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Renting a Vacation Home

9 Reasons to Rent a Vacation Home
& 15 Questions to Ask Before You Do

Picture yourself and your family doing all the vacation-y things that make you happy. Posing with Mickey and Minnie outside Cinderella's Castle... rafting in Yellowstone National Park... browsing the quaint little shops of Nantucket. Now, instead of returning at night to a cramped, impersonal hotel room, envision yourself coming home to, well, a home.

More people are eschewing hotels in favor of vacation homes—and one travel expert says it's almost always a better choice.

"For most people, especially families with children, staying in a vacation home is better in every way," asserts Christine Karpinski, a director of HomeAway.com, a vacation home rental website, and author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner (Kinney Pollack Press).

"In the past, people just didn't understand the benefits of staying in a vacation home," she adds. "Maybe they assumed it cost too much, or maybe they simply didn't understand the logistics of finding the right place to stay. But the Internet has changed everything. Not only is it increasingly easy to find the perfect home, it's often less expensive than getting a hotel room!"

Karpinski has plenty of figures to back up that assertion. For instance, HomeAway recently did a side-by-side comparison of two lodging options in Orlando, Florida: a 228-square-foot King Room at the Radisson Worldgate Resort (a popular three-star hotel) and a 1,700-square-foot private home with three bedrooms. For a party of one to two adults staying seven nights, the hotel room was slightly less expensive: $1003.00 vs. $1050.00 for the vacation rental house. But when you add more guests, the rental home becomes far more reasonable by comparison. While its price stays the same no matter how many people stay there, the hotel's price skyrockets: $1,746 for three to four occupants and $2,619 for five to six occupants.

A three-bedroom vacation rental private condo was also contrasted with the same hotel, and the savings were even more dramatic: the cost of the condo was $900.00 the entire seven nights—including everyone.  "Bottom line?" says Karpinski. "If you're traveling with three or more people, vacation rentals are a far better value than hotel rooms."

Price isn't everything, of course. Karpinski says there are many, many other reasons to choose a vacation rental house—or condo or chalet or cabin or villa or farmhouse—over a hotel. Here are a few examples:

  • First of all, there are plenty of vacation homes to choose from. More and more people are realizing their dream of owning a second home—and renting it out when they're not using it. That's good news for travelers. In fact, there's a vacation home within a two-hour drive of most metropolitan areas in the U.S. There are plenty of others in Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America as well. And by visiting respectable websites like HomeAway.com, you can quickly find the one that's right for you.

    "Over 130,000 properties across 100 countries are listed on HomeAway.com and Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com), ranging from $400 a week budget properties to $25,000 a week luxury homes," says Karpinski. "My point is this: you can find exactly what you're looking for no matter where your vacation takes you. Even if you have to go to a small town for, say, a relative's wedding, there's probably a vacation home in the vicinity. Often, it's far better than staying at the local motel or worse yet, staying with family!"

  • The rental process is getting easier and more convenient by the day. Admittedly, it's not quite as simple to rent a vacation home as it is to book a hotel room. You still have to deal directly with the homeowner. Still, it's pretty darn easy. Services like the aforementioned websites have smoothed the pathway, of course. But also, homeowners themselves are becoming more consumer-friendly in their business practices. Despite popular misconception, you don't always have to commit to a week. Many homeowners will let you rent by the weekend or even on a nightly basis, particularly during the off-season. And while some of them still expect you to send them a personal check, many others accept credit cards or PayPal.

  • Vacation homes are more spacious and comfortable. Think about the difference between a tiny hotel room, possibly with limited amenities, and an actual home with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and kitchens, living and dining areas. No contest, right? I've found that people who stay in private homes don't feel so compelled to wear themselves out cramming in every touristy activity in town. They don't mind just hanging out in the living room and relaxing more, which after all, is what a vacation is supposed to be," says Karpinski.  

  • You can live like a local. No one wants to feel or look like a tourist, an "outsider." When you stay in someone's home, you get a more authentic experience, says Karpinski. "My family stayed in a private home when we went to Italy and it was wonderful," she recalls. "The bread trucks came by every morning! You're just not going to get those kinds of experiences in a hotel.

    "Plus, rental owners often provide special touches that make the experience more homey," she adds. "Beach cottages might come equipped with sand buckets and shovels for the kids; woodsy ski-resort-area cabins might have a Crock-Pot and a special chili recipe. Those little special touches really make a huge difference."

  • You can get inside information from the homeowner. One big reason vacation home renters get to "live like locals" is that most homeowners love to provide their guests with helpful hints. They'll point you to the best restaurants in town, the best hiking trails, and the best bike rental places. They'll tell you who has the cheapest gas, which roads to take to avoid traffic, and which attractions are overpriced "tourist traps." "If you're staying in New England, a homeowner might tell you things like 'Never buy lobster from the grocery store; go to the docks and get it fresh,'" says Karpinski. "You really are a guest in her home, and she wants you to have a fabulous time."

  • You can cook and do laundry. If you're on a budget, both of these factors can be huge benefits. Obviously, eating every meal in a restaurant gets pricey. The ability to prepare meals "at home" not only saves money, there's just something nice about savoring a home-cooked meal while on vacation. As for the washer and dryer factor—well, being able to bring fewer clothes is not only a sanity saver during packing, it's a space saver for those long car rides.

  • If the weather's bad, there's more to do indoors. Most vacation rental homeowners provide DVDs, board games, playing cards, and other family-friendly diversions. Also, more than half of all rental properties now have Internet access. "If it pours down rain during your vacation, you'll appreciate these kinds of thoughtful extras," says Karpinski.

  • Vacation homes provide more privacy for Mom & Dad. Let's say you want to have some, ahem, adult time while you're on vacation. There's nothing better than being able to put the kids in a separate bedroom down the hall. "Adjoining hotel rooms just aren't the same," notes Karpinski. "Not only is it going to probably be more expensive, most people feel a little uneasy about having their kids in a separate hotel room. Staying in an actual home provides a greater sense of privacy and safety."

  • You might even be able to bring Fido or Fluffy. That's right. Many vacation property owners will accept pets, which makes their homes especially attractive to families who can't bear to part with their four-footed friends for a week. "Even if you normally drop your pets off at the kennel, you might want to reconsider," says Karpinski. "By taking them with you, you can save hundreds of dollars on boarding costs. Just make sure the person you're renting from gives you the go-ahead."

"Once you go the vacation home route, you probably won't go back to hotels," says Karpinski. "Yes, it takes a little effort on your part—and you may have to contact several different owners before you find the right home—but the results are definitely worth it."

15 Questions to Ask Before You Book...


1. What's the best route to take in order to avoid traffic?

2. Do you have a DVD player? Movies?

3. What kinds of "extras" do you have that I might want to know about, and where can I find them? (A lobster pot under the kitchen sink, board games in the hall closet, a sand bucket and shovel under the kids' bed, etc.)

4. What restaurants do you recommend?

5. Which grocery stores are the best?

6. Where are the best golf courses? Hiking trails? Picnic spots?

7. What are some fun, "non-touristy" activities we can do?

8. What linens do you provide, if any?

9. What "conveniences" do you have on hand? (i.e., hair dryers, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, etc.)

10. What kind of cleaning chores, if any, should we do before we check out?

11. Can you provide directions to the nearest hospital?

12. What places of worship are nearby?

13. What kind of dog-friendly activities are there to do in the area? (Assuming the owner allows pets.) 

14. Who do I contact if there is some sort of problem while I'm here—for instance, if the water heater stops working or the power goes out? 

15. Is there anything else you can tell me to help my family have the best possible vacation experience?

About Christine Karpinski
Christine Karpinski is the author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment and Profit from Your Vacation Home Dream: The Complete Guide to a Savvy Financial and Emotional Investment. Her books, combined with her seminars, media appearances, and Web site (HowToRentByOwner.com), have helped thousands of people purchase and manage their vacation homes. Today she serves as director of OwnerCommunity for HomeAway, Inc. (HomeAway.com).

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