There are many benefits to choosing a rental home over a hotel for your vacation: You get your own space, including a kitchen; rentals are cheaper and cozier for larger families than several rooms at a hotel; and you get to live in an area where real people (not tourists or business travelers) live. Unlike a hotel, however, vacation rental amenities and prices are not always consistent from place to place, and pricing sometimes feels like it's subject to the whims of the owner. It's important to know what you're getting into when you book your vacation rental...
So, if you think you've found your dream home, here are some questions to ask before you sign the rental agreement.
1. Can the rental accommodate your special needs?
Vacation rental owners try to be accommodating, but sometimes the unique charms of a home may interfere with your ability to enjoy your vacation. If you have allergies, make sure the home is pet free. On the other hand, if your dog is a member of the family, then make sure the home is pet-friendly. If you have a bum knee, then make sure there's good parking and not too many stairs. If you've already made reservations before you discover that the accommodations won't work for you, then you may lose your deposit. Determine your needs before you book.
2. What appliances do they provide?
You can almost always count on there being an oven, a fridge, and a TV, but other appliances are not always standard. If it's a long trip like a summer rental, then will you need laundry, a dishwasher, or a grill? Every home is different, and even places that advertise laundry may only have a clothes washer, not a dryer. Get the specifics so you're not surprised when you arrive.
3. Get specific on location
Ask for distances to nearby things you need or want access to (the beach, the grocery store, etc.). You’ll be amazed to discover that “beach front” can also mean “a ten minute walk to the beach”. If the home advertises a destination as “close to” or “walkable”, then you need to find out just how far the owners are willing to walk. A ten minute walk to the store may be easy for a fit proprietor, but out of the question for a guest who walks with a cane.
4. Linens, towels, toiletries, kitchenware - are these included?
In some destinations, it's standard for guests to supply their own linens. Many rentals may request that you bring your own beach towels. Others, like hotels, will provide you with shampoo and soap, and some owners even stock the kitchen not only with normal supplies, but herbs and food staples as well. Ask the owner what's included so that you don't have to make a midnight supply-shopping trip when you arrive.
5. What do I do if something goes wrong?
This question is important and frequently overlooked. You need to know who you can contact and how fast they will respond in the event of an emergency. If the power goes out, if the AC stops working, or if any of the thousand things that can go wrong in a house do go wrong, you’ll want to be prepared.
6. Communications Connectivity
Cell phone reception’s a big concern for most travelers. No matter what network you're on, you're bound to run into a dead zone here and there. I’ve stayed in many places where only one spot - usually someplace uncomfortable - had reception. Unless you want to disconnect during your vacation, you’ll want to know up front that you’ll be able to make a phone call in your rental home.
You should also ask about other communications resources. Many vacation rentals now include cable and WiFi, but you can't assume that's standard. Ask about anything that you're unsure of.
7. Advertised Renovations? When were they completed and what did they change?
Most of us are happy to stay in places that have been updated relatively recently – we like modern appliances, open spaces, big windows and even bigger kitchens. So, a recent renovation is a great selling point for a property. However, if they are in the middle of renovations when you book, then you'll want to know how close the finish date is to your vacation dates. If it’s within a month, you might think twice before counting on contractors to complete the job on time.
8. Is the neighborhood mostly rentals or owners/primaries?
Staying in a neighborhood that is mostly rental units can be great - it means everyone there is on vacation and you can be as touristy as you’d like. Staying in a neighborhood that is mostly full-time residents can also be nice, but it means you’ll have a much quieter time. If you’re planning on partying all night, you probably don’t want to make the neighbors hate the guy who rents his home to loud and obnoxious tourists. If you don’t want to be kept up by the loud and obnoxious tourists, then maybe a place with mostly owners is a better idea.
9. How much cleaning do I need to do?
Cleanup is one of the only inconveniences of rental homes, which usually don't include daily room service. Some owners request that you wash the sheets, some may ask you to vacuum the floors. If you're not required to clean up, then you may need to pay a supplemental cleaning fee. Ask about additional fees in advance so that you're not surprised when you get the bill.
10. Ask anything
The most important question to ask is whatever you feel unsure about. You want to rent from an owner who wants you and is willing to respond quickly to your inquiries. If something goes wrong, then you want to be able to trust this person to have your back and be on top of things. If you have any questions at all... ask!