Consumer-advocate journalists have thoroughly covered vacation rental scams in their columns for many years, but this bears repeating: There are people who want to take your money and give you nothing in return but a big headache and a heap of heartbreak. You’re unlikely to fall victim to them if you approach your search for a vacation rental with a smart strategy and a good dose of common sense.
Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind as you begin your search.
Do use established online vacation rental listing sites and brick-and-mortar rental agencies. I don’t mean to imply that all smaller sites are untrustworthy. I do mean that the larger sites and agencies have standards and safeguards in place to protect you from scammers. We’ve included a list of recommended vacation rental search sites and agencies in the post called Top Vacation Rental Resources.
Do take the time to speak to the owner or rental agent, and be prepared to ask lots of questions. Do the photos posted online accurately reflect the current appearance of the house and property? If not, what’s different? Does the owner or rental agent seem genuinely eager to accommodate you? Is he or she friendly yet businesslike? Are reviews from past guests generally favorable?
Do get everything in writing. The contract should stipulate what is and isn’t covered by the fee you’re paying. Ask about cleaning fees, trash removal fees, contract cancellation policies, “act of God” policies related to hurricanes and other weather events, and lost key fees.
Don’t pay a deposit until you have a signed agreement in hand and you understand everything it covers.