- Home stay platform The Plum Guide has a goal of becoming the Michelin Guide of the home rental world.
- Currently operating in six cities – London, New York, Rome, Milan, Paris, and LA – the company recently raised $18 million to expand around the globe.
- Its vetting process is incredibly strict, and includes a visit from a “home critic” who conducts a 150-question test and looks for a home to meet 500 specific criteria.
- Not every property on the site is uber-expensive, though – in London, for example, the average price is £323 ($407) per night, and the cheapest option is £90 ($113) per night.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When it comes to choosing a new restaurant to eat at in a new city, the Michelin Guide is a pretty safe bet for recommendations.
But when it comes to booking somewhere to stay, the same type of guide doesn’t exist.
This was the realization of Doron Meyassed, founder of London-based home stay platform The Plum Guide, which is trying to become the “Michelin Guide” of the home rental world through a rigorous vetting process that includes a visit from a “home critic” and a test involving 150 different criteria.
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After launching in 2015 in London, the platform has since expanded to five cities – New York, Rome, Milan, Paris, and LA – and now has more than 3,200 global homes in its collection and 1.3 million global users.
However, it hasn’t been an easy process to reach that number – and the company plans to keep it that way.
Iona Carter, Head of Brand for The Plum Guide, told Business Insider that the idea for the company was inspired by an amazing Airbnb stay – and the realization that they’re not all that good.
“Doron said: ‘Why can’t every stay be like this? Why is it that as a user, it’s so hit and miss?'” she said.
“It’s so difficult to tell from a listing written by the host themselves. It’s obviously in their interest to talk about the home in a certain way… There’s so much mistrust out there.”
She said that not only is the endless scrolling of Airbnb “such a headache,” but the review system isn’t fit for purpose – which is why The Plum Guide doesn’t have public user reviews.
According to Carter, Meyassed discovered that 95% of homes on Airbnb have 4.5 stars or more – and they simply cannot all be that good.
“The review system is quite biased,” she said. “For a number of reasons people don’t always feel they can be honest when they’re leaving reviews, partly because maybe they met the host and they actually got on very well … it’s clearly their livelihood and you don’t want to screw them over like that.”
She added that with Airbnb, you only see what the other person has written about you if you write something about them.
“There’s a lack of honesty and transparency in the space,” she said.
Meyassed set out to see if there were enough homes out there where “the hosts were going the extra mile, who really thought and cared about every detail, and stocked their fridge with fresh produce and would chat to guests.”
He asked: What ingredients does a home need in order to deliver the perfect stay?, then came up with a test and set of criteria to find these homes and hosts in a systematic way.
“He went and spoke to not just people that travel really regularly but also the people from the hotel space – hoteliers, designers, architects, even psychologists – and asked them, ‘What makes a great stay?'” Carter said.
Based on his research, he built a list of criteria, with the idea that if a home met all them, it qualified for The Plum Guide collection.
He started with 32 criteria. Now, there are 500 questions on the test, and 150 criteria a home has to meet, as part of what the company calls “The Science & Art Behind The Perfect Stay.”
How The Plum Guide works
When Plum Guide launches in a new city, it uses an algorithm to “basically scrape all of the other booking sites that list short term rental properties,” according to Carter, seeking out only those that are in a “Plum neighborhood” – in London, for example, Kensington is the best-selling neighborhood on the platform.
“We have very tight guidelines for what a good neighborhood is … it needs to have soul, local amenities, local transport, feel safe. I think there’s 15 or so criteria – the location is almost important as the home for people.”
Luis Mulet, Home Critic at The Plum Guide, added: “When we come to see the homes, if it’s a dodgy street in the center of Berlin, you’re not going to want to walk down it at midnight. Those are the things we’re there for.”
The algorithm also weeds out any properties that have negative reviews.
Then, the Plum Guide team go through the remaining listings one-by-one to weed out anything that is “aesthetically unattractive that we don’t think would meet our design standards.”
“From that shortlist, we’ll then reach out to the hosts of the homes and say they’ve been nominated for the collection,” Carter said. “The idea is that the city lead will then have a chat with them and do an initial interview – just to check the host meets our service standards – then the home critic does more when they visit.”
Mulet told Business Insider the phone screening “doesn’t replace a face-to-face interaction because people tend to overpromise a lot over the phone.”
“It’s a good way to screen people that are obviously not good at first, but the interaction the home critics have when we do the test is good to see if the host is on brand and offers the level of service that we need,” he said.
Only 1 in 100 homes is selected
Only 1 out of every 100 properties in each city is invited to join the Plum Guide Collection, according to the company, and when the home critic visits a property, the process is incredibly thorough.
Mulet told Business Insider he’s usually in a home for around two hours, starting by asking the host for a tour, doing an initial interview with them about who they are and what they do, then going through the home test, using software put together by Plum.
“We write bios for the hosts in the listings, ask questions about their personality,” he said.
Then it’s time for a mock check-in.
“The team setting up the home visit brief the host so the home is guest-ready, and as the guest would see it,” Mulet said, adding that the critics look out for things like funny locks or how many steps you have to take to access a home.
They run through house rules, check that there’s a detailed home manual, then start collecting as much information as possible on the home in order to make an accurate listing to “sell the home to the right person.”
With communal areas, they check whether it’s a “sociable space” and whether there are entertainment options (and a strong WiFi connection), while with a kitchen, it’s about knowing every single appliance that’s there and “making sure all of the basics are stocked.”
“We usually ask hosts as a minimum for salt, pepper, olive oil, tea, coffee,” he said. “How could you be expected to go and buy some salt? It’s just crazy.”
Mulet will even measure and check every single mattress and the fillings of duvets and pillows.
“Is it feather, down, or is it feather and down? Those things are very important for some people, [and we] have to have our bases covered,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many good-looking and expensive homes have very poor quality mattresses.”
As far as whether he tests them out himself? “I definitely give it a good try,” he said.
He said one thing that’s easy for hosts to get wrong is not providing adequate toiletries in the bathrooms.
“A lot of hosts will be stingy and only leave two [toilet] rolls, which is a big guest gripe,” he said. “You get very negative feedback for that.”
The critic will also check outdoor areas are well maintained and groomed.
Then comes design, which is perhaps one of the most important criteria.
“We know what good design is, what we want, what we like,” he said. “Whether the home gives you a positive feel, quality of furniture … A lot of homes just have the cheapest Ikea furniture, that’s fine for Airbnb but it’s not what we’re after.”
He added that they check the layout is “as good as it can be” and also look for “curated art collections” – “cheap Ikea prints most of the time don’t do it.”
Carter said the home critics rely heavily on the “feel” of a property – the “idea that good design is emotive and makes you feel something.”
She said the company even has a “Design Manifesto,” or a bible of things to look out for.
Finally, they draw a floorplan of the property showing the distribution of furniture and sizes of every room – “guests really love that.”
After their visit, the home critic submits the completed test to Plum Guide HQ along with a score, and their recommendation on whether or not they think the home should pass or fail.
“That’s such gold dust, the verdict as we call it,” Carter said. “Then it goes back to the collection managers who maybe have a conversation about it and make a decision.”
If a home passes the test, the company then builds a listing for the property, informed by the critic’s visit and using their own photography.
“Unlike other platforms where the host writes their own listing, the idea is that the Plum voice is speaking to you, the guest, as a trusted friend and third party objective reviewer,” Carter said.
The listings contain information about a neighborhood – who lives there, recommendations on which restaurants and coffee shops to go to – as well as check-in and check-out times, the floorplan, amenities, sleeping arrangements, bed sizes, noise levels, pillow/duvet contents, the host’s bio, and any extra services the host provides.
“We share who might not like the home or why you might not like it, things you might want to know in advance,” Carter said.
She added that the company is constantly learning from guest feedback.
“Although we don’t do public reviews because we think that system doesn’t work, we’re trying to introduce a more consistent, reliable, and trustworthy way to assess a home,” Carter said.
In order to do this, the company collects a review from the customer after their stay that’s shared with everyone in the business.
“An automatic email goes to everyone in the company and every home critic globally each morning with feedback, things to improve, things they love,” she said, adding that this information is then fed back into the test and property listing.
“If a host suddenly gets a bit lax and we get a poor guest review, we’ll put that home into review and probably delist it from the collection,” Carter said. “A bad guest experience is a bit like a plane crash for us, we take it really seriously because our whole business is about guaranteeing that great stay.”
‘We probably look more luxury than we are’
The company says the majority of its users are “mature, affluent individuals,” and that customer referrals between them drive a quarter of all bookings.
In a statement, Meyassed said: “Most rental platforms are trying to get as many people as possible to use their site. We are clearly targeting a highly discerning group of affluent professionals that live in global megacities, love to travel and value great design, quality and locations.
“Previously they have stayed away from the open marketplace booking platforms, which they consider too risky compared with the reassurance that a hotel provides.”
This doesn’t mean every property on the site is uber-expensive, though.
“One of the challenges we have at the moment is that we probably actually look more luxury than we are, and I think that’s partly because the hero homes we push in our marketing are more luxury,” Carter said. However, she added: “The context is affordable luxury.”
“One of the biggest things guests love is the variety of homes on the platform, it’s almost like the world’s biggest boutique hotel, [and] there’s every style to suit every taste.”
In London, for example, the average price is £323 ($407) per night, and the cheapest options are Blue Gardens at £90 ($113) per night…
…or The Forum at £98 ($124) per night.
On the other end of the spectrum, the most expensive option is the £5,720 ($7,213) per night Ivory Tower…
…Or the £4,004 ($5,049) per night Chelsea Glam.
No matter which type of property they opt for, according to Mulet: “The profile of our guests is very different to the profile of an Airbnb guest most of the time on average, [and] hosts really like that.”
For a user on the platform, the company uses office-based “matchmakers” who help people find the right home for them based on what’s available.
“It’s that extra level of reassurance [that] a matchmaker has been speaking with the guest for two weeks and can vouch for the fact they’re pretty unlikely to trash the place,” Carter said.
Earlier this year, The Plum Guide raised £14 million ($18 million) of Series B funding for its global expansion, with plans to roll out in Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Madrid, and Tel Aviv, as well as six additional US cities by the end of 2019.
By the end of the year, it hopes to have 12,000 verified homes on the platform.
“The vision of the business is to build a marketplace of the world’s most beautiful homes,” Carter said. “We sometimes talk about it as like the Michelin Guide but for homes … Michelin represents an outdated concept of luxury that’s now not really relevant to most people – white gloves, stiff table-cloths.
“Luxury has changed.”
She said the company recently conducted a “big piece of consumer insight” which showed that people’s idea of luxury is “so different” than it used to be.
“It’s a lot more relaxed, it’s about quality and experience rather than just white table cloths,” she said.
However, she added: “The Michelin in its hayday was the arbiter of quality and the thought leader in what excellence looked like in food.
“Today The Plum Guide operates in homes, but the idea is that we’ll take this idea of who can be the arbiter of quality in the 21st century to other verticals as well, to become the trusted authority not just for homes but for hotels, restaurants, in the future.”