How to Rent a Vacation Home

Updated 2/26/12

Renting a house or apartment is one of the best ways to save money while traveling. I have rented in places like Rio, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, France and many others and its a great way to live like a local and get a great deal. I love the search for the perfect rental and it has made for some amazing trips.

Why Rent

Renting a house or apartment can save you a lot of money when compared to the costs of the nightly rate at a hotel or resort. It is an upgrade from a hostel and if you are in a large group can save you even more. You can bring your nightly rate down significantly. It also allows you to live as a local would and immerses you in the culture.

Where to Look

There are countless sites to find house rentals but my favorite is VRBO, which stands for  vacation rental by owner, allows you to deal directly with the owner will allow room to make a deal and travel hack your way to serious savings. I have never paid asking price from an owner and never will. They will always negotiate.

My favorite sites to start my search:

Most owners will list their properties on many different sites. Often they will list them for different prices so be sure to check around. Once you settle on a destination research the best neighborhood to live in on travel forums. Depending on where you are going you will be looking for a home or an apartment. If you have a larger group you will want a home with a lot of bedrooms and remember the more people you an fit in there the cheaper the nightly rate per person.

 

In the City look for an apartment near public transportation such as the metro or the bus. You don’t want to spend your rental savings on getting to and from the local sites and restaurants.

 

At the Beach consider renting a home in the second row from the beach. There will be a premium to be directly on the beach and  that is something you will have to consider.

 

How to Find the Right Place
After you pick your destination head over to a rental site and begin your search for the perfect place.

 

Determine your group size is important because it will help determine your costs and average nightly rate. If you are traveling alone the costs may will he higher using this method so you may to target studio apartments. If you are in a group of 6 you will want to sort by “total bedrooms” or how many it “sleeps”. A 3 BR rental may cost more than one that “sleeps” 6 because of the 3 individual bedrooms. If  total number bedrooms are not important to you sort by how many it “sleeps.” This will include possible 1 BR homes and homes with sleeper sofas. Of course they will be smaller but they will be saving you money.

 

Negotiating
Every owner needs to rent their house a certain amount of weeks a year to break even so they want you to stay there. Make them an offer that is lower than their asking price. Don’t insult them but instead ask for a better rate. I often ask for the low season rate even when my dates fall in the high season. They may counter with something in the middle. Calling the owner directly can also help let the owner know you are serious and help with the negotiating process.

 

I recommend inquiring for your top 10 rentals and waiting for responses. From there go for the best deal and your top picks based on prices.

 

Verify the owner before handing over your deposit. It can be scary writing a check to someone for a large sum of money who lives in a foreign country. The best way to handle this is to read reviews. Find as many as you can so you can be sure you can fully trust them. Now, I have never had a problem but of course it is possible someone has set up a fraudulent ad for a home so be careful. VRBO is a very safe site and trustworthy for renters. You will find a lot of reviews there as well. Since many houses will be listed on many different sites you can simply search for the home you are interested in and crosscheck it on multiple sites.

 

Be very careful  using craigslist to find a home. This is the easiest place for a scammer to set up shop and take your money and I have heard plenty of horror stories about people losing their money. Any legitimate owner would list their home on a reputable site and most likely not just craigslist. I have actually found and confronted a scammer on Craigslist after finding the true owner on another site. So stick to the real rental sites.

 


High Season vs Low Season

 

This seems obvious but you can use this to your advantage while negotiating if your dates are flexible. First, do not rent homes over major holiday such as Christmas, New Years Eve, or even 4th of July (for US rentals). Owners can and will charge premiums here and will likely not budge on these weeks because they are very popular.

 

The best way to score a deal is to target the “tweener” weeks. Those are the weeks that straddle the end of the high season and the beginning of the low season. Owners are much more likely to cut you a deal here because they are less popular weeks. For example, if you are traveling to Mexico in March you will encounter inflated prices due to Spring Break. If you change your dates to April you are much better off. It is still a great month to be there and technically the high season but you will be able to get a lower rate. I know this because I have saved 20-25% on rentals in Mexico in April.

Holidays
 can make renting a bit tricky. Every country will have their own holidays so what may seem like a regular weekend to you can be the most popular day of the year for them. For example, if you wanted to rent a place in Amsterdam on April 30th you would be paying premium prices since it is Queen’s Day there. Simply avoid holidays unless they are the reason for your travel. A little research can help you avoid this.

 


Payment

 

Most owners or rental companies (sometimes you will book through agencies) will expect half of the payment right away. After you have spoken with them and read reviews it is time to give them the first payment. Some may ask for a bank transfer and others may accept paypal or credit card. It may seem difficult wiring a stranger money but you must keep in mind many before you have done the same and they would not be in business if they were going to take your money and run.
Usually the second payment and security deposit will be due 30 days before your stay. Follow the same method you did for the first and you should be fine. You may ask if you can bring cash for the second payment and I have done this before. Of course, I do not recommend traveling with large amounts of cash but if this gives you more confidence as a buyer then ask if they will allow it. It adds an additional layer of confidence as a renter.

Short Stays vs Long Stays
Most house rentals will ask for the standard Saturday to Saturday rental week. You, of course, can ask for an exception to anything if those dates do not work for you. It is more expensive to fly on weekends which is why a Monday to Monday rental would be cheaper. Just ask and most owners are flexible if they don’t have any renters overlapping. Stays of longer than 1 week will probably allow for an even better deal. Ask for a better rate if you are planning to stay more than a week.

Short Stays
aren’t as readily available on sites such as VRBO. Many have 3 day minimums and a lot have 1 week minimums. If you are the type who is always on the move then check out AirBnB. AirBnB is great for short stays and you will have options to rent just a room or a whole apartment. I have read great reviews from renters but there have been stories of renters trashing the owners apartment. Good news for you is that you are a renter and not an owner so don’t worry but please be respectful.

Summary
  • Go low on your offer
  • Be  firm with your budget
  • Ask for dates that fit your schedule
  • Determine which type of rental is best for you
  • READ REVIEWS! Can’t stress this enough
  • Be confident in your payment method
  • Write a review after you have a positive experience to help others make the right decision

Bonus TripHackr Tip
This may seem a little sneaky but if you are interested in a house and want to test the owner to see where they stand on price just set up or use another email address and inquire about the same dates. You could also have a friend do this for you. That way you can test them and see what they have to say to another potential renter.

I have been traveling to over 100 countries by using the methods I share on this site. My goal is to maximize every trip and make the most of my adventures. Join me on Instagram.