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Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

Fort Myers
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Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

Sanibel & Captiva islands offer hundreds of privately owned condominiums and houses that are available for vacation rental.

They may be rented directly from the owners or through companies that specialize in managing and renting the properties under contract from their owners.

Many, maybe most, private owners are honest, fair and forthright. If they promise you a standard of furnishings, condition of the unit/house or reservations for a certain date, you probably will have no problem. But VERIFY.

Ask for references and check them. Ask to see the latest pictures. Don't settle just for the view from lanai. How about the living room, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen? Any serious owner should have such pictures available and can email them to you. Hold on to them and, if your reserve the place, bring them with you to confirm that they are the most current pictures.

Does this sound a little skeptical? Well, consider. You will be reserving a place from afar directly from a private owner. In all likelihood, that owner owns one or possibly two places. If, for some reason, there is a problem with the unit/house you are renting, what do you do? Will they have another place to put you? Will it be equal to or better than the place you reserved?

What about check-in and emergency service? Will there be someone there to give you keys and directions to the property? Or will you be on your own. What if the microwave breaks or the A/C stops cooling? What do you do? How quickly can the private owner, who may not even live on the islands, service your unit so it lives up to the full value your rent is entitled to?

Even something as simple as a "lock-out", can create a problem. Suppose you leave your keys in the unit and lock the door behind you when you go to the beach, or worse yet, you lose the keys in the sandy beach. Who is going to let you back in so you can shower the sand off? An off-premise owner, no matter how well intended, is going to have a hard time doing right by you.

Yet, for some families, condos or houses are the preferred rental solution - in terms of value, space, privacy, convenience and self-service.

So what is the answer? For many people, rental management firms represent a kind of guest insurance. They offer check-in services. They are on hand to handle problems. They have standards of condition, cleanliness and furnishings that exclude properties that are substandard. Moreover, they have inventories of properties that they can move you to if a problem arises while you are in a unit and need to be moved.

Finally, since they are in the guest service business, they appreciate that you must be satisfied when you rent from them. If not, you will not come back to do business with them. They can't afford to lose your business or get a bad rap for the service they provide. After all, they have hundreds of units to rent. The private owner of a single unit may be able afford to lose a customer because he only owns one unit to worry about. Rental management companies can't.

So, when you plan your Sanibel-Captiva vacation, keep in mind that what you get is more important than what you spend. Insist on dealing with someone you trust. Stories of people who reserved island properties only to arrive and find they are occupied by the other owner guests, are not unheard of. Do everything right and you will have a wonderful vacation that your family will remember for years.

Sanibel Island...
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1. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

As a owner of a rental condo at Pointe Santo, I agree with most of what Sanebelog posted. I would add a couple of caveats to the caveats:

1) Rental Agencies, just like any hospitality entity, are subject to the quality of the people they hire. One might say that the person answering the phone at an agency who is just there to do their job and then go home might not be as responsive to guest concerns as an involved owner who would sincerely like to make their guests stay enjoyable so as to garner repeat guests and help make sure they are booked next year. I have personally switched agencies that I've used because I felt that the quality of customer service they provided was slipping.

2) If you rent from an owner, you will often save money. In my case it reduces guest costs about 15% in reduced rates and fees. Yet my guests that I book are confirmed through a local rental agency on my referral and are treated exactly the same as if they were booked with the agent in the first place. So if there is a problem with keys, breakdown of appliances, etc, the agency has 24 hour coverage for us and our guests.

So you can book through an owner and get the insurance of a rental agency at the same time!

The Bakery
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2. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

I'd say 90% of my rentals on Sanibel and Captiva have gone thru agencies. I've had two bad agency experience. One was entirely the agencies fault as they completely misrepresented a property. The other they were at least partly at fault for failing to keep track of renovations that caused a last minute change in properties to one I didn't care for. But by then it was take it or leave and they had attitude to spare. Given it was a 3 week rental, I was very annoyed. Nothing is perfect.

Fort Myers
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3. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

I think MySanibelCondo makes an excellent point. Service is only as good as the people who give it.

My advice is that when you contact the owner or rental manager, spend a little time on the phone with them. Get a sense about whether they are employees who only serve for pay or are dedicated service professionals. Ask some questions to ferret out if there are any attitude problems. You ought to be able to tell who is there to serve and who is just going through the motions.

Also, while renting directly from an owner can save you money, and the owner may have a check-in arrangement with rental firm, don't expect the rental firm that didn't book you into the unit to be responsible for your satisfaction when you get there. They are providing a service to the owner by providing check-in facilities. They have no control over the quality of those units or their true availability. So keep the owner's contact information handy. If you arrive and the unit isn't up to standard or is already occupied, the owner is the one to look to for remedy, not the check-in service.

Bottom line is, do your homework. If you are comfortable with a private owner, go ahead and save some money. If you want the assurance of a rental firm, take that road and pay a little more for that assurance. It's your call and it's your vacation. When its all over and you are heading home anticipating your next vacation a year from now, would you rather have memories of a great stay or memories of the money you saved?

Chicago, Illinois
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4. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

I have been renting directly from owners all over the country for many years and only once have I encountered a property that was badly misrepresented.

When paying $2500 - $2800 per week (plus tax) for a 2BR condo rental, I welcome the 10 to 15 per cent discounts available from owners. Never a problem with keys as several sets are generally mailed to us a week or more before arrival. Interestingly, one year when we booked three units for a family vacation at Loggerhead, the two direct from owner units were first rate. Only the one booked through an agency was clearly substandard.

I have wondered...if an agency represents 15 or 20 units at the same complex, it seems they would have to rotate among them when offering accommodations to prospective renters in order to be fair. Or...does the agency representative have the liberty to first suggest those units that are the most appealing in terms of location, view, furnishings, decor, and amenities?

A Sanibel condo is a HUGE investment with equally HUGE overhead and maintenance expenses. In my experience, private owners work very hard to market their properties and win the loyalty of renters so they will want to return. The savvy owner will either have an agreement with an on-island agency OR may have alternate arrangements in place with local services for handling emergent situations. In the age of the cell phone, this approach can also work well.

Sanibel Island...
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5. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

Grandma Mac's observation matches my experience as an owner: At Pointe Santo there is a very active owner association referral network; these are owners that are personally involved in directly renting to the public. Out of the 144 units at Pointe Santo, about 30 are members of this group. Just about all seem highly customer-service oriented and want to see Pointe Santo compete to be the best on Sanibel.*

In almost every case both here on tripadvisor and on other web sites that review accommodations, if I see a bad review about a Pointe Santo unit (dirty, out dated, etc) it is invariably a unit that is either rented exclusively by an agency. Almost never the units of activly involved owners. May not be true everywhere, but certainly here at Pointe Santo.

When an agent has a prosective renter in a busy time of year, I've always thought that the priority of which unit gets rented is: first the most expensive (bigger commission) and next fill in from the least desirable up. Easier to fill in a great looking unit then one that seems less desirable. Just my guess.

*Note: due to feedback in from tripadvisor we are once again trying to convince the City that the pool needs to be enlarged. The city has not allowed this in the past. But times are changing.. This time it looks like it might happen ;)

The Bakery
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6. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

Now understand, I own NO property on Sanibel or Captiva, so I am speaking as a renter here:

I've had bad experiences with both owners and agencies. I am very unforgiving of any agency faults, other than minor ones. they are paid well to mostly just handle advertising and bookings. Active owners are fine, until they become intrusive and annoying or just plain unreasonable. It a vacation unit, if you are so afraid of any damage, DO NOT RENT IT. Units take wear and tear. If you're that emotionally attached, you shouldn't be in the rental market. On the other end are indifferent owners who could care less and pretend their 15 year old worn out unit is 'deluxe'.

As a frequent renter all over the US and Caribbean, I can you that both agencies and owners over state their units. I have said dozens of times that I am looking for something that would a Ritz or Four Seasons level unit only to be pointed to something that is Holiday Inn. I am absolutely certain that the reverse happens as well.

Though I've been renting for over 20 years, I have found only a handful of trustworthy agencies or owners. Alas, I find the same is true of hotels. The big difference is, I can LEAVE the hotel. I'm stuck with the house or condo.

Adelaide
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7. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

I own a condo on Sanibel which I rent almost exclusively on my own. Like most owners on the island, I have a management company on the island which handles all my billing, maintenance, cleaning, giving out the keys, etc. If any of my guests have any issues, they can call the agency 24/7 for resolution. It is impossible for me to 'double-book' guests as I have access to the same reservation system that my agency uses.

Here are some of the benefits of renting through a private owner:

1) You can save money- many owners will negotiate prices, and will also give you discounts off the 'rack-rate' being charged by the managment company.

2) Many 'active' owners will have lots of 'extras' in their units because we are in touch with our guests and understand what they want. Therefore, many owners will stock current DVD's, books, games, beach toys, pool floats, tennis racquets, beach chairs, and umbrellas.

3) As an owner, I appreciate establishing a rapport with my guests either by phone or more usually e-mail. I also will follow-up with my guests after their stay and find out what they liked and if they had any issues.

4) Because I work with a condo management agency on the island, ALL my guests have access to them for 'lock-outs', maintenance issues, etc. This is regardless if I make the reservation or the agency does.

So, do your homework, look at the photos, talk to the owner, and most of all 'come on down' and have a great holiday on Sanibel!

Fort Myers
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8. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

As one who launched this topic, let me assure all that I am not throwing eggs at owner represented here. i don't even know who they are and I don't know their units. I do know on general principle that you will encounter great units from owners and from rental management firms and condo associations.

You also may encounter units that are not "as advertised" from all of the above. The most fundamental thing one can do is research. I don't know how many vacations most visitors to TA take each year, but I don't take many. Seldom more than one. I would not want my vacation to be devalued by a place that I was not happy in and would not have chosen if I knew what it was.

So, the point becomes, again, ask questions. Challenge any rental firm or private owner with as many questions as you can think of. Then call them back and ask again if you are not happy with the answers. This is your vacation and you will not be able to replace it. The owner and rental firm always will be able to find another renter next year.

The only other consideration, which I will raise again, is what remedy you have if you end up in a place that was "overstated?"

A rental firm usually will have other units to move you to. A private owner may have a network of fellow owners to which they can send you if you are unhappy. In fact, that would be a good question to ask a private owner or a rental firm, "Where will you put me if I am unhappy with the unit I am renting?" The style and the substance of the answer will be revealing.

As an aside, someone asked what priority a rental firm applies when choosing which unit to rent. In my experience, the first thing that happens is a fairly thorough investigation of what the guest is looking for. No rental firm wants to put a guest in a unit that is below their standard. They also really don't want to put a guest in unit that is more than they are interested in paying for. If it was your business, you would behave the same way. Since they have selection of units available they can probe and offer more than one choice.

Aside from this, I have found that most rental firms will rent first the units that are in the best condition, and they inspect them regularly to determine what those are.

If you think of rental firms as robber barons who are out to get the most money out of you and don't care if you ever come back and do business with them, or that you bad mouth them to your friends, by all means avoid them.

If you find a private owner that you trust or that you have done business with before, by all means give them your business (again.)

In all fairness, just remember that rental firms have major investments in their businesses. Their activities are funded by commissions earned from rentals. If they receive only 5% or 10% on a rental that they offer check-in service for it is a little unfair to hold them responsible for your disappointment if they didn't book the unit in the first place.

Frankly, I sometimes wonder why they even do it. Goodness knows they have enough units to rent without offering check-in service. But, then, the people on Sanibel and Captiva, even the rental firms, want visitors to come and enjoy themselves. Perhaps that outweighs all other considerations.

The Bakery
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9. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

Though not germane to Sanibel or Captiva, I have found the best and most reliable agencies on St John in the USVI. The individual agents at the Sanibel agencies seem to be all over the map in quality and reliability. And I have had nice owners and delusional ones. So overall I'd give Sanibel and Captiva a B- on agencies when compared with St John, my other favorite island.

Fort Myers
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10. Re: Caveats on Sanibel-Captiva Condo Rentals

Obviously, private owners are well represented here. Based on their active involvement with TA and with tourism on the islands, I bet they have some of the nicest units on the islands. So that is not a problem with them.

And all experiences, plus or minus, are anecdotal until they happen to you. Then they can be disasters. I'm sure we all have our own tales to tell, regardless of what the rental arrangements were.

It boils down again to doing your homework as a vacationer since you are investing more than money. You are investing time, irreplaceable time.

Ask the questions. Ask for references. Ask if the renting agent or owner is licensed. The State of Florida and the County of Lee have stringent requirements - to protect visitors and guests. There must be a reason.

Please, don't just take some sweet-sounding voice's word for the quality of the accommodations. In travels throughout the world, I have seen some very sorry vacationers who blithely took everything at face value only to learn the hard way.

Any owner who has been renting for more than one season has a number of people that can serve as references. Get their names and numbers. Similarly, rental firms serve thousands of visitors to Sanibel & Captiva every year. They have histories. Ask for references. If they are sub-par in their service they would lose repeat guests. That is tantamount to going out of business. So ask them who to talk to be sure they are telling you the straight skinny.

Finally, about money. Every rental in Lee County of less than 6 months is subject to sales tax and bed tax. These are used to support the tourism infrastructure (fire and public safety) and promote the destination. Every person or firm renting for the short term is required to collect the taxes and remit them to the State and County. It's called obeying the law.

It's probably not necessary to comment further on that.