What to Know BEFORE you Book through a Vacation Rental Company

  • May 25, 2016
  • Fran Stephenson
  • 4 min read



Like many travelers, I’ve experimented with the new vacation rental sites like VRBO and Home Away. These sites allow you to rent a vacation home or apartment using filters like location, features and price. They are becoming formidable alternatives to hotel bookings.

I’ve stayed in a wide variety of with varying success. Here’s what you need to know before you book your next vacation.

The Bad Stuff

Hyperbole. Many landlords are vague and flowery in the language to describe their rental property. One example for my extended family was a holiday spot which said “sleeps 10” — 4 of those “beds” were air mattresses on the third floor (leaky ones at that!).

Location. Like many real estate listings, the description will always accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. We once stayed somewhere which was described as being in the “hip” neighborhood, which it was. But it was also next door to a very loud construction site.

Illegal rental. The instructions we were given at a gorgeous property during a girlfriends’ getaway were: ‘if you’re out walking and you encounter a neighbor, tell them you’re friends of John and Mary.’ This is less likely now than when these services first cropped up, but as a renter, you might want to make sure that the landlord has the right to do short-term rentals.

No dishwasher. Gross. How do I know the last tenant actually washed the dishes?

Really bad beds and lumpy couches. In several rentals, the furniture was old, in bad condition and might have been moved from a college dorm.

Junk. Or Missing Junk. We stayed in one place with no kitchen towels and only one washcloth, but a heap of junk in the closets and stale food in the cupboards. Who wants to navigate all that clutter?

Maintenance? What maintenance? One location had such a large crack in the bathroom window, you could make ice for drinks in the cold air that was streaming through it. No problems, we used the only available washcloth to plug up the hole.

Terms. Bad terms. Paying the entire trip in advance is a stretch for some people, not to mention the various cleaning/damage/replacement costs that vary from location to location. Equally frustrating is the method by which many rentals are calculated. Minimum stay requirements and event weekend surcharges often apply. Because of these terms, vacation rental sites lack the flexibility of a regular hotel.

The Good Stuff

Entertaining in Style! If you’ve ever planned a large gathering where everyone has individual hotel rooms, there’s nowhere to gather. Vacation rentals allow you to hang out in the kitchen, lounge in the living room, and connect with your fellow travelers.

Quirky perks! Beautiful freshly ground coffee in one location, complimentary wine in another and local produce and special treats in a third. All things you’d never expect in a standard hotel.

Local information! There’s nothing like getting a local’s perspective on area restaurants and attractions. “The binder” left by most rental managers is always worth a look.

Investing in the Experience. Some landlords invest in a quality bed and usually highlight it in the description. The same holds true for those with plenty of extra towels and quality wifi. Combined with an amazing travel destination, it can make all the difference in your trip.

Be a Smart Trip Planner

Unlike hotel chains with brand standards, each rental property is owned and operated individually and managed under the vacation rental company’s umbrella. There are potentials for misunderstandings between landlord and renter and all have had their share of scandals. If you’ve never done your vacation in this way, do your homework before your next vacation. Check out these online stories before you make your next booking.

VRBO and Home Away are two brands by the same company. And they were purchased by Expedia last year. Read some of the reviews here.

Some cities are legally challenging the short-term rental market. Paris is one example and San Francisco is another. Here’s what the travelers on Rick Steves travel forum have to share about France and Italy using vacation rental sites.  This story, in the Los Angeles area, addresses the real reason why cities are trying to regulate rental companies – hotel occupancy taxes.

This story on tripping.com outlines all the information about various rental companies.

Scams have been reported about rental companies in Seattle.  And on Buzzfeed.

So before you book your next vacation rental experience, do your homework. Happy travels.