How to Book a Vacation Rental Home

While there is a growing abundance of options when it comes to booking a vacation home, many travelers still find the rental market to be a little chaotic – at least in comparison to more traditional accommodations like hotels/motels. The increasing popularity of vacation rentals as a value-packed alternative to pricier hotels has led to an abundance of options that can be overwhelming.

Here are some tips for booking your vacation rental to ensure that you are getting the most bang for your buck, while protecting yourself from scams or disappointment.

Booking a Vacation Rental Tip #1: Check out niche listers that focus on specific destinations.

Whether you’ve rented a vacation villa before or not, you’ll want to work with a local company and representatives who know their stuff.

If you’re interested in a Santa Barbara beach house rental, a qualified representative will earn their stripes by walking you through the suitable available properties based on your unique needs and desires. For instance, if you’re bringing your three Bernese mountain dogs, they’ll recommend Santa Barbara beach rental locations that are both dog-friendly and bric-a-brac-free.

Additionally, once you arrive, you’ll want to enjoy concierge services to help you get reservations at that trendy new restaurant, or simply recommend a hike that overlooks the ocean. An anonymous operator three states away won’t be able to deliver that level of local service.

Booking a Vacation Rental Tip #2: Use a credit card to protect yourself and minimize risks.

You want and expect every detail of your vacation to be perfect. But unfortunately that won’t always be the case. So you need to protect yourself.

Renting with your credit card through a Santa Barbara vacation rental management company offers you that protection. If for some reason the property doesn’t meet your expectations, and the management won’t do anything to fix it, you can keep a record of the problem and dispute the charge with your credit card company.

Property owners who rent person-to-person usually insist on a cashier’s check for 50 percent of the vacation rental to reserve it, and then the other 50 percent in cash upon your arrival. If you later discover roaches scuttling through the kitchen of your vacation home, or other elements of the property that were grossly misrepresented, you will have no leverage because you will have already paid in full in cash.

Booking a Vacation Rental Tip #3: Get the most bang for your buck.

Dollar for dollar, a vacation rental gives you so much more than a luxury hotel. You get exponentially more space (both indoors and outdoors). You get a host of amenities from private pools to high end kitchens to top flight entertainment systems, all for your exclusive use. Unlike an anonymous hotel room off a crowded corridor, you have a serene home away from home to call your own.

But there are a host of priceless intangible benefits you get when you book your vacation rental through a professional management company. Working with a premier management company to find your ideal vacation home gives you a whole new level of service. A professional company has skin in the game. They are working to establish a good reputation and a list of return clientele, rather than just trying to make fast money.

In the-best-surprise-is-no-surprise category, unlike an absentee owner off Craigslist, a professional Santa Barbara rental company has someone who is troubleshooting issues 24/7, working hard to keep both the renters and the owners happy.

The most underused amenity is the professional staff. Once you arrive at your rental villa in Santa Barbara, they are at your beck and call. Concierge and housekeeping services are a mere button-touch away. The staff’s local Santa Barbara knowledge and connections can turn an average vacation into something amazing. There is no extra cost, and the return is priceless.

Booking a Vacation Rental Tip #4: Book with confidence.

There’s a HUGE difference between someone who just wants to sell you a room, and a professional vacation rental company that wants to make sure that you enjoy your ultimate Santa Barbara vacation so much that you return again and again. The key to that difference is delivering on what is promised.

Many vacation rental agencies are just big clearing-houses that list properties, sometimes all over the world. They do not usually specialize in a region and offer no other services, aside from rental matchmaking. They can’t make guarantees about the Santa Barbara beach house rental you’ve booked because their representatives have never visited them, inspected them for health and safety concerns, or even met the owners. They cannot vouch for the actual condition of the vacation rental property, the advantages/disadvantages of the location, etc.

Some agencies just want to book the beach rental and collect their fee. They may not care too much about what happens during your stay.

If you’ve never visited the Santa Barbara beach rental house you’re considering, or gotten a firsthand report from a trusted friend, you have no idea whether the photos you’ve seen on the web site are an accurate representation. They might be outdated, retouched or from an entirely different place. (It goes without saying that you should never rent a vacation rental that doesn’t offer photos!) Beware of any site that only offers view or exterior shots. If they’re not willing to show you what the vacation house rental looks like inside, you don’t want to stay there.

With a professional vacation rental company, you can be assured that the quality you see is the quality you will get.

Booking a Vacation Rental Tip #5: Go with the highest standards of quality.

Professional vacation rental agencies are held to higher standards than private owners. Even if an owner fervently believes that their Santa Barbara vacation rental is clean and up-to-date, their standards might not match your own. One person’s no-visible-dust-bunnies and hi-fi-system are another person’s filthy and anachronistic. A professionally managed Santa Barbara vacation house rental will also be a professionally cleaned and maintained vacation house rental.

Booking a Vacation Rental Tip #6: Understand the risks of booking through free listing sites like Craigslist.

Listing on a free site is, well, free. No crime in that (who doesn’t love free?), but that might point toward a general laissez-faire attitude the owner has toward his property and tenants.

The owners who are willing to pay a fee to keep their vacation houses booked and in first-class condition have already demonstrated their care and commitment to a working relationship that is beneficial to all parties. The management companies they work with are companies you can rent from worry-free.

Booking a Vacation Rental Tip #7: Don’t be afraid to negotiate.

The more often these vacation rentals are occupied, the happier the owners are, so if you are planning a last-minute or a long-term stay or if you are a frequent visitor, there is often room to negotiate on the price of your vacation rental. Sometimes the discount might be as much as 30 percent.

Booking a Vacation Rental Tip #8: Do your research and compare rates, amenities, and conditions before entering into a rental agreement.

When you’re trying to narrow down your choice of a Santa Barbara vacation rental, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. A smaller house on the beach will likely cost more than a larger one in the hills. Know what you’re getting from each property, and from each management company. Follow your gut and go with the company that will cheerfully show up in the middle of the night to snake the sink.

Another benefit to working with a Santa Barbara vacation rental professional management company is that it’s so easy to do a background check on them. Call or visit the Better Business Bureau or a vacation rental site like FlipKey.com. Has the firm had any reasonable complaints lodged against them? How were they resolved? Type the name of the Santa Barbara vacation rental firm and its owner into Google and you’ll get a wealth of informative opinions.

The increasing popularity of Santa Barbara vacation rentals has led to an abundance of online resources. Your best bet is to do due diligence and compare rates, amenities, reputations, views, and conditions before entering into a rental agreement. It’s your vacation and booking the right accommodations will help you ensure that your holiday will meet and exceed your expectations.

Top 10 Vacation Rental Companies

We have compiled a list of the ten most popular vacation rental websites according to Alexa traffic, reader response, and expert industry analysis. While the vacation rental industry varies tremendously between simple listing sites to more robust vacation rental reservation services, this list is meant to provide a quick look into this rapidly growing industry and to provide readers a basis for future research into this industry. Please note that this list is not in any particular order and is meant merely as a guide.

1) Vacation Rentals By Owner

Perhaps one of the best know originators of the online vacation rental listing industry, Vacation Rentals By Owner has a huge database of private owner rental listings. Now owed by the behemoth mega-company, HomeAway.com, this is one of their many property rental brand websites. While best-known and extremely popular, the website is not without its faults. Constant criticism over listing security and property legitimacy are the primary complaints against this industry leader.

2) VacationRentals

Another one of HomeAway’s popular off-spring, VacationRentals.com usually places first on most major search engines for the Holy Grail of keyword terms, “vacation rentals”. Basically the same premise as Vacation Rentals By Owner, this website is a robust advertising site for individual property owners and property managers.

3) CyberRentals

Why stop now? Yes you are right, yet another HomeAway spin-off. Again the same premise as both CyberRentals and Vacation Rentals By Owner, CyberRentals provides yet another avenue for rental owners to list their property and to manage inventory. A clean website which follows the same patterns and guidelines as their predecessors.

4) HomeAway

We couldn’t mention a few of the most popular vacation rental websites without mentioning the parent company that owns them now can we? Based upon their information listed in Crunch Base, “The HomeAway portfolio of sites includes HomeAway.com, Vacation Rentals By Owner and VacationRentals.com in the United States; HomeAway.co.uk and OwnersDirect.co.uk in the United Kingdom; HomeAway.de in Germany; Abritel.fr and Homelidays.com in France; HomeAway.es in Spain; and AlugueTemporada.com.br in Brazil. The company’s portfolio also includes HomeAwayRealEstate.com, which offers unique real estate information that highlights a vacation home’s rental income potential and destination-specific characteristics. In addition, HomeAway operates BedandBreakfast.com, a global site dedicated to finding bed-and-breakfast properties, which provides travelers with another source for unique lodging alternatives to chain hotels.” Whatever is to be said about the future of the vacation industry it’s a safe bet that HomeAway will be at the center of it.

5) AlwaysOnVacation

AlwaysOnVacation is a listing service that offers click-through payments for rentals. They offer owners an advertising guarantee stating that “if you do not receive a 10 times return on your investment during the first 12 months of your initial subscription, we will extend your subscription an additional 6 months free of charge!” Although yet another listing site amongst thousands of listings sites, AlwaysOnVacation does have a rather large database of property listings.

6) Zonder

Zonder is an interesting twist on the vacation rental industry. Currently a partner with Orbitz, the long-serving hotel and flight reservation website, Zonder appears to be a solid option for vacation renters. Visitors are able to book online as well as contact owners who don’t offer online booking. It will be interesting to see how long the two-tiered business approach will work, as many argue that it will only cause confusion as the industry gains popularity, but for now Zonder’s future is looking strong.

7) Vacation-Renter, Inc.

We call this one the little engine that could. Extremely out-gunned on almost all levels, Vacation-Renter, Inc. has opted for a guerrilla-style approach when trying to attack the vacation rental market. They do this by offering market-specific websites aimed at achieving high Google rankings and international markets. While they don’t have nearly the inventory or operating capital behind them as the others do, they do offer online booking and live telephone reservation support with their market-specific websites and appear to have been growing steadily over the past 5 years. They also offer the only industry index available to vacation rental industry insiders. Here’s rooting for the little guy!

8) Rentalo

Rentalo.com is a popular listing site based upon the pay-per-advertisement listing system. Just like the HomeAway family of websites, Rentalo is a simple advertising website. They have a good reputation and currently offer listings throughout the world.

9) FlipKey

One of the more recent vacation rental websites that have hit the web, FlipKey offers a great user interface and the power of being part of the Trip Advisor marketing machine. Probably one the cleanest and most visually appealing advertising sites, FlipKey has hit the ground running and appears to be gaining some serious leverage on the industry.

10) VacationRentals411

One of a few of the larger websites that is not currently owed by HomeAway, VacationRentals411 is another advertising site that offers vacation rentals world-wide. Not quite as visually appealing as some of the other sites mentioned it still offers decent owner online support and an extensive inventory. This website is a good place to search for quality vacation listings.

Although this list cannot do the entire vacation rental industry complete justice, it does provide an interesting mix of size and type of company currently active in today’s market. While it does appear that certain companies clearly hold an advantage when it comes to investment dollars and sheer size, there are a few quality sites that offer a different approach to marketing short-term rentals. Wherever you decide to travel, try doing some initial research on some of these websites and see for yourself.