Booking an Airbnb is a popular hotel alternative all around the world. With some six million active listings on the vacation rental platform, there is no shortage of house and apartment rentals for families and groups of all sizes. Unfortunately, scams and low-quality accommodations abound on the platform, which is why it’s crucial for travelers to scrutinize each listing before making a booking. Plus, if you’re traveling with children, you’ll want to be extra careful to look for childproofing cues that ensure your rental is as safe as possible for kids.
Reading reviews is, of course, an essential part of your Airbnb research. (Zero reviews definitely means you’ll be a guinea pig.) But you should also look very carefully at the photos, not just glance at them to check a listing’s interior design style. Here are some subtle red flags in Airbnb photos that might make you want to reconsider that listing, both for general travelers and for families traveling with children.
General Airbnb Photo Red Flags
Don’t be swayed by a gorgeous view or fantastic location. Look closely and be aware: Sometimes what the photos don’t show can be just as revealing as what they do.
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1. There are more destination photos than house photos.
Eliminate listings that show more stock photos of the destination than of the Airbnb property itself. That could indicate any number of issues, from the Airbnb being run down and therefore not being photogenic (or hygienic…) to the listing being fake. Make sure that there are photos of every room in the house.
2. The photos look too good to be true.
Sometimes photos look a little too perfect—because some scammy listings use stock photos in their listing. To check for this, do a reverse image search of any iffy photos. If you find them all over the internet, beware of that listing.
3. The landscaping looks neglected.
If an Airbnb host is neglecting their property’s landscaping, it’s possible that they’re neglecting the home itself too. Airbnb photos are marketing material, so they should be taken when a listing looks its best. Don’t overlook shin-grazing grass or scrubby bushes.
4. There are no photos of a listing’s featured amenities.
For Airbnbs that list amenities like a private pool, a laundry room, a Ping-Pong table, or even just a beautiful view, make sure those amenities feature in the photos. If they’re not shown, they may not be what you’re expecting (and would be paying for)—or they may not exist at all.
5. Each bedroom has too many beds.
Some Airbnb hosts cram as many beds into each bedroom as possible. That could be a sign that it’s a party house and therefore might not be well maintained. An exception would be a family-oriented vacation home with children’s rooms that have double bunk beds or three twins.
6. You can see too many of the host’s personal effects.
In the early days of Airbnb, most hosts simply rented out their primary home to make a little extra cash. These days, most Airbnb listings are second (or third, or fourth) homes with no permanent residents. If you see what looks to be the host’s personal effects in the photos, it’s likely you’re staying in their primary residence. For some travelers, that might not be an issue. But if you’d prefer a more hotel-like stay, you might want to look elsewhere.
7. There are too many close-up shots.
A detail shot here and there is never a bad thing, but if a listing’s photos are all detail shots, that could mean there’s something wrong with the space. Airbnb photos should give you a good look at the listing, not just its coffee table vignettes or bookshelves.
Airbnb Red Flags for Parents
If you’re traveling with kids, the same childproofing steps you took at home—especially securing furniture and TVs—matter in Airbnb rentals. Carefully inspect features you may not have at home, like a pool or bunk beds, too.
8. The pool and/or hot tub is ungated.
Many Airbnbs show off their pool or hot tub in the pictures—and it’s especially swanky to see a cedar soaking tub or some such overlooking a view. But the amenity is an absolute no-go for families with young children if it’s not properly fenced in. Most municipalities have rules requiring pools and spas to be gated, but not all do—and some properties might not be compliant. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends pool owners install a self-closing, self-latching, key-lockable gate that’s at least four and ideally five feet high around water features like pools and hot tubs, whether they’re in-ground or above ground. If you’re traveling with kids, be certain there’s a gate that locks. Message the owner if you can’t tell from the pictures.
9. TVs are sitting on media stands.
TVs are a danger to little ones since they can easily topple over. Make sure your Airbnb has wall-mounted TVs or TVs set in furniture that can be closed, like an armoire.
10. There’s lots of tall furniture.
By the same token, tall furniture can easily tip over onto kids. While parents might anchor their own furniture into the wall, Airbnb hosts might not. Avoid listings with any sort of climbable furniture that might be a hazard, like high bookshelves and dressers. You can also message the host to ask about any pieces you’re concerned about.
11. The stairs or porches don’t have railings.
While there are strict building codes for railings these days, it’s possible that some homes won’t be up to those codes—particularly older homes that were built before those codes were put into effect.
12. The ceiling fans are too close to the top bunk.
If you’re looking to book a house with bunk beds for your kids, make sure that there are no ceiling fans close to the top bunk.
Stefanie Waldek is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, design, and travel. She’s worked on staff at Architectural Digest, ARTnews, and Oyster.com, a TripAdvisor company, and has contributed to Condé Nast Traveler, The Washington Post, Design Milk, and Hunker, among others. When she’s not dreaming about midcentury chairs, you can find her re-watching The X-Files, likely in an airport lounge or on a plane.