Vacation rentals have been around for years and are gaining popularity among vacationers. It’s no wonder because whether you rent a cottage, condo, or home, renting a vacation property provides all the comforts of home along with great value.
If you think that renting a vacation home is reserved for the rich, think again. The price is often comparable – or even less – than a hotel room. That is particularly the case for large families who are left with few options in a hotel. They must either cram a cot into a regular room and share a very crowded bathroom or break the budget by booking two rooms. Plus, families can save additional money when they rent a vacation home by eating some meals in.
The benefits don’t end there. Rent a vacation home and everyone has their own bedroom and often their own bathroom too! Pools are an added plus in many Florida vacation homes – and they don’t come with screaming kids (unless you add your own). Most vacation homes come fully, and beautifully, furnished. Many include bed linens, towels, and fully-equipped kitchens. All you bring is your clothes, personal items, and food.
Renting a vacation home has got to be the most relaxing and convenient vacation experiences ever. No traipsing down a hallway for ice, no slamming doors, loud voices or flushing toilets waking you at midnight and no getting up early for a stale continental breakfast. Instead, you can enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and a bagel by the pool in the morning… in your bathrobe.
Still, renting a vacation property is different than reserving a hotel room. We posed common vacation rental questions to Linda Hennis-Saavedra, VP, Sales and Marketing for AAA SunState Management in Central Florida. She was willing to answer our questions and share her expertise in the industry.
Q: Are There Any Florida or Local Regulations That Govern the Vacation Rental Industry?
Yes, the State Department of Business Professional Regulation governs short-term rental properties. There are certain requirements that every vacation home must meet to be a short-term rental, including being licensed.
The requirements include criteria for occupancy (minimum number of beds, pillow covers, and mattress pads, etc), safety (exit/egress plans, fire extinguishers, 9-1-1 instructions, secondary door locks, emergency lighting, etc), and sanitation (State Statue postings about cleanliness and sanitation). We go one step further and provide information books with guest friendly instructions for air conditioning use, storm/hurricane information, local maps and attractions, emergency information, etc.
Violations of DBPR code can result in hefty fines and suspension/cancellation of an owners' license to operate as a short-term rental. The State and County, which regulates the taxing portion of short-term rentals, take a pretty strong position with enforcement.
Q: Is There a Local, Regional or Statewide Vacation Rental Property Association?
Yes. the Central Florida Property Management Association (CFPMA) has a code of ethics that all members must follow to maintain good standing.
Q: While Hotels Usually Only Require Just a Credit Card Authorization or One Night's Room Charge in Advance to Reserve a Room, I See That a 50% Deposit Is Required at the Time of the Reservation. Is This an Industry Standard?
Although specific to our company, it is also pretty standard in the industry. If you view most websites, you’ll find similar terms.
Q: Do You Charge a Reservation Fee? If So, Is That a Flat Fee or a Percentage?
No, we do not charge a reservation fee, but some companies do.
Q: What Taxes Are Added?
State and County taxes are applicable.
Q: Is There an Exit Fee? Is That a Flat Fee per Unit, or Does It Depend on Which Unit or the Length of Stay?
We do not charge an exit fee. There is a cleaning fee if you don’t stay a minimum number of days – five-day rentals are standard. Anything less and the guest/renter pays for the cleaning of the home which is different than the hotel industry.
Q: What Is a “Flip” Day?
We don’t use that term, but I would guess it is what we would call a “back-to-back” booking. That is when two reservations – a check-out and check-in – occur on the same day.
Q: Do You Have Any Homes That Allow Pets? If So, Is There a Pet Damage Deposit and Is It Returnable?
Few companies allow pets. In fact, in our area, we know of no other company that allows pets. Having said that, we have select owners that permit pet stays. There is a $500 pet damage deposit – typically a credit card authorization upon check-in. If no damage occurs, no charges are assessed.
Q: Are There Just One Set of Towels per Guest? Are You Expected to Wash Those Yourself, or Are They Changed Every Couple of Days? Is Maid Service Available for Extended Stays?
All homes are completely self-contained with all appliances, washers/dryers, dishwashers, etc. Each bathroom is stocked with six sets of towels (with many homes having more in the closets). You could wash these yourself. If you prefer, we do it for you. Our cleaning service can accommodate that request, as well as clean your home mid-stay, but there are charges for that.
Q. What Is the Tipping Policy for the Industry? How Should a Tip Be Left? (In Hotels It Is Customary to Leave a Tip Each Night for the Cleaning Staff and It Is Suggested It Be Left in a Well-Marked Envelope.)
There is no formal tipping policy, but we encourage guests to follow the same standard that the hotel industry uses with consideration for the size of the home compared to a hotel room. There is a lot of hard work that goes into restoring a home to its pre-rented condition (and cleaning up each home before and after each guest departs).
Unlike a hotel that requires the cleaning of one room and a bathroom, cleaners that do vacation homes clean up to 4,000 square feet of home with multiple bedrooms and multiple bathrooms – no easy task.
Cleaners will collect any tips left as they check the homes after each departure, so an envelope marked “for the cleaners” is perfect.
Q: Are Personal Belongings Insured?
No. Homeowners have short-term rental insurance which insures for injury; but typically, damage/theft of personal belongings would be your responsibility.
Q: What Recourse Does a Renter Have If They Are Unhappy?
There shouldn’t be any question as to what is expected once the reservation is made (curing one source of unhappiness). If it’s a home concern, we (and I hope most other companies) make every effort to try and accommodate requests for change (within the scope of reason) and make the arriving guest happy.
It doesn't sound like you have too much to lose and everything to gain from a vacation rental. It certainly is another option to consider when making your next vacation plans.
General Rental Tips
- Vacation home listings can be found in magazines, newspapers, online (such as airbnb.com), and through rental agencies and Realtors.
- One of the best ways to find a vacation rental is to ask friends and neighbors. A recommendation from someone who has stayed in a particular home or used a particular rental agency or Realtor can offer great insight.
- Official area convention and visitor bureau websites can be another source of rental listings.
- Know who you’re dealing with. Some individual rental owners advertise on rental directory sites, so you will deal directly with the unit’s owner. Other rental owners hire a management company to handle rentals and maintenance.
- Get the rental agreement in writing. Make sure it specifies dates, check-in and check-out times, specific deposit and payment requirements and clearly spells out your responsibilities.
- Ask lots of questions. Do I need to provide bedding or towels? How many parking spaces are available for the unit? Are a washer/dryer provided, or will I need to visit a Laundromat? Will I be responsible for any cleaning when leaving the house?
- If you get a “bad feeling” because of a hesitation to answer questions, move on to the next listing.