Thomas Bennett, co-founder of the luxury home rental social network Stay One Degree, talks to us about how his brainchild came about and why he can’t stand a certain Swedish furniture brand
I’ve never used Airbnb. Not because I wasn’t attracted by the economical rates and the amazing amenities some places provide, but because of a friend, who had a horrible experience after booking a temp abode so that he could attend the annual Baselworld watch fair. Hotels weren’t an option because those rooms in the city are booked years in advance. In truth, he didn’t have much of a choice.
“Most of our previous experiences with Airbnb were great, except that one time in 2015,” he says. “We landed at the host’s apartment only to find out that it was under renovation. There were no beds – just a few mattresses on the floor, no furniture, no white goods in the kitchen, and the bathroom door was an improvised sheet of metal that had to be crudely pulled over the door frame. There wasn’t even a WiFi connection. Obviously, the apartment looked nothing like the pictures that were uploaded. We immediately raised the issue with the owner who was occupying the floor above us. While he sheepishly agreed to refund the amount without much protest, we got back onto Airbnb and quickly booked another apartment across the city, whose owner, a Swiss security guard, was only too happy to earn an additional income that week.”
A quick google search showed me my friend wasn’t alone. There are dreadful stories of people who leased their homes through the app for a couple of days only to find the place turned upside down because of parties hosted there by guests. Best case scenarios had furniture broken and stolen, whereas worst-case scenarios had faeces on the floor, X-rated parties and in one instance, a guest-turned-squatter refused to leave the host’s home. In that last instance, the host had to lawyer up and go through an eviction process just to get the squatter out of her 600-sq-ft condo in Palm Springs, California.
Thomas Bennett, co-founder of Stay One Degree, a luxury home rental social network, has a similar, albeit less harrowing travel story. “We had booked a holiday in Bali for two weeks,” he says. “We trawled through hundreds of homes on one of the large websites and ultimately booked a villa that looked fantastic in the pictures. When we arrived, it was clear that the photos were heavily edited. The villa was very tired, incredibly noisy and the air-conditioning was non-existent. We were unable to sleep in the 30-degree heat. Even worse, we were unable to change the villa despite complaints and it ruined our holiday. We vowed never to book again without a personal connection with the owner.”
It was horror stories like those that drove Bennett and co-founder Jorge Munoz to ditch their roles in investment banking and create Stay One Degree. To put it plainly, the website is an ultra-luxury version of Airbnb. The difference, however, is in the details. “The unique element of Stay One Degree is that it is a social network focused on the luxury segment of the market,” Bennett explains.
“Our site operates in a similar fashion to LinkedIn. You can connect with your friends and view mutual connections.” What that essentially means is that if you want to rent a holiday home, all you need to do is reach out to the people within your network of friends and their friends. That way you’re not reaching out to a dodgy, anonymous house owner. The business model also ensures that those renting are doing so from a trusted connection. “You also have the added confidence that we hand pick every home to ensure the right quality for our members and we showcase the best homes globally,” Bennett adds.
As Bennett mentions, each property that shows up on the Stay One Degree website is personally vetted by himself and the team to ensure that they meet the standards befitting their posh clientele – which Bennett tells us includes Hollywood stars (including an Oscar winner), golf and football stars, a celebrity chef and a supermodel. Despite its lofty standards, Stay One Degree prioritises its customers. That’s not just regurgitated press release nonsense. Where other property rental websites command 50 per cent of a rental fee, Stay One Degree asks for a meagre eight per cent. “There are no annual fees or setup charges and we do all the work for homeowners creating their home profiles. We wanted to create a scenario where there is zero cost or effort required to become a member and list a home,” Bennett says.
“We vet our homes based on quality, desirability and location rather than simply price,” Bennett says. “Ultimately, we want our members to have holiday homes in an exciting and desirable location, furnished with tasteful décor, and have access to a day-to-day contact (onsite staff, property manager or owner).” Note the remark about furniture that’s casually sandwiched in there. The co-founders of Stay One Degree are particular about things like not having IKEA furniture in homes. “The quality and style of the home interiors are part of our selection process and reflect the fact that most of our residences are real homes and have not been furnished at the lowest cost solely for mass rentals,” Bennett clarifies. I somehow suppress the urge to say, “Oh, snap!”