How To Choose the Perfect Vacation Rental
Tips for choosing a vacation rental
If you’re considering a vacation rental for extra space and savings but don’t want to wind up with vintage green shag carpeting and a leaky roof, check out these tips before you check in: […]
Weigh the pros and cons
of renting through a management company vs. privately. Vacation rentals by owner can be more personalized and cheaper, since owners aren’t paying commissions of 10%-40% to real estate or property management firms. On the flip side, agencies pre-screen properties, promise 24-hour, on-site support if something goes wrong, and increasingly tout such concierge services as theme park tickets and golf or spa packages.
Order your priorities
and create a short list of possibilities. Most rental websites let you sort listings by location, price, number of bedrooms and other features. Note: Availability calendars aren’t always current, so double-check with the agency or owner.
Look for multiple photos.
Each listing should include several interior and exterior views specific to that unit. Be wary of fish-eye lenses designed to make rooms look bigger, and watch out for closed window shades: “It’s a sign of either bad lighting or something outside that they don’t want you to see,” says Terry Gronenthal of Vacation-rental-info.com.
Ask detailed questions about everything from sleeping arrangements and kitchen gear to location of the nearest grocery store and what happens if the toilet backs up at midnight. Initial contact can be by e-mail — and if you don’t hear back promptly, consider it a red flag — but particularly if you’re renting from a private owner, phone conversations can give you a better sense of whether the property is a good match.
Do your own scouting.
“Plug the address into the satellite view on Google Maps or Google Earth,” suggests BudgetTravel.com’s Vacation Rental Handbook. “Scope the area for nearby attractions both bad (factory complex) and good (local park). The property might be three blocks from the beach as stated, but there could be a four-lane highway in between.”
Check reviews and references
from prior guests. A caveat: Most online rentals don’t have any reviews, and those that do can be suspiciously glowing (owners on the popular site VRBO.com, for example, can delete negative postings). FlipKey.com, whose 60,000 reviews of 20,000 professionally managed properties are incorporated on sister site TripAdvisor.com, plans to include reviews of rentals-by-owner lodgings in April. Another tip: Google the specific vacation rental or owner’s name and “complaints,” “fraud” and “scam.”
Try some wheeling and dealing.
A sour economy and real estate market mean more room for negotiation. Some places offer discounts of 20% or more for bookings within two weeks; others will waive minimum-stay requirements or throw in the cost of cleaning.
Ask about guarantees
and refund policies. Though no one offers an iron-clad promise that your rental won’t be SNAD (industry-speak for “significantly not as described”), several sites offer reassurances. HomeAway.com, for example, reimburses renters up to $5,000 if a listing isn’t legitimate. That’s a major problem in destinations such as New York City, where social networking sites post scam warnings about visitors paying in advance for places that don’t exist.
Get it in writing.
A detailed rental agreement should spell out payment and the responsibilities of both renter and owner, whether an individual or management company.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
“If there are serious complaints, you have to speak up immediately,” says Pauline Kenny of SlowEurope.com, a new site devoted to European vacation rentals. “But you also need to roll with the punches — and remember that you’re renting someone’s home, not a hotel.”