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Experts offer advice for travelers booking rental properties

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 11:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 6:53 a.m. CDT

When Cary Travel Express has a request to book a rental property for a vacation, owner Neelie Kruse said the agency will use reputable tour operators that check out the homes or condos ahead of time that meet certain requirements.

She said many people book houses or condos for a family reunion or for a group of several couples staying in one unit.

“Then they can cook for themselves and save money on going out to restaurants,” Kruse said.

Although instances of fraud or fake listings of vacation rentals that don’t live up to what they advertise to be are rare, people need to be vigilant to protect themselves.

Tour operators look at the cleanliness and that pictures promoting the rental property are up-to-date, Kruse said.

Kruse’s main tip was to book through a travel agent.

“Then you book through a quality place,” Kruse said.

Denise Lorman of Cary owns three condos in the panhandle of Florida. The units are part of a resort on the beach and have an exercise room, pool and lazy river, among other amenities.

Lorman, whose full-time job is in accounting and bookkeeping, also has a website to advertise her space. She recommended having travel insurance in case anything goes wrong. Lorman also said using a credit card can be helpful, instead of using cash.

A person would be able to dispute or cancel the charges and not lose money if the renter turned out to be someone running a scam.

When she rents a unit to someone who is at least 25 years old, she will ask for a deposit through a credit card, money order or cashier’s check to reserve the condo for a specific date.

If a person finds a place they want to stay, he or she should talk to the property owner first before booking. Calling the associated homeowners’ association with the property to make sure the owner is a real person also is recommended, Lorman said.

Lorman added a lot of her business is through word of mouth and referrals from past customers.

Lorman also said that people, as part of doing their homework, should look at the reviews of a particular place on travel websites.

“You don’t want to stay at a place with a bad review, “ Lorman said.

Jon Gray, the senior vice president of HomeAway, a website that lists vacation rental properties, said bogus listings are rare and that “99.99 of instances go off without a hitch.” HomeAway and its associated websites list more than 950,000 vacation rental properties around the world.

People should check comparable properties or listings. If similar listings have prices for $5,000 a week, and there is a listing for $1,500 a week, then the cheaper one might be too good to be true, Gray said.

He encourages renters and owners to get rental agreements in place to make it clear of what is expected on both sides of the arrangement.

Gray also suggested that people use reputable websites when trying to book a vacation home. He added HomeAway’s sites keep an eye out for possible bad listings and remove them when discovered.

Gray said red flags of a possible scam are owners asking for a wire transfer as a form of payment, or checks being made out to cash.

“If there is anything that feels wrong, trust your gut instinct,” Gray said.

Tips for when booking a vacation rental house or condo:

• Call first: Always confirm your booking via the telephone number published on the listing for the property you booked prior to sending any payment.

• Use safe payment methods: Online booking by credit card is recommended; if someone is trying to get you to pay through a wire transfer service, walk away.

• Trust your gut instinct: If the price is too good to be true, then it probably is.

• Buy insurance: Booking a vacation rental, is a big ticket item. So consider buying insurance.

• Take a look: Make sure the listing has numerous high quality photos, detailed descriptions, displayed owner contact information and payment options.

• Read reviews: Other people have stayed at the properties and offer unfiltered firsthand accounts of what to expect, such as the need to bring your own beach towels or toiletries.

• Get a rental agreement: Once a final decision is made on a property, travelers should request a rental agreement that outlines all rules and cancellation policies so everyone is on the same page.

• Use reputable sites: Go with a reputable site that has a substantial inventory to find the right match for your preferences and budget.

Source: Homeaway.com

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