Friday, January 13, 2012

Five things to look for when booking your next vacation rental property

There are five essential questions that you should ask and be able to answer before booking your next vacation rental.  After you have picked your destination the real work begins.  Here are the five essential questions that you need to answer;

Copper Ridge Condos
Lake of the Ozarks
What is the best location at my chosen destination?  
What amenities do I want?

What happens or who do I contact if I have problems?

What is the cancellation policy?

What if something gets damaged?

Location:  Just because you know where you want to go doesn't mean that you know the best location at that destination.  How many times have you ended up farther away from the attractions you wanted to visit?  In a bad neighborhood?  Stuck in a property with no view?  To avoid this and find the best location at your destination you need decide on what you will be doing while on vacation.  Are you just hanging out at the beach?  Are you going to visit the attractions?  Going boating, water skiing and enjoy lake or water activities?  Once you decide on what you will be doing, look at a map and find the best location that will give you the easiest access to the things that you want to do.  Here at the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri we have a lake that stretches almost 100 miles.  Many vacationers don't realize just how big our lake is and invariably they end up booking a property away from most of the attractions and I hear something like, "It had a great view" or "The price was right".  The problem was that most of the activities, restaurants and water destinations on our lake are between the 1 and 22 mile markers.  Yet this person ended up renting something above the 30 mile marker, which also takes over an hour to drive to the area where all the attractions, shopping and restaurants are located.  So make sure you ask those types of questions; how far is it to the things you want to do, are there any restaurants close by?  Don't put a damper on your vacation by booking the wrong location at a great destination.

Key Largo Home
5 bed/5 bath
Lake of the Ozarks
Amenities:  What are the most important things that you want while on vacation?  Maybe it is a King bed, maybe a separate bathroom for each bedroom, a dock or water access close by, walk-in unit, a garage, a pool table, satellite or cable TV, etc.  The list could go on and on, but narrow down the make or break amenities that you have to have and then look for properties that fit that description in the location that you have chosen.  You may have to give up a little location to get your amenities or some amenities to get the best location.  Either  way it is best to ask these questions, especially if it is not spelled out in the property description.  Also you may want to probe a little deeper.  For instance the description might say that the home features a two car garage, but the owner is using one of the garage spaces and it is unavailable.  Also some people cannot decide if they want a home or a condo.  Here are the basic differences, at least here at the Lake of the Ozarks.  With a home you will have a little more privacy, private boat dock, usually a little more room and usually more parking spaces.  With a condo you will usually have some extra amenities that most homes don't offer, a community pool, tennis courts, a playground for the kids and security.  Figure out what you want or what you need and then ensure you ask the right questions and get the amenities you desire.

Problems:  What happens when you don't have any water?  When the refrigerator quits working and your food is going to spoil?  The AC goes out on the hottest weekend of the summer?  Or the toilet is over flowing into the bathroom?  All of these things can and do happen.  So who ya gonna call?  Not the Ghost Busters, you need real help and real fast.  This is where choosing a reputable vacation rental company or going with a private owner can make a big difference.  Many private owners don't have the resources to respond quickly or adequately to potential problems.  Sometimes it's a neighbor who looks after the property for the owner who lives out of state.  What if the neighbor isn't home or really doesn't know what they are doing?  Usually with a professional rental company, while you will probably pay more for your rental, you will also have greater piece of mind.  Most rental companies have maintenance staff, housekeepers and access to professional repair personnel if needed.  My company retains three different AC/Heating companies that can be called 24 hours a day for repairs, three maintenance workers to take care of small problems and more than 10 housekeepers that can respond if you have a cleaning issue.  The old adage, "You get what you pay for" is also true in the vacation rental business.  There was a time when I held a flashlight at midnight for the AC repairman so that he could repair the wiring in an outside unit to provide guests some cool AC during a rather humid Lake of the Ozarks night and another time that me and my staff delivered water to many guests at a condo complex when a pipe broke and due to a boil order they were without drinking water for a day.

Cancellations:  Something comes up and you have to cancel your vacation.  Believe it or not this happens more often than you would think.  Over the years I have heard just about everything, some legitimate and some not so legitimate.  From a death in the family, to kids sporting events, to a broken leg and unscheduled surgery.  It can happen and you need to be protected just in case.  Again when you rent through a private individual, you may save some money, but you are usually at the whim of the property owner.  Most vacation rental companies now offer Vacation Rental Insurance.  You can purchase this insurance for a small percentage of your trip cost (usually 6.5% to 7%) and you are covered for most legitimate reasons.  If you just decide that you aren't showing up, well that isn't covered.  We use CSA based out of California and they offer insurance that is very similar to what cruise lines offer.  Most vacation rental companies have very specific cancellation policies and most are willing to work with you when something comes up.  At the end of  this blog is a link to the vacation rental insurance that we offer our guests.

Damage: Your tripped over the lamp cord and broke the lamp, now what do you do?  Or you dropped a glass on the glass topped end table and both shattered.  Most private individuals and vacation rental companies require some sort of damage deposit.  They will get the item fixed or replaced and deduct the amount from your deposit.  In some cases the deposit can be anywhere from $300.00 to $1,000.00 depending on the type of property rented.  We stopped taking damage deposits in 2005.  Basically we were losing good customers.  They had an accident, didn't mean to break something but were upset when we deducted the amount from their damage deposit and they didn't rent with us again.  We figured that whatever the cost of the lamp was, it wasn't worth losing an otherwise good guest over.  Also we were finding things glued back together, hidden under beds, in closets, or just plain missing.  And we were not sure who to charge or had already given the deposit back.  In 2005 we switched to charging a damage waiver fee or what we now call our damage protection plan.  A guest can pay a small one time, non-refundable fee and it covers them up to specified amount of damage protection.  In our case we charge $35.00 and our guests are covered up to $3,000.00 in accidental damage.  Last year we had a boy run into (literally) a sliding glass door when he was trying to get a toy he had left on the deck of the condo that his parents were renting.  The boy was fine, the sliding glass door was not, one of the panes cracked and it cost just over $300.00 to replace.  The dad called the office, apologizing and offering to pay for it and I told him, "Hey, you are covered by our damage protection plan, there is no more cost to you."  To say the least, he was very happy!
Now if a guest throws a TV off the deck into the lake, then we are charging the guest.  So be sure to find out what the damage policy is, who is responsible and if they require a damage deposit or have some sort of damage protection plan.

If you plan accordingly and cover these five areas you should have a much greater chance of actually enjoying your much deserved vacation.  Now if only the weather will cooperate!  Have a great day and enjoy your vacation wherever it may be......

Russell Burdette