By Jayne Clark
Booking a vacation rental home is a great way to enjoy a hassle-free getaway. Not only can these accommodations be a money-saving option for groups of friends or families, they also broaden your options while you’re enjoying time away from your own home.
But it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you pack your bags. After you’ve decided on the ideal lodging in the perfect location, here are some essential questions to ask before you sign an agreement.
- How much is the security deposit and what are the conditions for getting it back? A standard deposit can be as low as 15% of the rental price to as high as 50%, but amounts can vary depending on the location, season, property size and type. State regulations regarding deposit refunds also vary, but usually you can expect a refund within 14 to 45 days, if there’s no cause to withhold it.
- What is the cancellation policy? If your plans change, what is your liability? Get specific. For example, if you’re beach-bound and a hurricane is forecast, can you bow out without penalty? Is changing your booking to an alternate date an option, and under what conditions? Cancellation terms on vacation rentals typically require longer notification than hotels.
- How will you get access to the property? Is there an onsite or nearby property manager? If you’re renting directly through an owner, will they meet you at the dwelling? What are the contingencies if your arrival is delayed? Some vacation rentals have keyless-entry systems; others have a coded lock box. Whatever the system, make sure you’re clear on how to gain access.
- What happens if there’s a maintenance issue? If the plumbing backs up, is there a maintenance person on call? Or even better, an onsite manager to deal with the problem? If you pay a repair person, will you be reimbursed? When you’re renting directly through an owner, they might not be available to help during your stay. Consider working with a professional manager for added peace of mind who can ensure someone’s available for you 24/7 should an issue arise.
- How many occupants are allowed? And are there age restrictions? Are pets permissible? Even if a property allows children, it’s a good idea to ask about how childproofed the place is.
- How many cars can be accommodated? This is especially important if you’re a large group. Or do you even need a car at the location? Ask about any available shuttles.
- What’s included? Is the place equipped with all linens? If you’re particular about certain items – feather vs. foam pillows, for instance – be specific in your questioning. Similarly, how is the kitchen stocked? Are there basic cooking implements? Are there any supplies, such as common spices and condiments, cooking oil, etc., already there? Is there an outdoor grill and grill implements?
- Are there outside amenities and facilities you’ll have access to? These might include tennis courts and swimming pools in a resort community. Other perks worth asking about are grocery delivery and shuttle services. If you’re working with a management company, you might have access to these types of services.
- Is there maid service, and if so, how often? If not, how much cleaning are you expected to do upon departure? Be sure to look into the property’s check-out procedures, which might require you to take care of things like taking the garbage out, sweeping, vacuuming and returning linens.
- What damages are you liable for? What’s considered normal wear and tear? If you see damage upon arrival, it’s a good idea to document and report it in advance so you’re not held responsible after the fact.
Working with a professional management company to book a vacation rental home can help alleviate any concerns you might have, as many have established service and quality standards.
Washington, DC-based freelance writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.