn’t deceiving you.
Send the host a message
Before you request, it doesn’t hurt to send a simple message to a host with no reviews, asking something simple like “Is the listing new?” or just requesting more photos of the listing itself. You can use their response (and how quickly they respond) to judge for yourself whether the host is a credible one.
“Try sending a message to confirm the dates you are interested in are available & come up w a reasonable question not answered in the listing (such as proximity to a grocery store),” u/lemonsqueeziee suggested on a recent Reddit thread.
And if you do end up having an excellent stay, leave the host a stellar review; this will benefit the host and future guests looking for a place to stay so they aren’t left in the same position as you once were.