I’ve traveled worldwide and stayed in eco-lodges, bed & breakfasts, hotels, campgrounds, condos, suites and possibly every combination of “rent someone else’s home via the internet.”
Five stars or minus five stars, it’s all been a learning experience. Some vacation rental history like the “mouse house” and the “frogs in the commode” incidents make for great story telling (once I’ve recovered). Stuck with those rental properties, however, made me long for the ruby red slippers and a return to Kansas. My point: where you stay matters!
To help the new or experienced traveler choose the optimal vacation home and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls that can come with renting vacation homes, I’ve developed a short checklist. It’s only a beginning. I recommend you start with these points and add your own ideas as you work through the reservation process.
Choose reliable and reputable
Because vacation rental marketplaces (you know who these are) charge marketing and travelers’ fees, renting directly through a vacation rental agency can save you money and sometimes lots. One way to avoid scams and boost your confidence in less well-known agencies is to look for the following features on their websites:
- Option to book directly
- Posted fees that are comparable to market prices (if it looks too good to be true it probably is)
- Formally written lease agreements and policies that require your signatures
- Photos and descriptions of most/all properties
- A map of each property’s location
- Information for contacting owner and/or management company directly
- Guests’ written reviews of homes
- Option for travel insurance
Arizona Vacation Home Rentals is a reliable and reputable vacation rental company that saves you money by booking directly on their website.
Decide what’s most important about your home away from home. There are always sacrifices but think in terms of what is most and least important for this vacation. Things to consider include:
- Safety features
- Floor plan
- Potential for noise
- Convenience to appealing activities
- Sightseeing opportunities
- Public transportation
- Important personal needs such as short distance to medical facilities
Analyze all details of properties you find appealing
- Assume nothing! Read all print.
- Be certain you understand the terminology. Real estate and vacation renting have their own language and abbreviations. Ask questions if you’re not 100% clear about property and reservation information.
- Make sure you can abide by the written policies concerning number of occupants, smoking, pets, children, parking and so forth. “Tricking the rental company” is not advised – you could be homeless mid-vacation. No kidding!
- Picture yourself living in the home: consider floorplans, steps, kitchen appliances, bed sizes, bathroom fixtures, parking and all features that are on your list of priorities.
- Check for additional costs such as pool heating, linens or early arrival fees.
Do your homework
- Verify the rental property’s location on Google Earth or a similar app.
- Make sure the neighborhood and surrounding areas are safe.
- Check for personally annoying features such as dog kennels, truck stops, concert venues, night clubs, trains, airports or road traffic.
- Determine that the features you desire such as scenic view, remote setting or public transportation are even possibilities.
- Analyze routes and distances to ensure they match your preference and ability if you plan to walk or bike to conveniences or recreational activities.
- Calculate travel time to destinations you plan or need to visit such as airports.
- Read all levels of guests’ reviews and read between the lines.
- Look for reviews that include specific information related to your priorities.
- Pay attention to guests’ comments about how the owner or management responds to requests and resolves problems.
- Determine the accessibility of the owners or management company. Some rental companies operate remotely and you’re out of luck if something doesn’t work.
- Contact the owners or management company with all questions and concerns before you agree to rent.
Avoid being scammed
Being a victim is never a vacation. Be cautious of the following:
- Websites missing several of the characteristics listed under “Choose reliable and reputable.”
- Websites that are vague or have multiple grammar and/or spelling errors.
- Requests for money or credit card information before receiving written rental agreements.
- Requests for checks or wiring of funds. Some legitimate international travel may require wired funds, but be highly suspicious of all requests for wired money. Use of a credit card is recommended as some credit card companies offer protection from fraud and you have documentation of transactions.
- Unresponsive or indignant reservation teams who may, in fact, be delivering false information.