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I love a good hotel, but sometimes I find the experience limiting. However, renting from a private owner isn’t without its foibles. How do you know the photos will live up to reality? How can you tell if you’re dealing with a legit, honest person or a crazed scammer? And what if the place is infested with mice and smells like stale Virginia Slims?
Never fear, here’s a few ways to ensure your AirBnB stay is a success.
1. Big Names (like AirBnB) Count
When it comes to vacation property rentals, go with a reputable company. What I love about companies like Homeaway and AirBnB is the fact that they make payment much more secure. For example, AirBnB serves as a buffer between host and guest, handling all the money. Your host doesn’t get paid until 24-hours after your reservation starts. That means if something is truly amiss, you can contact AirBnB for a refund. HomeAway offers their bookings with confidence guarantee for no additional fee. Also, rest assured that with these larger companies, your credit card information is secure (or as secure as it possibly can be).
Of course, you still need to be sensible about advance payments. The rule of thumb? Paying someone you don’t know or trust with cash or an equivalent, like PayPal or Western Union, is a big risk. If something sketchy happens, a credit card leaves you with a trail as well as recourse to get your money back.
2. Read the Entire Listing & Ask Questions
Make sure the space, house rules, and hosting style match your needs. Sure the apartment can sleep 10 people, but how many in bedrooms versus couches? Will the owner (or another contact) be reachable and in the area should something go wrong? Is the neighborhood safe to walk around, and just how close is the nearest business district? You might also want to ask about potential hazards: I have a friend who recently stayed at a property that could only be accessed by steep outdoor stairs. It was fine for her and her husband, but maybe not so great for older couples, or people traveling with kids.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions—most hosts don’t just look at guests as dollar signs. They want you to be happy during your stay. The success of their rental hinges upon your good review. Additionally, if you have any specific expectations or special needs, ask your host ahead of time.
3. Is the Property Accurately Depicted?
It’s not always easy to tell, but here’s a few ways to tell if the property is especially legit. AirBnB often sends professional photographers to snap images of properties. If you’re a glass half-empty kind of person, that might mean the images look better than real life. However, if you’re a glass half-full type, that means a representative of the company physically went to this property and verified it themselves. They’ve taken time to personally look at and document the space.
For extra security, look to see if the booking site has given any sort of status for the property. For example, Airbnb has a “superhost” status. That way, you know that the host of the property has a minimum standard they’ve met.
4. Don’t Get Too Attached
You found the perfect property! Before you start envisioning yourself cooking in the spectacular gourmet kitchen, double-check that the place is indeed available. Just because the website’s calendar says the property open doesn’t mean it really is. This happened to me twice this summer, where the booking site said a great house was available for my dates, but after emailing with the owner I found out they hadn’t updated the calendar and we had to go elsewhere. Buzzkill!
5. Extra Fees
Your place may change extra for additional guests, pets, excessive utility use or a cleaning fee. Ask about what expenses aren’t included in the nightly rate. Some of these may be negotiable, some not. But before you get worked up about a $200 cleaning charge, keep in mind that probably means the place was professionally cleaned before your arrival, which is always a good thing.
6. Read the Reviews
Really, really read all of them. Some people are complainers by nature and will never be satisfied with anything; others will likely sugarcoat everything. But in general, you should start to see patterns in the reviews of an AirBnB or VRBO rental. If many people say the bathroom was dirty, guess what? The bathroom is probably dirty. If a lot of people comment on how great the location is (and by the way, they have really excellent coffee included in the kitchen)? It’s probably great option.
7. Remember, this is not a hotel.
You’re booking a home for the flexibility, more authentic local experience and in many cases, to save cashola. So remember it’s not the hosts job to be your concierge, reservation desk and housekeeping services. It’s rude to expect them to sit around all afternoon, waiting for you to show up, so be courteous and communicate any delays in arrival. Also, if the amenities aren’t exactly to your liking, understand it’s a tradeoff. If you need turndown service, daily maid service or spa-quality shampoo and conditioner, maybe you are better off staying in a hotel. Things aren’t going to be perfect, and if you keep an open mind, that’s no big thing. Embrace the uniqueness of the experience.
8. You’re being rated as well.
In my rock and roll days, I trashed plenty of hotel rooms. Okay, not really. But there’s a big difference between being an annoying guest in a hotel versus an AirBnB. You are staying in someone’s home, so be courteous. Take care of the property with the same regard you’d expect at your own place. No parties without asking first. If you break something, say something. And don’t leave a big mess behind. You get to review and rate the property, but your hosts will also be rating you—meaning any future home rental opportunities are informed by what a great (or obnoxious) guest you’ve been in the past.
9. Trust Your Gut.
Something seem…. off? Then it probably is. Why take a risk and ruin your entire vacation? If your hosts takes too long to respond, doesn’t answer questions in a straightforward manner or expects you to pay in cash or do anything you’re not comfortable with, walk away. Vacations are supposed to be fun, not overly stressful.
And speaking of overly stressful… sure, renting a house might save you money. But it is really what you want out of a vacation? A hotel near some great dining options (especially ones that offer takeaway!) might be more of what you’re actually looking for. Is it really a vacation if you’re still cooking and cleaning up after everyone? Sometimes I am cool with that, other times I want to fully relax. What’s right for you is 100 percent your call!
What are your thoughts on vacation home rentals? Share in the comments!