Vacation rentals have no standards, but maybe they should

Before you rent another vacation home, listen to Tim Kerin’s story.

When Kerin, a small-business owner from Damascus, Md., recently rented a home through a no-name rental agency in Costa Rica, he noticed something peculiar: The generous floor-to-ceiling glass window in the master bathroom offered a commanding, but somewhat compromising, view of the Pacific Ocean from the toilet seat.

“I asked a manager if the window was tinted,” he remembers. “The manager said, ‘Of course!’ ”

Four days later, his wife, Tracey, was in the bathroom and saw the family at the pool. She waved; they waved back.

“I saw her lips say, ‘Oh, no,’ ” he remembers.

So much for that tint.

Kerin’s story is an important reminder that vacation rentals are a hit-or-miss proposition, perhaps now more than ever. There’s a reason for that. The global vacation rental market, valued at an eye-popping $100 billion a year, is booming. It’ll be worth $169.7 billion by 2019, according to a recent report by the Dublin-based firm Research and Markets. In other words, in a world where Airbnb makes it easy to rent your house, everyone’s trying to get into the vacation rental business.

If you’re in the market for a vacation rental, you can prevent this kind of embarrassment in two ways: Either rent with a company that vets its rentals, or do it yourself. Ideally, both. Otherwise, you could expose yourself to trouble.

Bottom line? Unless your vacation rental manager specifically says something is included in your rental — such as linens, a coffee maker or a microwave oven — you should assume it won’t be there. Don’t take for granted that the unit is in a safe neighborhood or even that it looks like the gorgeous photo from the website.

You can hedge your bets. For example, when you rent with a property management company such as TurnKey or Vacasa, which handles everything from maintenance to housekeeping, you’re guaranteed certain items will be in your unit. Among them: shampoo, conditioner, soap, paper towels, coffee filters, laundry detergent, fabric softener and dishwashing liquid. In other words, all the things you assumed would be there but forgot to ask.

Wyndham Vacation Rentals is perhaps the best known for offering highly publicized vacation rental standards through its Vacation Rental Bill of Rights, which promises “a clean, regularly inspected vacation rental.” But there are no industry standards.

“Unlike hotels, there isn’t a uniform experience when it comes to vacation rentals because the property types vary so drastically,” says Mary Lynn Clark, president of Wyndham Vacation Rentals North America. “Our customers can expect consistency in coveted hospitality standards like cleanliness and customer service when staying in one of our rental homes.”

Prospective renters are nervous (and judging from stories such as Kerin’s, with good reason), so vacation rental companies try to set themselves apart from the rest. Take TurnKey, a rental management company that rolled out virtual tours, floor plans and even 3D models of all its homes this year. The enhancements are meant to reassure guests that they won’t be staying in a run-down apartment on the wrong side of the tracks.

“Guests will easily be able to see exactly where everything is located in a home, the flow from room to room, and even the exact floor plan for each room,” TurnKey founder John Banczak says.

Even smaller operators know high standards sell. Kay Walten, who owns a site called Loco Gringo, which handles vacation rentals in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, says she goes to great lengths to ensure the properties she lists are up to par.

“We just don’t let any property list with us like the big box websites,” she says. “We screen the properties we represent. We consider the amenities for each type of property. But in many cases, we look at the owners, property management and have an understanding of the attention we can expect our guests to have. Our staff visits the property to see it firsthand as well.”

In-person inspections? It’s not as crazy an idea as you might think, especially if you’re a frequent vacation rental guest. The bad owners — the ones who are in it for the sole purpose of making a quick buck — cut corners like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve personally stayed in rental properties that lacked basic amenities such as soap, linens, cutlery and pots.

All of which brings us to the real solution, which is to assume absolutely, positively nothing when you rent a home. Nothing.

“Reviews on individual properties on sites like Airbnb and VRBO can be helpful,” says Andrew McConnell, founder of Rented.com, a site that connects owners with professional managers, and a frequent vacation rental customer. “But many times, you get only those who are at the extremes — fives and ones. This makes it difficult to get a fair assessment not only of the quality of the property but the quality of the person renting the property to you.”

Instead, research the rental as if you’re buying it. Look for the red flags. Do business with someone you trust — either an owner you personally know or a brand you trust. Otherwise, there’s no telling what might await you.

Warning signs your vacation rental is too good to be true

• The price is too low. Aggressively underpriced vacation rentals may be a sign that the unit is seriously flawed, or may not exist at all. Typically, if a rental costs 20% less than comparable units in the area, you might be falling for a scam. Never, ever wire money.

• It’s overstaged. If your home looks too perfect, it might be. Owners can use wide-angle lenses to make a unit look as if it’s the only house on the beach. Cross-check the rental on Google Maps and use the “street view” option, which may give you a better idea of what the rental really looks like.

• It uses too many code words. If it takes two paragraphs to tell you how many bedrooms and bathrooms the home offers, and another paragraph to inform you there’s a pool, you could be in trouble. Words such as “cozy” are code for “cramped,” “secure” can mean it’s in a dicey neighborhood, and “rustic” may mean essential amenities are missing.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend