VACATION RENTAL HANDBOOK
Rent by Number
Going straight to vacation-home owners often gives you more selection and better prices. But it can also mean no quick fix if problems arise. Follow these numbered instructions to reduce the risks within the rental process.
10 Read the contract Make sure everything is clearly spelled out before putting any money down. Start with the basics. Check dates and dollar amounts. Home owners will often draw up all their rental contracts themselves, and mistakes can happen. Also double-check that you're renting the correct property. After searching through hundreds of listings, it's easy to get mixed up. Finally, keep a copy of the contract for your records.
11 Buy insurance Most vacation-rental cancellation policies are very strict, which is understandable considering they don't have a walk-up business as hotels do. The later you cancel, the stiffer the penalties. Buying travel insurance is an especially good idea in these situations because you have to pay the full amount up-front; if something happens and you can't travel, you could lose most or all of your money. Compare travel insurance policies at squaremouth.com or insuremytrip.com.
12 Prepare for your arrival Make sure you know the procedure for getting the keys. Some owners mail them out; others have a code to unlock a key box on the door. You should also ask the owner for tips on restaurants, babysitting services, farmers markets, grocery delivery, shopping, hiking, or whatever sorts of activities you're interested in. Many vacation-home owners have advice typed up and waiting for you at the rental house, so ask them to e-mail you a copy of it in advance. Don't forget to print out the directions, the owner's phone number and e-mail address, and the number to call if there's a problem with the property—the owner should have someone available 24/7 in case of emergency. E-mail yourself the same information so you can still get a hold of it even if you misplace the hard copy en route.
13 Go in with realistic expectations No matter how much scouting you do beforehand, there's always some sort of surprise when you open the door. Rentals are not hotels, and no property is perfect. Your best bet is to embrace the quirks: Toasters break. Wallpaper can be ugly. Beds may be too firm or too soft. Give the owner the benefit of the doubt, and don't let minor problems ruin your vacation.
14 Peruse the log Check out the guest log and read through the comments from former visitors. They'll clue you in on what people loved (or hated) about the place, and they can also offer good suggestions on what to do while you're in the area.
15 Got a problem? Call immediately Contacting the owner as soon as possible is the best—and often the only—way to resolve an issue. Be cordial, but be firm. The problem doesn't have to be major to merit mentioning; let someone know about the crack in the bathroom window or the stains on the living room rug. At the very least, you want the owner to know you weren't responsible for them. It's also OK to call if you can't find beach chairs or the promised lobster pot. If you need an item that's not in the house, ask if you can be reimbursed if you buy one and leave it there. Most owners want guests to have enjoyable stays, if only for recommendations and return visits.
16 Leave the place in good shape Follow the instructions in the contract and those detailed at the house. That might mean taking out the garbage or sweeping sand off the deck. (Not doing so will likely inconvenience the next renters more than the owner.) Share your insights with a review in the log and on rental websites. Then do the same for the owners: Send an e-mail thanking them and giving them feedback.
17 Get your deposit Call if your deposit is not returned by the agreed-upon time, and if the deposit is less than you expected, get an explanation immediately. (The discrepancy could be due to a cleaning fee or a tax you overlooked.) If there's a dispute or the owner doesn't return your calls, contact the listing site. Its reputation is at stake, and it may be willing to mediate. Small-claims court is a last resort.