Renting a reliable vacation home isn’t easy.
And not just because there are a seemingly endless number of rental resources to turn to — everything from local sites that list a few condos to big listing services like HomeAway.com or VRBO.com.
For me, it’s the politics.
This summer, for example, I told my mother that I planned to rent a condo on the beach. Within two days, my sister and brother had invited themselves over, boosting our numbers from 5 to more than 30.
A rental home can save you a lot of money when you’re on vacation, as I pointed out in an earlier column. But this one would almost certainly cost me a lot more.
There are an estimated 1 million vacation rentals in the United States, roughly half of which are available to the general public, according to numbers from The National Association of Realtors and FlipKey.com. A recent PhoCusWright study estimated vacation rentals were a $24.3 billion-a-year market, while a Ypartnership survey suggested interest in renting a home was on the rise, with 14 percent of leisure travelers saying they stayed in one in 2009, up from 11 percent a year earlier.
Renting a home for 30 isn’t like booking a hotel room, or even a vacation cottage for a family of 5.
“The consistent challenge we hear from travelers is predictability,” says TJ Mahony, the chief executive of FlipKey.com, a vacation rental site. “People tend to know what they are going to get from a hotel, but can have anxiety over the quality of a vacation rental.”
I asked experts to identify the biggest challenges when renting a home. Here’s what they told me:
1. Knowing what you want. Prioritize your rental. That’s the advice of Teresa Bell Kindred, a blogger and frequent home renter. “You are going to pay more for certain things. Decide what is really important to you,” she says. Her family loves the ocean, so they don’t mind paying more to be right on the beach. But if you don’t mind being a few blocks away from the water, you can save money. Be sure you stay within your budget. “If you spend all your money on rental property and can’t afford groceries you may get hungry before you get back home,” she warns.
2. Timing your purchase. If you’re in town for a special event, like a sports tournament or festival, it’s never too soon to book a vacation rental. “Vacation rentals are more scarce than hotels and great vacation properties are even scarcer,” says Chris Brusznicki, the chief executive of GamedayHousing.com, a site that specializes in rentals for sports events. But if there’s no reason to be in town, you can run down the clock. One terrific new site that allows you to bid on “last minute” vacation rentals is a site called PackLate.
3. Finding out what you’re renting. It probably goes without saying that you need to do your due diligence on a rental. “Do your homework,” says Sylvia Guarino, who owns a rental home on Sanibel Island, Fla. (one of my favorite places) and a member of Second Porch, a Facebook application that connects vacation rental owners and vacation guests. “Vacation rental guests sometimes get too focused on getting a deal, and not focused enough on getting the information that they need, or authenticating the property. “How do you authenticate a property? Look at every piece of information available to you, including the owner’s site, the vacation rental site, online reviews and what you find on social networking sites, like Facebook. Be sure the property is in good shape, is as represented and isn’t in foreclosure.