What to Ask Before Renting a Vacation Home This Summer

Beach House Rental

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After months of travel restrictions and lockdowns, people getting antsy to experience some semblance of a summer vacation. However, trips requiring a flight still raise concerns for some, making road trips and drivable destinations an enticing option for anyone seeking a getaway. While hotels are working to change their policies in order to ensure cleanliness and safety for guests, they are still public places open to many guests at a time. In contrast, short-term vacation house rentals provide a much higher level of privacy and are seeing increased demand.

According to the CEO of Airbnb Brian Chesky, the percentage of people traveling and staying at Airbnbs within 50 miles from their home has increased from 13 percent before the pandemic began to 30 percent in May. Jenny Hsieh, Vice President of Homes and Villas by Marriott International, said that the platform experienced its highest booking volume ever in the last few weeks of May as stay-at-home orders started to lift and that almost 67 percent of their bookings were for summer travel over the next two months.

While some travelers remain anxious about renting a vacation home because cleanliness policies aren't as regulated and cancellation policies are less forgiving, others are sticking with their plans. One traveler, Judy Nelson, rented a house on the Jersey Shore with friends back in February for the end of July. "I remain positive that we will still be able to go," says Nelson, who lives in New York City. "We are all still discussing the pros and cons—seems like most of us are still interested but being cautious." 

To combat those concerns, some rental platforms are working to reassure summer travelers. Airbnb issued an Enhanced Cleaning Initiative based on CDC protocols—although owners are not required to comply and they are encouraging their hosts to be more flexible with their cancellation policies. Homes and Villas by Marriott International simplified their cancellation policy, revised their already stringent cleanliness standards to include specifics around proper disinfection, and established a Marriott Cleanliness Council.

Whether you’re going through a third party or renting directly from the owner, there are certain questions to ask and actions to take to ensure you remain safe and healthy. We spoke with experts, vacation homeowners, and renters for their best tips around renting a vacation home.

Read and Understand the Cancellation Policy

Now is the time to read the fine print carefully. Third-party platforms and independent owners will each have their own policy and they have no obligation to adjust it during the pandemic. Check the “transparency of cancelation policies on the platform’s website and the date stamp, so you know it is current,” says Hsieh. If it’s unclear, ask the host about their policy and if there are specific reasons needed to cancel (i.e. you might not be sick but you might change your mind about feeling comfortable traveling). If a host is unclear or refuses to share their policy, don’t rent from them. Elizabeth Stoll owns a vacation property in Lake Gaston, Virginia, that she rents out on her own. She is requesting that all her renters screen themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 before their arrival and promises to reschedule their reservation if anyone is not feeling well.

Ask the Host How They Are Sanitizing Between Renters

Everyone’s idea of cleanliness is different, so don’t assume the owners are up to your snuff. "Communication and transparency is key. [We plan] to hear from the owner about what cleaning methods they are taking, who else has stayed there, if anyone tested positive for COVID, etc," says Nelson. Decide what you need to make you comfortable and ask for details on their methods. Some companies like Homes and Villas by Marriott International have rigid standards that they enforce, while others like Airbnb only have suggestions so it’s best to ask individual hosts how they sanitize between guests. Kristin Royce owns a vacation rental home in South Bethany, Delaware. "In addition to the thorough cleaning that we always provided, our staff will wear masks, gloves, and shoe coverings when in the house," she says.

Find out if Cleaning Supplies Are Provided

While the house has hopefully been sanitized between uses, you may want to do your own disinfection on arrival and during your stay. Find out if cleaning supplies are provided and if not, bring your own. Every rental will be different in terms of what they provide. "We have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available for guests to use during their stay," says Royce, while Stoll is telling all her renters this summer to bring any cleaning supplies they will need during their stay, including sanitizing cleaners, hand soap, dish soap, dishwasher pods, and laundry detergent. 

Consider Requesting a Buffer Between Rentals

Some hosts and owners are automatically providing a buffer of one to three days between renters in order to ensure that surfaces are no longer infectious, based on CDC guidelines. Airbnb is offering hosts the option to adopt a 72-hour buffer period between guests but it is not a requirement. Stoll instituted a buffer of 24 hours between renters. If it makes you feel safer, you should request a buffer but understand it may not be granted.

Ask if You Need to Bring Your Own Linens (and Consider Doing so Regardless)

While most rentals do provide linens and towels, you may feel more comfortable bringing your own (although the CDC advises that washing linens and towels in the warmest possible water should kill viruses). Stoll is telling her renters that she is only providing pillows with covers and mattress protectors and guests will need to bring their own sheets, towels, and duvets. Bringing your own linens will ensure they are clean without a doubt.

Request a Contactless Arrival

Ask your host how they plan to give you access to the rental home and request that it be contactless. For example, Homes and Villas by Marriott International uses access codes that allow consumers to enter the home without interacting with others. If there are keys, ask that they be left somewhere that you can access on your own.

Research Local Laws and Plan Accordingly

This is a big one. It might be against the law for you to even rent a vacation home in certain destinations. It’s up to you to research the local laws and see what’s allowed—and continue checking right up to your trip because laws are changing frequently during this time. Most regions, states, and cities have special websites detailing their current laws during the pandemic, including whether short-term rentals are allowed right now, policies on renting to out-of-state visitors, and if face masks are required in public. Rental services and hosts have no obligation to share this information so it’s your responsibility to ensure you don’t break the law.

Crystal Ryan rents out her vacation home in Fort Walton, Florida, via Airbnb and saw plenty of reservation requests despite a short-term rental ban. “The beaches [in Fort Walton] were open May 4, which was supposed to be for local use only. From that day forward, even though I could not rent to due to a short term rental ban, I would wake up to five reservation requests every morning and then get anywhere from 15 to 20 throughout the day, every day!” she said. “I was constantly denying people who had no idea about the rental ban nor did they seem to have cares or concerns about the COVID restrictions.” (Fort Walton lifted its short-term rental ban on May 19).

Check Which Attractions and Businesses Are Open

While most people are hoping to spend their vacations mainly outdoors this summer, you’ll want to ensure that’s actually possible where you're going. To curb the spread of COVID-19, regions around the world initiated lockdowns affecting everything including restaurants, retail shops, parks, beaches, and even public restrooms.

Because of varying reopening timelines, you may have rented a beach house just to find that the beach is still closed or severely limiting visitors, ruining your vacation. Or maybe the possible lack of public restrooms, amenities, and services will impact your stay. To prevent disappointment, check to see what businesses are open or what restrictions are in place in your destination. Similarly, state and national parks around the world have varying rules and closures so check each one carefully. The same goes for museums, amusement parks, and other attractions, as well as retail businesses and restaurants in your chosen destination.

You’ll also want to determine if social distancing is possible where you’re going—large cities might not be the best destination for you if you’re concerned about this. "As the shopping, restaurants, and entertainment options are constantly changing, we send a message to people just before their trip with the most recent updates from the Delaware government website," says Royce, but some hosts might not provide this information.

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