Vacation rentals are being made widely available these days, especially with the advent of rental sites like Airbnb. Almost anyone, anywhere, can rent their home to you, and that means you have many more choices. But it also means you have a lot more people looking to take advantage of you. Make sure you do your research before you book.
1. Photos of unmade beds and untidy rooms
If you’re looking through the gallery of a prospective vacation rental, coming across unmade beds, sinks full of dishes, and cluttered surface areas is a massive red flag. These photos are the owner’s chance to put their best foot forward. It’s their opportunity to show you just how good the property will be to stay in. If they cannot be bothered to make beds, load the dishwasher, and clean up the counters, you’ve got one lazy owner on your hands. And where there are lazy owners, there are all kinds of other problems. (See also: What to Do About a Terrible Airbnb Stay)
2. Suspiciously-absent photos of some rooms (or no photos at all)
Todd Barry, a fantastic comedian, does a bit about this and living in New York.
“I had a realtor send me a link of a place to look at… there were four pictures of the apartment. Three of the exterior of the building, and a picture of the stove. I don’t think those guys with the camera were looking at an awesome living room going, ‘no, let’s not play all our cards… oohh, nice paper towel rack.'”
Basically, if there aren’t pictures of every room, they don’t want you to see them for some reason. If there are no photos at all, you’re just asking for trouble.
3. The price is way too good to be true
If it looks too good to be true, it usually is. If you’re looking around and see average prices of $1,000 per week in one area, and then out of nowhere a $600 listing shows up, you should ask yourself why. Is it possible that this is an old couple that doesn’t really care about profit and just wants to see people happy? Doubtful. More likely, the price is part of a bait-n-switch scam, or some other kind of offer that comes with all kinds of baggage. “Well, yeah, it’s $600, unless you were planning on using the bathrooms and the kitchen. Oh, you were? That’ll be $1,100 then.” By all means investigate the lower prices, but too low is a warning sign of a nightmare coming your way. (See also: 5 Cities Where Airbnb Is Way Cheaper Than a Hotel)
4. The listing is filled with inaccuracies
This can come in many forms. First, look for the obvious grammatical errors. One or two in places that make sense are fine (such as autocorrect assuming a different word), but when the text is just filled with awful grammar, sentences that are illogical, and sayings that just sound a bit off, this could be the sign of a scam. Also, look for other inaccuracies, such as stating the home has three bedrooms in the title, but lists only two in the main body of the ad.
5. The description of the rental is very “creative”
The camera absolutely lies to you, and with a good fisheye lens or sharp angle, a vacation rental the size of a shoe box can be made to look roomy. On top of that, the owner may get a little tricky with the descriptions, and you should be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. “Minimalist” is often used to describe a place with a lot of bare walls. “Cozy” or “snug” could be a red flag that the place is very small. “Quaint” or “old-world charm” is sometimes a way to describe a house in need of repairs, or very out of date. “Vibrant neighborhood” is code for loud, busy, and chaotic; so expect 1 a.m. revelry outside. If you see a lot of these descriptions, and a lack of clear photographs, steer clear.
6. You are asked to wire the payment
Who wires money anywhere these days, with PayPal, Venmo, and credit cards so readily available? There is usually a good reason the owner has requested a wire transfer, but it’s not good for you. Wire transfers cannot be reversed once the recipient has collected the cash, and they are also very difficult to trace. In this case, you may be getting conned by someone trying to rent out a property that either isn’t theirs, or doesn’t exist. In both cases, you could turn up to a property with all your bags, and have nowhere to stay. Always use a guaranteed, safe, traceable method of payment.
7. There are only a few reviews
We are all different, we all like different things, and we all have different tastes. Go to any kind of review site, like Yelp or TripAdvisor, and you’ll see a range of comments and reviews from customers. Usually, you want to see many reviews with an average up in the fours. If your budget dictates something less, threes are OK, if there are plenty of reviews stating why. But if you see only two or three reviews that are short and perfect, with five out of five, take heed. This could be a place that has not been genuinely reviewed yet, and these are left by anonymous reviewers who are probably related to (or are) the owner. Some places will be brand-new on the market, so it’s unfair to expect a mass of reviews for those. But if they’re honest about it, you’re in much better shape. (See also: 10 Vacation Rental Alternatives to Airbnb)
8. The owner is not easy to get hold of
Most people who are managing vacation rentals are very responsive. This is, after all, a customer service business. So if you are having trouble calling or emailing the owner, you should find out why. For example, if you’re sending out emails in the afternoon, but get replies in the middle of the night, that’s a sign the owner is in a different time zone. This could be good if you’re renting a place in France and you’re in Ohio. But if you’re renting a place in Florida, the manager should be able to respond during business hours. Check the email address, too. Is it something normal, like a name or business? Or is it some bizarre collection of letters and numbers? If so, it could be an auto-generated email address belonging to a scammer. And if you call and call and never get an answer, something is very wrong.
9. There’s no specific address for the property
Scam artists are everywhere, and vacation rentals are no exception. If you cannot look up the address of the property and do your research, you’ve got a problem. The owner of a vacation rental may say in the ad that they don’t want to publish it due to safety and security reasons, and that’s up to them. But if you contact the owner and are still not given an address, something fishy is going on. Google maps makes it easy to scope out almost any place, and if it’s not covered by that, there should be other references to it. If you’re dealing with a scam of some kind, the scammer will know you’ll want to do your research and will therefore not disclose it until you have sent money. After that point, you may never hear from them again, or you’ll be given the address to a property that doesn’t exist, or was pulled from another listing.
10. The contract has some worrying clauses
If you actually get to the stage of signing some kind of contract, read it carefully. Sometimes you’ll come across some language that could leave you out of pocket, or even out of a place to stay. You will no doubt have to put down some kind of refundable security deposit, which protects the owner of the property should you go all metal band and trash the place. But if is says “non-refundable security deposit” or “cleaning services will be deducted from your security deposit,” that’s a good enough reason to back out and renegotiate. You may even come across language that states the home must be vacated should the owner wish to return at any time. So, don’t sign anything that you have not read thoroughly, or do not agree with.