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Top Ten Things to Ask Before Renting a Vacation Home

November 9th, 2010 · 4 Brilliant Opinions · Travel Tips, Vacation rentals

  1. Are you the owner?  Try to ascertain that you are communicating directly with the owner and not a rental agent.  Owners tend to be much more knowledgeable about their property than the typical real estate agent.  Also, properties rented by owner, tend to be cheaper and reflect a discount of 10-20% (fees that usually go to the renting agent).  
  2. Where is the property located?  Bear in mind, that for security purposes, most property owners will not reveal exact addresses without full payment and/or a signed lease.  Remember, oceanside is not oceanfront. In regards to location, do you desire a secluded, private location or is being a stones throw from the neighbor, right up your alley?  Photos of tourist sites on a website may bear little or no relation to the property location.
  3. How do I secure a reservation?  Many a renter has lost a potential “hot” vacation home by failing to submit required deposits and paperwork.  Most US property owners require a signed lease. Property owners in Europe often do not use a lease for bookings.  Look for properties that have a professional presentation and at least offer the option of paying via Paypal or credit card.  Unless it is a last minute rental, it is unusual to pay the full amount at the time of the booking. Also, avoid wire transfers which are often used by scam artists.
  4. What is your cancellation policy?  Vacation plans can be affected by death, illness, storms and work demands. Understand the owner’s cancellation policy. I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance.
  5. What supplies/items do you provide? What should I bring with me?  A few years ago, we rented a beautiful home in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. After a long drive from the Norfolk, VA  airport we entered this magnificent six bedroom home to find one roll of toilet paper – for our party of seven.  Needless to say, we were not happy about having to get back in the car (with three tired and hungry kids) to find a drugstore or supermarket.  In some markets, renters have to bring their own linens.
  6. What other additional fees do you charge? In many areas it is customary to collect taxes, cleaning fees, security deposit, pool and  even landscaping fees?
  7. When will I have my security deposit returned?  The checkout policy and method for returning your security deposit should be outlined in your lease agreement.
  8. Are you a pet friendly home?  Many vacation homes welcome pets – expect to pay a pet deposit and provide evidence your pet has been treated for fleas and other vermin.   On a personal note, our  daughter has asthma and other allergy related health issues, so we avoid pet friendly properties.
  9. Do you offer any discounts or specials?   A great way to check out a vacation home is to book it for a weekend or during a non-peak season. Many owners offer discounted rates during these times.  If you find a rental you love, in a locale you visit often, develop a rapport with the owners.  Some owners offer repeat renters a discount or even waive the security deposit.
  10. Can I preview the rental property?  This can sometimes be a hard request for a long distance owner to accommodate.  However, it does not hurt to ask.  If you go this route, be courteous and be on time for the showing. Often, the owner or his/her representative has gone to great lengths to accommodate your request.  This is a great opportunity to verify the property’s location, evaluate amenities, layout and cleanliness.  In lieu of actually visiting a property, ask the owner for additional photos or if they have an owner’s website.

Oh, one last thing. Its a good idea to start your search early.  We do summer rentals at our Bridgehampton home and  already have  bookings  for  Summer, 2011.   I usually use Homeaway or VacationRentalByOwner to find vacation homes for rent.  Every owner is different and has different standards.  Trust your gut and if it doesn’t feel right – it probably isn’t.

I had my heart set on staying at a gorgeous, swanky condo in Greenwich, London. After two emails and one international phone call – and no response -I moved on.  If you email or call a property owner and don’t get a timely response, keep it moving.  We will be renting from a lovely family, who responded to our initial inquiry – while on a highway, stealing wifi from a greasy spoon during their own vacation in Oregon!  That’s what I call service.


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