It’s become a thriving business…renting your home to vacationing tourists. And in our family’s case, short term rentals for our daughter when she’s gone out of town for dance gigs.
The first rental I booked was when we returned to Honolulu, Hawaii for my mother-in-law’s funeral several years ago. Hotels in Waikiki are understandably uber-expensive, thanks to the island’s booming tourist industry. Access to the beaches makes that strip of land prime real estate. So instead I decided to have a look at VRBO…Vacation Rentals By Owners.
It’s been about 4 or 5 years since we booked that first condo. It wasn’t exactly as I’d expected from the photos. The balcony off the bedroom…where 2 chairs were sandwiched between the sliding, glass door and the wrought iron railing…overlooked a huge parking lot. Good luck sitting out there to enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Needless to say hubby and I didn’t dare go there. The view of the mountains was a peekaboo one…a sliver of green between two skyscrapers. The balcony off the living room was exactly like the other, except it had a couple of tall, potted plants which the owner asked if I could water. I think I tried to oblige…once. The kitchen, newly remodeled, was awkwardly configured…cabinet doors opening into one another…knick-knacks taking up valuable counter space, what little there was…dishes stored where a “shrimp” like me couldn’t reach. And because the vent fan in the bathroom, which must have been original to the unit, was sooo loud…I’d do whatever I needed to do in the tiny bathroom by candlelight. You see, the light and the vent were on the same switch. All of this combined, however, did not compare to a couple of other downsides to this rental.
The linen closet where the towels were stored was rigged with an old-fashioned light bulb screwed into a porcelain base. The worst part was that the switchplate to turn on the light was not secured to the wall. It stuck out an inch or so. So when I flipped the switch, sparks flew. You can bet I never used the light when searching for anything in that closet again.
Another drawback, albeit minor by comparison, was that the carpet in front of the wicker dresser was wet a good bit of the time. We’d lay down beach towels to soak up the moisture which seemed to work for awhile. When I mentioned the problem to the housekeeper, she agreed that the air conditioner might be to blame.
I never did complain to the owner about my disappointment with her rental. You see she was out on a yacht with friends somewhere off the coast of Canada. Getting a hold of her the first time to book her condo was a trick, especially when I’d awoken her in the middle of the night…or early morning. I had no clue where she was from her cell phone number. So how could I know she’d be asleep.
According to the owner, I was the first one to book her recently updated unit in a building that dated back to the 1960’s. She’d not even seen it since the renovation. And thinking I would love it as much as she, she asked if I’d write a review recommending her rental to others. After what I’d experienced…I didn’t have the heart to say anything. Instead I moved on to another unit in the same building the last day we were in the islands, because the first one wasn’t available for our entire stay. And thank goodness it wasn’t.
The unit we rented our last day was far and away a step up from the first. In fact, it was 8 floors up, on the 16th floor, with an ocean view…AND a balcony where two of us could sit facing one another across a bistro-style table. But who needed to sit out there when we could enjoy the panoramic view through the sliding glass door wall, comfortably lounging on the sofa and chairs in the living room. The price, $159/night could not be beat! Needless to say, it’s been our home away from home whenever we visit family in Hawaii.
Finding such a gem encouraged me to investigate other rental properties when we traveled. My daughter stayed in two different ones for a couple of jobs she had with the Houston Grand Opera. Both were found on AirBnB, another site where owners can rent their properties.
The first place was somewhat of a disappointment. As with the first Honolulu rental, the photographs did not show the hidden flaws…one overhead light bulb in the living room (we bought cheap lamps for more lighting)…an antiquated gas stove that burnt food if you weren’t careful…a French door in the bedroom whose frame was cemented shut with putty making egress extremely difficult if there was a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Worse was the open flame heating system which, thank God, our daughter never had to use even though the mornings could get cool.
Thankfully, the second rental my daughter stayed at in Houston was a newly built apartment over a garage. The owners whose house occupied the front of the property were very gracious and the accommodations were exactly as pictured.
Another time my daughter spent 7 weeks summering in NYC…dancing, what else? We rented from owners who lived in Chicago. Because of the lengthy stay, we were able to get their family rate of $175/night. Extraordinary for The Big Apple. It was a 1 bed/1 bath with a 24-hour doorman in a residential area, directly across from a small Broadway theater where “Kinky Boots,” which won the year’s Tony for Best Musical was playing. Surprisingly enough, once inside the upper-floor apartment, we were oblivious of the street noise below. It was a magical time…for my daughter who thrived on the big city vibe…and for us as a family when my husband and I joined her for a week. Being close enough to the action without being IN it was the best we could hope for in…”the city that never sleeps.”
Needless to say I’ve once again turned to looking for a rental when my daughter marries next year. Close family members from Hawaii plan to join us for the happy occasion. Finding a house large enough to accommodate 8 or more is like “looking for a needle in a haystack.” Take it from one who’s been searching for a couple of months. That’s why I started my search this far out. There aren’t many affordable ones out there. The savings are well worth the effort, however. Hotel rooms in June can go for $300/night and more. Divvying up the cost of a house is a lot less than a hotel room for 2, and provides a lot more space to gather and enjoy everyone’s company. And being that we’ll get to spend time with family whom we only see every so many years is priceless.
Just when I thought we’d nailed down “the deal of the century,” along comes a hitch. A big one. The owner has a clause in his rental agreement which states that he won’t refund us our money if on the day we check in, his house is uninhabitable due to some unforeseen event beyond his control.
The fact that the owner has 3 other properties, one which he and his family occupies, makes me think he uses renters’ monies to pay his mortgages…like “taking from Peter to pay Paul.” A “red flag,” I think. Yes, we would be refunded our money if we cancelled 30 days prior to check-in. After that, we’d forfeit all. However, learning that we had nowhere to stay on the day we arrived, out the money we paid in advance, would cast a tremendous pall over what should be one of the happiest occasions in our family’s life.
So we’re backing away from this rental. Way far away.
And so, it’s back…
…to the drawing board.