vacation home rentals…

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. IMG_4456Good 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.

IMG_5126The 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.

………hugmamma.

vrbo…savings…and room to breathe

Alarm clock

Image via Wikipedia

My daughter headed to Colorado early this morning…6:05 a.m. This meant she was up at 2:30 a.m. getting ready to be chauffered to the airport by my husband who wanted to leave no later than 4:15 a.m. While they both caught a few hours sleep, I got none. Blogging past midnight meant I was tossing and turning in bed after getting under the covers. Among the thoughts that kept me company in the wee hours of the morning, was one which kept me wondering if my daughter would wake up on time, since she’d gone to bed just minutes before me. So I became her self-appointed alarm clock. Tic-toc. Tic-toc. Tic-toc.

At 2:33 a.m., I leapt out of bed, and bursting through her bedroom door, I found my daughter with legs extended into the air…stretching. Dancers do that. She and Mocha, my dog, have that in common…stretching, stretching, stretching…before starting their daily routines. Something we should all imitate, warming up our muscles. I do a stretch routine every now and then which, I must admit, limbers me up and gets me going.

When I sent my family on their way, I blogged a tad longer, fed my cats, took Mocha for a short walk, and climbed back into bed…the sun already climbing to its perch in the sky. Being an empty-nester, I can keep crazy hours. Up all night. Sleeping in the next morning. I’m either awaken by an annoying marketing call, which is identified on my caller ID so I don’t have to answer it, or by my guilt at being in bed when the sun’s up. What if someone came to the door? As they have…the UPS man, and people soliciting goods or services. My trusty Mocha greets them with full on barking…woof!…woof!…woof! That does it! I’m up and into the bathroom…to start the day.

My sleep habits are not the topic of this blog, but I couldn’t resist. Maybe I wanted to give you some insight into my life as an empty-nester. Or it’s more likely I just got carried away…blah, blah, blah…which is often the case. 

Ritz Carlton

Image by nickdinatale via Flickr

Anyway…my daughter and 3 other friends, two who, like my daughter, are bridesmaids at a mutual friend’s wedding had sought to find accommodations months ago in Colorado. They naturally looked into the hotel where the wedding party is staying, and where the ceremony and reception will be held. The Ritz Carlton offered a room at a discount, generous in the hotel’s estimation, I’m sure. Instead of the $400+ a night usually charged, they could pay $265.

Bridesmaids

Image via Wikipedia

Ballet dancers are not rich people, and so they strive for cheap…or go without. And besides their hotel room, these young folk needed to pay for airfare, car rental to drive the 2 hours from Denver Airport to their destination, meals, not to mention their bridesmaids dresses. The curmudgeon in me sprang into action. I sought to help my daughter and her friends by trolling the internet for a better deal than $265 a night plus taxes, for a 3 night stay.

Image representing VRBO as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

As I proceeded to hunt for a bargain it dawned on me that a better alternative might be a condo. Lo and behold, there were literally hundreds available for rent in the area. And the site where I found affordable lodging for my daughter and her friends was VRBO – vacation rentals by owners.

Instead of one bedroom and one bathroom, the 4 have the use of 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, with the added bonus of a kitchen, living/dining room and free parking. All this for $178 a night, taxes included! Almost $100 less than the Ritz Carlton…with elbow room to breathe…and get dressed for the wedding ceremony…and have a bowl of cereal…and rest weary feet on a coffee table…and pull one’s car into a stall without paying for a valet. All this comfort at the more attractive, lower rate of $534 all-inclusive for 3 nights…instead of $795 + taxes for tighter quarters which lack the extra amenities.

The condo is managed by a reputable corporation which eliminates the concern that might occur with private owners. While I’d initially contracted another, charming condo, the owner’s request for up-front payment of the entire amount was a discomforting hitch. I explained that, and was allowed out of the reservation with no repercussion. On the other hand, the condo I ultimately reserved did not need to be paid for until 24 hours prior to arrival. The managing company was efficient in emailing my daughter a few necessary details, driving directions, and a request for the group’s arrival time so that it could be accommodated if it was before the usual check-in time. The rep also invited my daughter to email him with any questions, which she did.

Last year I rented a vacation home in Eastern Washington through VRBO. The home was an amazing deal…more room than our family of 3 needed. But we enjoyed returning to its comfort after a day of wine-tasting, antiquing, or driving around the countryside. Preparing some meals, like a simple spaghetti dinner or a pancake breakfast, was such a pleasure. Having so much room to spread out, playing games, dozing on the couch, repairing to the bedrooms for a good night’s sleep while the others watched late night TV…was such a treat. We felt we were at home…away from home. And the cost was less than we would’ve paid for two hotel rooms…or even one, large suite. And 3 adults in one hotel room, two being women is not my idea of a relaxing vacation.

In this instance, I dealt directly with the owners, a lovely, retired couple who lived elsewhere. A payment plan was scheduled whereby they would charge our credit card in incremental amounts until the full payment was made just prior to our arrival at the home. The key and all applicable information was mailed to us beforehand. The entire transaction went extremely smoothely.  

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If you’ve not familiarized yourself with VRBO, I suggest you do so…

you may never want to stay in another hotel room again………hugmamma. 

(Note: Be certain to check for customer reviews before booking…at a hotel or VRBO rental.  😉 )