Alexandra has to find another place to live by the end of December. The owner of the apartment she was renting in Mexico City’s centrally located Condesa neighborhood told her that he wasn’t going to renew her lease next year. Other tenants in her building have already vacated for the same reason. The apartments they once rented for $500 a month are now advertised on Airbnb for six times that amount. Alexandra noticed something strange about all the Airbnb ads for the apartments in her building – they weren’t listed by her landlord, but by “Mr. W,” an intermediary representing 358 Airbnb apartments mostly located in convenient Mexico City neighborhoods.
“Cozy and lovely apartment”; “Mexican colonial town house”; “Fairy Tale of Condesa”; “Polanco Luxury”; “Private green terrace at cozy duplex.” Mr. W’s ads have something in common – they’re all in English and priced in US dollars – clearly targeting the digital nomads, those well-paid foreigners who relocate to low-income cities where their money goes even further. The apartments advertised by Mr. W are mostly located in Roma, Condesa and Polanco, pricey neighborhoods that are becoming increasingly gentrified as rising costs displace residents. Mr. W’s apartments are an obvious example: daily rental prices average $200, with some going for up to $550.
EL PAÍS learned that Mr. W doesn’t own the apartments he advertises on Airbnb. He’s just an intermediary contracted by property owners to list on Airbnb in exchange for 20% of the net rental income. The company spruces up the apartments and manages all the cleaning and maintenance services, which come out of the owner’s share of the income. EL PAÍS obtained a copy of Mr. W’s typical rental contract and learned that the company handles every aspect of the Airbnb rental, including professional photography of the property, advertising and guest communications. Mr. W also makes sure welcome kits with candy and beverages greet each new guest, and that the apartments are well-stocked with drinking water, coffee, towels and toiletries.
More and more landlords attracted by Mr. W’s efficient management services and higher income potential are choosing to evict their tenants and list them on Airbnb. EL PAÍS obtained internal financial documents that revealed how profitable the company’s business model has become. One apartment managed by Mr. W in the “Alure” condominium (Sinaloa 179, Colonia Roma) had an 89% occupancy rate between January and October 2022, which generated $13,290 in income; Mr. W’s commission was $3,840. Multiplied by the 357 other Airbnb apartments managed by the company, this amounts to a very lucrative business for Mr. W. An agent at the company proudly told EL PAÍS, “None of our apartments are vacant for more than a week. We usually estimate that a landlord can earn 30-40% more revenue through us than with a traditional rental.”
The Mr. W brand name was registered in January 2017 by Luís Carlos Weber Zetina, according to public documentation obtained by EL PAÍS. In January 2020, Luís Weber (a.k.a. Mr. W) and his brother, Carlos Enrique Weber Zetina, incorporated a business named Infallible Hospitality. As the legal representative of the company, Mr. W signs all the brokerage contracts with apartment owners for listing on Airbnb. Last June, the Weber brothers partnered with real estate entrepreneur Giampaolo Spaventa Ibarrola to incorporate a new company called Great Hospitality Managers. Luís Weber also owns and manages a company in San Antonio, Texas called Hospitality Experts LLC that he incorporated last April. The Weber brothers’ new partner, Giampaolo Spaventa, is president of BDGP Group, a real estate construction and management company.
Mr. W doesn’t pay more in tourism taxes to the city, nor does he pay a higher commission to Airbnb – intermediaries pay the same 3% fee on the booking subtotal that any other host pays, regardless of size. In response to EL PAÍS’s request for information, Airbnb appeared to distance itself from Mr. W’s business model. “App-based rentals of short-term lodging has led to other business models like ‘property management.’ Airbnb is not part of this business model and is not promoting it.” We asked whether Airbnb is aware that property managers like Mr. W are driving up rental costs and whether it intends to regulate these businesses, but received no response. EL PAÍS also asked Mr. W for comment, but our emails and phone calls went unanswered.
Airbnb intermediaries are nothing new, but their unregulated growth has transformed the platform. María Silvia Emanuelli, the Latin America coordinator for Habitat International Coalition, says that Airbnb is no longer a collaborative economy platform because of large intermediaries like Mr. W. The platform where a host could make some extra income by renting a room, apartment or house has been coopted by companies that get rich by displacing tenants. “This is one more link in a chain that allows an economic redistribution model like renting extra living space to end up in the hands of a few, professional actors,” said Emanuelli. “The property owner is not the problem. The problem is that there is a concentration and professionalization of the type of housing and services offered, which makes it easier to raise prices. The typical small property owner doesn’t have the wherewithal to offer the perfect house, but intermediaries with large, professional teams do.”
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