Vacation rental properties have become a popular alternative to traditional hotel room accommodations. But they’re not for everyone. Here’s how to navigate the world of vacation rentals as a host or traveler.
Vacation rentals are generally safe to stay in during the coronavirus pandemic, as long as you’re following CDC guidelines. For extra precaution, look for rentals that offer self check-in, to avoid physical interaction with the host.
Many sites, including Airbnb and Vrbo, have issued a set of enhanced cleaning protocols with step-by-step instructions for sanitizing between guests. Airbnb goes a step further, inviting hosts to take a quiz confirming their understanding of this protocol and awarding an Enhanced Clean indicator to hosts that pass.
If you’re worried about the safety of a vacation rental during COVID-19, check the policies posted online to understand exactly how each provider is responding to the pandemic.
What is a vacation rental?
Vacation rentals offer travelers the opportunity to rent an entire property for the duration of their stay. From private condos to beachside villas, vacation rental properties are a more spacious and private alternative to their traditional hotel room counterparts.
For travelers that don’t mind shared accommodations, platforms like Airbnb and Homestay offer budget-friendly rooms for rent in shared spaces and households.
Types of accommodations
Vacation rental options are often plentiful but can vary based on your travel destination:
Entire home. An entire property to yourself — whether it’s a cabin, condo, house or villa.
Guest suite. A private flat, floor or guest house on your host’s property, often with a private entrance.
Private room. Sleep in a private room, but share common spaces, like the kitchen and living room, with your host or other guests.
Shared room. The entire accommodation space is shared with others, including sleeping quarters.
Couchsurfing. For those that don’t mind shared accommodations and crashing on a couch, air mattress or futon, couchsurfing is an inexpensive rental option.
Camping space. If traditional campgrounds aren’t your thing, consider a tent, RV, yurt or camping space on a host’s private property.
If you’re interested in preparing your property for potential guests, there is a list of hosting platforms to choose from. While the signup process varies by provider, here are some general guidelines:
Choose a provider. Scope out what’s available in your area and find out the fees you’re up against before you sign up. You’ll also want to make sure the platform is available in your area and that it accepts the type of rental you’re offering.
Enter your listing information. Be ready to enter the property type, location, maximum guest capacity and amenities in your listing.
Set your rates and schedule. Decide how much you plan to charge a night and whether that price fluctuates based on time of year or length of stay. Also include blackout dates your property’s not available.
Add some photos. Potential guests want to see what they’re renting, so add some good-quality photos of the property to complete your listing.
Publish your listing. Are you ready to welcome your first guest? Publish your listing to make it official.
How do I make my listing stand out?
Here’s how to help your listing rise above the competition and attract more guests:
Use high-quality photos. If you can’t afford a professional photographer to snap your listing photos, do all that you can to nab a high-quality shot. Accentuate clean lines, tuck away all electrical cables and use natural light to your advantage.
Include a home guide. Potential guests like to know what they’re buying — whether it’s a unique lodging experience, a top-notch location or stellar amenities.
Be memorable. What makes your accommodations unique? Capitalize on the character of your property by turning quirks into your listing’s focal point.
Maintain a high rating. Airbnb offers Superhost status to hosts with high ratings, while Homestay displays each host’s response rate along with their listing. High ratings and responsiveness will boost your reputation in the eyes of a prospective guest.
Tips for renting out your home
Ready to rack up those five-star reviews? Here’s how to boost your property’s ratings:
First impressions matter. Wow your guests by going above and beyond with some fresh flowers, a welcome basket, ambient music and some local snacks or beverages.
Personalize each stay. Your guests have chosen your home over a hotel for a reason — they want a unique and memorable experience. Personalize their stay by leaving a hand-written welcome note using your guest’s first name.
Be responsive. Make yourself available to your guests by providing multiple contact options and respond to questions and concerns quickly.
Offer unique amenities. Go above and beyond what guests expect from a traditional hotel. Opt for luxury toiletries, high-quality linens, individually wrapped earplugs, eye masks and a first-aid kit.
How to stay safe as a homeowner
When hosting your property, you want to ensure both you and your property are protected. Consider setting some safety protocols in the following three areas:
If you plan to meet a guest in person at check-in, keep yourself safe by letting someone you trust know where and when you plan to meet the guest.
Consider using a hosting platform that offers guest verification, like Airbnb. US guests must undergo a background check before they can use the platform and Airbnb uses a risk scoring system to rate each potential reservation before it’s booked.
Ultimately, you decide who stays on your property. If you’re uncomfortable hosting someone, you have the right to reject the reservation request, even after a guest has booked. While canceling the reservation comes with penalties, your safety comes first.
Protect your property in the event of physical damage — accidental or otherwise — by making sure you have adequate insurance coverage.
Insuring a vacation property typically requires a landlord insurance policy or specialized short-term rental insurance policy. These standalone policies and policy add-ons can cover pest infestations, theft, physical damage and liability in the event of a guest injury.
Some hosting platforms offer supplemental insurance programs for hosts but these are typically limited to property damage related to a guest’s stay.
As a homeowner, you could be held liable if a guest is injured on your property. And while Airbnb and Vrbo offer host insurance programs of up to $1 million in liability coverage, these programs are limited.
Take advantage of supplemental liability insurance from your hosting platform, but use it in conjunction with an existing home insurance policy for the best level of protection.
Eager to ditch the hotel card key and book a one-of-a-kind rental home for your next trip? Here’s how to get started as a traveler:
Select a provider. While big players like Airbnb and Vrbo dominate the vacation rental market, don’t forget to explore niche providers like Flipkey, Couchsurfing, 2nd Address and InvitedHome.
Create a profile. Most providers won’t let you request a booking until you’ve completed your profile. Expect to provide your full name, email address, phone number and payment information.
Enter your destination. After selecting your provider and creating a profile, enter your travel dates and destination to browse available listings during your stay.
Find a home. Compare travel lodgings by price, property type, location and amenities. Some apps even let you bookmark your favorite homes so you can compare the top contenders.
Book. Found the perfect spot? Contact the host and request to book. You’re typically not charged until your booking is confirmed.
Vacation rentals vs. hotels
While vacation rentals and hotels both offer accommodations while you’re on the road, there are several key differences to keep in mind.
Booking a hotel offers the stability and consistency of a well-established institution. You’ll have access to hotel services and amenities, including 24-hour front desk reception, room service, housekeeping and hotel concierge.
The drawbacks? Hotels are typically smaller, noisy and lack the touch of home.
Vacation rentals, on the other hand, offer a unique travel experience with more space and freedom than a hotel. Renting an entire home could provide you access to a full kitchen, laundry facilities and a number of appliances to help make your stay comfortable and convenient. But you’ll be expected to clean up after yourself and some rentals may not be what you bargained for.
And the cost? Vacation rentals can be cheaper than hotels depending on their location, but service fees can quickly stack to double your nightly rate. Make a habit of checking the bottom line before you request to book a vacation property.
Choose a hotel if …
You’re seeking reliable lodgings with access to round-the-clock hotel amenities.
Choose a vacation rental if …
You’re seeking unique accommodations that offer more space, privacy and independence.
How to stay safe as a traveler
Consider the following before you book your next vacation home:
Check the reviews. Once you’ve found a property you like, vet your potential host by scrutinizing reviews from past travelers.
Pay through the platform. Keep sensitive banking information safe by making all rental payments through the provider’s app or website.
Share your travel plans. Share your travel plans with someone you trust. Some providers even allow you to email your travel itinerary to family and friends.
Research your destination. Find out if there are any travel advisories for your travel destination. Check the forecast for potential inclement weather and scan news headlines for anything noteworthy.
Locate emergency equipment. Once you arrive, familiarize yourself with the layout of the home and locate any emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers and first aid kits.
Frequently asked questions
Allstate and Progressive both offer specialized insurance policy add-ons for short-term vacation rental properties. These policy add-ons offer coverage for theft, excessive utility usage, pest infestation and more.
Yes — many vacation rental platforms allow hosts to offer custom rates, like Airbnb’s Special Offer discount. As long as negotiating a lower price doesn’t violate your provider’s terms and conditions, you can ask potential hosts if they’re willing to cut you a deal.
Travel insurance isn’t a strict necessity as a traveler, but it can provide protection and peace of mind while you’re on the road. Travel insurance typically covers travel delays, lost baggage, medical expenses and can even reimburse nonrefundable expenses if you must cancel your trip.
Shannon Terrell is a writer for Finder who studied communications and English literature at the University of Toronto. On any given day, you can find her researching everything from equine financing and business loans to student debt refinancing and how to start a trust. She loves hot coffee, the smell of fresh books and discovering new ways to save her pennies.
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