Notes from our Home Critics: The Importance of the Plum Test
We hear from Plum Guide's guardians of quality about the value of vetting a home in-person and what they love most about their roles
We sit down with three of our Home Critics – Jules, Rachael and David – to hear their thoughts on the importance of the Plum Test to ensure the quality of a homestay. Our Home Critics reveal what they're able to discover about a home when visiting in-person that they could never tell from simply looking online, the three biggest reasons they fail a home, and why hosts who go above and beyond are so important to ensuring a memorable stay.
Why is the Plum Test so important to ensuring the quality of a vacation home?
Jules, Devon Home Critic: Because it has been thoroughly viewed and tested by an independent, non-biased and honest expert. Not only do they examine every aspect of the house they also know the area where the property is located.
Rachael, Hampshire Home Critic: As a Home Critic I spend a good few hours at the home, often trying out all the chairs, sampling the sound system or taking a good stroll in the grounds, to fully appreciate the home as if I was there a week! The test is so comprehensive, no detail has been spared in order to define those hidden qualities…. Or not!!
David, California Home Critic: One of the lessons we've learned from social media over the years is that what people put out on the internet doesn't necessarily reflect reality. Both as a guest in various vacation homes and as a Home Critic, I do know the first hand disappointment of arriving at a place that didn't meet the standard set on the online listing. The Plum Test gives guests the inside scoop of that reality, no filters necessary. It's like asking your friend for a restaurant recommendation instead or reading online reviews; you know they have your best interest in mind and they have the first hand info.
And what part of the Plum Test is most important?
Jules: Driving up to the property, assessing it, then meeting the host and gauging what sort of person they are – this immediately sets the tone for what the property will be like.
Rachael: For me, the bedrooms are always an important factor. In particular, a comfy bed with quality mattress, plump pillows and clean, well-pressed bed linen. I also like to ensure there is good space to unpack and especially hang my clothes up to avoid having to iron. A mirror with a plug socket close by is crucial to blow dry and straighten my hair and apply make up in a good light. This way I have had a good sleep and am ready for the day!
David: Design and maintenance - how a home comes together to form a consistent, memorable experience (and then upholds it by keeping it clean). I'm not looking for a specific design or experience, but it sure should be a positive and memorable one.
What do you learn from the Plum Test process that you wouldn’t grasp from simply seeing the vacation home online?
Jules: The reality of what the home is actually like - from dirty grouting, worn out cookers and chipped crockery to saggy beds and cheap, flat pillows. Little examples are also finding that there are no sockets located near bedside tables or mirrors, or there are no mirrors. Along with poor/limited wifi (in this day and age that’s a no-no) and not enough hot water!
Rachael: When visiting a vacation home, I really think hard about the Home Truths. What are those things that you just couldn’t grasp from a well edited photo or a convenient camera angle, that might just make, or break your vacation?!
David: Details, details, details! The little things add up for the guest. When I conduct a Plum Test, I get to see these details for the first time: host has organized the cookware, how creaky the bathroom door sounds, or how soft the bedsheets. These things that no one would bother to take pictures of (or can't take pictures of), when all added up, can really shape the experience of a stay. Guests wouldn't go out of their way to look for these things, even though it's important to then. I think that's what the Plum Test helps capture.
Tell us about the top 3 reasons you fail a home
Jules: Firstly, mould - anywhere! The rest of the property could be immaculate but if the bathroom or kitchen tiles, grouting etc have signs of mould or damp, then it’s definitely a no-no. Secondly, bland, unimaginative and cheap-looking interiors, furniture and decor without any coherent style. And third, badly-designed layouts or a lack of modern facilities that don’t accommodate the amount of guests comfortably.
Rachael: Number one, cleanliness - dusty shelves, grubby kitchen equipment and appliances . Then, poor quality mattresses and bed linens. Lastly, hosts that try to fill their homes with guests and unpractical sleeping.
David: I'd say maintenance - when a home looks good in photographs, but fails to keep up that level of cleanliness in person. Next, poor furnishings and crockery - prime location and beautiful architecture can't make up for budget quality bedding, furniture, and cutlery. And last up, a lack of cohesive design – many homes pick out trendy items to place, but don't consider how they'll all work holistically. Prioritise experience over trends.
What part of being a Home Critic do you enjoy the most?
Jules: Walking into a home and wanting to stay there yourself. Being pleasantly surprised with the style and passion the owners have put into making the home a special place to stay with every amenity catered for (not just any old AirBnB where quality and little details don’t matter).
Rachael: For me, first and foremost I have had the privilege of visiting some truly amazing homes in parts of the UK that I wouldn’t normally have chosen to visit. From the pretty chocolate box cottages in the middle of no where, to the homes where no detail has been spared, from the bespoke or one off furniture pieces, to the state of the art gadgets! Fabulous vacation homes really do come in all shapes and sizes!
David: Host interviews! I've tested both boutique apartments and multi-story beach houses, but the most memorable Tests are always the ones where I get to talk to the host in-person - the host who's doing it out of a passion for meeting people, the host who put the effort into making a great home and is happy to share its history and its story, the host who's excited to have you as a guest in their city. I also enjoy getting to share my expertise and perspective of my hometown when conducting tests - what the vibe of a particular neighbourhood is, what great local businesses are around to support.