How to check out a vacation rental
Renting a home at your destination often makes sense, but scammers can turn your dreamed-of vacation into a big disappointment. Here's what to look for -- along with 4 potential signs of trouble.
You can get taken in a variety of ways, and they all involve making you believe you're getting something you're not. And with summer vacations fast approaching, scammers are just waiting for you to pounce on their "deals."
In the recent case of a group from Texas that paid $6,200 to rent a home in Hawaii, the house was there, but it was unusable. When they showed up, they found the pool was filled with green sludge. The toilets were smashed. Not what you'd expect for more than $6,000.
Others, often responding to online classifieds, pay money only to find there's no rental waiting for them when they arrive.
But the experience of renting a vacation home need not be a nightmare.
Rather than relying on online classified ads, consider going through a real estate office in the area where you would like to rent. In popular vacation areas there are typically one or more agencies that represent local property owners who want to rent their homes. Using an agency provides a degree of protection -- you won't be renting a place with a phony address. It also gives you a place to turn to try to resolve any issues.
You could also consider using one of the established online vacation rental sites, such as HomeAway.com/VRBO.com, and FlipKey.com. Similarly, there's some added protection by being able to see reviews from previous renters and following the sites' guidelines for doing a safe rental -- and their own warranties against scams.
Here are some warning signs typical of a vacation rental scam:
- The only exchanges you have with the owner are via email, and there's no way to get in touch by phone.
- Payment is requested to be made through a wire transfer service such as MoneyGram or Western Union (it's the same as paying with cash).
- The deal seems too good for the area you're looking it (i.e. the house is renting for $700 a week when similar ones are going for twice that).
- The emails are in broken English or seem off in some way.
If you're considering a rental right now, it's worth taking the quiz on RentVine.com to see if you could be getting scammed.
More from Smart Spending:
Insist on getting a street address of the property. Check out the address on Google Earth - see if it looks similar to the photos you've been given of the house.
Maybe say: "My uncle lives in [nearby neighborhood]. He'll meet with you to tour the house and see what it's like. Is Thursday convenient?" See how they react.
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