Vacation season is here, and finding the perfect summer vacation rental is a big part of ensuring a trip you’ll enjoy. Hopefully, you’ve already got that part covered, but if you’re just getting started, here’s my list of vacation do’s and don’ts:
1. It’s never too late to shop for a vacation rental.
In fact, now is probably the best time to shop for a last-minute bargain, especially if you can afford to be flexible with your dates and your destination.
2. It’s important to understand how the vacation rental business works.
The vacation rental market has turned upside down in the past 20 years. More and more owners are using the Internet to replace traditional local property managers. The Internet now allows vacationers to deal directly with the owner, cutting out the middle man, and that can mean getting a great value.
3. We’ve had good experiences with the major vacation rental sites.
Point your Internet browser to VRBO.com. That stands for Vacation Rental By Owner. They dominate the U.S. market for vacation homes.
Then simply type in your destination. Traditional Atlanta beach favorites are St. Simons and Destin, but don’t forget the cool breezes of Asheville or even Helen, right here in Georgia.
4. It’s already summer vacation season, but don’t be discouraged.
Plan on contacting a large number of owners in your desired area, seeking vacant slots you can fill in on their calendar. Getting a substantial discount in the busy summer season is unlikely, but it never hurts to ask, and often the owner will be more flexible than a rental agent, who may lack authority.
5. Dealing directly with the owner can work to your advantage.
That’s because the owner is motivated to make sure you have a great vacation, and they hope you will come back year after year for your vacation, as many families do. Also, if there is a problem, you are dealing directly with the decision maker, not a go-between.
6. Do your homework and make sure you know what you are renting.
Three keys to avoiding disappointment are photos, reviews and communication.
Photos: Look for a listing with dozens and dozens of photos. The more pictures you see, the better idea you will have of what to expect. I like to see snapshots the owner has taken. VRBO allows 24 still photos and one video, but an owner’s website can have dozens more.
Reviews: Sites like VRBO encourage past guests to post reviews to aid future guests. They can be helpful, but also can be faked. Look for continuity between the pictures and the reviews. Use Google street view to compare the owners photos with what Google sees, and research the neighborhood to get an overall impression.
Your point of contact: My advice is that you deal directly with the owner and that you have multiple lines of communication open before you make a decision.
At the very least, you want a direct phone line, an email address, and a number for SMS text messaging, so that you and the owner are never out-of-touch. If that ever happens, I guarantee, THAT is the moment when the air conditioner goes on the blink.
Finally, remember that many owners still deal with traditional real estate brokers, and that most brokers are committed to seeing that you have a great vacation as well. The only difference is that now you have more choices, and that’s a good thing.
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Atlanta native John Adams is a veteran real estate broker, investor and author. He answers real estate questions every Sunday at 3 pm on WGKA-am(920). He welcomes your comments and questions at Money99.com, where you will find an expanded video version of this column.