Vacation Home Rentals: 17 Tips to Save on Your Next Trip

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Vacation home rentals should continue to rise this year and into the next, at least according to one rental website.

Discover Vacation Homes recently released a list of 11 reasons why more people are choosing home rentals over hotels. According to the site, a survey from research firm ypartnership.com says “in 2009, 14 percent of leisure travelers had stayed in a vacation home or condominium that they owned or rented during the previous 12 months, which was up from 11 percent in 2008.” It’s a trend they expect to continue, for reasons from more word-of-mouth recommendations, to getting more for your money.

While their opinion is obviously biased, their logic could be sound.

Compared to alternatives like hotels, where every added amenity adds to the price tag, vacation home rentals can offer a cheaper way to get away. “Americans will continue to seek out more value in exchange for what they pay through 2011, which is why vacation rentals are growing as an attractive option,” says DVH. “Some three-bedroom rentals sleep up to eight people versus one or two, and include amenities like fully equipped kitchens, game rooms, private pools/hot tubs, in-home fireplaces, free Internet access and more.”

So, whether you’re new to vacation rentals or just want to try to save even more on your next one, here are a few tips…

Tips for finding the perfect vacation home rental

(from The Independent Traveler)

  • Start early. Whether it’s retirement or vacation, planning ahead can usually save you money – and vacation rentals are no exception. “For the largest selection, start early and ask about early booking discounts,” IT suggests. “Sometimes you’ll find that in exchange for the security of having their property rented, an owner and agent will offer a discount, sometimes as much as 10 percent.”
  • Know your needs. And then inquire about the details before you book. If you’re traveling with a small child or a pet, for example, make sure there’s a baby gate for the stairs and that pets are allowed. If you plan to save money by cooking out, make sure the grill works. “Get the details in writing and bring them with you to be sure everything is as promised,” IT adds. “Also, be sure you have the name and phone number of someone you can call if anything goes wrong during your stay.
  • Be flexible. “In the most popular vacation destinations, supply outweighs demand,” IT explains. “If you are flexible about your dates and amenities, you’re likely to save up to 30 percent on your vacation rental by searching for last-minute vacation rental deals. Just don’t get your heart set on a particular property and remember that this is a game of risk vs. reward. One good resource is DestinationVillas.com, which offers weekly last-minute deals alerts by e-mail, tailored to your specific destination.
  • Read the fine print. Unlike booking a hotel, booking a vacation home is binding contract between you and the homeowner. So, before you book IT urges vacationers to make sure they understand the commitment and suggests they check sites like FlipKey or Vacation Rentals Watchdog for reviews of rental properties. “Start looking as far in advance of departure as possible so that you can absorb all the nitty-gritty about terms and rules, physical layout, furnishings, cleaning and repair services (if any), local transportation, proximity to services that you need, financial arrangements and obligations, deposits, liability and property insurance, and whatever other details come to mind,” they say. “Minimize your risk of unpleasant surprises when you arrive and when it’s far too late to back out.”

Questions to ask when booking a vacation home rental

(from Discover Vacation Homes)

  • Is there a rental agreement? “Review the terms & conditions carefully. If in doubt, check with the state and/or local municipality to confirm whether the manager or owner has a business license and is paying lodging taxes.”
  • How do I know if I’m getting reliable services and facilities? “Look for third-party endorsements on vacation rental websites, including membership in industry associations like the Vacation Rental Managers Association, Better Business Bureau (BBB) and local tourism or property management groups. You can also request and evaluate past guest reviews, comments and references.”
  • How do I make a reservation? “You should be offered standardized, secure phone and/or Internet reservations systems, with the ability to accept major credit cards. Security deposits can also be expected.”
  • Should I go with a pro? “Choose a professionally managed vacation rental to ensure you’ll get consistent hospitality services and quality assurance standards, as well as professionally cleaned and managed homes, ongoing & objective inspections and concierge type services that provide destination expert advice. The Discover Vacation Homes website, www.DiscoverVacationHomes.com, offers a list of North America’s most reputable companies, who subscribe to a Code of Ethics and Practices in the management and renting of vacation properties.” Of course, since DVH is in the business of professionally managed vacation rentals, they’re hardly unbiased. As Stacy recently pointed out in Vacation Houses At Hotel Room Prices, renting a private home from an individual homeowner can also save you money on your next trip.

Tips for getting the biggest bang for your buck out of a vacation home rental

(from ABC)

  • Choose a popular destination. “If you’re looking for sensational savings your best bet is to choose a destination where there are a lot of vacation rentals on the market, keeping prices competitive. Some top locations in the United States for vacation rentals include: Arizona, California, Nevada, Florida, North Carolina and Hawaii.”
  • Shop around. “It’s easier than ever to comparison shop when you’re looking to save on a vacation home rental. You can find some of the best rental home listings on the following four Internet sites. Always compare notes before signing any paperwork.”
  • Vacation Home Rentals
  • VacationHomes.com
  • Apartments.com
  • Craigslist
  • Never send anyone money until you’ve signed your rental paperwork. “It’s also a good idea to check out the person you are doing business with. Ask for references, and check out their Web site and their track record. Many homes are run by professional real estate agents, so the rental paperwork should include all the legal details you need. If you’re renting from the homeowner there should still be a lease for you to sign.” And don’t ever pay with a check – scams aren’t uncommon. Always use a credit card.
  • Know exactly what’s included. “Most rental homes will say ‘everything’s included,’ but you want to double-check to be sure that there are no hidden surcharges. If utilities, Internet and cable are included, does this mean the property has WiFi and high-speed Internet? Is it basic cable or premium? If electricity is paid is there a cap? Many properties will say they include utilities, electricity and gas and then the fine print says it’s included, up to the first $200. Arizona real estate agent David Van Omen says you can’t ask too many questions: ‘If you’re renting a home with a pool, make sure the pool is actually heated and find out beforehand who pays to heat the pool, because that can get expensive in the winter months.'”
  • Get emergency contact info. “Your rental contract should include who to call if your dishwasher breaks or there’s some other problem with the property. It should also state a time frame for fixing any major problems. You don’t want to rent a home and have the hot water heater conk out and end up with cold showers for two weeks. The information should also be posted in a contact book inside the property. Make sure you have a phone number and email address of the contact and if possible get a second person as a backup.”
  • Scope it out beforehand. “Make sure you see pictures of the home. Do you really want to rent a place with a white couch and fancy décor if your 3-year-old still thinks it is fun to color on everything in sight? Make sure the home you’re renting fits your family’s needs so you’re all comfortable.”
  • Check the refund policy. “If you think you may want or need to leave early, check your contract to see if you’re eligible for a partial refund. Most vacation rentals are for a specific time period and don’t offer refunds because that leaves the homeowner in a lurch with no time to rent to someone else. Know going in what the rules are so there are no unpleasant surprises.”
  • Love the house you pick. “You’re renting a property that’s individually owned. This isn’t a hotel where if you don’t like what you have you can get something else. Once you sign a lease for a specific property, that’s the property you’re getting, so make sure it’s exactly what you want. Ask if reviews from other renters are available. Also remember you get what you pay for. While scoring a good deal is the goal, if it’s too cheap there’s probably a reason.”

And one last tip: You might also consider house-swapping as an idea to get your next vacation rental free in exchange for letting someone stay at your place. Stacy explains how that works in his story Best Hotel Price You’ll Find This Summer? $0.

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