Going away on vacation doesn't mean forfeiting the comforts of home. In fact, choosing to rent a house or apartment at your destination of choice can bring another level of fun, rest, and relaxation to your experience—it's a way to glimpse life in a new place from a local's point of view, often at a much better price. And honestly, finding a vacation rental isn't any more daunting than hunting down a good hotel. With rapidly growing innovations of sites like HomeAway, it's easier than ever to sift through available rentals.
Lots of vacationers are so used to the hotel routine, they haven't checked out vacation rentals; and with all the options out there, it can be overwhelming to get started. We caught up with HomeAway's North American VP Jon Gray to get his top tips for how to sort the so-so vacation rentals from the spectacular, and how to make sure everything goes smoothly once you've locked in on your perfect place.
Rental Rookies: Beginners' Tips
The basics might not be so obvious to someone who's never gone the vacation rental route before, but missing one of these crucial details could result in a less-than-ideal situation. Start your search in the know!
Only book with a reputable site that has a substantial inventory. The more homes to choose from, the better your chances will be in finding a property that meets your specific needs and budget (e.g., size, proximity to a particular destination, amenities like swimming pools, child or pet-friendly requirements, etc).
Read the reviews. Reviews are a great way to get a better idea of what the property is really like. As with all reviews, keep in mind they can be very personal based on travelers’ various discerning tastes, so be sure to check out the individual posts (especially the most recent) in addition to just the rating score.
Talk to the homeowner. Ask a lot of questions so you know what to expect upon arrival, as well as to build trust between you and the homeowner – trust that you’re getting what you paid for and that they’re renting to someone who will respect their property. Homeowners typically have a wealth of local knowledge and can also provide the kinds of helpful tips and recommendations you can’t find in guidebook.
Get the name of an on-site contact. Before leaving for your trip, get the name of a local contact or property manager to help you should any issues arise.
Get all rental rules in writing. By asking for all rules in advance, including check-in/out times, cancellations, etc, you can help avoid any last-minute surprises.
Call first before paying. Always call ahead to confirm the details of your reservation and payment before making the purchase.
If possible, pay online by credit card or via secure services like PayPal. It’s the safest option to protect your travel investment. If an owner requires you to mail cash or use a wire transfer service, consider it a red flag and move on to another rental.
Sealing the Deal
Make sure you're not being scammed or settling for anything less than the best value out there by reading up on these insider tips for identifying the best deals on awesome rentals.
Book rentals as early as possible. Like with most things, the best-priced rentals tend to go first. The average booking window is about 90 days, but the sooner you can get started, the more options you’ll have.
Be flexible with your dates. If you can fill open dates for an owner, they might be more willing to work with you on negotiating a better rate. Also, if you you’re able, consider traveling before or after peak season (e.g., June and July for summer destinations, and December and January for winter retreats), when there are some major deals to be had.
Book properties farther away from popular tourist attractions. Proximity typically comes with a price, so look for places that are further from the tourist hot spots. Homes that are just a stone’s throw away from the main attractions can more than make up for the distance in pricing and often, authenticity, too.
Consider a lesser-known destination. There are lots of great off-the-beaten-path destinations that still are great vacation spots and often cost less because there is less demand.
Check for last-minute deals if you haven’t already booked. Sometimes cancellations occur and owners are willing to offer deals to secure bookings.
Getting the Keys (to Vacation Rental Success)
So you've honed in on the perfect abode, your bags are packed, tickets are booked, and all that's left to do is to make the leap and close on your rental. Before you finalize your plans, make sure to keep these essential takeaways in mind.
Every vacation home is different. Avoid assumptions and make sure to ask the owner about anything that’s important to you (e.g., if it’s pet-friendly, wheelchair accessible, has a highchair or gates around the pool if you have kids, etc) to see if it’s included in the rental.
Cancellation policies are different than hotels. Because rentals are typically reserved much farther in advance, the cancellation policies are typically further out as well. Be sure to ask about the policy when booking so you know exactly when your payment is no longer refundable.
Payment structure is different. Vacation rentals typically require a deposit to hold the reservation. It’s also common to have a payment schedule for paying off the balance – usually all must be paid before you arrive at the home.
Owners are a great resource. Owners often have a wealth of local knowledge and can be great tour guides, providing the kinds of local tips and recommendations you can’t find in a guidebook. In your conversations, ask what they love most about the area and why they purchased a home there—their recommendations could become the most memorable part of your trip!
The average weekly price is $1,500. Prices vary, of course, depending on the location and time of year (e.g., July is typically the most expensive month to visit beach destinations) but the average price for a two-bedroom/two-bath home on HomeAway.com is around $1,500 per week.
Photo credits: Courtesy of HomeAway