12 Tips For Renting A Vacation Home

by Ron Haynes

Renting a vacation home can be one of your family’s greatest times together. I fondly remember heading down to Panama City Beach, Florida when I was a kid with a lot of family and friends in tow, looking forward to the seafood, the beach, and snorkeling for shells and sand dollars. I never thought twice about what the place cost to rent or how much thought and planning goes into renting a vacation home; I was just there for the fun.

destin-beach-vacation Having rented quite a few vacation homes since becoming a responsible (paying) adult, here are a few of my personal tips for making your vacation one to remember:

Vacation Home Rental Tips

1. Decide on your budget

How much do you plan to budget on the rental home? Are your dates in stone? If you have any flexibility with dates, try to avoid the peak season if possible. Different homes have different peak times and if you can manage to travel in the “off season,” you’ll save a bundle. Honestly, one of my absolute favorite times to go to the beach (from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Mexico Beach, Florida) is in October. Prices are great and the weather is fantastic.

2. Decide where you want to go on vacation

Are you a beach person or a mountains person? What about the rest of the family? Do you want to go-go-go or relax and snooze? What about restaurants and other attractions in the area? The most important thing you can do is research your potential vacation spots and then talk about it with the family.

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3. Start looking for your vacation rental home early

The longer you wait, the more stress you’ll encounter simply because you force yourself to make a decision in a rush. Rushed decisions usually cost more money. And the really good deals and best vacation rentals don’t last long.

4. Look at multiple sources

After looking at Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) for a few years but not using them, I asked around the office if anyone else had used them. Surprisingly, several people HAD, including my boss. He raved about the whole site so I’m planning to use them this year to go to the beach!

Other sources for vacation rental homes include:

5. Read the whole contract

Don’t be so happy that you got the vacation rental home you wanted that you fail to read the contract. This document should NOT be ignored since it explains what your responsibilities as a renter. It should outline your payment schedule as well as your liability if extra cleaning is needed or if there are damages to the property. Make sure you know and understand the owner’s policies regarding:

  • Deposits and payments
  • Pets
  • How many people can be in the rental at once
  • Utility bills
  • Internet service
  • Parking
  • Phone service
  • Cable television
  • Fireworks
  • Cleaning/housekeeping
  • Grilling on the patio or common areas

6. Know what’s IN the vacation rental home

It’s important to get a checklist of what’s included in the vacation rental home. For example, are beach chairs and a grill part of the deal? If they are, that could save you some money. If not, factor that into your budget. Also ask about:

  • Linens and towels
  • Small appliances (coffeemaker, toaster, blender, etc)
  • Dishes and silverware
  • Cooking utensils, pots, pans
  • Sizes, styles, and quantities of beds (does a sleeper sofa in the living room actually count as a bed? Not in my book)

If there’s some kitchen gadget or pillow you simply cannot live (or sleep) without, make sure you bring it from home. Also bear in mind that many units are personally used by their owners at some point during the season. There probably is a locked closet with their personal belongings in it. Don’t try to break into this closet!

7. Don’t always believe the photos

Vacation rental home owners will post online pictures of their property that put it in the absolute best possible light. Ask the owner about construction on the property or in the area. Ask about the age of the property, it’s recent upgrades, and how many repeat renters the owner has. You may not get ALL this information, but it will give you a much better chance of avoiding a vacation rental home mistake.

8. Don’t forget about your deposit

Vacation rental homes will probably require an upfront security deposit. I know I would require one if I owned a vacation rental home! Since you’ll most likely be charged a refundable deposit, make certain you know the process required to get your deposit back. Understand what conditions must be met (e.g. the home must be clean, free from damage, keys returned, and all rental payments made) in order for you to get your deposit back. This will help prevent arguments and stress after a wonderful vacation.

9. Ask about the housekeeping policy

Some vacation rentals use a cleaning service to tidy up the place after you’ve left. Many of these services don’t perform a “deep” cleaning but just a half-way decent once over with a vacuum, dust cloth, and some disinfectant sprays and wipedowns. Sometimes the bill is paid by the owner (it was included in the rental price) but others may make you pay it directly to the people doing the cleaning. I’ve seen it both ways.

10. Take a picture on the first and last day of your rental

You can never be too careful. To make sure you aren’t blamed for damage that wasn’t your fault, photograph or video tape the vacation rental home’s interior and exterior the day you arrive AND the day you leave. If an argument arises, this evidence could save your skin! It may well prevent escalating arguments and even legal proceedings from going too far.

11. Know who to contact

Always get a contact number for the maintenance staff. If the air conditioning goes out, the toilet starts leaking, or the stove won’t work, you’ll need to know who to contact and how they will handle different types of emergencies. A maintenance person may not consider a malfunctioning toilet a high priority if there are two other bathrooms on the property. Try to get two phone numbers for any maintenance personnel (primary and a backup). You’ll be glad you did!

12. Leave the rental in good shape

With many vacation rental homes, you’re actually renting from an individual. A company or corporation may handle the financial details, repairs, and maintenance, but the home is probably owned by an individual. Make sure when you leave, that you leave the home in the same shape it was in when you arrived, if not better.

If possible, contact the resident manager, owner, or other person associated with the property to do a final walk through when you leave. Having that on video will seal most deals when it comes to getting your security deposit refunded!

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About the author

Ron Haynes has written 988 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.