Summer is in the air. As the days grow longer and warmer, we say goodbye to the snow and freezing cold of winter, and cast off our layers of clothing in favor of swim trunks and sundresses. For many Philadelphians, and not just those with kids, the coming of the warmer months means one special thing – it’s time for summer vacation! Whether you are going down to the Shore, roadtripping to Disney World, or even crossing the country to enjoy the wonders of the West Coast, you’ll need a place to stay. For an increasing number of vacationers, the option that best suits their needs is a short-term vacation rental of the type offered by Airbnb and similar sites.
There are a lot of pros to these types of accommodations – there’s a lot more room than a conventional hotel, they can house more people (great for a bigger family or more than one family sharing expenses), and they have amenities, like private swimming pools, backyard grilling, privacy, and/or a full kitchen, that you just can’t get anywhere else. Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples in every bunch, and if you dig hard enough, you’ll find folks with some real vacation rental horror stories. We’re talking homes, apartments, or rooms that looked nothing like the pictures (in a bad way), were otherwise misrepresented… or didn’t even exist!
Luckily, with a little due diligence, you can avoid vacation rental nightmares. Here’s some red flags to watch out for as you plan your getaway.
Successful vacation rentals thrive off of reputation and good word-of-mouth, so you should be wary if there’s nobody who can attest to the quality of the property at which you are looking. You want to stay in a place that has plenty of good reviews, by verified visitors who can verify that the listing details are accurate and that the rental suited their needs. In the absence of reviews, how do you know that the rental isn’t a total dump… or that it even exists? This is a potentially major issue. Now, there are cases where a property is new to the market and the owners haven’t had any guests yet. That’s why it’s a good idea to contact the property’s management and ask for more details, specifically if they manage other properties with good reviews or if they can assuage your concerns somehow else, like with a comprehensive video tour.
You’ve heard the saying that, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is? Such is the case with vacation rentals. Nobody rents out their property just out of the good of their heart, and if a listing shows a drop-dead gorgeous property with unbelievable amenities at a suspiciously good price, you should be skeptical. You might be getting catfished in the real estate sense.
“Photos can be manipulated and taken in a way that they distort the reality of the property,” says professional photographer Kenneth Purdom of RealEstatePhotographerPro.com.
His suggestion is that you Google the address or check the property out on Google Earth to get a truly realistic picture of what you will be getting when you rent.
This is also a good idea if there aren’t very many pictures available on the listing. A good listing should have tons of pics, with shots of every room from multiple angles, as well as the entrance, street view, and outdoor space. If the management is being thrifty with the pictures, you should be concerned as to what they might be trying to hide! If you see a listing with fewer than ten photos (unless it is a single room), take your business elsewhere. The odds are that the owner(s) doesn’t want you to see something.
Beware of a listing that you find on multiple platforms, especially if we are talking more than two or three sites. When you find the ideal listing, it will be on one site, with tons of glowing reviews, as mentioned above. If you find the same listing on multiple sites, what probably happened is that the property got a bunch of bad reviews on one platform and the owners are trying to scrub those by starting over elsewhere. Luckily, this is an easy enough issue to get around. Google the description of a property, as well as the address, to see if it pops up anywhere else on the internet. Look closely for hidden or old bad reviews. Also search for the property on real estate listing sites. If it is listed for sale as well as on vacation rental sites, the whole thing is very likely a scam.
When you put down a deposit or pay the balance on a vacation rental, you should do it through the platform on which you found the property. This gives you several safeguards, and ensures that, if you have a bad experience, you may be able top recover some of your money. An owner asking for private payment through PayPal or Venmo or whatever else likely has ulterior motives. Could be tax evasion, could be refusing to give a refund if their property is a scam.
In short, with a few small extra steps, you can ensure that the vacation rental you choose for your summer vacation is legit and the right one for you and your family.