Whether you're planning a weekend getaway or looking to spend several weeks in a new corner of the country, it can really pay to rent a private vacation home rather than spring for a hotel. Often, you'll save money, gain extra space, and buy yourself the option to cook meals in that home's kitchen, thus lowering the cost of feeding yourself while away.
But if there's one downside to renting a vacation home rather than booking a hotel, it's that you often don't know what you're signing up for. Here are a few things you can do to help ensure that your vacation rental doesn't disappoint.
1. Rent from a reputable site
You may come across rental opportunities online or see beach homes an hour away from where you live advertised in local newspapers. But if you really want to make sure you're getting a decent property, and that you're not about to put down a deposit on a home that doesn't actually exist, book it through a reputable site. VRBO, for example, offers renters protection against fraud, and it also lets renters purchase cancellation protection.
2. Never rent a home if the listing doesn't include photos
It's easy enough for a property owner to advertise a home with three spacious bedrooms and two bathrooms. In reality, you and that owner might have different definitions of the word "spacious," and you may find that one of those bathrooms is nothing more than a glorified broom closet. Before agreeing to rent a home, look at pictures of it to see exactly what you're getting.
3. Review your short-term rental agreement before sending any money
Just as you're required to sign a lease when you rent a home for a year or more, so too do short-term rentals require a lease agreement behind them. But if you put down a deposit on a vacation rental only to then come across the most restrictive, unreasonable lease agreement you've ever laid eyes on, you'll be out of luck. A better bet? Read that agreement first, and pay attention to hidden extra costs you may be liable for, like a security deposit or cleaning fee.
4. Pay your rental deposit with a credit card
The beauty of making purchases with a credit card is that if something goes wrong, you can always dispute the charge in question. That's why it's smart to book your vacation rental with a credit card. If the property owner doesn't fulfill his or her end of the lease agreement (say, the home isn't clean when you arrive and lacks many of the amenities its listing claimed it had), you may have an easier time getting your money back.
5. Read reviews carefully
Sites like VRBO and Airbnb are loaded with guest reviews. Before you book a vacation rental, do yourself a favor and read them. It's the best way to get an unbiased view of what the home you're thinking of staying in is really like. Guest reviews also tend to discuss how helpful or responsive the owners behind these properties are, which is a good thing to know. You don't want to book a cabin in the middle of the woods for a week and worry that if you encounter an issue, its owner won't respond to your inquiry for days.
When you rent someone else's home on a short-term basis, there's often the risk of the unknown that you'll need to contend with. But if you take the above steps, you'll be less likely to throw your money away on a bad vacation rental, or worse yet, fall victim to a rental scam.