What you should know before you rent a vacation home

November 12, 2015

vacation-rental-tipsI’ve rented vacation homes from Rome to Key West to London, San Francisco, Santa Fe and, well, several other places. Now that Air B&B has become the next big thing, bigger than sliced bread even, home rental vacations have increased in popularity. But the truth is that vacation rentals through VRBO, HomeAway and a multitude of other services have been around a long time. AirB&B is just the cute new kid on the block. More on the dark side of AirB&B later.

Home rentals are not at all like a hotel stay and for more than the obvious reasons. Most people are super-casual about renting that great place on the internet, without considering some of the surprises they might face once they get tehre.

So let me share some of what I learned through hard experience as I share some vacation rental tips.

Photos are usually better than the real thing.

Especially if a rental agency is concerned. Consider that the agency has lit the scene well and it looks far more shiny and new than it will when you get there. If, like us, you want a lot of light, check for windows. Ask questions.  Assume that the house won’t look that good once you get there.

Is it a purely-vacation rental or owners moving out of their personal residence for a while to make a few bucks?

This makes a difference to me. I don’t want to rent a place someone else lives in 48 weeks a year. I don’t want to deal with their mustard and salad dressing in the refrigerator, their deodorant in the cabinet and other evidence that this is someone else’s home.

I once rented an apartment in Rome through a European agency without knowing that the owners simply moved out for the month I was there. Until I got there and had to deal with the detritus of their every day life. Worse, they’d locked their closet and for my own clothes, left me a clothes rack with a few sad, bent wire hangers. But that was the least of my problems with that rental. More on that in a bit.

A really nice London rental we had was also someone’s personal residence, but he’d at least cleared out the fridge and cabinets. Still, I find that scenario distasteful and don’t want to rent someone’s residence. I want something that is always used as a vacation rental.

Check to see if renovation is going on in the building.

Who would think to do this? Not me, it turns out, and I paid the price. During my month in Rome, my building was being renovated and the sound of jackhammers filled the air eight hours a day, along with the dust and dirt. This was not disclosed in advance, either. Of course it wasn’t–who would rent under those conditions?  It wasn’t the Rome vacation of my dreams, to say the least.

If you need internet for your work or other reasons, ask questions.

To be fair, there are hotel rooms in San Francisco I won’t ever rent again because the internet is so ridiculously slow. I’m not sure why hotels don’t get that tourists today need the internet for ticket purchases and other research while on vacation.

But if you’re on a long-term stay, you probably REALLY need a reliable, stable internet connection. Ask beforehand about the kind of connection, the company name and how to report problems. But to be honest, this is kind of a crap shoot. You won’t know until you get there. The best you can do is ask questions meant to minimize surprises and hassles once you get there.

Who will you contact if you have a problem? 

Rental houses we’ve engaged have had internet problems, appliance problems and there’s no end to what might have gone wrong and didn’t.  A rental agency takes charge of such things, a private owner has other priorities.  You might be ok with the possibility of being left on your own without…water, heat, cable and internet. We’re not.  Who is accountable? That’s why I much prefer renting through an agency.

About damage

You are responsible for any damage to the rental. Whether you did it or not.  Our most recent rental was through an agency. We had a very happy month in Santa Fe, only to return to emailed photos of a scraped stairwell wall that needed repainting. Not a small scrape, either. It was massive. Epic, even.

We did not scrape that wall. If we had, we would have called it to their attention and paid it. But we didn’t do it. The best we can figure is that after our departure, the maid service did it carrying a vacuum cleaner or box up the stairs. We are no strangers to maids damaging things and not copping to them.

The repainting fee wasn’t huge, but I didn’t appreciate the nasty take on the damage from the broker who had seen it. He said something like “the renters used the wall as their personal shoulder or hand support.”  Umm. His deductive reasoning wasn’t very good. Soft shoulders and hands do not scrape walls.

What irks me is that every time we went up the stairs we held on to the railing, not the wall, or we had Riley in our arms. And yet, we were the last renters and it was our problem. I’m sure many renters would say “we didn’t do it” even if they had, but we are not that way. How would that rental agency know, though?

We wanted to rent that place again but were afraid our reputation as renters had been unfairly tainted. I emailed the rental agency and they reassured me it hadn’t, and said they were investigating.

You can take photos and videos and send them. But unlike a hotel room rental, you’re on the hook. There’s not much you can do unless the rental agent is willing to be at the unit to inspect it before you leave and I’ll ask for that next time.

Ask for a refund

I’ll admit it. I harassed my Rome rental agency until I got back a third of my rental fee for the noise and inconvenience of the renovation.

Will we continue to rent vacation homes? Yes. For long term stays with the dog, it’s the only way to go. I thought I knew enough to protect myself, but the next time? I’m insisting on an inspection before I go. This time, the damage was slight. But it might not be so slight next time.

One more thing:

There’s a darker side to the AirB&B or other rental-by-owner scenario and I don’t mean the financial risk. I mean risk to life and limb. I recommend you read THIS  if you’re considering a vacation rental. It’s long and interrupted by a lot of photos that make it seem as though the piece has ended. Keep scrolling down.

Your tips or thoughts?



18 comments on “What you should know before you rent a vacation home
  1. Karen Austin says:

    I’m sorry about the damage billed to you that wasn’t your fault. That stinks. Thanks for all the tips for newbies. Helpful stuff.

  2. penpen says:

    Helpful tips–not stuff I would have thought of. I have one other problem with vacay rentals thru owners: if you have a change in plans, you have no recourse. With a condo in Vermont one year, we couldn’t change from one week to another when our grown kids and their families had to change arrival dates. Not anyone’s fault–but something to think about before signing that lease.

  3. I rented a vacation home a couple years ago. It wasn’t as amazing as we had expected but it wasn’t horrible either. We weren’t crazy about the location, it was kind of tucked away and hard to get to.

  4. We rented weekly and seasonally for years at the Jersey shore before we bought. Most rentals were clean and reasonably equipped but often we dealt with noisy neighbors, etc.

    When we bought our first beach house we purposely looked for a duplex so we could get rental income. We handled the weekly changeovers, etc. and put up with the b.s. for the first year. When we found out we could condo the duplex and sell the first floor, we went for it. It was scary because you can’t turn someone away who’s made a reasonable offer, according to the law. We were fortunate enough to sell to people who became great friends but, that said, they often rented and we still had to put up with strangers who thought we were the local chamber of commerce.

    There are so many things to investigate in order to ensure you have a great vacation experience. Great tips, Carol!

  5. As a vacation home owner, you make good points. Randy and I prefer staying off on our own, so we usually do a home or condo rental. When you can tell they live there, it really pisses me off!
    And you are right on the photos…I’m proud to say that our reviews tell us that our home is portrayed accurately, and is even better in person! Everyone should do their homework.

  6. I wouldn’t want to stay in a home that others live in 99% of the year either. I can’t see that my husband and I would rent a home, but ya never know. I like hotels and having others cater to me too much. 😀 But these are great tips to keep in mind if ever we have the money to travel more often and DO choose to stay in a vacation rental home.

    PS: Sorry about the cruddy wall-scrape situation!

  7. These are all good tips. The only vacation homes we ever rented were through a great company in Lake Tahoe, and everything was perfect!

  8. Clare Speer says:

    Good good tips – a lot I wouldn’t have really thought of – and delighted you fought for and got your part of your fee back! Good for you!

  9. Estelle says:

    Wow. I’m glad you got part of your fee back. I get creeped out renting vacation homes from others–you usually find their crumbs deep in the couch:)

  10. Janice says:

    Thanks for the tips. We often go out of towns with my husband because of our work and some of your experiences are true to us. Though we stayed on hotels and motel most of the time.

  11. Sahin Oral says:

    Spot on advice, I think of renting as part of the research even, it might even help you better get to know what exactly do you want from an house or apartment/neighborhood.

  12. Selene says:

    Wow, great post! Definitely some excellent and very helpful advice. Making sure you’re renting a vacation home that fits all of your needs and has all the amenities you’re looking for. Definitely best to do a lot of research. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Zoe Campos says:

    Thanks for encouraging me to ask questions with the landlord and don’t automatically assume that the property looks the same as shown in the uploaded photos. My parents will be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and I’m planning to organize an all-expense paid luxury vacation for the two of them. I’m thinking of looking for good rental homes where they can stay, so the points you mentioned in your article will be really helpful.

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