Finding Vacation Homes on the Web

Here’s a checklist to help ensure a satisfactory rental experience.

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Is the Vacation Home Suitable?

One of the first factors to consider is the location of the vacation rental. How accessible is it? How far is it from the airport? What are the driving times from major cities?

The physical setting of the rental is important. Is there anything about its location that might pose a danger, e.g. steep cliffs on oceanfront property or snow-covered roads leading to a mountain cabin?

If children will be included in the vacation, is the setting safe and comfortable for them? Is there a lawn for play or a fenced-in lot for pets?

Whether the renters number two or eight, will the rental home accommodate them? Just checking the number of bedrooms and baths is not sufficient. What types of beds are provided? Are there single people who require their own rooms? Will a couple accustomed to a king bed at home be comfortable in a double? Do children need special beds? Are any of the “beds” listed actually futons, bunk beds or pull-out sofas?

Will the floor plan work? If a guest cannot climb stairs, are there a bedroom and a bath on the main level? Is there entrance to the house without stairs? Where is the children’s bedroom?

Someone in the group may need special consideration. Is there anything about the home that makes it unacceptable for elderly or children? Is smoking permitted? Are pets welcome? The smoking and pet policies are important not only to those who wish to smoke or include the family pet, but also to anyone who suffers with allergies.

What is essential in a vacation home? Property details usually list available amenities, but if something is lacking, the site may simply say nothing. For example, if guests deem a washer and dryer necessary but laundry facilities are not listed, it’s very likely the house does not have them. Those looking for a rental home can usually contact the owner or property manager with additional questions.

Other things that vacationers might consider essential but forget to ask about are: internet connections, television (what type and what coverage?), linens, kitchen equipment, cell coverage, long distance service, access to the waterfront or golf course or pool.

Many sites offer additional clues. The online guest book reveals what previous guests liked about the house. Potential renters can glean information on the cleanliness of the house, the ease of the rental experience, whether or not the owners are available and helpful, what activities are popular in the area and what types of people enjoy this place.

Sometimes there are negative comments in guest books, but since most sites allow property owners to screen guest book entries, most of these notes will be positive. A large number of enthusiastic responses from guests is certainly a good recommendation for a property.

A profile or note from the owner is often included. This gives additional information about the rental home and the area.

Photography included on the website creates a first impression, but some of the pictures may only be skillful marketing. Photographs of “views” may not be views from the house; sometimes those are simply scenes from the area.

Interior photos give clues on how the house is furnished. Does it look Spartan or comfortable and welcoming? Rustic? Kid-friendly? Every now and then, a house truly is more inviting than the photographs imply. Again, the guest book is a good reference, and former guests may say something like, “The pictures don’t do it justice

What is the Cost of Renting This Vacation Property?

Vacationers are discovering that renting vacation homes can be more economical than hotel stays. A glance at the rental rates immediately tells which homes are within a traveler’s budget. However, other surprises could affect the total cost.

Renters should always have a written contract specifying the terms of rental. When is payment due? An initial deposit to hold the property is standard, but is the full rental amount required months ahead of the vacation time? How is the security deposit made? How soon will it be refunded after the rental period? These details can tie up a renter’s money for months, depending on the timetable.

What happens if the vacation is cancelled? What taxes will be added? Are there additional fees for such things as cleaning, firewood, linens, or use of the pool?

The contract will also spell out the responsibilities of both owner and tenant and might reveal details that have not been mentioned before, such as restrictions on occupancy or responsibilities the renter is unwilling to assume–perhaps cleaning or supplying linens or taking the week’s trash to the dump.

Vacation rental websites can be global in scope or specific to an area, but answering these questions can reduce or eliminate disappointment in any vacation home.