August 21st, 2015

The Real Deal on Rental Sites

Thanks to the recent boom of vacation rental sites, it’s easy to book a getaway without breaking your budget—but be cautious before you start clicking. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your online rental is real.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. While skeptical, this old saying applies to most things in life, including finding a vacation home rental. With the rising popularity of sites like Airbnb.com and Vrbo.com, booking a vacation has never been easier. These sites let you search houses online and rent straight from the owner; cutting unnecessary (and often expensive) fees and red tape that you encounter when working with agents and brokers. And while these sites do their best to make sure your hard-earned dollars are well spent, it can be easy to get scammed in the process. Next time you’re planning a trip, follow this list of dos and don’ts to make sure you’re getting the most out of your rental home and avoid a massive mishap.

Do: Set up a call with the owner.

When you rely only on email communication, it makes it easier for scammers to sell you short on a rental. Even a relatively brief phone chat will help you confirm you’re dealing with the owner, and weed out anyone suspicious.

Don’t: Be fooled by urgency.

Scammers usually need everything right this second, and if you’re renting straight from an owner, that won’t be the case. If the person you’re working with is pushing you to pay immediately (perhaps by telling you they have lots of other renters interested), ask more questions and do some digging. Another red flag: If he or she asks you to wire any money. Make all deposits and payments via a secure payment site and with a credit card, or in-person with a check after you’ve arrived.

Do: Ask for a contract.

A contract that lists out the terms of the agreement holds both yourself and the owners accountable for the duration of the rental. Make sure that the name on the lease or contract is the same name as the person you’ve been communicating with.

Don’t: Be fooled by photography.

Look closely at the pictures of the property: If the pictures look like they’ve been doctored (think wavy lines, uneven edges), they just might have. If you’re skeptical of what you’re seeing, ask the owner for additional photos. And if he or she doesn’t want to send you any, that’s a bad sign.

Do: Read the reviews.

Vague or generic reviews from anonymous posters should tip you off that they are disingenuous. People who have enjoyed the property will be more than happy to write real reviews from their real name and location because chances are, they want the owner to remember them when they go to book next year.

Don’t: Leave your valuables out.

Even if everything pans out with booking the rental, it’s important to take precautions once you’re there. Unlike hotels, there most likely won’t be a security box for your valuables and travel documents, but the same threats (multiple copies of keys floating around, a nosy cleaning service, etc.) are still there. Keep these items in your suitcase with a travel lock so you don’t have to worry about them when you’re out enjoying the sites.

Do: Research!

If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is, and knowing the market and standard rates in the area you’re visiting will help you gauge whether or not a listing is the real deal. A gorgeous, five-bedroom house with a pool that’s cheaper than the single person bungalow is probably a scam, so keep on looking.

Colleen Travers writes about health, fitness, travel, and women’s lifestyle for various publications.

by Colleen Travers

Colleen Travers writes about health, fitness, travel, and women’s lifestyle for various publications.

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