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Vacation Rentals: What You Need to Know Before You Book Your Stay

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Booking a vacation home rental instead of a hotel room is changing the experience for many vacationers. With many relatively new services where you can find the perfect “home away from home” to rent for a week, a month or longer, more and more people are enjoying the advantages of staying in a private home during their vacation.

Before you begin your search, it’s important to remember key differences between a vacation rental and a hotel room. You’re not renting from a national chain with consistent quality standards. There isn’t another room available if you don’t like the one you get. No room service. No valet parking.

You’ll be enjoying a private residence during your vacation. You can cook for yourself; entertain; have more privacy; and you get a lot more space to spread out and relax. But you’ll be renting from an individual and all of us have our own quirks. Even if you go through a broker or agency, the owner’s expectations and preferences will be key to an enjoyable stay.

Here are some questions you should ask so you can enjoy the process of renting a vacation home for your next getaway.

Do I need a car or other transportation? If you plan on exploring the area, you may need a car if public transportation is limited or not nearby. Ask about Uber and Lyft and other ride share programs and how plentiful they are in the area you’re visiting.


Is there parking? How much, both spaces and cost if extra? You may have friends or family in for a visit and need parking. Is there street parking? Is there assigned parking? How many spots? Is there a charge for parking? If yes, how much?

Is there a grocery store nearby? One of the joys of staying in a vacation rental home is the ability to cook for yourself; maybe even relish a barbecue or two. Is there a grocery store nearby? You’ll want to know if you need to make one big grocery run at the beginning of your stay or if it’s easy to get to anytime you need something.

Is it noisy? Is the property close to a highway or other heavily-trafficked road? Are the units/houses close together? Are there lots of late night parties? Are there any noise policies?

Do the neighbors know the home is being rented? Some neighbors may prefer that other homeowners not rent out their homes. That can cause conflicts if you don’t know about it. It’s rare but better to know what you’re walking into.

Do you have a property manager I can call if there’s an emergency or something breaks? What if the sink or toilet backs up? Who do you call? Is it a 24/7 phone number? How fast is the response time for a repair like this? Who fixes the problems and who cleans up afterwards?

Is there anything on the property we can’t use? Most vacation rental homes have a variety of things available inside the home and the garage. Are you allowed to use them? Maybe a basketball hoop, bicycles, sports equipment, barbecue grill and utensils – but also think about things like candles, CDs and DVDs, garden hose, etc. Always ask permission first.

What does the cleaning fee cover? Does it include laundry? Towels and linens? What about mopping floors and doing the dishes?

How fast and reliable is the WiFi? Are there reliable and easy instructions for the WiFi? You’ve experienced bad WiFi at almost every hotel you’ve ever stayed in. Who provides the WiFi service/modem? Who provides the internet access? How is the strength of the signal throughout the property and outdoors too? Are there step-by-step instructions on how to log into the WiFi?

Will the owners visit during my stay? You’re renting their house not sharing it with them. Owners may stop by at the beginning of your stay to answer questions and make sure you get settled. But many do not. Unannounced visits are bad business. This is YOUR vacation.

How do I pay for the rental? Most vacation home rentals are paid for in advance. Wire transfer is usually available and some owners offer credit card payments. Make sure you get a signed rental agreement to protect yourself.

What’s the cancellation policy? You may have to cancel a certain number of days in advance to get a refund. There may be a cancellation fee. What happens if there is an illness or emergency that prevents you from checking in? Find out everything about their cancellation policy before money changes hands.

Is daily housekeeping available for an additional charge? Most vacation rentals don’t offer housekeeping or room service. Some may offer daily maid service for an additional charge.

Are there bicycles available to use? There may be bikes and other equipment in the garage. If you love the outdoors and plan on biking during your stay, find out if they have bikes available for your use or if there is a bike rental agency nearby.

If not, is there a bike rental agency nearby?

What floor is it on? If the rental is a condo or apartment, ask what floor its on. Is there an elevator? Is it wheelchair accessible?

How safe is the area? Some people may travel alone and like a nice walk in the evening. If this is you, ask about the neighborhood and how safe it is, even at night.

How many sets of keys are provided? You don’t want anyone to get locked out.

What basic necessities are provided?

What exactly is the kitchen equipped with? Might want to ask about spices. Are there chopping blocks and knives? One owner’s definition of kitchen essentials might be a bowl and a couple spoons while another owner might consider a full chef’s kitchen to be essential.

Are there any additional fees? Some cities impose additional taxes on vacation rentals. Make sure you know in advance what your trip is really going to cost; everything included. Maybe the taxes are included; maybe not. Always ask to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Tell me about the security deposit? Be sure you know what’s covered. Accidents happen to all of us. Know how the owner handles the security deposit, what it covers and when you’ll get it back.

Here are some suggestions

#1 thing you must do when you arrive

The Walkthrough Review

Just like you do at the airport when you’re renting a car, make sure you give your vacation home rental a walkthrough review and take your iPhone with you.

Start by walking through the entire property and find anything that is already broken or damaged. Get that info to the owner as soon as possible. They may already be aware but it’s smart to cover yourself just in case. I recommend you take photos with your smartphone so you have a visual record of what you found and they’re usually time-and-date-stamped.

Things that often get overlooked by the owner or rental agency are: (they often assume they’re all working)


air conditioning





television and cable or satellite service

fold out or inflatable beds


and you also want to look for obvious damage or wear-and-tear from broken windows, water damage, dents or gouges on drywall.

When you get your questions answered in advance, you won’t have anything to worry about once you arrive at your vacation home rental. Do your walkthrough, swim in the pool, grill some burgers and ride bikes through the neighborhood. You’re home!

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