Excuse me, your vacation rental is missing something

If you rented a vacation home this summer, you probably have a story like Michelle Lawson’s. She has lost count of the times she has checked into an apartment, only to find that it’s lacking something important, such as towels, soap, a working dishwasher or an Internet connection.

Her least favorite missing amenity? “No air conditioning,” she says. “It’s prevalent in European countries.”

Lawson should know. She’s one of the founders of a company called The Remote Experience, which inspects and rents apartments for customers who work remotely. She has personally rented more than 100 homes in the last year and says you can’t count on anything — in some cases, not even hot water.

Funny thing is, vacation rental owners know what we want. They have guest surveys and complaints — lots of complaints — about the things that are missing. One recent Florida survey suggested that renters most desire Wi-Fi, a washer and dryer and kitchen amenities, in that order. And if you log on to one of the popular vacation rental sites, you might think the industry got that memo. But it hasn’t.

That’s because definitions can be fudged, says frequent vacation home renter James Cave, an Irish blogger who frequently writes about vacationing in Portugal.

“Take the Internet connection, for example,” he says. A rental may claim to have Internet, but sometimes it’s nothing more than an aging and sluggish connection that requires a physical hook-up. “If you have to work while you’re on vacation, it could be an issue.”

The gap between expectation and reality has created business opportunities. Companies such as Vacasa offer their guests a clean, inspected room along with the essentials such as shampoo, soap, fresh linens, towels, cleaning products, dishwasher and laundry soap.

Bob Milne, Vacasa’s chief operating officer, says you have to deliver what you promise. “It starts with providing accurate information,” he says.

But guests can also do better. I rented a cute cottage in Temecula, Calif., this spring that looked too good to be true. It was: It didn’t have any Internet connection. Thank goodness we had a fast LTE signal and could connect through our cellphones. Turns out that fact was disclosed in the listing; I should have read more carefully.

I also checked into a nice rental home just north of Olympia, Wash., this summer during a heat wave. It had no air conditioning. This, too, had been disclosed in the listing. I glossed over it, assuming every rental would have A/C.

Even if you’ve done your due diligence, there’s always a chance that the unit won’t be stocked with enough soap, paper towels, or, heaven forbid, toilet paper. I’ve stayed in some amazing vacation rentals that didn’t have enough toilet paper.

There’s a reason for this, says Brian Davis, a real estate investor who co-founded the rental website Sparkrental.com. Vacation rental owners are not hoteliers and often don’t know how to keep their homes stocked with enough basic supplies.

“Vacation rental managers should always have at least twice as much of each item on hand as they’ll actually need for any given tenancy,” he says.

Rental owners and managers know that it only takes one unhappy guest to blow their five-star rating, so they try. But unlike hotels, they lack the sophisticated inventory management tools some hotels have, not to mention the professional housekeepers. They just have to remember.

“The most common tool I use is a checklist,” says Alice Hershberger, an Airbnb host in Los Angeles. “Two rolls of toilet paper — check! Two towels per person — check!”

For guests, it’s just another reminder that vacation rentals, no matter how hard their owners try, are still not hotels. Key amenities may be missing or run out quickly. Dot every “I” and cross every “T.” If you’re not a details person, hire a travel agent or work with a management company.

How to avoid missing amenities

• Carry a vacation rental emergency kit. If you’re staying at a rental, be prepared. Consider an emergency kit with towels, toilet paper, soap and detergent. Alana Tagliabue has learned to pack her own when she travels, particularly to Asia. “The items that are always missing are towels and toilet paper,” says Tagliabue, who writes about family travel. In Asia, she also double-checks her rental to make sure it has a Western-style toilet. That’s good advice.

• Consider renting through a service. Companies such as Vacasa, Wyndham Vacation Rentals and TurnKey Vacation Rentals go beyond bare-bones listings. For example, Turnkey requires each of its rentals to have a minimum of two sets of white cotton sheets, a washable duvet cover and down comforter, among other amenities. “More guests expect a consistent, hotel-like experience when they stay in a vacation home,” says John Banczak, TurnKey’s executive chairman.

• Just ask. Vacation rental owners can be very accommodating. If you’re missing something, just ask. I’ve done this often, and they’ve usually gone above and beyond to make up for the missing amenity. But you might not get exactly what you were expecting. Jen Colton, a marketing consultant from Oakland, recently stayed in a Spanish vacation rental without towels. She called the owner and asked for help. “A few minutes later there was a knock on the door and there stood the owner’s mom in an apron holding a stack of four ratty old towels for us,” she says.

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