Over Labor Day weekend, we were meeting some friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had looked into hotels, but remembering that I have some friends who rent vacation homes, I decided to look into that option instead.
Since my friends list their homes on vrbo.com, I thought that would be a good place to start. It is very easy to navigate. You simply put in the location where you’d like the home, the dates you’d like to stay, and up comes a list complete with either per night or per week pricing. That list can be narrowed down by numerous criteria. For example, we wanted a house with at least 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms since we had 6 adults and 2 kids traveling so I entered that criteria. Had I wanted to, though, I could have narrowed down my search even further to homes with pools, homes that allow pets, and more.
Now that I had a short list, I could go look at each home more closely. The owner gives not only a written description of the home, but there are also sections toward the bottom of each listing that give an at-a-glance itemization including the types of beds in each bedroom, whether the bathrooms have showers or tubs or are half baths, as well as other amenities in the home like wi-fi, number of televisions, DVD players, game systems, a pool table, etc.
Once I decided that a home might be right for us, I clicked on the detailed price on the right of the screen. This is important. While the initial listing does give the per night or per week pricing, there are usually other fees the renter must pay as well. For example, some owners require a refundable deposit. Others charge a cleaning fee, others charge for spa or pool heating, and some even require an insurance purchase.
An important part of my search was the reviews left by other renters. There is a rating system from 1 to 5 stars and each home shows its average rating. The actual written reviews are also provided. While I understand that one or two bad reviews doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with the home or the owner, a string of bad reviews certainly is likely indicative of something. In addition, I read the reviews, especially the negative ones, to see if they were legitimate. Sometimes I saw that renters had unrealistic expectations.
Now that I found a house that met my criteria and was a price we were willing to pay, it was time to book. Because these are all individually owned, there is no one way to book a home. For the one in Santa Fe, the owner participated in VRBO’s “Book It Now” system, so I was able to click on the Book It Now button, put in my information, and reserve the home (pending owner approval which can take up to 24 hours). I have also booked future stays at homes in Las Vegas and Anaheim and they were done differently. The Las Vegas owner emailed me a contract instead. In addition, payments were done differently. One asked for full payment up front and another asked for a deposit upon booking and remainder due 30 days out. It’s important to read all the fine print to know what each individual owner/property requires.
For our home in Santa Fe, we met the owner at the home upon arrival and he gave us a tour of the home and keys. This may be what is normally done, but not always. For example, the owner of the home in Las Vegas has already informed me that he will be providing an electronic code that will unlock the door to that home. What does seem to be standard is what is provided. All the homes I looked at provide bed linens, both bath and kitchen towels and washcloths, as well as most kitchen dishes, cookware, and utensils. The house we stayed in also provided small toiletries like you’d get in a hotel, sugar packets for coffee, salt and pepper, and a few other non-perishable items, but I don’t know if that is the norm. If in doubt, there is a button to email the owner on the right side of every listing.
We are definitely going to be renting vacation homes more often in the future. In addition to the additional space, privacy, and some food savings since we could cook our own meals, it has also been cheaper. For example, our home in Santa Fe was $300 per night. Split between the 3 families, we only had to pay $100 per night! That was less than even moderate hotels in the area. I can’t wait to see what our next home away from home looks like!