Hobbit

The little garages outside the Hobbit entry to the right.  On the left you can see the historic Campbell House–our next door neighbor.DSC_0001wakefield

The front of the Wakefield House above–Hobbit entry is around the back under the portcullis.

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Hobbit closet and Heywood Wakefield vanity.  Note floor!

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Living room from bedroom door

The living room is a good bit more spare than shown–red futon is no longer present.

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New paint–and now new appliances

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Hobbit kitchen from entry

Long term guests. Check out cleaning.

This information about how a unit is to be left is not applicable to short-term, nightly or weekly stays. Short-term guests have already paid to have their units cleaned for them–it is included in the rate.

Renting a furnished unit long-term, that is month to month at a steeply reduced rate, involves a partially refundable cleaning fee.

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If you want some of the cleaning fee back at the end of your stay, that can be accomplished.  But, we are also perfectly happy to clean your unit for you after you depart.

If you’d like us to do the cleaning, and most people do, please let us know the week before so we can schedule both help and time in between tenants.

What does it cost and how long does it take? A checkout clean will easily take up the total of your deposited cleaning funds.  If you do it yourself please make sure you allocate roughly six or more hours to effectively clean your unit.  Really.  That is how long it takes.  We don’t expect to just wipe down your unit before the next guest arrives.  It has to be dismantled and really thoroughly cleaned.

I tell a story below, but for those who’d just like to know what is expected (and not expected), here is a list.

To get all but about $30 of your cleaning money back you should make sure the following have been done.

Pots and pans, dishes cabinets: Dishes should be squeaky clean, cabinets wiped out.  If you suspect a pan has worn out please leave it on the counter.  We will donate or discard it.

Leftover food: please either discard (or leave in a bag for us to sort for the chickens) any opened containers.  The exceptions to this are salt, pepper, sugar, flour and the teas and supplies your unit came equipped with.  Do NOT leave partially used items “for the next tenant.”  We know it makes no sense, but they will not use them.  Trust us.

Bath soap: Please do not throw away our containers for the organic soaps.  We refill them.

Linens and towels: please do not bother to make the beds.  We will be washing everything. Used towels should go in the bathtub.  (This service is where the partially refundable comes in.)

Appliances: The microwave, coffee pot, toaster, refrigerator and stove should be clean. The drip pans should be cleaned and covered with new tin foil–or replaced. (Roughly $15)

Carpets:   If your stay has exceeded six months or you have had pets in residence we will have the carpets cleaned.  We use a black light to make sure any problem areas are dealt with.

The hardwood floors and most woodwork have a polyurethane finish. Do not use any oil base soaps (for example Murphy’s) as it makes them impossible to re-coat as needed  Please vacuum, sweep and wipe down hard surfaces lightly with water, or glass cleaner (vinegar). Damp rag, not wet.

Bathroom: If you don’t think you could happily eat off of every surface in the bathroom, it is not clean enough. If the next guest sees one hair in the bathroom the assumption will be that it has not been cleaned.  This is not easy to do and not something you would ever have to do in your own home.

You are not responsible for the following: replacing the shower curtain, cleaning the chandeliers, the blinds, the baseboard, moving major furniture to clean behind it or under it.  And as stated, we always do the linens for the next guest.

The law on damage deposits is the landlord has two weeks to assess and actually clean/repair the unit to reach a total documented damage deposit refund, but there is no such rule on the optional refund of cleaning fees.  That is truly at our discretion.  If you are concerned or have questions after reading the list above, please ask. And certainly, if you find something amiss on your check in let us know.  That is not complaining, it is information we need.

Now the story:

The purpose of a checkout cleaning is to make the just lived in unit “as new as possible” for the next guest.  A totally clean slate.

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And that, my friends and clients, is not something that is just like tidying up for a casual visitor.  Things must be more orderly than “normal”.  This is complicated by furniture that is antique, and the extreme variance in people’s perception of “normal”.

And the attachment to the idea that slight effort will result in  “good enough” for the next tenant has its problems.

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Nice floor!

People “read” the situation carefully when they arrive.  And if they find a hair in the tub, a spot on the refrigerator, crumbs in the pans, fingerprints on the windows–all normal unnoticed things that happen in the course of living in a place–they notice.  And not in a nice or comfortable way.

An economist would call leaving a unit needing work (that would be resented if it was paid for) an “externality.” That is a cost that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost.  The tenant in the future does not want to pay for the maintenance required by the actions of their predecessor.  And they should not have to.  Most people are orderly, but sometimes even if orderly, they are busy and pressed for time.  We know this.

That is why we do not charge equally for everyone–because it is not fair.  The living habits on one set of guests may take three hours to erase, for others, six times that.  A $500 difference in resources expended.  In our opinion that should not be spread between all guests.  Simply, we have a policy of cleaning funds being set aside because we like to keep our rates as low as possible and do not like to charge the tenant in X for the cleaning of Y.  Time required is ridiculously variable and the cleaning funds, though present are relatively minor.

We also know that tidiness has nothing to do with the character of a particular guest.

How people approach the cleaning funds on deposit, public comment after the fact and behavior while on site, really are character issues.  Grime is not.  I don’t care what your mother said!

Oh, and it also does not matter what people self-report.

So, though we really don’t care if a guest cleans or not, the unit must be close to perfect for the next guest, so we like to know in advance so we can schedule appropriate time both for the cleaning, and not booking the unit too closely.

Indulge me in telling you a story that may make this more clear, and ask yourself in the window of between an 11 AM check out and a 3PM check in if the cleaning I describe below could have happened?  Hint: it involved three workers, two trips to the hardware store, a makeshift repair, and about a day and a half.  The tenant was great–just busy and not a slavish housekeeper.  No problem.

If you like, here’s the story, with pictures, and keep in mind when you look at them that the more updated, more expensive units are MUCH easier to take care of.  Smooth, shiny, hard, surfaces are a lot easier to deal with.

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This unit (D of the Odell) recently had about a $40,000 upgrade having to do with surfaces.  Tile floors, new fridge, induction cook top, dishwasher, self cleaning oven.  These things make life easier.  We understand this. The furniture is still antique.

We once had an individual stay with us  in a different apartment who was memorable in wit, education, and charm.  This person was communicative, but not invasive, smart, funny, clear and reasonable in every request.  A really delightful individual.  The rent was negotiated to the lowest possible point in the oldest and smallest apartment of the Wakefield House, but paid 100% on time and in full. This individual was truly a great guest–and we think so to this day.  We would invite this guest back in a second, and give a glowing recommendation to any other landlord.

Even though we retained the cleaning fee.

It is our job to make sure the units are clean for the next guest, and sure, we sometimes get paid to take care of that.

On the appointed hour of departure, the guest cheerfully related,  “It should be good to go.  I left some things for the next tenant.”

This kind of statement tends to make me nervous–because it can mean anything.  As you will soon see.

I took a quick look around the unit.

At first our littlest apartment, the tiny Hobbit Hole unit, appeared pretty orderly.  The counters were clean.  The rug and floor had been vacuumed.  The things, as my own cleaning helper says, that make it “look” clean–like the faucets wiped off–had been done.

We have learned however, over time, that things can’t just look clean on the surface, they have to actually be clean.  And in a place where people can and do cook and live deeply, that can be a project.

First there were some dishes to do.

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Not an abusive pile, but when I started to wash them I found every cup and glass had a slight film of grease.  All the pots and pans were sticky or had crumbs.  Trying to remedy this, I discovered that the replacement dish soap the guest had bought mid-stay would not cut any grease,  The dishes had been washed, yes, but they were not clean.  Troublesome!

So I loaded all the cups and plates and cookware into a wheel barrow and took them to my apartment to run through the dishwasher, returning with some better soap to stock the unit.

I inspected a bit deeper.  Found a grocery bag worth of stale and mostly used food in the fridge.  Into the trash, it went and in doing so I noted that the trash can was both broken and dirty.  Note to replace. $20.

The handle of the freezer had been broken.

I expected this because a few hours before the guest had told me about it, stating it appeared to have been glued in the past.  I looked at it and took down the serial number to order a part, attempted to re-glue it and made a note to apologize to the next tenant–scheduled to move in almost immediately.  No time to order a part before arrival.  This kind of thing makes us look disorganized.  I wish the tenant had told me about it so I could have had it fixed in time.

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(The tape is to secure the glue which may or may not be effective.

Then I looked at the stove.  It is a self cleaning model that the tenant had noted cleaning.

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That was of course true.

Would you like to be the next guest?

I noted this was going to take several hours and another purchase.  New rings for the stove because  grease had been baked through the tin foil covering. Not bad. Easy to fix $15 and a trip to the hardware store.  Given that one can spend hours attempting to clean these things, it is often better to just replace them.

I moved on to the bathroom.  There was a weird stain in the tub.  (Later I began to think dye had been used–either hair or clothing.)

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The stain is there for good. (I know, I worked on it for over an hour.)  The other dirt washed out.

I have ordered one of these: a commercial adhesive anti-slip mat.

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http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006OB5TK0/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

$20.  It won’t fix the tub, but they do work well as long as you are careful applying them.  A good thing to have and know about for older tubs. Sadly, I can’t get it in before the next tenant arrives.

Then I checked the toilet.

And I have to admit, this will take a bit of explaining.

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Never mind the “ewwww” factor, on closer examination I found the guest had, for some reason, made a failed attempt to flush half a pot roast down the toilet.

This, though a classic example of “cutting out the middle man”, was not a good idea.  I went back to get my disposable gloves.

Below is how it should look when a guest checks in.

As noted above, if you don’t want to do all or any of this we don’t mind.  Just be clear with yourself.  If you have not cleaned the oven and refrigerator don’t worry about vacuuming.  We’ll have to do it again anyway after we get done with the actual cleaning.

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Microwave clean, soap on counter, appliances clean, counters and sink clean, clean dish towels set out.  Pot holders washed and dried.

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Pots and pans orderly and clean.

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Trash can empty, cleaned and with new liner.  Note the floor is not really clean in this picture.  That comes last, after all the other cleaning is done.

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Oven clean, new drip pans if needed.

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Refrigerator empty and clean.  The only things that can be left in the fridge are baking soda and non perishable condiments–no mayo.  People will generally not use open containers.  If it is not something you would find on a breakfast table eating out, it can’t be left.  (We do collect things for charity and the chickens, but it is not a favor to us to not decide yourself what should be done with leftovers–of all types.)

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Here are things we try to do between every stay which we don’t expect departing long term guests to do.

Clean the windows and blinds.

Install new shower curtains

Iron the doilies

Clean the light fixtures

We do the these things because in an old house with inevitable wear they shout: “We care about how you found the place!”

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Please tell us well in advance if there is a problem that we will need to deal with between guests–not as your hand is on the door knob–well in advance.  That is not complaining, that is just keeping us up to date, and we really, really appreciate the information.

Everyone deserves a clean, fresh start to their stay.  That said, the apartments are probably not perfect when every guest checks in. For instance, we do not clean the older ovens between every short stay because it takes chemicals to do so.  It smells bad and sometimes there is no time to let things air out.  The ovens do get cleaned at the end of long stays–we schedule time for this.  Likewise, we do not move all the furniture and clean behind it on every stay.  Nor do we expect clients to do this.  In fact we hate it when the furniture is moved!

The partially refundable cleaning fee is a gentle limit on how much time, effort and money a departing long term guest leaves the collective house economy with.  It is not a value judgement or a character issue.  No one gets a perfect score. Everyone gets some help for free.

Rick and I have talked about it many times, and we persist that we will not raise rates on everyone in order to accommodate potentially expensive checkout cleaning for long term guests.

Here are some pictures of a very clean check out that happened this morning.

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The unit was better than when this client moved in–I’m going to have to ask what she used on the bathroom floor–talk about perfect!

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Wow.  What a great job. Nice surfaces, sure, but way better looking now than when she checked in.

I walked downstairs with the laundry and refunded the whole deposit

But really, I visited her on occasion and her unit actually looked very orderly almost every day.  She did not cook much.  (Grease on walls is time consuming to remove.)  It probably took only an hour or two to make it “as was.”

If that’s not you, you cook a lot, are busy with other stuff and not tidy every single day, then my advice is, don’t sweat it. There’s no shame in having someone tune up things for you.  And we won’t think better or worse of your character over a few crumbs under the table or the fridge not squeaky clean–we’ll just clean it up and charge you appropriately.

We do take it rather more personally if you have not emptied the trash or recycled the whole time you have been in residence. . .

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Fondly, we hope,

Dale and Rick

The Gazebo and Kitchen Garden on the Poplar Street side.

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This rather stunning photo is of a winterscape at Hidcote Castle.  It is in England–where they take gardening pretty seriously.

In case you were wondering, the strong geometric influence behind the twin gazebos–one of which you can walk through to reach the other if you were to approach from the side–is a group of pleached Hornbeams.

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Pleaching.  A task outside my vision, and one I am sure would not excite Rick, who often gets the “heavy labor” side of inspiration.  Still, it is an interesting effect.

We got our square and circular effects in a slightly less labor-intensive manner.  (This was of course by cheating: copying the already nifty architecture on our corner.)

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I ran across the formal Hidecote garden while looking for design ideas for the Odell House gazebo and kitchen garden. We’ve had plans to build something for years, but just got ’round to of late.  We also wanted to enclose the space and on the side of the house that, well, originally had the central kitchen.  The Poplar Street and south face.  But we didn’t want to create an eyesore–which can be a problem when the uneducated (us)  plop something down in the middle of the work of people who did know what they were doing.  Our answer?  Careful research and hiring someone who could build on site in the manner of the original carpenters.

And that would be Dave:

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One of Dave’s gates.

On to the Gazebo!

A small structure in a garden is not a new idea by any means.  Below, the little kitchen garden pavilion at Monticello–the home of Thomas Jefferson, who experimented expensively with horticulture in the Colonial days of America–a lot of the focus was in growing vegetables.

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Of course, by “cultivators of the earth” Jefferson is referring in 1790 to his 118 slaves who actually did the work in the garden.

Their plot is of course a lot more elaborate than ours. . .

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Back in Spokane, we decided to have fun with the Gazebo roof structure, mimicking the Odell House roof lines, attempting to give it a feeling of “always there.”  This is also a common hope that the smaller “outer house” will mimic some features of the larger one

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(Practical note: A more recent photo of the same area: below to the right of the gazebo we installed a gas grill. This is common space–please go cook whatever you cook. That area over the lawn is also a good place in nice weather to smoke–which  is not allowed within 50 feet of an opening window or door of the main house.  The advantage of course–assuming it is not raining is that one need not sweep up ash.  Small flower pots make ash trays–please to not transport any of these items into the house or house trash cans.  The general refuse area is just behind the parked cars. )

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Here is the gazebo creator, our carpenter Dave, on the job, if notoriously camera shy.

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You will note no construction debris.

This is because every single day when Dave left, the place was neat as a pin.  (Part of his day is cleanup.)  And so he would go off in the evening, taking with him yet another chair for regluing, appearing again in due time to tackle another phase.   And in the garage I would find the repaired chair, and on returning it to its mates, pick another for a trip to “Dr. Dave’s”.

(There are few things more wonderful for beefing up maintenance than having a dedicated cabinet maker regularly on the place.)

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We painted the interior one of our lesser used trim colors–Templeton Grey.  It makes the interior recede a bit.  The door with circular window was a chance find at an architectural salvage place.  We like how it mirrors the main house details.  The second little landing deck makes the step up less severe, and is offering another place to grow food instead of lawn.

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Back to Dave and the details of the project.  People actually stop to take photos of the fence all the time.  Not that it is fancy. It is very simple, made out of cedar and simple 2×4 inch rectangular woven wire.

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But like everything Dave does it is well crafted and every detail thought out and executed with care.

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The self closing “cannon ball” gates were his idea.

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The clenched fist hitching posts (there are a pair) were popular c. late 1800 when there were actually equines to be tied up.

The gazebo soffits (under the roof line) are antique bead board–just like the main house.

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Dave created trim to match the house as well.

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The siding is cedar, identical to the original.

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The decks are redwood to resist rot.

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We think it fits nicely.

Looking across the kitchen garden to the Wakefield.

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So why a gazebo?

Sitting outside, with just a little protection is wonderful.  Part of our nature.

But the the apartments on the south side of the house have no porch.

Attempting to share the main porch, if you have not rented apartment A or B means you are sitting right next to the current residents bedroom.  That just doesn’t work.

Seeing the need across multiple tenants, I wanted a common space that was easy to access for everybody, but not connected to any one unit.  I wanted something that took advantage of the beautiful view north to the Wakefield and bluff.  A place to take shelter from either the sun, or the prevailing wind, depending on the day and season.

Thanks Dave!

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Above, our version, lacking several hundred “employees,” of a raised bed–the straw bale garden.  If you want to read more about that please see:

https://odellhouselodging.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/be-there-and-get-square-straw-bale-garden-seminar-april-26-may-24/

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Oh, and PS, (don’t tell Rick,) thought daunted by tree pleaching, I am somewhat interested in topiary. . .

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Honestly, we don’t serve breakfast! Never have. Is that a three star offense?

Well, here we go.  We got a two star review.  Never mind chocolates on the table, ironed sheets and organic soaps.  We are frauds because we do not serve breakfast!

According to the article linked below, this is serious.

“Research at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012 showed that an increase or decrease of just half a star can have a significant impact on the number of bookings a restaurant receives. For very small establishments, such as out of the way country pubs, the effects can be devastating financially and incredibly upsetting, personally”

Stars are important.  People glance at stars and move on. They may never read the logic or factor it in.

And re the review, while everybody makes mistakes–we probably more so than many–this review was a set up.

(As well as a good example of a factor called “online disinhibition effect.”)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_disinhibition_effect

This review violated the Trip Advisor guidelines for reviews because it was written by a close competitor, only a few miles away.

And this is increasingly a problem.  As is guest blackmail.  For instance, a long term guest who leaves the apartment a wreck and then threatens to give a trumped up bad reviews unless their cleaning fee is waived.

Or a false positive review, solicited from like minded members of an inn-keepers group, or written from India by folks who make a living doing it.

For perspective, read below:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10804176/TripAdvisor-is-democracy-for-the-stupid.html

In our case it was not very subtle.  For obvious reasons a competitor cannot write a review about their competition–particularly a negative one.  Just like we are not allowed to write reviews about ourselves.  Public reviews are supposed to be a places for people to exchange useful information–but that’s not really what is happening most of the time.

I guess our “set up” two star was useful in a way, pointing out again something that is already stated repeatedly. I’ll say it again below: In Spokane you must be licensed as a B&B to keep folks less than 30 days.  We are.  You must have a central and inspected kitchen to serve breakfast.  We don’t.   Everybody here has their own kitchen.

I read reviews and think they can be a valuable first tool for travelers–and also can be a valuable pointer to hotel keepers as well.  We do care about honest feedback.  It’s just that it does not happen often on the public forum which seems more inclined to subjective and emotional responses to what are often one-time events.  Honest, helpful–if invariably hard to hear–critical feedback goes to the owner privately and is responded to.  If that response is not satisfactory, or in fact confirms the complaint, then it might, might, be time for public negative review.

Time and time again you see owners responses of WHY did you not tell us at the time?  It could have been remedied!

Negative public reviews are the last course of recourse, not the first contact.  Statistics show a vast proportion of one and two star reviews are false–a setup. As are many five stars.

Take a look at the numbers: Some places of our size have hundreds of reviews.  I think we have less than 30. The oldest and probably most-used B&B here in town has had 12 reviews since 2005–a mix of positive and negative as would be natural. These low numbers (average 1.3 a year) are probably because the innkeepers are not soliciting reviews–or worse yet–paying for them. It probably says more about their marketing strategy than their operation.

Frankly, when people are happy they tend to just go on and be happy.  Only when mad, mistreated–or having a grudge–are they inclined to be vocal in a negative way.  The motivation to write bad things is much bigger than the motivation to write good things.  Many establishments, seeing the benefit of hundreds of good reviews to dilute the several inevitable mediocre ones, have paid services, or a network of like-minded individuals, to write glowing snippets for them.  The top review (as of today) for our “in the business” accuser?

“Kudos from one inn-keeper to another!” 

I bet.

Not that one inn-keeper could not love another’s service,  it’s just relatively unlikely that a fairly new B&B would generate 60-70 honest, public and completely ecstatic reviews–all but one completely 5 star, and an average of one a month.  It just doesn’t work that way.

I’ve written many very good reviews for hotels I’ve stayed at. Unless they do it really wrong, and I’ve informed them, and not gotten help with it, they get five stars. Why take the trouble? And why five stars? Because I realize it is important to them–and I’m inclined to appreciate creative tactics and small gestures.  You can always learn something from someone’s model. I tend to forgive the small errors because I know that perfection is close to impossible.  Lessons learned from a 120 year old house–and working with the public.  And five stars because, why not?  Appropriate value for what was paid–and value is an important part of it–good service, clean and orderly. Why not five stars?

I’d expect something different from the Savoy in London at over $500 a night,

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than I would at the Mt Si Motel at $75.

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Which is where Rick and I stayed with the water frozen, and I wrote them no review at all–I figured 18 degrees and a strong north wind were extenuating circumstances.  Though it was certainly cold, they were attentive and kind.

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But I did once wrote a terrible review about the Rodeway Inn in Corvallis Oregon–where I stayed two nights teaching a clinic.  See if you agree with my stab at their reputation.

I was at work and I was kept up of both nights.  The first by drunken teenagers vomiting and shouting in the halls, and the second with a major fight in the parking lot. (There’s just nothing like bodies slamming on the wall to lull one to sleep).

Prom weekend. Oregon State University

I actually could have forgiven even that–it was, after all, guest behavior not hotel behavior–but when I told the management of my plight the owner said, What noise? You must be Crazy!  There was no fight in the parking lot!

Except there was.  And I got no sleep in a filthy room that I actually would have been afraid to leave.

So the scene was set for a terrible review.  One star.  Filthy room, screaming occupants, vomit, physical violence.

They did offer breakfast.

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I suspect the Rodeway Inn, Corvallis does not care about reviews–or cleanliness or upkeep or service–because it can take a $50 room and sell it eighteen weekends a year (for prom night or game night at OSU) for triple that.   They are a really bad hotel.  One and a half stars overall.  Been in business for years. Overpricing their rooms on sold out weekends in a university town works well for them.  Not so much the customer, but that’s not the point.

So, if you agree with me, this is a place worthy of some scathing reviews, particularly on busy nights when it is honestly impossible to sleep.

How did we get our recent two star review?  (In spite of local chocolates on the new bed, ironed sheets, organic soaps, fresh flowers, gourmet coffee, full kitchen, great views, and $95 for the night?)

Here is the review: *****

“This was listed as a B&B. We are B&B owners and we certainly know what qualifies as a B&B and that is it includes breakfast. This is more like a nice boarding house. Each unit has its own kitchen – no breakfast served. Most of the drawers in our unit had somebody else’s belongings in drawers. This is advertised as a “Green” echo friendly establishment. Organic soaps etc. were on the kitchen and bathroom counters, however I would NOT consider Soft Scrub, Clorox, etc. as echo-friendly green cleaning agents found under the sink in the kitchen.
We could recommend staying in this place as it is in a lovely part of Spokane and it was adequately furnished and clean. However, it is misleading to advertise it as a Bed and BREAKFAST and green, echo friendly. It was also creeping having someone else items in drawers. This was misleading.

Room Tip: Just come prepared to fix your own breakfast or go out to breakfast – false advertising.”

Here’s a link to the review.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g58759-d248444-Reviews-The_Odell_House-Spokane_Washington.html

So here’s what we did wrong:

#1. Lack of cooked communal breakfast–which we  do not promise and have not once in 17 years served.  In Spokane you currently must be licensed as a B&B/hotel/motel to keep folks less than 30 days.  We are–and fit ALL of the guidelines, owner in site, historic registry.  The unlicensed group have a stay of execution to be out of bussiness by end of August.  You wonder we make the distinction?  Licensed, legal, inspected, insured..

Breakfast? You do not HAVE to serve food to keep people legally over night as long as you fit one of the categories, pay the taxes and buy the license.   But if you do serve food, in Spokane you must have a central and inspected kitchen where it is prepared.  We don’t.   Everybody has their own kitchen.  That’s actually a big draw for people and we are very clear about it. (That you can legally make your own free breakfast from on-site materials, and have the invitation to use fresh eggs from the chickens and veggies from the garden was not mentioned in the review  Local coffee, a grinder, gourmet tea, pumpernickel bread in the cooler, fresh eggs, butter and cream?  They were all there.)

#2. The presence of bleach products.  Right next to the vinegar.  That critique of our “greenness” is, I think a bit of a stretch  (EV charging station, organic garden, chickens, compost, recycling and a fleet of loaner bikes?)  Clorox on site is worthy of criticism?  Let’s be serious.  (Besides, there are on occasion good reasons for Clorox.)

#3. Items in the drawers.  (There are lots of shelves–close to fifty–and drawers–more than 30–in that apartment. The North River View.  They booked The Gallery which is very small.  I upgraded them.  That is policy–the nicest unit available.

https://odellhouselodging.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-wakefield-house-north-river-view-unit/

Storage in the River View is not an issue.

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As in many of our units there are things in the cabinets.  Like tea pots.

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And every unit has a tool kit so we can fix simple things right away.  Extra sheets exist, some books and DVDs or videos.  We assume sometimes people find these useful.

And I suppose it could happen that we forgot to open one of the thirty drawers and something personal was left in one.  Except we checked, and there was not.

This is the profile of the gal who reviewed us.

This is public information, right there with her review.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/AlandMaureen

Here is mine:  Also public information.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/forbzilla

(And on looking at the travel demographic in the link above it appears a lot like the red and blue maps we see commonly in November. . .  But, as my good friend and staunch Libertarian Noel says, (in fond tones,) “You are after all an egg-sucking liberal.”  Oh well.  My son’s work is funded by the Koch brothers currently.  Shouldn’t that get me some cred for tolerance? And I confess, I have enjoyed mean jokes about Sarah Palin.)

Back on course!

Honestly, I have lost count of the B&Bs or small, micro-establishments I’ve stayed in. (India, France, Germany, Holland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, probably thirty here in the US.)

And you know what I can tell you for a fact about them?

Almost nothing that I could say for sure.

Because they are all different–and called different things in different countries, offering what the hosts think of as hospitality.  And that is different for each host and guest.

So it pays to read what the offering is–kitchen provided, no breakfast served is pretty darned clear–and accept it with some humility if you go to stay.  You’re in someone’s home for heavens sake!  They don’t have to be just like you. . . And you might learn something from that.  If you’re not busy trying to put them out of business for being different than you expected.

Re expectations.  I have mine, but I realize some of them–perhaps most–are not shared by other inn-keepers.  Or the public in general.  Am I going to write a bad review over sheets not ironed in another establishment?  Just because I do it–and have not one, but TWO of these mechanical dinosaurs:

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(A mangle from the forties.  Isn’t that just beautiful?)

Furthermore, I hate, Hate, HATE,  all fabric softeners and dryer sheets.  (These are bad for you, I just KNOW it! 😉 And anyway, the secret to good sheets and towels is. . . good sheets and towels.

Am I going to write a bed review because someone does not iron and uses dryer sheets?  Nope. Just because that is the way I do it does not mean I’m entitled to publicly cast judgement on the practices of others.  I might not go again over the dryer sheet issue–seriously.

The ironing?  Eh. . . I do it because I think you’ll like how it feels, and it really, it makes me feel more orderly when the top sheet folds down nicely.  Do I think it is really important?  Not in your life.  It is just my habit.

If you’ve stayed with us and want to write a review.  Please be my guest:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g58759-d248444-Reviews-The_Odell_House-Spokane_Washington.html#LIGHTBOXVIEW

Best wishes!  Dale

The missing trees and the west yard garden on Poplar Street

This post is really more for the neighborhood than our guests, though return visitors may be interested at the change in the landscape.

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In the past six months  eleven huge trees have gone missing on the corner.

I hear some neighbors are angry at us about this.

(My first response is sadly a little sharp:  Weren’t you listening in the past four years?

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(Signs tied to trees for a year and a half as they slowly finished dying from growth retardant applied by Avista to keep them from having to trim so much.  Not that they didn’t do a lot of that too.)

 

As much as I resent (a mild word) our treatment by Avista over the years as we fought with them about killing our internal trees with growth retardant–and probably thousands more over the city–sometimes you have to move on.

Truth is that hundreds of trees were planted a hundred years ago, and if they all die out at the same time we are left with–no trees.  Sometimes you have to plant a new generation, and that is what we and the City–department of Urban Forestry–are doing here on the corner.

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The picture above shows the two new Bur Oak (in fall foliage) that the city helped to plant in the yard last October–well away from the power lines.

The one below in the spring, not yet leafed out but with our new gazebo and straw bale garden showing to the right.

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We lost the two internal trees and four parking strip trees in March,  a few weeks ago.

The parking strip group on Poplar were planted directly under the lines and really had no future.

This is all annoying the neighbors and walkers who enjoy the corner and feel some ownership of this historic and beautiful part of the city.

But beautiful or not–and it is–please, please, please fellow Tree Huggers, LOOK above when you plant a tree destined to grow to more than 15 feet tall.  It may be cute now in baby tree form, but a Norway Maple wants to be a big tree and it is a death sentence to put it directly under the wires.

We have plans for three new smaller trees in the parking strip: Japanese Lilac. They mature at about 20 feet, bloom a bit later than a standard lilac shrub around here.  More tree like than shrub like.  I think they will be pretty.

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And they are.

And then, because there is really only room for one large tree in the central yard–again keeping well away from the power lines, we’ve opted for a Dawn Redwood.

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According to The Arbor Day Foundation:

“An ancient tree that knew the dinosaurs, but is well-suited to modern landscape plantings. Likes full sun, is easily transplanted. Deciduous. Prefers moist, deep, well-drained soils. Fast growing. Grows to 70′ to 100′, 25′ spread. (zones 5-8)”

Also known to live to 1,000 years.  (Take THAT Avista!)

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It may take a while to get to this point.

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One thing I have learned about trees in the long process of watching ours die is they do not do anything in a hurry.

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The yard, as you might imagine, has taken quite a beating through all this.  And there will be a lot of change over the next years as the roots of the old trees decay and things shift and settle.

So we had an idea–at least for the Poplar side of the house.  Plant a kitchen garden  Amid all the Poplar (still bravely standing!) roots?  Yup.  A straw bale garden in an enclosed kitchen garden sitting area.   We want something see-through,not a stockade.

 

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Non visually obstructive fence, still grass, and a raised garden of straw bales growing vegetables and flowers.

You can see the start of this behind the little redwood.

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A straw bale garden is a neat idea–it enables you to have a temporary raised bed in almost any location with sun–even pavement.

Terese and I are going to teach a little class on it down at the Blue Moon Nursery and Garden Center in a couple of weeks.

May 24th, a Saturday at 11 AM is the next one.

http://www.bluemoonplants.com/

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Their tag line: Nice Plants. Nice People.   Really, it is true.  Go get stuff from them rather than the big box places.

 

If you want to read more about this, this fellow wrote a book–my copy is down at Blue Moon.

http://strawbalegardens.com/

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Anyway, neighbors, don’t panic, we do have a plan.

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In fact we’ve been working on it for a while now.

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Cress and chard awaiting transplant. . . .

I’ll give you a post about it next.  We are getting lots of staring. . .

 

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Fruit Loops but not fruit

In most cases, eating out regularly is not good for you.  Arguments?  (I hear none)

This post is actually not about eating out.  Really it is about eating in when you are not at home.  This should be possible–and is–but not as easily as before here at the Odell House–and I am sorry about that.

No big deal , we will all get over it, but I can’t go shopping for you any more.

And because it is going to make some changes in what we can offer our guests–subtle and probably only slightly annoying, but still changes–I thought I’d tell you about it.

https://odellhouselodging.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/the-spokane-air-bnb-scuffle-februarymarch-2014/

Currently morphing from a scuffle to a genuine kerfuffle.

Kerfuffle: “A social imbroglio or brouhaha. An organizational misunderstanding leading to accusations and defensiveness.”  From The Urban Dictionary–many thanks.  (Of British Scottish origins.)

New update: with today’s news, the description gets more and more appropriate!  See below that the owner of a very big, (ornate, and utterly beleaguered) B&B a little east of us is really miffed at the perceived theft of its business by smaller “illegal” offerings.

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Not that I am right, but I think they are all wrong: the taped complainer above, the gal running a code violation fest in her back yard, and the city official (s) who have no doubt opened a can of worms that are eager to escape the can.

Word has it now that even though a hornet’s nest has been kicked over for hosts and guests of Air BnB (etc all), no action will be taken against the hosts for “X” amount of time.  Rumor has it anyway–and it is just that because to date there has been no follow up on the cease and desist of March 31. Which leaves everybody in an uncomfortable limbo.  You really want to book a date in June with that kind of uncertainty?  Bad move all around.  The wag of the finger is starting to point more and more to the city.  You don’t like how its working but its okay to keep doing it because its so popular–even though it could be stopped with three weeks notice–and MIGHT be.

Like many things about an anonymous complaint–no one knows.

And that is unfair.  (To hosts, guests, legitimate and unlicensed.)

But heck, we all make mistakes–lots of them!  (Imagine photo of shooting self in foot.)

(Keep in mind this picture below is the horse barn at my great grandfather’s summer home–er, island–and shabby elegance was a sought after quality–I think most particularly after the money started to dwindle and the reality of shingling something like this firmly set in.)

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The point is gaudy has no attraction for me, it just takes a lot of work to keep an old house going.  No doubt about it. But so does keeping ANY house running and as said before I don’t back the “must be on the historic registry to keep an overnight guest.  That should be up to the guest!

In my book it is okay to offer different options–as long as you make yourself aware of the rules, and obey them.

In Spokane currently to be legal for short term guests, you have to live on site (good idea) and be part of a historic district or on the Historic Registry.  (Why?)

But why not fast and loose?

Because “level” is what a level playing field is all about. No “ifs ands or buts.”  It’s important.  And, never mind how one might feel about either party in the video above, the gal with the business plan is right: she should not be suddenly undercut after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars thinking she knew how many “alternative” rooms were–or likely could be–for sale in Spokane.

But, as I’ve said before, I think the real culprit does not live here in Spokane.  The problem/opportunity exists all over the countryht_airbnb_vandalized_nt_110728_wmain

So anyway,  back to the Health Department and the complaint everybody got–legal or not. I used to go grocery shopping for people.  (Not cook for them, I don’t have an inspected kitchen.)  Just shop.  Now I can’t.

Really?  Why ever not?  It made their lives easier.  It was friendly.

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Allowing (and supporting) guests to eat as they choose is why we supply kitchens!  It is what we do!

This “gift” is not because we are too lazy or incompetent to cook breakfast.  Far from it.  It is because nutritionally every day is not Christmas morning, and a lifetime of most host’s “treats” may shorten your life considerably.

Here’s what we would cook for you–except we can’t.  Almost every bit of it would break the law.

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https://odellhouselodging.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/recipe-breakfast-dirty-eggs/

None of this can be served to the public in a private manner: from eggs laid on site, to home-made cheese, to the butcher block they are sitting on. None of that would be allowed.  Fortunately, if you stay with us you can do it yourself.  Your choice.  And that’s the point

Frankly, when I stay at a B&B (which I have done a lot of over the years) I never stay for breakfast.  Several reasons.  Usually I am on a mission, and they serve it too late.  (That and I really don’t like having breakfast with strangers. Honestly, how many times do you want to answer “Oh, where are YOU from?” at 8:30 in the morning?)  Anyway, when I travel I usually have a horse to ride and leave early.

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(I just could not decide which picture I liked better–but you get the point.  When I’m out-of-town there is a reason I’m out-of-town!  I assume this is true of you as well.)

Don’t misinterpret me, I’m not down on Bed and Breakfast service per se.  I’ve used B&Bs all over the world, but I AM against the “everybody must do it the same,” largely provincial, atmosphere that I have experienced in my sixteen years of operating here in Spokane among the B&B community.  There, right on the table.  If you don’t fit that profile, you don’t have to be offended, it’s not you I am talking about.

It is true that in the last five to seven years roughly 50% of the B&Bs in Spokane have gone out of business, or gotten tired, or whatever causes people to close the doors.  Maybe it is undue competition.  And maybe the average traveler can no longer afford a full staff dressed in white to serve a breakfast for one?  (Could they ever?  It is a business model appropriate to time when the horse barn pictured above above was considered practical–and right off the island was moored the Americas Cup yacht.)

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“The Puritan” 1885 winner of the Americas Cup, and owned by my great-grandfather.  (Not that he knew anything about sailing a yacht particularly, though HIS father did do a good bit of junketing about in China circa 1865. . . )  Note the man, up from the helm in the final picture, giving dangerous-looking directions to servants, was also an employee of JM Forbes. . . .

The point is that just having a great place, or idea, does not keep one in business.

My other great-grandfather is the family cautionary tale of this.  Having discovered the process for refining crude oil (in a New Bedford outbuilding, after he had given up on the project, he set the glass jar on his sunny windowsill and then noticed the heat made it separate into layers) he gave it back to the scalawags from Pennsylvania who’d asked him to figure out what to do with it, and said something to the effect of:

“Sure, heat will do it, but no, keep your patent, this is filthy stuff!”

adding,

“Now, nice, clean whale oil, that is the thing of the future. . . ”

Banner American Whaling page KWM434_pg310

http://www.whalingmuseum.org/

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Modern try pots if you will. . .

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So anyway, stories and business model problems aside,

I like to cook and distrust the cooking of “most people.”  Particularly many of those in it for profit.

And cooking is an activity which is notorious for needing equipment.  Fancy stuff–like a stove and something to put on it.  And in the course of my travels I have often chosen small furnished places with humble kitchens over somewhat fancier places without.  That is my experience, and the basis of our “business model”, if you will.

It pleases me to offer our guests a choice:

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And I think my belief that eating out–which a standard B&B counts for–is usually bad for you is largely true.

Plain fact, real, home cooked food, made out of actual food–nothing your grandmother would not recognize–is generally best for you. Why?  A no-brainer.  You would never include the amount of fat, sugar and salt that normal restaurants, (B&Bs  included) or fast food places do.  At least we hope not.  And you do not need to have food last a millennium, as is profitable for processed food manufacturers.

You probably also do not consider every meal to be a”treat.”  So you probably do not make deep-fried french toast with huckleberry sauce and a lot of whipped cream every morning.  But you might make it, as your signature meal to get people’s attention if you were in the business.  Never mind wreck the rest of their day with blood sugar issues.  People do not need assistance with eating unwisely.

Sure, there are exceptions to the “don’t eat out” rule–establishments exist that valiantly go above and beyond to give you real food.  (I’ll give you a list below.)

And, true, even given a kitchen, some people do not purchase or consume healthy alternatives for themselves.  (We know.  We empty the trash.)  But increasingly people DO pay more attention to what they eat–both at home and while on the road.

So, back to current events.   While we still want you to cook and enjoy eating any food that appeals to you in your own kitchen here at the Odell House, we can no longer buy groceries for you.

(This used to be a regular question:  “Can I pick up anything for you at the store?”  Seems a logical, friendly sort of question. At least I thought so.)

How come no more grocery shopping?  If you’ve been following the recent Air BnB local scandal, you’ll know that “someone” in Spokane filed a complaint against local Spokane hosts–it was pretty broad brush, I know because I got one too.  Never mind having a license.

And, like I said, yesterday I got another broad brush note, this time from the Health Department.   It was pretty general, not to us specifically.  It began,  “Dear Bed and Breakfast Owner”. . .  and related that if we served food we’d need to be inspected and permitted for that.  I know that.  But I still called them up, asked some questions and gave some answers.

No, we do not serve food–and it turns out it is a good thing, because if we did it would not be just installing stainless counter tops, we’d have to meet certain standards–standards that have nothing to do with preserving the quality of food in its natural state.  Essentially, if you provide food “to the public”–and public is the critical distinction–you must comply with rules that minimally keep fast food “safe”.

Anyway, I explained to the nice man from the Health Department that we don’t serve food, but if we are given a shopping list we will pre-stock a kitchen to make it easier for our guests to cook real food.  That would be okay, he explained back, except we are not allowed to buy them real food.  We can shop, as long as everything we purchased for our guests was prepackaged and in no case needing refrigeration.

Really?  Nothing that needs refrigeration?

“Only for ‘quality.’ not for safety.” He informed me.

Prepackaged was a word that came up frequently in the conversation.

(Note here, prepackaged produce–the kind of lettuce that is cut up for you already and is sold in a sealed bag–is one of the biggest offenders in produce-related contamination.  Just thought you’d like to know, though we can’t buy that for you either.)

So now we can’t provide “real” organic dairy products–and, as I understand it, fruit, vegetables, and any bakery bread are also out.

Rule is, if it is intended for consumption and we have any hand in it, food must be from “the middle isles” of the grocery store.  That is a place I do not frequent as all the produce and dairy and fun stuff lives at the edges.  In fact, except the wine aisle, I try to avoid the middle of the store.  (If you don’t buy it you won’t eat it.)

So now, according to the Health Department,  I can buy you Fruit Loops

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but not fruit.

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We are not even going to talk about the garden we have planned this summer.  I did not mention this garden idea to the truly nice man from the Health Department. I figured that question was not going to help either his, my, or your day.

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I also did not mention our composting program:

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What compost?

Please ignore the container on your counter, ah also please only eat from the paper plates and plastic forks–the others are only there for decoration!  (I kid you not–it’s a rule.)

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No locally produced vegetables or half and half for you!  I’m allowed to provide “creamers” or irradiated cream in those little containers that don’t need refrigeration.  (Don’t need refrigeration and have no spoilage date?  Cream?  What?)

Ditto, “butter substitutes” in little packages.  I can give you those.

Eggs from the real chickens that live on the place and eat scraps of real food and spend the day digging around looking for grubs?

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No!  No eggs at all in fact.

(They are wrong about this by the way as per Mother Jones

http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/how-to-store-fresh-eggs-zmaz77ndzgoe.aspx

fresh eggs do not actually NEED refrigeration, and it is best if you do not wash them as they have a natural protective covering to keep bacteria out.  They will last a very long time just kept in a cool place–obviously not on your dashboard for weeks, but let’s be sensible . . .)

Oh, the “S” word.

Well, speaking of eggs and sense, there is a quirky egg law in Spokane.  If you take an egg from the coop to the farmers market, and try to sell it,  you must have with you a permit, a large tarp (to protect the environment in case of breakage,) and a good supply of hot water–in excess of 180 degrees I think–for the same purpose: environmental contamination.

But, if you have your own chicken, and get an egg, and put a sign on your fence that a fresh egg is available, that is okay.  Your neighbor can come and buy it from you.

But I cannot place that same fresh egg in your refrigerator.  You have to get it yourself.

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Okay.

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There is, by the way, a time-honored method that owners of small-scale egg production–duck eggs for instance–can take eggs to the  farmers market.  How?  You can sell them for craft purposes–as in blown eggs to paint small pictures on.

So, at the Odell House you will no longer find fresh eggs in your refrigerator.  (If you tell me you want some I’ll tell you about the supply–chickens have moods too–and tag them for you.)  Easter is coming and I know how artsy you are feeling.

And, as I see it,  there is also nothing stopping me from providing a “decorative” fruit bowl in the hallway.  You may, for all I know, really be an artist, and in need a subject for your next still life.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Fruitbasket, 1593/94 (?), oil on canvas, 31 x 47 cm, oil on canvas

We often put flowers in the rooms and halls.  We do not expect the guests to eat them.  (But truthfully I never check.)

So on our list of things you can have–it’s on our online booking already–flowers in the room, a decorative fruit bowl, and eggs–for craft purposes only!  You can have them, but we can’t give them to you.

Geesh.

Oh, and by the way, many thanks to the complainer for helping to ensure the health of our guests by making more difficult and risky providing them with safe, healthy, organic food, a real plate fork and knife.  I’m sure that was a real community service. . .

You guests will find, as always,  a list of places to shop that stock organic produce here:  https://odellhouselodging.wordpress.com/category/thing-to-do-in-the-neighborhood-places-to-eat/

And here are my picks for the two best places to eat rationally created real food–if you want to go out.

The first is in our neighborhood.

With somewhat limited hours, but open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, Italia Trattoria

http://italiatrattoriaspokane.com/

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The corner of Pacific and Cannon, a bit toward the south, on the west side of the street.

And if you are headed east or south in the morning (they are open until 2PM every day) The family owned and run Old European either in Post Falls or Pullman.  These people are passionate about real food correctly prepared.  Great oatmeal–honestly.

http://www.oldeuropean-restaurant.com/

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PS. Re plastic.  Today I did go shopping, looking especially for things in little packets, at a big restaurant supply house.  They had lots of stuff!

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Hmmmm. . . . not this. Latest word re heart disease.  Don’t eat these.

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/?s=fat+and+heart+disease

But then I started to think outside the container and came up with some ideas.

$132.40 worth of them in fact.

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Some of which I think are okay.

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I’d prefer organic cream to the little miniature buckets of it, but, at least it is better than the powder.   The small jars of honey were local, cute, and not too pricey.   I don’t think we’re going to go through a lot of those darned paper plates and individually-wrapped plastic cutlery sets.  But by golly they are there!

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The pineapple juice is not what I’d prefer, but its not from concentrate.

And then I remembered that there is one great thing that comes in small packets!

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Bingo.  This WILL be a nice addition.  Right next to the tea.

The Spokane Air BnB scuffle February/March 2014

This is our blog–The Odell House News, Spokane Washington.

http://www.odellhouse.com is our website.

This post is about the Air BnB Spokane Scuffle 2014

News: “Somebody” is trying to shut down the small short term lodging hosts in Spokane.  Because the complaint (s) were made anonymously–which is a subject of some strife in itself–it is hard for all those who got notices from the city to get a bead on what the actual problem is or was.  This just in, from a reliable source, but not yet absolutely for sure: apparently a loud party generated by some Air BnB guests was staged (sadly or happily depending on your view) next door to a public official’s house.  He or she then reportedly birthed the fuss.

It is a complicated issue, because it involves a huge multi-national company, the tourist trade, a local grudge, a group of sometimes contradictory city ordinances, and a lot of notably middle-income people who have been actively-encouraged to invest in something that in most places, including here, is not legal.

If you like, read on and I’ll give you my take.

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To make our location and bias clear: here we are, owners of The Odell House, which sits on the corner of First Avenue and Poplar Street in Spokane, Washington.  We’ve been licensed for short term lodging since about 1998, as Spokane Bed and Breakfast and The Odell House Lodging.

Being an inn-keeper is a glamorous job which include milliseconds of sitting on the porch swing.

Lots of biking.

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Hours of cleaning dark spaces.

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And then, the thrill of participating in restoration projects.

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Spokane Washington is a town that, last I checked, the population hit a bit over two hundred thousand.  A small, “friendly” city.

Caring for the Odell House, and the people who live here–or visit–obviously keeps Rick and I busy.  This week has been busier than usual because there is a Big Stink going on with short term housing right here.

Last week, we were peacefully tearing apart apartment D to repaint and refinish the floors. (Don’t they look nice now?)

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When we got a bunch of phone calls indicating there is a lot of other tearing apart in Spokane.  “Someone” is going through all the short term lodging websites (vacation rental by owner sorts of things) with a specific target of eradicating the small hosts.  The Air BnB list came first, but we don’t know who will follow.

I know something about Air BnB because I have both hosted for them and stayed in other host’s units when traveling.  So I thought I would chime in with my opinion on the subject.

Re the grudge mentioned above and the target of home hosts: I’m feeling a bit impatient here (sanding will do that to you) so forgive me the attitude, but it looks like “Someone” had the bright idea to cut out some illegal hotel “competition,” and filed a raft of complaints which ended up serving every one of the close to 100 amateur Spokane Air BnB hosts with a notice from the city this week:  Comply to code, or close by March 31! 

Comply to code is all very nice if complying means tuning up your paperwork.   The problem is, the vast majority of these “home hosts” can’t comply to code because the regulations for short term stay–where you can do it, how much of it you can do, what the state and city taxes are–are totally different than keeping a renter long term, (usually defined as over thirty consecutive days.)  So though most places allow rentals of 30 days or more with very loose restrictions and no tax due to the state or city, short term rentals have a very different set of rules and expectations.

So why not just do nightly rental under the table secretly, and expect no one will find out?  Or believe that it is so innocuous that no one will mind if they do find out?  It’s your house, (room, apartment, etc,) shouldn’t it be your business what you do in it?  The trouble with this popular line of thought is, the very thing that makes it easy for folks with a spare room–and those in search of a spare room to find one–(The Web) makes it also very easy for anyone with a grudge to do a little research themselves.

So no matter how inviting you make your spare bedroom, for Spokane City regulations, which are a lot slower to change than the Internet (and this is possibly a good thing), it is currently not a legal short stay–unless it (at minimum) conforms to something like this: https://beta.spokanecity.org/smc/?Section=17C.315.120

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Without regard to that, “Hosts,” have been gearing up to keep paid guests in their spare space–and have been doing so with a lot of personal investment, and with a lot of encouragement from several big (huge) businesses, advertising these rentals on the Internet.  These enabling Internet companies make a gargantuan profit on the work of these small individuals, with comparatively little investment.  They pull this big profit as the middleman, electronically connecting travelers who are sick of hotels, with individuals who would like to host them–and get paid for it.

So that’s the background, and right now there are lots of offerings out there for keeping guests in a private residence for less than 30 days.  Unfortunately, the Spokane city regulations (and this is true of most cities), as they sit, will not allow an individual to rent to transient guests, without some very specific requirements, such as you are supposed to be a Hotel, Motel, Boarding House or B&B, and abide by the rules and zoning of each of these types of business in your town.  And while your neighbor might not squawk about to odd transient guest, if you asked him or her directly for permission to open a motel, you might get a different reaction.

Welcome to the Air BnB universe: they are one of several big companies (Vacation Rental By Owner, Flip Key, Rentalo, are others) who run websites connecting travelers to amateur hoteliers.   Air BnB so clearly targets the middle class that we will pick on them–never mind that’s also the starting place for the “owner of the grudge” in Spokane. Air BnB is a California-based company that enables individuals to rent their extra spaces–rooms, garages, apartments, villas (and probably small towns) on the vacation rental scene for periods of time ranging from hours to years.

Air BnB opened their doors–or in this case a lot of other people’s doors–in 2008.  The name came from the idea of renting out spare space with an air mattress to visitors.

And sometimes Air BnB offerings are made without even the air mattress!  There was one local Air BnB host, north of the Kendall Yard district (just north of the river west of downtown Spokane), where you could rent a bare room for $30 a night.  No limit to how many guests, just bring your own–err–everything.  The listing was priceless, advertising one of the virtues of the space as “lack of clutter.”  Discounts to veterans.

Is Spokane completely without a sense of irony?

Sadly, it disappeared.

Anyway. it turns out the Air BnB idea had some traction with thrifty or adventurous guests, and with hosts in lots and lots of places. Current numbers are that Air BnB  has half a million listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries, and is thinking of going public.  Which, if it happens, means we can all invest our retirement money with them!  After we solve the legality part, that is.

The legality issue seems particularly hot in New York City, where rent control is taken pretty seriously and landlords often do not appreciate their properties being illegally sublet to strangers at a profit. People–the tenants offering space–have been kicked out of their apartments.  Anywhere this would be a shock, but particularly in New York City, that is a very, very big deal.  But, notably though the odd New York City landlord has evicted a tenant, and neighbors have sometimes complained (I am sure an almost unheard of event in that city) the city has not filed action on the websites or busted the offending hosts. Yet.

It takes a complaint.  In New York City the Air BnB website states there are “in excess of 1000 hosts”, not the paltry under 100 that we have in Spokane.  In reality, Air BnB is getting very cagey of late about letting out these numbers.  There are probably more like 20,000 listings in New York City.  Proportionally Spokane has similar to slightly fewer offerings per capita than New York.  And filing a complaint is really easy with numbers in the less than 100 range.  Just go to the website below and print enough for everyone!

http://www.beautifyspokane.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Complaint-form-w.abanveh.2013-14.pdf

And somebody did.

So in Spokane, no matter what their investment, it looks like all “non complying hosts” will be out of the business  at the end of March.  That’s what the city said anyway.  Close, or face fines of $275 a night for violations.

We’ll just get rid of all those scofflaws!

(What a great word: scoff·law ˈskôfˌlô,ˈskäf-/ noun informal noun: scofflaw; plural noun: scofflaws

  1. 1.
    a person who flouts the law, esp. by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively.)

An example of the menace that Air B&B has helped promote here in Spokane?

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This, a risk to the community, at less than $100 a night?

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What an outrage!  Someone with taste has offered to share a view of it?  We can’t have that!

I’d be really sad if they close the doors, as this is a neat place and worthy of a second look.   (No “legitimate” hotel will school you in making your own fire to heat the place.)

It is part of the charm, and the experience, probably violates a host of regulations, and guests don’t care–they uniformly LOVE it.

But this is clearly not the “just cheap,” somebody’s extra room without a fire exit and with a roommate you don’t want to think about.  That would be not such a great thing.  Below (and you’ll see them again even further below) two pictures from a fully-licensed Washington establishment.

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Perhaps a threat to public safety?

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If not, then high on the “eeewwww. . .” factor.

So it does not look like a quality of experience issue for the guest–though more on that later–it looks as though someone took it into their own hands to decide how all the neighborhoods should react to hosts.  Who decided (in Spokane) that the often charming Air BnB offerings had to go?  Well, the obvious thought would be a hotel or business that felt threatened by their presence–and competition.

The thought has always been that as long as home lodging offerings stayed small, the hotels would pay no attention, or at least turn a blind eye.  And if they did, so would the local cities.  Personally, I always assumed the customers who want to stay at the Davenport (hotel pictured below in downtown Spokane,) and can afford it, are generally never going to look at that $30 bare floor north of the river.

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It really is a different market–until you get into the over $100 range, which is starting to happen more and more.

For example, this lovely Air BnB entry, which was offered at $165 (or so) a night.

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I knew the previous owners slightly.  Intensely creative.  Great garden. Interior to die for–done!   Very busy street.   Inconsistent neighborhood.   Really an “Oasis” as claimed–nothing of note for blocks and blocks and blocks.  But what a great place!  Spokane is full of these little gems, tucked in odd places.

And I suspect the rising cost of some of the Air BnB entries, and the evidently increasing niceness of the offerings got someone’s jealous attention in the business, and thus the fuss and the raft of nasty notes.  Yes, the uneven playing field of some people have to meet expensive regulations while others look to be undercutting those who do, needs to be addressed.

But really, what a mistake to make such a lot of local strife by complicating small host’s lives instead of going after the real problem nationally. Before closing down one city at a time, we should at least ask the question, is it legal for a large company to promote, and profit by, encouraging people to skirt the law?

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In my opinion, the lodging wunderkind, Air BnB, are enablers extraordinaire.

Turns out, in Spokane, and many other places, they have actively encouraged people to break the law.  And in doing so, yes, they have created a playing field where legitimate small businesses are at an annoying disadvantage to the people who are a bit fast and loose with the rules–or just plain don’t know.

And if I have one, this is my beef:  There is very, very little–microscopic–effort from Air BnB to educate people on the downside (or ways to avoid the downside) of renting out that extra space–and undercutting the people who play by the rules.

And here’s how they target the middle class and tempt people to opt out of required local taxes:

1. It doesn’t cost anything up front to use Air BnB. (Most websites have a monthly fee).

2. It is a slick website, easy in every way.  You don’t even have to take your own photos.  They will send a professional–its Free!

3. You don’t have to take checks or set up a credit card account.  Air BnB collects from the guest at booking (the whole rental fee, plus a hefty portion for themselves), and disburses a portion of it to the host after the guest has checked in.

4. There is a double review system which is supposed to inspire trust, and a lot of look-good attempts to link people to various other internet connections–Facebook accounts, for instance

5. The note on local taxes?  Air BnB’s only advice is only that they should be “included in the rate.” Right. It is perfectly easy to list the rate in a way that everyone has to acknowledge it.  Currently, whether the home owner files or not is up to them, but as the monthly income is now reported in detail to the government (new this year and a surprise to all Air BnB proprietors,) people who have not filed state taxes may be in for a not-pleasant surprise.  It would also be perfectly easy, to collect and withhold  those local taxes for these very small hosts–air BnB collects all the money anyway and generally local short term lodging taxes (for places with under 40 units in this state and many more) are a static cost.  It is not like being poor gets you any break on them!  The point is local taxes should be part of the game, and it should be up front for everyone–and they are not.

And speaking of taxes, there is remarkably little said about the fact that if you use part of your house for business and take a deduction for the new wallpaper (which is reasonable if you are making money in (or with) your residence and paying taxes on that money,) it has consequences for the US tax-free status of the sale of that residence.

Anyway, the limp end of official direction is that the Air BnB host is to “check the local zoning rules.” Right after that they should give directions to the guest, make the bed, provide keys, Internet codes and hopefully breakfast.  (TV, hot water, travel aids are all optional–as it seems are the local zoning regulations.)

Air BnB doesn’t much advertise either the fact that, after spending thousands in improvements–decorating, writing, responding, giving up space and your house’s amateur status–you can be shut down, evicted, fined, or have a nasty surprise at the taxes due (that you should have paid but did not 100% know about) to both the IRS, local, and  State Department of Revenue.

Harmless?  That’s how Air BnB seductively sees it.

Here, copied this morning from their website pushing (errr, “encouraging”) new victims to list their spaces. (Bold in quotes mine and (!).

List (!)

“It’s completely free to create a listing on Airbnb. Click the yellow ‘List your space’ button on the top right of any page on the site. This will take you to a form where you can enter initial details. You can always change any of these details later. Your listing won’t go live until you’re completely ready, so go ahead and click ‘Continue’ to keep entering information.”

Dale’s note: re “completely ready”: what happened to going down to the local city and state offices and asking if you can, before entering the “just click” fantasy?

Book (!)

“You’re always in control of who books your place. When you receive a reservation request, you have 24 hours to accept or decline the request or it will expire. We encourage you to reply to every request, even if just to decline it, as expired requests will negatively affect your search results and response rates.”

Dale’s note: see the pusher?–“respond NOW or we’ll ding you.”

Host (!)

“You’re so close to a payday you can almost taste it! Just a few more things to get in order, and then you’re ready for the fun part – meeting your guests and getting paid.”

Dale’s note: A few more things to get in order would be as follows:

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1. Go find out what it takes to house guests for less than 30 days. Planning department can help here. (City Hall, Riverside, near the statues in the park.)

(Hint it’s either a Hotel/Motel (certain zoning and permits) or a B&B,  if you charge for more than X (small number) days a year.  If the later (B&B) please make sure you are living in the building–that is a requirement.  And you must be in a historic district or on the Historic registry.  (Oh, that. . .)

2. If not in Historic District, apply for a review (with professionally researched history) to be on the Registry of Historic Places. (City hall second floor)

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3. After (if) you are accepted to the Historic Registry, apply for your license as a B&B.  (City Hall)

4. Go the the Department of Revenue office and apply for another license, and tutorial on how to file monthly or quarterly city and state lodging tax.  (Office is on corner of Boone or Broadway and Washington)  File quarterly.

5. Go talk to your insurance agent and make sure you are covered for renting to short term guests.

(Hint, you are not.)

Now, do tasks 1-5 sound like the kind of sales job that will get a bunch of innocent home owners or renters to offer a place for guests to stay in their house, so Air BnB can skim a profit?

No, that sounds like a lot of work and expense.  That might ruin the fun illusion Air BnB promotes–never mind hurt the bottom line. And I bet the reason the Air BnB home-owners and apartment-renters are listing their places is–they are in need of the money.

(Remember what has happened to finances of the average American since the “ownership economy” took over?  People might just see this “illegal activity” as a way to KEEP their house–or be able to afford to go on vacation–finally.)

That’s why I did not file a (city-wide) complaint.  Even though that is apparently the rumor that is going around.

On average, we offer much nicer accommodations than most of Air BnB.  There are exceptions of course, but frankly, it is not a high bar to meet with many new hosts.  They are most probably busy making the same mistakes we made in 1998.  And most don’t have the same bones to work with.  A beautifully-built Queen Anne house in a quiet, historic neighborhood, next to the museum, split into several gracious apartments in the twenties is a good place to start.  The house was made for comfort and privacy, and has a track record to look at.  We are still in business after fifteen years, and I’d hope we’d have learned something.

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Air BnB does a great job with its marketing, the target client so far is a young, hip internet-savvy thirty-something who likes to see and do new things.  Great.  Forgive the generalization, but this is a much lamented  hotel industry discussion right now: market to this group and house them at your peril, because no matter what you do to please them they will not be back.  Seeing the next location is what they really want.  And ironed sheets, chocolates on the bed, or not, you’ll get a four star review, and probably a suggestion about installing more electrical outlets. . .

With Air BnB the pictures might look good, but pictures won’t tell you who’s living next door, the parking situation,noise levels.  The longevity of the business tells you those things.  Be a first responder and you’ll find out once you get there, and the review system is about as reliable as Ebay.  Lots of five star reviews resulting from the fact that the reviewed gets to review you too.  Let’s keep it nice unless it is a REAL wreck.

And there just are no guarantees in lodging away from home–regulated or not. Rick and I took a trip to Seattle recently. Here’s a little side-story for you:

Mr. Rick and Ms Dale’s excellent adventure in Seattle:

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Purpose was to pick up Ricks “new” car–1972 Saab model 96

Isn’t that the cutest thing?

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The first two nights we stayed at an Air BnB offering.  It was nice enough.  $90 a night.  I gave them a five-star review.  Truth was it was tiny–a compact and cleverly photographed space, undoubtably shot with a wide-angle lens by a  professional Air BnB photographer to make it look bigger.  Small is okay, but this smallness, (reviewed as “cozy” many times over), was way too close to the strident noise of our hosts’ bickering about their teenage kids.  Really, just inches away, behind fabulously thin walls, spotted with doors that might open to their difficult lives.

This left us prone to abandon the bedroom, which was just big enough to fit a bed, no real sitting area, and hide out in the kitchen, on two garage sale chairs.  (The wobble adds to the challenge of not spilling  wine on the host’s belongings–and thus getting a bad review as a guest.).

The first night was cold (they forgot to turn on the heat) and when the forced air heat was turned on, the ducts smelled so strongly of rodents that I thought I might have to leave–asthma issues.

The reviews state a “great garden”, and that is true, but way too close for comfort in my book.

This was not a wreck by any means, but it was not a nice experience, and these folks keep a LOT of guests with very high reviews.  But did we say how it really was?  Heck no.  It was worth $90 a night, and is there any way to politely say your hostess has an embarrassing relationship with her family, and the place smells like rats?  In Ballard?  Let’s be serious.

The night we spent on the trip home was very different–we alighted in an elderly motel in North Bend Washington, just west of the pass.  On the good side it, was $15 cheaper than the air BnB offering–base rate $65–though it ended up being identical in rate to the Air BnB  place–after tax was added and a surcharge because we  were traveling with a “Threat To Modern Humanity”:

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Headed into a snow storm on the pass, we could not be too picky–not that we really are.  (See below)

What a deal!  There was no neighbor noise at all, the odor better than the previous “vermin evenings”, though an unfortunate “nicotine patina” coated the walls and furnishings.  What do you want for $90  night including tax, for Pete’s sake?

I liked the manager.

He was truly sympathetic to the lack of heat.

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(Wall unit burned out–in 15 degree weather)

And lack of hot water

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(Frozen–this is the cold side running to keep it from freezing too.)

And general lack of decor.

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Rick always travels with two sleeping bags.  In this case one to cover the porous window and one for the bed.

(See Threat to Modern Humanity by his leg?)

No doubt about this place’s legality.  I saw that license right on the wall at check in.  Above the ash tray.

The point is that regulations unto themselves do very little to guarantee your personal experience.

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And the regulations are, well, let’s face it, pretty discouraging in most places.  Spokane is no exception.  They are hard to get right, even when you try–trust us, we work at it and often screw up–and they are expensive.   Easy perhaps  for a chain, or for someone with employees, but for a single or couple of units?  Really a lot of trouble.

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Forms, forms, lots of forms!

But, back to Spokane,  someone thought Air BnB hosts were a problem.  Right here in little Spokane, and so we have not followed New York City’s lead and turned a blind eye except if an actual neighbor or actual landlord complained.  That would have been a reasonable, case by case basis.  But here?  No!  OUT WITH THE LOT!

Obviously someone out there thought the night on the floor at $30 WAS a real threat to their livelihood.  Or was just mean–who knows?  But diligent I will give them–it takes some significant work to file that number of individual complaints.  (Someone had some time on their hands!)  And eventually the author of this little bit of Spokane insanity will come out, take a bow and get the wag of the finger from the community.  At least I hope so.

(And my guess was it was not the night on the floor, discounted for Veterans that “motivated” the complainer, but the several legitimate, wonderful places that really were starting to make a living doing this.”  Follow the money.)

In closing, I’m in the business, and of course I knew about Air BnB.  I used it for some advertizing and sometimes was annoyed at the very close competition to our smallest units it promoted.  The super-thrifty nature of its typical clients, combined with the “race to the bottom” pricing that hosts inflict on each other, and then the margin that the company took on the top, left little for what we laughingly call profit.  Air BnB stays didn’t quite cover expenses most of the time, after we provided the visible things we always provide: a completely private, roomy apartment, cable, Internet, lots of heat and hot water in a locked building with good security.  And the invisible community things we provide as well: property taxes at $500 a month, professional and correct insurance at $300 a month, 10% off the top for state and local taxes. There is simply a LOT of overhead if you do this business legally.

I always wondered why people kept using Air BnB when they could simply find us themselves.  Its not like we don’t have a website–which Air BNB goes to great lengths to hide in every case they can.

In the end the illusion Air BnB runs on is that it is a “people to people” transaction.  A real transaction of that sort would not be “marketed” by a multi-national company.  Truth is I have many repeat customers who have used us for years that I give a weekly rate to at half of Air BnB’s fees.  But not the first time they visited.  A track record of orderly behavior and loyalty go a very long way in a real “people to people” transaction.

But until recently I was too busy to pay it much mind–most of our clients are 30 days or more, repeat customers and long time guests. I have ironing to do, the phone to answer, apartments to clean, floors to refinish, horses to train, a dog that wants playing with, and chickens to feed.

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Anyway, when it comes out who complained I’ll let you know.

(This just in one week later, and it appears as though an owner of a grudge has come forward–I don’t think it is THE BIG CITY GRUDGE, but a good indication of how those who really have to deal with the city regs deeply feel about the issue.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgWThdDBzsk&feature=player_detailpage  )

If you have a comment please feel free to post it below.  Love to hear from you. (If you would like to see the comments made, and general discussion you’ll need to click on the title of this post itself, and from that single page they are visible.)