Before you book a VRBO or AirBnB, here are 5 lessons we’ve learned as owners.

1. Read the Reviews (Carefully)

Everyone reads the reviews before they book. But the reviews on VRBO and AirBnB are complicated because not all of them are accurate.

After you check out of a rental, the owners receive a survey about how you did as a renter. This guest rating follows you every time you use one of these services.

Owners see your guest rating when you ask to stay at their property. If a past owner complained that you didn’t start the dishwasher, you’ll have a lower rating from that owner.

Savvy renters know this and want to stack up 5-star guest reviews. Being seen as a good guest can leverage early check-ins and better deals with owners. 

So, even though all this reviewing is supposed to encourage transparency, it also makes everyone way more positive than accurate.

To get an accurate picture of the house you’re about to rent, don’t just look at how many 5-star reveiws the house has, read the ones that take the time to be thorough.

These more complete reviews are most likely from the guests who took the time to be honest–and weren’t just looking to keep the owner happy.

2. Shop Around.

So, you’ve read the reviews and found the perfect home for your family trip. 

Stop. Before you book, know that Airbnb and VRBO want to charge you a whole bunch of fees–and they’re hoping you won’t notice.

 The fees are frustrating for us as owners, too. We don’t get the money, it all goes to the big corporations. To help you save some money, most owners set-up another way for you book.

The best way to find out if that house you’re about to reserve has another (cheaper) way to book is to google the name of the property and the location. If the host has a website, or a Facebook page, you can message them there. They’ll help you book directly through them and avoid all those extra “service fees.”

3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

We love to hear from guests. Seriously. No question is too small or too dumb. It’s never a pain for you to ask for an early check-in or late check-out. Let me know your situation and I can help. 

Worried that the ice cream bars you brought won’t survive the Texas sun, while you wait to check in? Let me tell you how to get into the garage and store your groceries there. 

  • Want to know what teenagers love to do on the island?
  • The lock doesn’t work on the garage door?
  • Need help treating a jellyfish sting?

If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it. 

Owners love and understand the place where you’re staying–and most want to help. They’re invested in you having a great time. It feels like such a miss when a guest announces at check-out that they ran out of clean towels three days before. Hey! I could’ve fixed that.

4. Canceling is easy.

Here’s what property owners learned from COVID: make it easy to cancel.

Vacation rentals used to have 30-day cancellation policies. But during the pandemic, we learned that pivoting is important. Now, you can cancel most places within a week of your reservation—without fees.

Savvy renters have learned this and book really far in advance. Not sure that skiing in Breckenridge will really work next December? Decide later. But book it now—because the house you like will be way more expensive (and probably taken) if you wait until November.

5. Hosts invest in You.

Running a vacation rental is about the people, not the place. The best hosts remember that there’s a story on the other side of the reservation.

As an owner, I’m invested in you as my guest. I’m checking with you to see what you loved, and what didn’t go well. I’m asking my housekeepers if you left anything behind. I’m interested to know what restaurants you discovered and whether or not the new check-in system worked for you.

It helps the whole vacation rental experience when we realize it’s people behind the properties. Assume the owner is invested in you and treat your vacation with that assurance. You’ll both get so much more out of the stay if you both realize you’re on the same side.

So, go forth and book confidently. Find the perfect condo in Aspen, or yurt in Marfa, or casita in San Diego. Connect with the owner and tell them your story.

What an incredible time to be alive—when we can stay at homes, instead of only hotels.

This is the future of hospitality, and it’s such a good way to travel. 

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