Onefinestay, the upscale answer to Airbnb, adds Los Angeles homes

Bekah Wright
CompassSeptember 25, 2013

Move over Mondrian and The Standard. British start-up Onefinestay recently expanded its “hotel alternative” portfolio into Los Angeles, joining arms in London, New York and Paris. The business is “a new category of urban, upscale accommodations halfway between a boutique experience and staying in someone’s home,” describes Evan Frank, one of four Onefinestay co-founders.

Frank credits fellow co-founder Greg Marsh as the brainchild behind Onefinestay. “When, walking home from work one night, Greg noticed all the lights were out in central London’s Mayfair – no one was home, except for at a big hotel.” Marsh had an epiphany. According to Frank, “He thought, how can we make it easy for travelers to stay in these beautiful, character-filled, functional homes right next to the big hotels, instead of in the hotels themselves?”

The question led to the 2010 launch of Onefinestay’s first group of “unhotels,” bearing with them the tagline “live like a local.”

Onefinestay’s niche, says Frank, is unique in its own right, with no clear competition per se. “On one hand, we’re competing with high-end hotels, on the other hand, Internet-only platforms.” The difference between Onefinestay and other self-listed sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO? “We offer an intimate, full-service experience to both homeowners and guests,” says Frank of the company’s shared-economy structure, which operates under UK-based parent company Lifealike Limited with distribution partners including Flipkey and Jetsetter.

Since its launch, the worth of Onefinestay’s portfolio has exceeded $2.5 billion. Their collection of more than 1,000 upscale, urban homes are located within sought-after neighborhoods – in Los Angeles’ case, this includes Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Venice, Bel Air and Beverly Hills.

The price of a stay, says Frank, is “a very good value, but not inexpensive.” Overnights range from $250 for one-bedroom accommodations to over $2,000 per night for a four-bedroom house. Pointing to the global average rate of $500 per night for two-bedroom accommodations, Frank says, “We’re not targeting the value-sensitive segment of inbound travel; we price consistently with four-star hotels.”

Travelers looking for deals aren’t left out in the cold. In Santa Monica, visitors can stay in a Washington Avenue one-bedroom for $250 per night. The same size accommodation in New York’s West Village runs $235 per night. In Paris, this equates to 145 euros for a one-bedroom in Montmartre. In London, similar digs in Notting Hill run 115 pounds.

What guests get in homes versus hotels? Amenities range from a kitchen, washer/dryer, private outdoor space and swimming pool. Also on hand are five-star linens, towels and complimentary WiFi. Adding to a sense of place, as in Los Angeles, are local products. Among them are Urth Caffé teas and coffees, snacks from the restaurant Joan’s on Third and Kiehl’s toiletries.

Further personalization comes via loaner iPhones programmed by the homeowner with tips from favorite coffee shops and restaurants to great bike paths and yoga classes. Additional Onefinestay services include airport transfers and car services, arranging for Broadway tickets, pre-stocking refrigerators, or hiring a private chef if guests so desire.

Benefitting from Onefinestay as well are the over 1,000 homeowners, or “hosts,” participating in the program. “These homes are considered ‘dark inventory,’ or would otherwise be sitting empty,” says Frank of the handpicked properties.

As with most Onefinestay hosts, Ginny Fitzgerald heard about the company via word of mouth from a New York-based friend.

Former New Yorkers and owners of a home-furnishings business, Fitzgerald and her husband retired to California. The empty nesters’ penchant for travel keeps their suitcases packed for month-long stints. Intrigued by Onefinestay, Fitzgerald and her husband registered their 100-year-old California-style bungalow on the Venice Canals when they learned the company was expanding into Los Angeles.

Fitzgerald has been impressed by the experience thus far. “They ask about everything, from what you clean your counters with, to what areas or personal items you want to be off-limits to guests,” she said. A big draw for Fitzgerald – Onefinestay is in charge of the entire process from marketing, booking, screening guests and managing her property to greeting arrivers, being on-call for issues such as WiFi crashing, and post-stay clean-up. Another plus, Onefinestay’s insurance policy alleviates many risk factors. For Fitzgerald, the situation is ideal, with no effort needed on her part.

A reflection of Onefinestay’s success, says Frank, is the company’s three-city expansion – New York opened in 2012, and Paris opened concurrently with Los Angeles. “Each Onefinestay city is a business in it own right with intricate operations that require at least six people on the ground,” he says. Frank says the public can expect to hear about several new Onefinestay properties opening up over the next year in urban U.S. and European cities.

Existing members are polled about cities they wish to see enrolled in the program, and groundwork is being laid for membership benefits like home swapping within the network.