What to Ask Before Renting a Vacation Home

Beach House Rental
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After a year plus of travel restrictions, people are getting antsy for some semblance of a summer vacation. However, trips that require flying in an airplane still raise concerns, making road trips and drivable destinations an enticing option for anyone seeking a getaway. While hotels have worked hard to update their cleaning and safety policies, short-term vacation rentals provide a much higher level of privacy and are experiencing an increase in demand. Additionally, with major companies allowing employees to work remotely, long-term vacation rentals have become a viable option for families seeking a more rural lifestyle or those wanting to connect with nature.

According to iGMS, Airbnb, which suffered a huge drop in revenue in the midst of the pandemic, saw an increase in revenue of about 13 percent from March through September of 2020, as stay-at-home orders were lifted. In fact, the CEO of Airbnb Brian Chesky, noted the percentage of people traveling and staying at Airbnbs within 50 miles from their home had increased from 13 percent before the pandemic began to 30 percent in May of 2020. And, Damian Sheridan, founder of The Book Direct Network acknowledges that domestic travel and digital nomads (those who work remote) will continue to be a big driver in the short-term rental market in 2021.

While some travelers remain anxious about renting a vacation home, and traveling in general, others are gaining confidence as vaccination numbers continue to increase in an effort to achieve herd immunity domestically. This is good news for renters, as the surge in traveler confidence has provoked an overall adjustment on how rental platforms do business—complete with viable cancellation policies and stricter cleaning and safety protocols.

Whether you’re going through a third-party platform or renting directly from the owner, there are still certain questions to ask and actions to take in the summer of 2021 to ensure you remain safe and healthy.

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. Check the “transparency of cancelation policies on the platform’s website and the date stamp, so you know it is current,” says Jenny Hsieh, Vice President of Homes and Villas by Marriott International. 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 traveling). If a host is unclear or refuses to share their policy, don’t rent from them.

Airbnb offers hosts a slew of cancellation options which include everything from their "flexible" option, offering free cancellation until 24 hours before check-in, to their "moderate" option, allowing guests free cancellation until five days before check-in, to their "super strict 60-day" option (the firmest of all), where guests need to cancel at least 60 days before check-in for only a 50 percent refund of the nightly rate and the cleaning fee, but not the service fee. Before booking, carefully review your reservation details and note the cancellation option chosen by your host.

Ask About Sanitizing Procedures

Everyone’s idea of cleanliness is different, so don’t assume the owners are up to your snuff. Decide what makes 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 only have suggestions. So, it’s best to ask individual hosts how they sanitize between guests.

VRBO provides property cleaning and disinfecting guidelines to homeowners. They outline a two-step process, the first which involves cleaning or simply wiping surfaces with detergent and water to remove germs, objects, and impurities. The second step, disinfecting, involves using WHO/CDC-recommended household disinfectants that are EPA-approved for use against SARS-CoV-2.

Before renting, discuss the cleaning protocols carefully with your host. Some homeowners request their cleaning staff wear masks, gloves, and shoe coverings when in the house. VRBO recommends looking at the current reviews to gauge an idea about the home's cleanliness before you book.

Find Out if Cleaning Supplies Are Provided

While the house has hopefully been sanitized between uses, you may want to do your own disinfecting upon 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. Most provide dish detergent, hand soap, and, in some instances, hand sanitizer and laundry detergent. But others expect renters to bring any cleaning supplies they will need during their stay, including sanitizing cleaners, body soap, and dishwasher pods. Surface cleaner, glass cleaner, and bleach are usually not on-site or provided in a rental home situation. So, if you have a favorite product, bring it, along with cleaning cloths, sponges, and extra paper towels.

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 offers hosts the option to adopt a 72-hour buffer period between guests if they cannot commit to the platform's required cleaning protocols. This is not required, however, so if it makes you feel safer, you should request a buffer while understanding it may not be granted.

Bring Your Own Linens

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). Some renters only provide pillows with covers and mattress protectors, making guests 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. For a key entry, ask if the keys can be left somewhere that you can access on your own.

Research Local Restrictions and Plan Accordingly

If you are hoping to spend your vacation visiting the sites around your destination, you’ll want to ensure that’s possible where you're going. To curb the spread of COVID-19, states and counties have initiated restrictions on the number of people in restaurants (indoor and out), retail shops, parks, beaches, and even public restrooms.

It’s up to you to research the local laws and continue checking right up until your trip because laws may change throughout the summer. Most states, counties, and cities have special websites detailing their current laws regarding the pandemic, including whether or not short-term rentals are allowed and policies on renting to out-of-state visitors. Rental services and hosts have no obligation to share this information, so it’s your responsibility to ensure you don’t break the law.

Also, because of varying local ordinances, you may rent a beach house just to find that the beach is open only to residents, ruining your vacation. Or maybe the lack of public restroom access, trailhead access, amenities, and services will impact your stay. To prevent disappointment, check to see what's open and what restrictions are in place in your destination. State and national parks around the world have varying rules and closures so check each one carefully. The same goes for beaches—you may have to arrive early or reserve parking ahead of time. Museums, amusement parks, and other attractions may be limiting people, as well. Plan ahead and buy tickets or make reservations online long before (possibly many months before) you arrive.

Most states and, in some instances, specific counties may also be enforcing masks in public. Even if you are traveling to a state where masks are currently not mandated, the county or town you are visiting may have different rules, as some states leave the decision to the local government. Expect any town considered a "tourist destination" to require masks while inside businesses or public buildings and at restaurants, except when eating, and follow the rules accordingly. The local economy in places like mountain and beach destinations relies on visitors, but the locals and service providers frown upon those who don't follow the rules.