Sunrise over home
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Rental houses are a terrific alternative to buying a home or booking a hotel to use as accommodations during a vacation. These homes offer all the conveniences of your own home without the hassle of needing to own and maintain the property. However, it is important to carefully choose the right rental property before making any contract agreements with a homeowner. There are many details to consider. Convenience is a primary consideration, but it is necessary to look at a few other details before making a final decision on which home to rent.

Know Your Area

It is important to carefully select a rental home based on the actual destination where you plan to spend the bulk of your time. Many homes advertise themselves as being nearby to popular vacation destinations, but in reality may be a good distance away from attractions and require a bit of a drive.

Prior to selecting a vacation home, it is a good idea to check into the local towns that are close enough to be just a short ride to your destination. If the home is not located in the immediate vicinity of the landmarks and attractions you may want to see, it might come as a disappointment once you get there because you'll be doing a lot of driving taking up precious vacation hours. Especially if it is a traffic heavy area, as it can be in many popular destinations.

Traffic in Northern Virginia
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Book Ahead

Some destinations tend to book quickly during specific seasons or holidays. It is a good idea to try and book well ahead of time, provided you have a firm destination in mind, this way you are sure to get the type of home you want, with the desired amenities and not find there are no homes available for rent. Investopedia recommends securing accommodations six to 12 months in advance. 1

Comparison Shop

Vacation homes will vary in cost. Some homes are priced to rent fast, others are inflated in the hopes of getting more income than the house is really worth. Prices are also often set by seasonal rates by most owners, but some do keep the same price year round; this does not necessarily mean you are getting more for your money.

With the ease and availability of the web, it is always a good idea to hop online and do some comparison shopping of rental homes. Additionally, there are many vacation home websites that allow renters to either search by price and other specified criteria, or even put in a bid online. While some homeowners are rigid in rental price, others are more flexible and willing to negotiate price; after all a lowered price still earns more than no rental at all. I've taken this route myself and successfully negotiated good prices when trips happen on off-season. The owner seemed to agree some rental income was better than an empty house.

Having an understanding of the local market and what average rates are will go a long way in ensuring you get more bang for your buck and not get ripped off in the process. If you don't book online, you can also consider talking to a few real estate agents as well. Keep in mind, there will probably be a fee with this option depending on the agreements. Also if renting online, if the seller takes PayPal, you may get the charge for this transaction.

Consider Hidden Costs

Hidden costs are another concern consumers should watch out for as they decide upon which vacation home to rent. Sometimes a deal looks really good until the fine print is read. It is not uncommon to find that the price quoted is not necessarily the price charged.

When negotiating with the homeowner, be sure and  inquire if there are any additional fees that will be included. Things to consider are use of utilities, pool heat, air conditioning, heat, taxes or other property item may be a hidden charge, or at least not advertised. Some homeowners even offer a welcome basket. Often they are free, but be clear on this before using any items.

Also, keep in mind some homeowners are willing to negotiate some of the charges. For instance, on a trip to Florida in the cooler months, we successfully negotiated pool heat to be including in the rental price.

Bottom line - always read the fine print and do not be timid in asking questions when it comes to overall total costs. This way there are no surprises when it comes time to sealing the deal.

Mother and baby in pool
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Ask about any hidden or other fees before making any agreements. For instance, the house advertises a pool, but the heat for it may not be included. A pool without it can be pretty cold - and a disappointing discovery upon arrival. 

During Your Stay

Renting the home does not end with the signing of contract and exchange of payment. Typically most homeowners require a security deposit down which will be returned upon inspection of the home after the renter leaves. To protect your deposit it is always a good idea to inspect the house and property immediately upon arrival. At this time look at everything and report anything that looks damage, in need of repair, or not working. Take photos of any problem areas so you have a date stamp and visible proof. With photos and a report, the issue is documented in case you are held responsible after your vacation is over.

A general good rule of thumb is to treat the rental as if it was your own home, show good courtesy, take care of the property and leave it clean upon your departure. Not only is leaving a vacation home clean and tidy good etiquette, it also ensures you will get your security deposit returned. If a home is left untidy, the owner may charge you cleaning fees. (If you arrive and the house is messy, it's good to report this too.) Additionally, always get a phone number where the owner, or designated agent can be reached in case there is a problem with the house either before or during your stay.

Renting a vacation home can be an enjoyable experience, however it is a good idea to first do your homework and understand how the process works. This way you can successfully find the ideal rental in the location you desire. This way you spend your vacation time relaxing, not dealing with frustrations or anything you hadn't already anticipated.

Sunrise on Long Beach Island, NJ
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

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