13 Essential Vacation Rental Questions

12/21/2017 | by danahorne | Travel Tips Vacation Rentals

Thirteen Essential Questions to Ask Before Booking Your Vacation Rental

Vacation rentals have become more and more popular in recent years. Increasingly, hotels are seen as boring, unfriendly, and impersonal; with the rise of popular sites like Airbnb and VRBO making vacation rentals easier to access, these perceptions are only increasing. Vacation rentals offer a personal touch—a feeling of having a home away from home that hotels simply cannot match. However, vacation rentals are not hotels, and accommodations cannot be safely assumed. Because the home rental trend is still fairly new, most people lack the experience to know the right questions to ask before booking their vacation home.

After seven years managing and booking San Diego vacation rentals, I have seen renters make the same mistakes over and over. Everyone remembers to ask about cost, but so often they forget to ask what that cost includes. So excited about their perfect San Diego vacation, they forget that planning a vacation is work too. However, with proper preparation, once you arrive to your destination, you will have more time to relax.

Generally it is the responsibility of the owner, agent, or manager to educate their guests regarding the following questions. However, it is not always the case with vacation rentals, especially when dealing directly with owners, that guests are properly informed. Most of the time, our vacation-goers are more than pleased, but sometimes, a single thing going wrong can put people over the edge, especially with all the pressure of planning and dreaming of a perfect vacation. In my experience, that single problem could have been avoided if they had just remembered to ask the following questions before booking:

Is There Parking?

I put this question first for good reason. In San Diego and most other popular vacation spots, finding parking can be extremely difficult.

“There’s a spot! Wait, no fire hydrant…”

With hotels, you never need to worry about parking, but vacation rentals are not hotels. Not every home comes with a parking spot, and believe me, this can make or break a vacation depending on the street-parking situation. If there is no off-street parking, ask how difficult it is to find a spot in the area, or if there is a garage/lot nearby to save yourself some trouble.

What Amenities are Provided?

Is the kitchen fully stocked? Is there a dishwasher? Are beach towels provided? Toiletries? Iron and board? Games? Cable? Beach toys? Bikes? Are there washers and dryers available in-building? All of these can vary from rental to rental, just as they vary from home to home. Something you find essential may not be provided, or you might find out you can save yourself the hassle of packing it.

Is there an Elevator/Handicap Access?

This is most commonly forgotten on family vacations and reunions with the elderly involved. You make the reservation, only to realize Grandma doesn’t do well going up stairs. Maybe you’re even on the third floor with no elevator! If you’re lucky, your agent can find a way to help you with this last-minute, but don’t count on it. Ask ahead of time and prevent the problem before it happens.

What is the Cancellation Policy?

This is always fun. So you book a place on Airbnb or VRBO, make your initial deposit, and then something happens; you can’t make your plans anymore and you need to cancel. If this situation has any chance of happening to you, you need to ask this question. Cancellation policies are different for everybody, and while most are willing to work with you, if you had no contract addressing cancellations, you could be out a whole lot of money. Make sure you have something in writing, that you fully understand the terms, and they are suitable to your needs before it happens. If the rental has a strict cancellation policy that does not suit your needs, but you have fallen in love with the property and location, consider purchasing travel insurance.

How Do We Check In?

Hotels are easy. You can go to the check-in counter any time of day or night, talk to the attendant, and you’re all set. Vacation rentals can be just as smooth, or smoother. Often you just need to get the code to a lockbox with the keys in it, and you can go right inside. But you want to make sure you know that code, or any processes ahead of time. Arriving at your beautiful vacation home only to be locked out and at the mercy of fate, praying that the property manager will answer the phone . . . not the best way to start your vacation.

How Do We Check Out?

Checking out of a vacation rental is something most people don’t think about until the morning of, while packing their bags. Different owners have different expectations, and if you want to avoid extra charges and get your security deposit back, you’ll want to make sure you know those expectations.

Are there Check-In and Check-Out Times?

The other questions on this list go unasked due to renters assuming vacation rentals are comparable to hotels. Oddly, this question gets forgotten for the opposite reason; people often seem to think vacation rentals have no check-in or check-out times. Often, especially in popular areas like San Diego, vacation rentals will have back-to-back bookings just like hotels, which means the cleaners only have a few hours to prepare the unit for the next guests. Those hours are precious, and a tenant leaving late or arriving early can throw everything off.

Are there Restaurants and Stores Nearby?

Being close to a multitude of places to eat, shop, and explore can be helpful in several ways. Imagine you are in the middle of cooking a family meal and realize you don’t have an important ingredient and the closest store is 20 minutes away.

“Maybe GrubHub will deliver.”

What if the kids are cranky after a full day of activities, you don’t feel like cooking, and there are no restaurants or pizza delivery in the area? Having places within walking distance or only short drive away can be a vacation-saver, especially when you don’t have a vehicle.

Any Additional Charges?

This question should be answered in the lease/rental agreement, yet so often people do not think about extra charges, for lack of reading the paper they sign. This is a question you ask yourself and answer yourself by reading the contract. Ask the owner or manager if you have trouble but make sure you understand what you could be charged for. Common fees include pet fees, cleaning fees or excess cleaning fees, property damage, losing a key, violating terms of HOA, and even things like having too many people over at once.

When and How Do We Make Payments?

Sometimes making your payment can be the most difficult part of getting a vacation rental, especially if you are going out of country. I don’t know of any vacation rental owners who don’t require an advance payment to secure the reservation and if you don’t pay quickly enough you could lose your rental to another guest. So always ask the following: What do I need to do to secure the reservation? While waiting for payment, will you hold the property for me, and for how long? When does the balance need to be paid in full? What types of payment to you accept? Can I get a discount for paying with debit card or check?

Is there an Emergency Contact Number?

No hotel room or vacation home is free from problems 100% of the time. Whether it’s a leak, noisy neighbors, or a power outage, some issues can’t wait until tomorrow. Make sure you have the best contact information to reach whoever you book through. If they don’t provide you with a way to reach them for emergency situations, consider finding a different place.

What is the Exact Address?

You should always find out the address before you book. Of course you need it to find the place, but more than that, you need it to do some investigating. Unfortunately, not everyone on the internet is completely honest (I’ll give you a second to recover). When you are prepared to reserve your stay, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Get the address, and look it up on Google Maps Street View, Apple Maps, whatever you use, and see if it matches the pictures and description. Check out the surrounding area to see if it seems like a safe neighborhood. See if the name of the owner matches who you’re talking to. Unfortunately scams do happen, and it is much easier to avoid them than to recover from them.

Is there Wireless Service?

This applies to all kinds of wireless. We’ve all been to a friend’s house, a hotel, or, if you’re unlucky, your own home, and experienced dead zones with no cellular reception. We all know how annoying that can be. To some people it doesn’t matter, but to others good reception is fundamental to daily life, yet this question is rarely asked.

Then of course, there is the ever-important WiFi. In this day and age, you should be able to assume that any hotel, vacation rental, or cheap motel will have free wireless internet. That is, sadly, not the case. As with all these questions, the best thing to do is just ask to be sure.

“At least I still have solitaire.”

Don’t want to deal with asking all these questions just to be sure of what you’re dealing with? Most of the properties on Airbnb, VRBO, and the like are managed by individual homeowners, who often lack experience, professionalism, and knowledge on how to properly manage their rentals. This is why I always recommend going through an agency, like my own. We know these and other concerns are often forgotten, and deal with them proactively. Even then, though, keep the above questions in mind, and if you aren’t sure, ask.


Want to get a San Diego vacation rental without worrying about all this? Check out our vacation homes in Mission Beach, La Jolla, and Pacific Beach.

All images in this article provided by PEXELS.