What Makes a Good Vacation Rental?

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.

What Makes a Good Vacation Rental? Tips for renters and owners from This Is My Happiness travel blog

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).

What Makes a Good Vacation Rental

How can my son sleep on the top bunk when it’s being used for storage? My kids ended up sharing the TWIN-sized bottom bunk.

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.

What Makes a Good Vacation Rental

The house was beautiful, but it’s hard to believe we paid for a 3-bedroom when one bedroom looked like this!

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 put 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.

What Makes a Good Vacation Rental

The cluttered bedrooms were the only downside to this relaxing home in the woods.

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.

What Makes a Good Vacation Rental

My kids loved this house so much that they didn’t want to go out!

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.

What Makes a Good Vacation Rental

This place in Bodega Bay was dirty…too bad because the house and location were lovely.

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 at least $300/night for a small two-bedroom house, often with a $150 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 and Tripadvisor to avoid Airbnb’s high booking fee, that have lower cleaning fees, and that don’t charge pet fees. I sometimes rule out places with 4:00 pm check-in because 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.

What Makes a Good Vacation Rental

$150+ fee for 2 of these seems excessive

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.

What Makes a Good Vacation Rental?

Thanks to our rental host’s tips, we found beautiful places to hike.

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.


  • Cassie says:

    Wow, sorry to hear about these experiences — having to clean and reorganize the place to make it feel livable is frustrating, especially when you are paying so much. And I agree–those little details to make you feel welcome go a long way. A related gesture, a few years ago we had a housesitter stay with the pets while we were away. We came home to find a bouquet of fresh blooming daffodils waiting for us in kitchen. That wasn’t the only reason we gave her a rave review, but that little gift made us feel extra grateful for her help.
    Cassie recently posted..Our Next Stop: Japan!My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      We didn’t do any cleaning or reorganizing in any of the places but instead ignored the clutter…however, as you said, it’s because these places are so expensive that makes it frustrating.

    • Nancy Cornel says:

      We just came home from a vacation home in Bodega Bay, Ca. It was dirty, cluttered, messy and the cabinet doors in kitchen were even sticky. Since we keep our home neat and clean, we were pretty unhappy. I did speak to the owner but she was in denial about the condition of her vacation home. There were many photos of her family and her husband catching fish. The house was set up for her and her family and renting it to make money was her other objective. She seemed oblivious that renters had needs for cleanliness, neatness and serene surroundings. The sofa in living room was so uncomfortable (had holes in it) we were not sure we could last the week. Overall big disappointment.

      • Jenna says:

        That is so frustrating, especially when the house is expensive! I assume that Airbnb and other vacation rental companies have guidelines that they share with the rental owners, but it would be nice if there were more consistency. One bonus to going with a smaller vacation rental company (like a local one that rents houses in just one area or a site like Kid & Coe) is that they oversee the houses and you always know exactly what you’re getting.

  • We have been lucky to get some very good rentals, but there have been hiccups. One thing I can’t stand is when people don’t stay true to the location they say they are in. If you are “close to restaurants and shopping” and say you are in “x” neighborhood, I really expect that to be true. Don’t say it if I have to take a bus to get there. or if I am more than a 10 minute walk. You are not close. They are accessible.
    Keryn from Walking On Travels recently posted..Parents’ Guide to Aulani with Babies and ToddlersMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      We’ve had some very nice ones, too, but I can’t say they’re my ideal rental because they were so expensive or were much bigger than we need. I’d love to find a good 2-bedroom home in a location we love. Your point about location is important, and I can see that it would be frustrating if you think it’s close to something and it’s not.

  • NZ Muse says:

    Cleaning fees and huge deposits are my pet peeves. A small amount is okay but generally I try to avoid rentals that charge high cleaning fees and high bond amounts.
    NZ Muse recently posted..Friday Five: The business of car salesMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Right. It’s common for the cleaning fees to be $150 or more here, and that makes me question if it’s worth it to rent a place, especially if we plan to stay for only 2-3 nights.

  • Gillian says:

    Great post Jenna! Great advice for owners looking to rent out their property and good tips for those looking to stay in a vacation rental. Vacation rentals are a fabulous alternative to hotels – I prefer them but you have to do the work to find the right one!

    Forgive the self promotion (and please, remove my comment if I’m out of line) — I just recently launched a book aimed to help travellers find the perfect vacation rental. Called, appropriately, ‘How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental’ – in it I break down the criteria selection process, compare vacation rental websites, compile a list of questions to ask, and walk the reader through the exact process we use to find and enjoy vacation rentals around the world. It’s available on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HWEX3VK/

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Gillian, Thank you for sharing that resource. The vacation rental option is new enough still that I think people can benefit from tips and hearing about other travelers’ experiences.

  • I love renting apartments. I guess I’ve been fortunate to not haven any issues that I can recall. I can’t believe the bed situation you mention. And I definitely agree that everything should match to what is advertised. I didn’t know about the Airbnb fee. I haven’t used them yet. I’ve always found good options through VRBO.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted..Hotel Review: Omni Hotel at CNN CenterMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Wow, no issues? I would say that you’ve been lucky. The places we’ve stayed with no issues have all been expensive. There was one place in Sonoma County that we liked a lot, had no issues with, and it was cheap, but it was very close to a highway, so there was nothing for us to do within walking distance.

  • I agree. The kitchen is very important. It’s one of the factors that helps me save money while travelling so it’s on a high priority list. Plus, I love knowing what I put on my food.
    Trisha Velarmino recently posted..The 7 Men You Will Meet On The RoadMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Yes, the kitchen is important whether you’re traveling and planning to stay for a while or, as in my case, you’re traveling as a family and have finicky kids who don’t want to sit in restaurants every day.

  • Suzy says:

    These are all great points Jenna. For me, I don’t want to see all the clutter as well, as it makes me feel like I am invading someone’s home. I also think cleanliness is important. I once rented an apartment in Florence that had dirty dishes in the cabinets and moldy balsamic vinegar in the fridge. Eww!
    Suzy recently posted..Roasting Over Hot Chicken in NashvilleMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Cleanliness is very important, especially because vacation rentals tend to be expensive. I feel like the place should be clean, even the little things, when I’m paying so much!

  • I write and do a podcast for vacation rental owners to help them create great places for their guests to stay. Your points are all very relevant and helpful and I will pass them on to my audience. I encourage all owners to be a guest as it is only through doing that can they really appreciate what their own guests experience.
    I’m also the owner of 2 vacation homes and my cleaner generally needs 4 hours to clean between guests to ensure the place is spotless for the next group. They are in an area where good cleaning staff is hard to find, so it would be near impossible to have a ‘cleaning team’ who could do the changeover in a shorter time. We have an 11am check out and a 4pm check in, as later or earlier on either could compromise the period required for cleaning. While I understand your point about a 4pm check in, that is a tough one, since there is no other way around needing that time.
    Heather Bayer recently posted..VRS018 – A Story of Renegade Retirement & Vacation Rentals with Lynne MartinMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks a lot for this comment, Heather. About the check-in time, I just think that people who rent out their houses should be aware that a 4 p.m. check-in time will be inconvenient for some, and people may choose a hotel instead. If that’s the only option, then that’s one story, but if a group of cleaners can be hired to accommodate earlier check-in, then I think that should be done.

  • Jo Rammell says:

    Hello, and thank you for the post.

    I was confused a little by the article – are you discussing a house swop or an actual holiday rental?
    I own my own holiday company and whilst I agree with many of your comments, it was rather strange seeing much of someone elses property in the rooms you had booked. Our holiday lodge is set up as exactly that, a holiday home – the idea is that it should look as though you are the first ever people to see it – you won’t find any of our personal items.
    Our highest rental is £720 per week, so you do also seem to be paying a lot of money for what you are getting! We do give our guests the option to do a basic clean before they leave (products are supplied) or they can pay a small amount towards the cost of the cleaning company.
    We do offer a welcome pack and also child friendly plates, cups, beakers, high chair etc.
    I appreciate my prices are very different to what you are finding, however, as a business owner, all the ‘extras’ that guests would like to see have to be costed into the price tariff – add to many items on and you find guests staying elsewhere. Our welcome pack contains tea, coffee, milk and nibbles, but we do also include spices, oil, seasonings, bin bags etc.
    The property, is self catering however, so it is down to the guest to also provide what they believe they require.
    We looked at providing a stroller/pushchair for children to use but were strongly advised against this by our insurance company. The reason being, who is going to check for safety? What happens if a guests child falls out – who will they blame? Unfortunately, we live in a world where ‘compensation’ is the in word.
    I was interested to read the comments about checking in/out, where 4pm was considered too late to check in and 10:00 to early to leave?? To be fair, ours are from 3pm and 10:00am, however, with the greatest respect I think you are missing the point. Speaking from experience, my property takes around 2.5/3 hours to fuly turn around, the guests rarely leave at the time requested and time has to be allowed for cleaning to a spotless standard. The cleaning isn’t done with the wave of a magic wand!

    I’d be very interested to hear any further thoughts. 🙂
    Jo Rammell recently posted..Exciting new look for Chalet 60, Pebbles Seaside Lodge, Kingsdown Park, KentMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for your insight. I understand, after reading your comment and others, about the difficulty of getting the place cleaned and ready for new guests before 4:00. However, it must be understood that not being able to check in until 4 p.m. is not convenient for guests, and some may choose to stay in another accommodation as a result. Also, a 10 a.m. checkout is reasonable if the list of things to do before leaving is not big…I stayed in 3 places where the list of things to do was very long, checkout time was 10 a.m., and the cleaning crew was waiting just before 10 for us to leave.
      Yes, the photos above were from a rental, not a home swap. I was surprised by the clutter, too, and even though the main part of the house was really nice, unfortunately we will not stay there again because of the bedrooms and the price ($300/night).

  • Rick says:

    I have stayed in vacation rentals before and I have had a hard time understanding why I need to check out early and check in late. So frustrating hanging around waiting for things to be ready. I imagine this is especially true if you have multiple children. That was my perspective back in the day.

    Now I am a vacation rental owner and I see things from the other perspective. As others have mentioned, it is very difficult to get a room ready in short order when there are back to back guests. This is even more so when the previous guests have gone out of the way to soil every linen in sight and left a mess behind. The truth of the matter is that every guest that I have encountered to date wishes for a late checkout and an early check in; of course.

    Most owners have just one or two properties and so it is not like a hotel where we have staff hired all day long that are responsible for cleaning all the rooms one after the other. We are typically charged a fee by the room and hiring a team to clean a single unit isn’t viable not to mention the cost would just be passed on to the guest. Thus more expensive.

    I think our guests select a vacation rental because it is a better value than a hotel room, especially for larger families. The other thing to consider….even if we could figure out a way to make check in time earlier like 2 or 3 PM. I am sure some would still complain about the check in times.

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Rick,
      Thank you for offering your perspective. I understand the difficulty of getting a place completely ready for new visitors. My main complaint is when there is a 10:00 check out (so early!) where there was a long checkout list (take out trash, strip beds, etc.!) or a 4:00 check in (so late!). I recently stayed in a wonderful apartment in San Francisco with a 12:00 check out and 3:00 check in. It is a small place, so it probably doesn’t take long to clean, but we really appreciated that time, especially with vacation rentals being so expensive here in California.
      I brought up the point about check in and check out times just as something for people to consider. It is important to me, and I think other travelers and vacation rental owners need to consider it carefully. While those late check in and early check out times might be necessary to get the whole place ready for the next guests, they also might be a deciding factor between staying in a hotel or vacation rental for a small number of people.

  • BJ says:

    While yes you typically do pay more for a vacation rental than a hotel room…think about what it would cost to rent two or three hotel rooms each night compared to the cost of a two or three bedroom vacation rental. Plus you have room to relax in the living room and be together as a group and eat, cook, etc. You cannot do those things in a hotel room. Each bedroom at my rental has a separate flat screen tv. In a hotel everyone has to share one tv.

    The places that you have stayed that are cluttered is unacceptable. I wish I could offer our guests earlier check in . My check out time is 11 and check in time is 4. I have to use the entire time to clean the entire home. If I had to bring in extra help I would have to pay someone else at least $50 to make it worth their while to drive and help out for two to three hours. Either the cost is transferred to the guest or the owner reduces $50 profit.

    The reason it is so difficult for some homes (not small units) to have earlier check in is because some guests can leave the place a total mess. Often times guests will put dirty dishes back in cabinets and have the kitchen completely disorganized. It can take a long time to get everything back in order and rewash pots and pans. Also guests can be inconsiderate and allow their children to eat all over the house with food crumbs in every chair/couch cushion and they stain the bed sheets with food and drink. Leave jelly smeared on doors. The ladies also like to wipe off their makeup with white bath towels. This adds to having to pre-treat the laundry and doing extra loads if the stains do not come out of the first wash. Sometimes you have to try to get spilled wine out of a sofa cushion or rug.

    Regarding pets, some guests allow their dogs to sleep in the beds and lay all over the furniture so that takes extra time to clean and sometimes it seems you just can’t get rid of all the dog hair before the next guest checks in. Or the dog has marked the furniture and you have to get urine out. For that reason I no longer allow dogs.

    Also many guests leave late and don’t respect the check out time. So that puts cleaning behind schedule. And then some guests don’t put things back like they found the place and move indoor/outdoor furniture and that takes time to get back in order. Or they use the outdoor grill and instead of cleaning it after each use it is filthy after a week of cooking every night.

    I think expecting a local bottle of wine, fresh flowers, snack, movie popcorn, or light breakfast is asking a bit much. I don’t know how much all of that would cost (esp. the flowers) but the owner or housekeeper would have to spend time going to the grocery that day for those things. All of that could be an extra $40 not even including having to pay someone to do the shopping. Fresh milk and fresh flowers have to be bought that day.

    I don’t have a long checkout list. Just start the dishwasher and put used towels in the laundry room. One thing that puts my cleaning behind is when guests disregard the rules. I ask them to not strip the beds and some will strip all of the linens and pile them on the floor to hide stains, thinking I am just going to throw it in the laundry. No then I have to basically remake the beds to check for stains and that puts me behind.

    Another issue too is when guests do not make an owner aware of something they broke that needs to be repaired. I had one set of guests that messed up the sofa bed by yanking on it so hard. Luckily they were arriving late so my husband was able to fix it when he got off work. But imagine if that was not the case, the new guests would not have been able to sit on the couch until my husband got home.

    Also, the hot tub needs to be maintained in between guests and the fireplace needs to be cleaned out and more firewood brought over. The deck needs to be swept and cob webs and bird poop cleaned off. Many times the windows need to be cleaned in each room…esp. where little kids leave face prints and finger prints.

    So you have to think about the outdoor area that also needs to be cleaned. I truly would love to allow guests to check in earlier but so much really depends on the previous guest’s behavior.

    • Jenna says:

      So many good points, and thanks for taking the time to share because it really sheds light on the owner’s side of things. You’re right that the price of the rental is good when you add up all the hotel rooms, but it also depends on who is going to stay in one. For us, there are usually just 4 of us (2 are kids), so we can stay in a large hotel room or suite easily. Certainly larger families get more value out of a rental. We try to look for 1-bedroom rentals with a pullout in the living room, but so many of the pullout couches are unacceptable. It’s a shame that you have had to put up with the messes and other problems guests leave behind–we don’t allow our dogs to do those things and I think we leave places pretty spotless, but it sounds like not all people are as considerate.

      At the same time, the vacation rental market is getting more competitive, and like any other business, this will increase and adjustments will need to be made by the owners to stay competitive. For example, the cost of cleaning may need to come out of the owner’s profit to allow an earlier check in and keep guests interested in that rental. We used to stay in vacation rentals in the Monterey area but won’t stay in them anymore because they had a 10:00 check out time with a long list of things we needed to do before leaving. They also had steep pet and cleaning fees, and the rentals were expensive. It’s true, staying in that place was more convenient than staying in a hotel because we had space to relax and cook together, but the cost of the rental is too high compared to what we get out of it.

      The little extras I mentioned did make us feel valued by the owner, but I certainly wouldn’t expect all of them or even any of them as long as the rental itself is acceptable. For instance, one place left flowers and chocolate but the place was kind of a disaster. Other places that were very expensive left wine and cheese with crackers, and we loved that because we often arrived hungry. Another place left pastries and drinks for breakfast, and we appreciated that because we didn’t have to go to the grocery store at night to buy breakfast items for the next day. However, at the last place we stayed, there were none of those little extras, and that was totally OK because we LOVED the place. It’s our new favorite vacation rental–good price, great check in and check out times, super clean, comfortable, and well equipped.

      • christa says:

        I understand your complaints and am shocked that you had to deal with clutter and personal items in these homes. However, some of them are somewhat u reasonable. I am a vacation rental owner as well and there is nothing personal in the home and everything is as clean as possible before every guest.
        I completely agree with the other owners though on their points. Every guests assumes that all my guests will behave as they would which unfortunately is not the case. We have had major things damaged in the home and guests steal things regularly so as the owner I may claim that something will be in the home (and think it is) but the last guests broke or stole that item. This includes entire boxes of trash bags, cleaning supplies, pillows, sheets, kitchen items, etc. Many guests also leave the house completely trashed (literally every surface in the house is covered with trash and spills) which is why my check out time is at 10 and check in is at 4. I always tell my guests that I will work with them as best as possible on the check in/out times but there are days where I need the whole 6 hours. I often will message or call my guests when the house is finished so they can check in as soon as it is ready. You keep making comments about the owners needing to take it from their profit but my profit isn’t as high as you probably assume it is. I have to pay for everything the house could possibly need and unlike a hotel, I only have 1 space to earn that cost with. There have been months where I have done well but there are also months where the house doesn’t even make enough to cover all of its own bills. Guests are extremely wasteful and many would probably be shocked at the cost of the utilities so the idea of hiring a team of people to clean every time so that guests can be guaranteed an extra couple hours is not feasible for me at this time, and I know the guests aren’t willing to pay more for this perk.
        Regarding the comments about what the owners should provide, that can be tricky as well. I have left bottles of wine which only caused our guests to feel the need to hide the bottles from other people in their group. I have left fresh fruit or breakfast supplies but they were never eaten and I just threw them away after they left. Now I just provide basic spices/ condiments and coffee along with necessities such as tin foil, baggies, etc.
        I always try to put myself in the shoes of my guests and be as accommodating as possible, but one thing that this business has taught me is that no matter what, there will always be guests who are unhappy about something. I do my best to take suggestions when possible but they don’t always make sense for me or my business.

        • Jenna says:

          Thanks for stopping by and offering your perspective. I think this post has been a good opportunity for us to understand each other.

          I am so sorry to hear that people leave your place in such condition. I honestly never thought of that because I assumed that that would be extremely rare.

          About the check-in/check-out times, I understand your side of things and the reasoning behind not having an earlier check out time, but for me, it doesn’t really work to check in at 4:00 and be expected to be out by 10:00 on the day we leave. That’s OK–part of business is that customers make choices, and because we travel with kids, we choose places that have better check-in/check-out times. For example, if we cannot get in until 4:00, by the time we unpack the car, talk with the owner, decide where to put our things, go to the store to get what we need for breakfast the next day, it is time for dinner and bed, but we’re paying $300 or more for that night. We prefer to stay somewhere where we can have a little more time to at least take a walk near the house before dark, although the 4:00 check in is really not a big issue. The 10:00 check out is much harder for us because we are with our kids and everything takes longer with them. If those times were standard for every rental, that would be different, but because some have earlier check-in and later check-out times, we tend to choose those. Again, it’s a natural part of business–every owner has to decide what works best for them, and every customer decides what works for them, too.

          I think I mentioned above that the extras are just something nice but certainly not expected. As I mentioned in another comment, the absolute best rental we’ve stayed in had nothing extra at all, but the place was perfect, so we didn’t care if there was something extra left for us. Would it have been a nice touch? Yes, but totally not necessary.

        • Tanya says:

          SO much truth!! The Golden Rule is easily forgotten but The Customer is Always Right lives on! I wish renters would remember to be kind, reasonable & appreciate the obvious effort put into a home. When… effort has been given.

  • BJ says:


    You are absolutely correct about whether the pricing is considered a value depending on the group makeup. When a traveler is only staying two nights plus has an added $125 cleaning fee, it def. makes it less worthwhile than spreading that cleaning fee over a week’s time and splitting with another couple than if you don’t require separate hotel rooms when you have little ones. Soon I will probably not be cleaning my own rental. I charge $75 now because I can clean it myself and take laundry back home and complete on my own time. I live in an area where good help is hard to find and the population is very small. So, I know I would have to pay someone else much more as they would likely have to bring another person.

    I would actually like to leave some breakfast items for certain guests. Such as the ones paying the full price and not a discounted last minute booking. I list on Airbnb and they do suggest leaving breakfast items. I always leave coffee, filters, sugar, individual creamers or the guest can purchase their own. I also sometimes leave a stick of butter. One time for Airbnb guests I left bagels with cream cheese, carton of eggs, package of sausage, and package of hashbrown patties. Guests didn’t touch the eggs or bagels….they did eat the hash brown patties and sausage. I think the reason they didn’t touch the bagels was because they were in individual ziplocs. I told my husband to pick up bagels and didn’t realize he was going to go to the expensive bakery and they were in a giant paper bag. I washed my hands of course and individually bagged them so they wouldn’t get hard. The guests were 5 individuals unrelated in their late twenties/early thirties. Thought it odd that not one would touch a bagel…Lol. Maybe they thought someone touched the eggs and bagels.

    Speaking of pastries…supposedly my friend has a recipe for cinnamon rolls and icing that taste exactly like the ones you get in the mall. Would you be turned off if a vacation rental owner made you treats/pastries homemade? I am glad to see that you appreciate certain complimentary items as I hear about so many owners that say things go untouched and no one acknowledges them….which I completely understand if that is not part of their diet. I really enjoy cooking and would like to leave cinnamon rolls that the guest would bake themselves fresh with ingredients and instructions for icing provided. Airbnb guests seem more receptive to this kind of thing. Some people think it is gross.

    As a welcome gift i like the idea of the jar cookie ingredients people make as Christmas gifts etc. What do you think? Or would most guests prefer store bought?

    • Jenna says:

      Sorry to hear that you got all those breakfast items and they weren’t all used. When it came to the “little extras” I mentioned above, they were all pretty simple. The welcome gift once was a bottle of local wine and a small package of chocolate covered cherries from Trader Joe’s. Something like that can be bought in bulk ahead of time. Another time it was a small corn cake made by the owner, and to answer your question, no, we weren’t bothered at all by the fact that she’d made it. We quite liked it, actually, and really enjoyed eating it after bringing the suitcases because we were tired after a long drive. The breakfast was simple–juice, fresh pastries, yogurt, but we got that at only 2 rentals and would never expect it. I would say that the welcome gift should be something that can be enjoyed quickly–for us, it was nice to have something that we could enjoy that day or evening since we were tired on that arrival day.

      I love your cinnamon roll idea, but really, do something that’s quick and easy for you.

      I hadn’t thought of the turn around time if someone lives in an area like you do where it’s hard to find good help. Thanks again for your input!

  • Elaine thornton says:

    We have rented through Homeaway three times. Condo in Hawaii, very nice, and as described. A condo in Scottsdale Arizona left a lot to be desired. The patio itself as well as the outdoor furniture were dirty, the whole place was disappointing. More recently we rented a home in Pacific Grove which was beyond my expectations. The little extras made a difference too. Extra linens, spices and oils , all kinds of dish ware, toys and games – really nice.
    Of course the condo in Arizona had a long to-do list before we left, that is maddening when you have to clean up at arrival too! But, you do it because you want your deposit back.

  • This is a great list, and something people who do this as a business should heed. It’s not simply passive income — there’s work involved if you want people to rent and return. It’s a shame about that place in the woods, because the home looks gorgeous! And I’m dying to see more photos of the one in San Francisco — it looks like the homey, craftsman style I adore.
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  • Anna says:

    You are so right. We interview our guests with a questionnaire to learn their interests, tastes and preferences. Then we provide what matches. Our rental provides toys for all ages, we fill the first round of beverages fruit and goodies. We host a fully stocked coffee/tea center with everything better than Starbucks. Our tvs are smart tvs with Hulu Netflix and pandora ad free subscriptions. And we provide any and all one would need except for their clothes and toothbrush including all linens, toiletries and basic needs. We warm up the place with a welcome basket of goodies and activities and their favorite station on pandora playing when they walk in. We squire local discounts from merchants and restaurants. And if there is a special event or holiday we provide all the decorations and trimmings so they can walk right in and celebrate.

    And we don’t live there. But we live above so our 24/7 main ranch and assistance is readily available if and when needed.

    • Jenna says:

      Very interesting to read your experiences. Thank you for sharing. Your place sounds like a wonderful vacation rental!

  • Alicia says:

    I stumbled upon your post on Pinterest and was interested to hear your thoughts, and I really agree with almost everything you say here! Of interest, we can’t leave a bottle of wine for guests because our insurance company classifies it as “serving alcohol” (Doh!). Admittedly, I was disappointed about that. It’s also the reason we can’t have bikes for guests. We have had a great reaction from guests for all our baby- and kid-friendly features, though. It’s so easy to have a nice pack ‘n play, outlet plugs, a baby gate, and even our baby monitors (which the kids have now outgrown) available for guests. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it!
    Alicia recently posted..Industrial Coffee TableMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Alicia, Those kid-friendly things can make a huge difference for families traveling with little ones. Thanks for adding your experience!

  • Debbie says:

    As a new VRBO owner I’ve been so appreciative of those rentors, I call them guests, that treat our 2nd home with respect and happiness. I say that because I’ve already had people outright lie to me about what they did at the house…oils added to the hot tub messed things up for us AND the next rentor. But they’ve been the exception.
    I’ve found open communication has been best. The needs of my guests vary…golfers, girls reunion, family getaways. I trytoaskleading questions as to what’s needed and go from there.
    I don’t provide a pack n play because I can never be sure if a guest has broken it, not told me and then the next guest finds shoddy items. So far everyone is good with this.
    If you ever want to visit Galena IL look up Sugarcreek Skies…we love to extend the welcome mat!

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you for weighing in, Debbie! I’ll keep your place in mind in case I come to IL.

    • Justin M. says:

      I think your view on open communication is key. Ask questions, get to know the coming tenant, what their plans are without being to intrusive, and anticipate any expectations. Clear communication is key to this business along with transparency.

      Thank you.

      Justin M.

  • Liz says:

    Great perspective. Its unfortunate you’ve had so many negative experiences. Vacation rentals when done right can be amazing. As a guest and an owner I can appreciate both sides. When staying as a guest I rely 100% on reviews and they need to have a lot of them. Anybody can stage some photos and make someplace sound amazing. But previous guests won’t lie. Read the fine print carefully and look for hidden fees.
    As an owner I agree with what owners have stated, I have a 12pm check out time and a 4pm check in time. Same as a hotel. All of our guests have either spent they entire day driving or are just flying in. You must be doing ‘vacations’ that are a little bit closer to home. When you have guests staying back to back it takes every moment to get it ready and clean. If we do not have back to back stays and the guests communicate with me about checking in earlier or checking out later then I will gladly accommodate. I don’t appreciate hidden fees so we charge a standard nightly rate and a refundable damage deposit. No cleaning fee. If I am competing with a hotel then I keep my prices competitive and hotels don’t charge a ‘cleaning fee.’
    Cleanliness is my #1 priority so we don’t ever allow pets and we request our guests to remove their shoes in the house. Our guests really appreciate this because they feel like they can let their babies crawl around on the floor and it keeps it allergy free.

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you for weighing in! I am starting to understand the check-in, check-out times more, and as you said, it’s important for vacation rentals to try to accommodate travelers. I agree, it can be a great experience. Many of the rentals we’ve stayed in have added a lot to the travel experience.

  • Carla says:

    Hi all,

    We own and operate a 1 bedroom waterfront apt in North Sydney, Australia. Our check in is flexible if arranged in advance and we don’t have someone leaving the day a guest arrives. Normal check-in is 2pm. We get a lot of overseas visitors who’s flights are often very early arrivals and try our best to accommodate when we can. Our check-out time is 10:00am as we need the full 4 hours most of the time to clean the apartment to our high standard and change the linen, re stock pantry, take out garbage unpack dishes and re-clean if necessary, do an inventory of all items, etc…As others said, it is not like a motel or hotel where there is a lot of staff and I have stayed at many where the cleaning leaves a lot to be desired. Please check out my listing if you are visiting Sydney. We are conveniently located 100 metres from the ferry at Sydney Harbour and on the waterfront with lovely views of Careening Cove. I hope it is ok to advertise here? You will see reviews to give you an idea of our apartment in the eyes of guests.
    Thank you
    homeaway.com.au listing # 3598377

    • Jenna says:

      That’s ok with me to include a link to one place as long as the comment section doesn’t turn into lots of owners advertising their places. And to clarify about the check-in/check-out times, my complaint has always been the places with both a 4:00 check in and 10:00 check out. Again, I understand that some may need that much time to clean, but I will look for another place to stay if I have to arrive so late the first day and leave so early the last day.

  • Ivy Baker says:

    This is some really good information choosing a good vacation rental. I liked that you pointed out that it is good to make sure that the place will be good for sleeping. I wouldn’t want to rent a house or cabin that has bed bugs or uncomfortable beds.

  • Persephone de Vito says:

    It was really nice when you said that a vacation rental is supposed to look exactly what is advertised on the website like having three useable bedrooms if it was stated that it has three bedrooms. As a customer, something as simple as that will have a great impact on me and my family. We’re planning to rent a cabin for our vacation this winter, and we’re a big family. It would be really nice if we won’t have problems with the bedrooms and beds of the cabin that we’ll be renting. Thanks a lot!

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