I am writing this post from a vacation rental, one which, due to its faults but great potential, really got me thinking about what makes a good vacation rental. After renting several vacation homes in California in recent months, I cannot identify one of them that fits my ideal vacation rental (see more about this here). I don’t expect them to be perfect, but considering how expensive they are, it would be nice to have more consistency.
Based on my perspective as a repeated vacation rental guest, here are my thoughts on what a vacation rental should be and how owners can better consider their guests’ needs. But I would love to hear your thoughts…what are your expectations and wishes for vacation rentals, from the properties to the websites and more? If you rent out your place, what has your experience been like? Please leave your feedback in the comments below.
1) Matching what is advertised
This should be obvious, but the vacation rental needs to reflect its listing on the website. If it’s listed as a three-bedroom home, there must be three usable bedrooms. If there are photos of four beds, all four of those beds should be available. (Yes, this happened–showing up and finding that some of the beds are being used for storage or are barely accessible due to the surrounding mess).
Be honest with your customers. If you mention your beautiful yard as a selling point, but I can’t use it because it’s totally muddy, I might not feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. If it’s hard to find street parking, be honest about that in the description so that I won’t be surprised when I have to park 5 blocks away.
The photos should reflect what the place really looks like. If I can barely recognize rooms from the photos because when we show up, they are filled with stuff or are a mess, that makes me feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth. This really happened to us, and unfortunately, they lost our business. We would have rented that place again and again because we loved the location but won’t be back because the house was expensive and uncomfortable.
2) Most people want a vacation rental, not to stay in the place where you clearly live
The vacation rentals where I feel the most comfortable are those that have less evidence of people actually living there. When I look around and see lots of family photos, piles of personal papers, laundry, or toiletries, I feel a little uncomfortable. If you live in a place that you rent out, hide as much of your personal stuff as possible and keep what is out well organized. Leave the guests some space to settle in–dresser drawers to store some clothes, bathroom shelves to store a few toiletries, kitchen counter space to keep their groceries, and space from your clutter.
3) Guests want to relax while on vacation
When people go on vacation and stay in a house, often away from the center of a city, they want to relax, especially in the evenings after being out all day. Have games, reading material, wifi, movies, and cable ready, and be sure to leave some simple directions for how to use the DVD player, Netflix, cable, etc.
4) Accommodate families
One reality of vacation rentals is that they make convenient accommodations for families, and the owners should recognize that so that families will continue to want to stay in them.
For us, the best rentals have been ones with a few things for our kids to use: toys, books, movies, a couple of bath toys, kids’ plates and utensils, even a stroller for us to borrow–nothing extravagant, but a few things are really appreciated. Even better is a rental that will provide kid gear, such as a pack-n-play for infants to sleep in, a booster seat for the table, and a baby gate if there are stairs. My kids still beg us to take them back to one vacation rental in San Francisco because all the kid gear made them feel welcome and comfortable.
5) Help guests plan what to bring, and remember that the kitchen is very important
In the rental description, mention the things that are available for use, like kitchen supplies and a hair dryer, so that I will know what I need to bring and won’t bother you with emails asking if you have this or that.
In the kitchen: Don’t forget the basics that guests need to cook: olive oil, salt, seasonings, a few condiments, sugar, and preferably a few small extras like a new stick of butter in the fridge and popcorn for movies. Leave coffee, tea, and coffee filters. Be sure there are plenty of dishes, pans, wine glasses, baggies, and other supplies like measuring cups and a wine opener. Part of the reason people pay more than a hotel is to be able to have breakfast and easily cook dinner in the house, and it’s frustrating when you have to buy all the very basics (sugar, coffee filters, olive oil, salt) to cook or you have to bring a wine opener from home!
6) Make it easy for guests to find stuff
Which can in the kitchen is for recycling? Where are the extra sheets? Unless the location of things is very obvious, why not use post-its to label a few things so that I don’t have to open all your cupboards and closets to find things? In previous vacation rentals, we couldn’t find overhead light switches, a wine opener, or sugar for coffee (and when we did find stuff in the kitchen, it was all expired!), and two bedrooms had the doors closed, leaving us to wonder if it was OK for us to enter…
7) Create a nice sleeping environment
Check mattresses–a really squeaky mattress might make me not want to return. Leave extra blankets and sheets. Make sure linens and pillows are clean and look new (nothing grosser than sleeping with a stained blanket or on a pillow that smells like someone else).
8) Possibly the most important: the place must be CLEAN
Stained linens, crud in the corners of the bathroom, crumbs in the silverware drawer, dust bunnies behind the bed, and a nasty coffee maker all made me not want to return to vacation rentals that would have been very nice if they had just been CLEAN.
9) Be reasonable with the price, fees, and check-in/check-out times
Vacation rentals are expensive and are usually more than a hotel. In San Francisco, we pay around $300/night for a small two-bedroom house, often with a $125 cleaning fee, $50 pet fee, $100 fee if it’s through Airbnb, plus very high tax–we’ve decided this is too much, so I now look for places that charge lower rates and fees.
I now look for houses that rent through sites like VRBO.com because there is no booking fee, that have lower cleaning fees, and that don’t charge pet fees. I rule out places with 4:00 pm check-in because that’s too late–by 4 pm, we’ve lost the day–and ask for later check-out if the check-out time is 10:00, which I think is too early.
10) It’s the little things
When people pay more to stay in a vacation rental than in a hotel, the little things help them feel appreciated. Some little things that make a difference are leaving a bottle of local wine and a snack for when they arrive tired after a long drive, fresh flowers, a hand-written welcome note, or even a light breakfast for the next morning.
I love it when hosts email me suggestions for restaurants, cafes, hikes, and other nearby activities; these locals’ tips are a huge plus of renting a vacation home and feeling like you’re part of the community, even if it’s just for a few days.
My final thoughts: Vacation rentals have enhanced my travels over the last few years. I am looking for a place that will check enough boxes and provide enough value that we will want to return over and over again. So far we haven’t found that (update: we did! Here it is), but I’ll keep looking. As vacation rentals are quickly becoming more popular for travelers around the world, I hope more consistent quality will emerge, creating a better value for the traveler.
And you? What have your experiences been with rentals and the websites? What would your ideal vacation rental be like?
And check out this post by my friends at Ever In Transit for tips to avoid a vacation rental horror story.