Vacation rentals are alluring: They typically offer some combination of more space per dollar than you get in a conventional hotel room, attractive location, and kitchen facilities that let you cut the cost of some meals. They’re also great for accommodating large families or groups that want to vacation together.
Unfortunately, vacation rentals can be riskier than conventional hotel accommodations. The main problems are (1) you usually have to pay the entire rental in advance and (2) the rental may not turn out to be what you thought you were getting and (3) in the event of a problem, you may find dealing with an owner or manager might make it difficult for you to resolve the problem. Even minor misrepresentations and glitches can be major annoyances: a bedroom the size of a closet, a backed-up toilet, Wi-Fi that doesn’t work, AC that doesn’t work, too many “steps” to the beach, and you may not be able to contact anyone to fix the problem quickly. A foreign rental can be especially risky: You have essentially no legal recourse if it goes bad.
Rent a ‘Curated’ Property
The least risky way to rent is through a U.S.-based agency that manages a “curated” list of rentals. Those agencies represent a small list of properties that staff or representatives have personally vetted. They’re true agencies with a contractual responsibility to you as a renter.
Curated rental agencies typically specialize in limited regions such as Hawaii, Florida, the Caribbean, London, Tuscany, or Provence, with a limited number of rentals in each. They also generally specialize in more upscale properties catering to large groups. Even for comparable properties, their prices are usually higher than rates at marketplace sources. You won’t find many curated budget properties
My “favorites” list includes hundreds of curated vacation rental agencies, so I can’t possibly list them all. You can locate them by Googling “vacation rentals in (location)” and sifting through the avalanche of responses you get. If you find yourself dealing with a small agency, it’s a good idea to check out both the rental organization and the individual accommodation, where you can. That means, at a minimum, checking with the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and such.
Rent a Managed Property
Many vacation rentals are individual unit intervals in large condo, resort, or residential complexes, managed by well-known major hotel chains or local onsite management companies. Upkeep is usually good, and there is usually someone on site to handle problems.
Rent Through a Marketplace
“Marketplace” websites post rental offers from third-party suppliers; they act as bulletin boards rather than parties to a transaction. They list far more locations than curated agencies, often with worldwide coverage, and typically they post far more budget-priced alternatives than curated agencies. The risk is that the marketing agency can’t vouch for the accuracy of posted property claims or do much to fix problems, but big agencies temper this risk with at least some useful consumer protections.
HomeAway and Tripadvisor Rentals are the giants: Both offer a worldwide coverage of locations, options, and prices, along with basic renter protections against misrepresentation and occupancy problems, and credit card processing. You won’t find many rentals that you don’t find on either or both of these agencies.
A few localized systems, typified by Gites de France, provide lots of budget options in limited areas. Although you can find vacation rentals on general bulletin-board websites such as Craigslist or eBay, they offer absolutely no way to avoid risks.
Rent with a credit card, if possible, to take advantage of the specific credit-card buyer protections. Curated agencies and the big bulletin board systems typically accept credit cards, at least on some rentals. If you can’t use a credit card, use some other form of traceable payment, such as PayPal or your bank’s payment system. Never—repeat never—pay by wire transfer: If an owner demands a wire transfer, rent somewhere else.
Rent curated for minimized risk or marketplace for widest choice and lowest prices. Either way, you’ll find lots of options.
©2022 Ed Perkins. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.