Vacation Rental 101

Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Vacation Rentals

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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. I bet you’ve never considered doing THAT at a hotel.

Still, renting a vacation property is different than reserving a hotel room. I had a lot of questions about rentals, so I recently posed those questions to Linda Hennis-Saavedra*, VP, Sales and Marketing for AAA SunState Management in Central Florida.

She was willing to answer my questions and share her expertise in the industry. Hopefully, this will answer some of your questions as well.

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, takes a pretty strong position with enforcement.

Q: Is there a local, regional or statewide vacation rental property association?
Yes. I can speak specifically about the Central Florida Property Management Association (of which we are a member). The CFPMA has a code of ethics that all members must follow to maintain good standing.

Q: I see the rates specified are daily, and you mention multi-home rentals, but do you have discounted rates for weekly or monthly rentals?
Weekly rates are typically the same as nightly. Monthly rates are discounted and the rate would be determined by the dates needed. Yes, some dates (peak season/holidays) do have minimums. It isn’t uncommon for some property management companies or vacation homeowners to mandate a 5-7 night minimum year round. In fact, it has become a standard practice. We do not subscribe to that requirement currently and attempt to accommodate all rental requests – whether one day or 111 days.

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, or specific to your company?
Although specific to our company, it is also pretty standard in the industry. If you view most Web sites, 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 and I am unfamiliar with the term. 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: Is there a limit to the number of guests per rental? Is there an extra charge for additional guests?
There is a maximum occupancy for each home based on the number of bedrooms they have. Unlike hotels, there isn’t a charge for an extra person; however, we do not allow more guests than what a home can occupy.

Occupancy numbers include the sleeper sofa.

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: Do you have any homes that allow smoking?
No. This is taboo, and smoking penalties/fines can be charged if a home has been smoked in.

Q: I see that arrangements can be made for cots, cribs, highchairs, playpens, barbecues, etc. What is the average charge for extra items, and would that charge be per day or stay?
They range from $7 to $10 per day and that rate includes free delivery and pick up.

Q: What is the check-in process?
Currently, upon confirmation of your reservation, we email/fax instructions directly to you with home information (address, alarm codes, lockbox codes, etc.).

The key to the home is in a lockbox at the home. We also provide instructions to our guests to stop by our office to arrange for a damage/security deposit (again, typically a credit card imprint).

We also require ID from the party checking in (similar to a hotel check-in). The nice thing is, you don’t have to check in the moment you arrive.

You can go directly to the home, unpack, relax and then come to our office the next business day.

However, beginning October 1, 2006, we will have a lockbox located at our office. All guests will be directed to our office, given a code to access the lockbox and inside the lockbox will be the directions to the home and lockbox code.

Both methods are common in vacation home rentals.

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. A home cleaning charge can be $85 - $125 per clean.

Q: What about concierge services? Is there a charge? If so, what is the percentage?
Concierge services aren’t offered by all vacation home renters, so we’re quite proud and excited to be able to provide it. Our focus is “what can we do to make your stay better?” There is a small fee depending on what it is that we arrange for you.

The most frequently used (and the one we think has the greatest value to travel weary guests) is a welcome pack, which allows us to have food and drink stocked in the home prior to your arrival. Imagine checking in after a long exhausting drive/flight and finding your favorite soft drink, bottled water, cheetos, and ho-ho’s or coffee/tea, bagels, and cream cheese, etc. waiting for you. We have different packs -- $50, $75 or $100 – which can include an entire shopping list of goods.

If you need simple directions or information on how to get to the theme parks, we provide that for free. Want to know where the local Chinese restaurant is? Free too. Want us to arrange for your tee time? That could be $10 to $20 to complete that for you.

Q: What about personal shopping services? What percentage will be added to the bill for the service?
Typically it is 20%; and again, it depends on what we do for you.

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.

We at AAA SunState also leave a questionnaire asking guests to rate our service and their experience with us. We ask them to let us know what we can do better and what may not have met their expectations. This questionnaire is a very important part of our commitment to a Standard of Excellence that all of our employees strive to daily. Translation – we sincerely value the opinion of our guests – we want to know what we’ve done right and what we didn’t.

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 are the security issues? Does crime seem higher in these rental areas? Wouldn’t it be easy to be “marked” as a tourist who isn’t familiar with the area and would be gone much of the day sightseeing and therefore be an easier target?
Speaking from only our experience, there is little crime to visitors and very seldom crimes while a home is occupied.

Many homes have alarm systems that help when a home isn’t occupied. Plus, many homes are in gated communities and that provides additional security.

Q: What do you believe sets your company apart from the others in the industry?
Oh, without a question, for a visitor it is the cleanliness and condition of our homes, and the service we provide. We are a service industry and we, as a company, have a standard of excellence we live up to every day. We practice excellence. You can rent a home anywhere, but you can’t rent the quality of home and the experience we provide anywhere. For our homeowner clients, it is the personal attention we give their homes and the frequent way we communicate. We are fair, ethical and practice integrity (that isn’t necessarily the case with all PM companies).

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.

*Linda Hennis-Saavedra is the Vice President, Sales and Marketing and owner of AAA SunState Management. Personally, she has spent 25 years in high-level management positions for service related companies, including Regional/District Manager, Director of Sales and Development and Sales Management. Linda has received numerous awards and recognition for excellence in management and in customer service excellence. She serves on the Board for the Central Florida United Way and chairs special committees for them. Linda just recently completed her term on the Board for the Polk County Chapter of the Red Cross.

Having purchased this company just under a year ago, she changed its name and created an Internet presence for it – launching it to the world. Having raised every aspect of quality and standards there were, the company is now known as one of the best property management and vacation rental companies in the Central Florida area with a customer satisfaction rate of 98%. Linda has made exceeding customer expectations her company’s daily mission.

  • Vacation home listings can be found in magazines, newspapers, online and through rental agencies and Realtors.
  • Explore Florida Vacation Rentals for your next vacation or to list your rental home.
  • 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 Web sites 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.