1. 1. Ideal Rental Conditions
  2. 2. Encountered a Scam Listing
  3. 3. Encountering a House Sale
  4. 4. The Experience of Squeezing into a Small Apartment

This content was automatically generated by gpt-4-turbo-preview (No human review). The original post is in Chinese.

Finding accommodation is arguably the most headache-inducing issue for me, whether it’s commuting to work in San Diego or working in the Bay Area for three months during the summer break. Accommodation has always put great pressure on me. To briefly introduce our current situation, cuihao and I currently live in the UCI graduate apartments. Since cuihao hasn’t finished his Ph.D. yet, the rent for the graduate apartments is much cheaper than market rates. Although our apartment is a 2B1B, it’s particularly small at only 626 sqft (less than 60 square meters), and it feels crowded with two people and a cat living here (mainly because we have too much stuff). But the good part is that the rent is cheap—less than $1500 a month, including water, electricity, and internet. My current office is in San Diego, and I have to be there three days a week, so I currently need to drive to San Diego and stay over for two nights a week (at a friend’s place or Airbnb). Otherwise, I would have to commute for more than three hours a day, which is too painful for me to accept. In short, my current work commute-accommodation issue is also less than ideal. Fortunately, I can work from home for four weeks every year, which I can use when my parents are visiting the USA.

Ideal Rental Conditions

Therefore, the accommodation issue for my parents and younger brother’s visit to America is something we first considered renting a place from outside, without even thinking about having them squeeze into our small apartment. After all, they are coming for two months, planning to stay from December 20, 2023, to February 20, 2024. Why stay so long? Because we haven’t spent the New Year together for four years due to COVID, and the 2024 Spring Festival is particularly late (February 10), we wanted to spend it together in the USA before they return home. Since I usually get a short vacation, having 11 days off during the Christmas and New Year period, I wanted them to come to the USA before the holiday, so we could go on a road trip together during the vacation.

Besides the long stay, the three of them will need a larger living space. Moreover, my brother is only 6-7 years old and quite noisy, so living together would likely make it impossible to work or sleep properly. Because there are more people, including a child, it’s practically impossible to consider subletting with others, so we were only looking at renting a whole place. I started looking for a house since the end of September last year but didn’t find a suitable short-term rental after one or two months.

Since cuihao and I only have one car, and there would be five of us with just one car after my parents and brother arrive, the rental needed to be close to the school (less than 5 kilometers), ideally within walking distance. We also wanted a fully-furnished place for a one and a half to two-month lease, with a total budget of around $6000. The best case would be to sublet a student apartment on campus, but they are coming from the end of December to the end of February, not during the summer, so there are fewer sublets available, and most of them are for a single room, not for a whole unit. For off-campus housing, the options were either too far away or too expensive. All considered, the final conclusion was that we could only go for Airbnb.

Encountered a Scam Listing

We initially booked an Airbnb close to our home, which was also cheap, costing less than $4000 for a one-and-a-half-month stay, but the host never responded to my messages or accepted my request.

Then, I found another listing with an excellent price, $5000 for one and a half months, 2b1b, and not too far away, less than a 10-minute drive, in an Irvine Company apartment community. It turned out to be a scam listing, but thankfully we got our money back. After booking this place and the host accepted, we paid the first month’s rent (about $3600), and the listing mentioned we could get a full refund if we canceled before December. After booking, we didn’t feel secure, so we decided to check out the address listed on Airbnb during the weekend. After circling the house for a while, we realized the actual house’s exterior and the photos on Airbnb didn’t match—it seemed the photos were from another house nearby, meaning the address and photos didn’t match. When the leasing office opened, we went in to ask. First, we inquired if Airbnb rentals were allowed in the community. The response was that Airbnb was prohibited. Then, when the staff asked which unit was listed on Airbnb, we hesitated but eventually disclosed what we knew. The staff mentioned they had a record of this unit, not only was the address provided incorrect, but the actual tenant had not paid any rent since moving in a few months ago. There had been previous complaints from Airbnb guests. The house was currently undergoing eviction proceedings, and the police could lock the place and evict the inhabitants at any time. Hearing this was both shocking and a relief. Although we expected the community might not allow Airbnb, we didn’t imagine the situation could be this bad.

Therefore, we immediately canceled the booking on Airbnb and got a full refund. We also contacted Airbnb to report the scam listing through multiple channels. In the end, Airbnb also rewarded us with a $100 voucher. At least we didn’t lose any money, but it was a significant waste of time, leading us back to square one: continuing to look for a place.

Encountering a House Sale

After the scam listing scare, we were no longer tempted by cheaper options. So we immediately booked a more expensive, better-conditioned house from our alternatives, $4500 for a month, $6700 for one and a half months, although there was no free cancellation allowed after 48 hours (if canceled after that, the rent for the first 30 days would not be refunded). I should explain why we only rented for one and a half months: we planned to go on a road trip for 7-8 days during the Christmas and New Year period, during which the Airbnb would be empty, feeling like a waste of money. So, we planned to squeeze my parents and brother into our small apartment during the 4-5 days outside of the trip from 12/20 to 1/1. Since we wouldn’t be working much during that time, we could just sleep in the study on the floor, spend days outside with them as much as possible to save around $2000 in rent.

The Airbnb we ended up booking was really nice, a single-family house on one level, with a garage and a backyard (lot area 2,958 sqft, 270 square meters). The house has 2B2B, with a particularly large master bedroom, living room, and kitchen, including four sofas. The pictures online looked very nice. We secretly scouted the neighborhood, which was quiet, clean, and had good public facilities. We even chatted with a neighbor. Then, we made an appointment with the landlord and the current tenant to have a look inside the house. Its condition was nearly consistent with the photos, appearing to be a reliable listing. The house is 5-6 kilometers from our place, not walkable, about a 10-minute drive, 20 minutes by bike, or 40 minutes running. Anyway, we were very satisfied with the house, much better than our small and broken apartment. I was happy to live there myself and would be willing to buy it if I could afford it—it was my dream house. The only downside was the high cost. $6700 is not a small amount, and what if my parents couldn’t make it and we couldn’t get a refund? So, I also bought Airbnb’s travel insurance for $400. In case of an accident, it would cover accommodation costs as well as medical fees, flight delays, etc. (I will talk about insurance issues in another blog post).

Unexpectedly, less than a week after we moved into the Airbnb, the host contacted me informing that the landlord wanted to sell the house and that there were several buyers wanting to view it the next day or the day after, hoping we could cooperate in exchange for a rent discount. Upon checking the Redfin website, the house had been listed less than 24 hours ago and already had appointments set, showing its popularity. Also, priced just over one million dollars, it was the cheapest in the vicinity meeting the same criteria, likely selling quickly. However, the host reassured me not to worry, saying selling the house would take more than a month, ensuring we could stay until the originally scheduled date. We then agreed on a $500 viewing subsidy, on the condition that they communicate with us prior to each viewing at a time that was convenient for us. The outcome was that the first viewing attracted three groups of people, and two days later, one of the buyers made an offer, completing the sale. The host then contacted us regarding two visits for a home inspection and appraisal, which were also scheduled. The home inspection revealed many issues, leading to arranging times for repairmen to come, like installing a carbon monoxide detector. Except for the first viewing attended by cuihao, all other appointments were handled by my parents and brother while we were at work. Later, there were two instances where repairmen showed up without any communication or notice, once painting outside the house, parking directly on our driveway, and another time entering the house to fix plumbing in the courtyard. I was very dissatisfied, took photos as evidence, and immediately contacted the Airbnb host to express my displeasure and sent her the photos. She too found this very inappropriate, saying the landlord had not communicated with her and she was unaware. In the end, she agreed to help us negotiate additional refund compensation.

On the other hand, just two days after my parents moved into the Airbnb, and we resumed work, my father began complaining about how boring life was in the USA without a car, making it difficult to do various things, even considering returning home early. So, we discussed the option of returning home early, especially with the ongoing house sale, eventually moving their return flight up by 20 days. Fortunately, after multiple communications with the Airbnb host and the Airbnb platform, we only paid for 3 extra days of rent, receiving the rest of the money back. Our final spending on Airbnb accommodation was only half of the initial cost (about $3300, excluding insurance). In this light, the house sale turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us.

  • Note 1: Regarding a frustrating issue when communicating with the Airbnb platform: The city of Irvine mandates a minimum of 30 days for Airbnb rentals, so we could not change our booking to less than 30 days, even if the Airbnb host agreed.

  • Note 2: The Airbnb owner and host are two different individuals, with the host only managing the property. She was quite communicative, or else we might not have gotten back so much money.

The Experience of Squeezing into a Small Apartment

We initially planned to squeeze into our small apartment for just 4-5 days, but ended up staying for nine days, mainly because my father was not used to road trips and missed cigarettes and alcohol in the early days, making the food on the road unappealing to him, leading to constant complaints. Hence, we all ended up returning home early, making it tough for cuihao and me as we had to sleep on the floor every day.

Sleeping on the floor was actually not too bad. Every night, we took out the camping pads, covered them with sheets, created our beds with pillows and blankets, and it was quite comfortable. In the morning, we’d pack everything up again, so we’d have some space to move around. Meanwhile, my parents and brother slept in our bedroom, with two beds where my mother and brother shared a full-size bed, and my father slept on a twin-size bed.

With five people in such a tight space, the biggest inconvenience was having only one bathroom, necessitating a queue, and the poor sound insulation of the house. If our sleep schedules weren’t aligned, it was easy to be awakened early in the morning. There was no way to keep distance, and for nearly all the waking hours outside of the 8 hours of sleep, there was no personal space, only constant interaction with the family, hindering relaxation.

Not only couldn’t we relax, but our food-loving cat also became less interested in eating. Mainly because there were too many people and it was too noisy, especially with a child who was overly excited about the cat. So, during that time, our cat hid in a cardboard box in the study all day, showing signs of depression, hardly coming out or showing interest in food, unlike before when she would dash out to eat as soon as the feeder went off. Only at night, when everyone was asleep, would she return to the living room.

After my parents moved to the Airbnb, the experience improved significantly (and so did our cat’s mood). From Monday to Friday, we spent our days in our apartment working, and around 5 pm, we’d go to my parents’ place for dinner, then play games or chat after dinner, returning to our apartment around 8-9 pm. On weekends, we’d go there early in the morning to spend the day with them, returning home earlier after dinner. Suddenly, we had much more personal space and time, making things a lot easier. In fact, the Airbnb we last booked had sufficient space for five people, yet we never stayed there. I felt the money spent on Airbnb was worth it and even thought we should have moved them into the Airbnb sooner rather than squeezing into our small apartment.

Hence, even if we buy our own house in the future, and even if it’s a bit larger, if my parents visit again, we might still consider letting them stay in an Airbnb. After all, the accommodation experience greatly affects the quality of life. The most important thing for two generations living together is to maintain distance and give each other enough space—this expense is absolutely worth it.

  1. 1. Ideal Rental Conditions
  2. 2. Encountered a Scam Listing
  3. 3. Encountering a House Sale
  4. 4. The Experience of Squeezing into a Small Apartment