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Orientation for first-timers

Vancouver, Canada
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27,927 posts
59 reviews
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Orientation for first-timers

This would be a great Top Question on this forum. Shame there doesn't appear to be a place for that.

I have never booked a private rental before, but have decided it might be a good idea to get informed. Nothing specific planned at this point, although I am looking ahead to Italy in 2014. What I'm hoping for is a general overview, pros and cons of using private vacation rentals, and what to be aware of when booking. I can see the advantages regarding price + having more space and a full kitchen (which you don't HAVE to use, but I like not having to take the time to eat in a restaurant). I know that lots and lots of people use private vacation rentals and have wonderful experiences, so the scams are in the minority.

I'm aware of VRBO, AirBnB, Allura Direct, Flipkey. Any other main sites that people like to use?

Are there any that seem to be more "scam resistant" than others? Are they all buyer beware? I've been reading here about the sorts of things you can do to protect yourself, but just wondering if any of the sites do anything to help you out as well.

Any broad tips to use when booking? What are the red flags? What are the questions you need to ask? If these questions are all being answered somewhere else, then please just direct me there and save yourselves the trouble. :>

Thanks in Advance for any and all advice.

Syracuse, New York
Destination Expert
for Seven Mile Beach, West Bay, Syracuse, Cayman Islands
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4,948 posts
92 reviews
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1. Re: Orientation for first-timers

I'll take a stab at some of these... most are just random thoughts...

First, for me the biggest benefit of a private type of rental is that you can manage your food and timing a lot better. I tend to buy breakfast food for every day, and lunch food for some days. That way I eat breakfast when I want, rather than when the hotel or resort tells me to. I am also eating exactly what I want too. I love my breakfast and feel cheated when it's tasteless with poor coffee.

We tend to eat out a lot, because we travel to places where there are lots of good restaurants.

In terms of avoiding scams, if you are dealing with private owners, then it's nearly always "buyer beware!" - this applies even if you are booking it through a management company (there are all sorts of horror stories about bait-and-switch tactics of some of these).

One of the major things I hear (and we always do) is to pay by Credit Card, both the deposit and the full price. This gives you the most protection in case there is a scam involved - it allows you to get your money back (although not a wasted holiday/vacation, of course!). Under no circumstances use Western Union, money order, or bank-to-bank transfer as then you have absolutely NO recourse.

Use Google Maps to find out if the rental really exists at the address given.

The other tip I hear is to actually talk to the owner on the phone and get a "feel" for them. It turns both of you into real people. Personally, I haven't done that and haven't had an issue, but I know that for some it helps.

Ask the person you are booking with if they are really the owner or if they are subletting. In some areas subletting is not allowed.

Ask the person about local attractions - preferably something that is not on the website for the place - get a feel for how well they know the place. A remote scam artists won't be able to give you anything you can verify.

If for some reason folks need copies of documents (credit cards, passports, etc), scan them and edit the images to remove the numbers and information that could be used to impersonate you, then send it. I have never been asked for any of these.

Based on my readings, certain destinations seem more scam-ridden than others - a look around in this and other fora will give you an idea about this.

I have used VRBO for all my bookings and it has been fine.

In terms of things to ask - it really is worthwhile getting a good understanding of what is going to be there and what isn't in terms of kitchen appliances, towels, soaps, etc. You may be able to bring some of those from home in your luggage and save a ton of waste. I don't recommend loading up on heavy stuff, though.

Check sites like this one for reviews and forum posts. Once you have the owner's name and phone number, Google both of them, and see what comes up.

Usually, if something sounds too good to be true, it is.

Hope this gives you something to start with....

Wellington, New...
Destination Expert
for Wellington, Bay of Islands
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10,156 posts
223 reviews
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2. Re: Orientation for first-timers

The problem with the original question is that there is no one size fits all answers. As this is an international forum one would have to prepare answers that met all international situations and that is just not possible. How we downunder go about renting vacation homes is probably very different to the USA and say Greece or South Africa. In fact there are often no common areas within the USA with many states and counties having rules specific to them and don't apply elsewhere. I am sure that other countries have similar rules.

What can not be emphasised enough is to ensure you establish the bonefides of the property owner/ manager before sending money and only make payment via a credit card. If you pay by cash and the deal is fraudulent then your money is gone. If the deal falls over you have at least some recourse back through your credit card company.

Vancouver, Canada
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27,927 posts
59 reviews
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3. Re: Orientation for first-timers

Thank you both. Point well taken, bean, regarding local regulations. This is why I mentioned Italy, as that would be where I would be looking first. However, I found the general information in TBNY's post extremely helpful, and I imagine these would apply for the majority of private rental situations.

I always appreciate the time people take to answer my questions.

Blind Bay, BC
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1,002 posts
6 reviews
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4. Re: Orientation for first-timers

You forgot about Vacation remtals.com


Centerville, Ohio
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10,727 posts
3,046 reviews
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5. Re: Orientation for first-timers

Skip the orientations.

Most are sales pitches

Consult WWW

Vancouver, Canada
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27,927 posts
59 reviews
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6. Re: Orientation for first-timers

I know they are, but my mom used to drag us off to every time share sales pitch going in order to collect the free gifts, so I have spent a fair bit of childhood time resisting those things and am not going to cave now! LOL

Actually, in saying that, the SIL is in WorldMark and I have to say that it looks like a very good plan. Only problem is its mostly western Canada/US at the moment, so no good for international travel. Good for weekends away though.

Thanks again. Just gearing up for our California camping trip, so will get serious about Italy when we get back.

Ridgewood, New...
Destination Expert
for Kiawah Island, Charleston
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8,854 posts
96 reviews
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7. Re: Orientation for first-timers

Renting abroad it is especially important to have a local contact (preferably someone who speaks your language) who can answer questions on the spot, orient you to the home, instruct you on operation of foreign appliances, and handle any home emergencies that occur.

Doing an inventory with the contact or manager on arrival and departure can protect you from being charge for damages that you did not cause. Even without a formal inventory, you should go through the home carefully and report any breakages or deficiencies immediately. Also, take dated photos of property condition when you arrive and when you depart.

8. Re: Orientation for first-timers

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