Top 10 Vacation Rental Tips

In this economy, most of us are trying to cut corners wherever possible.

If you're planning a vacation, renting a luxury condo or house instead of staying in a hotel can save you big bucks. Plus, you'll have more space to relax and enjoy your home away from home. Renting a vacation home is an especially smart choice if you're traveling with a group of friend or with kids.

You can find some of the best bargains on vacation home rentals online if you know what to ask about and how to protect yourself as a renter.

Here are 10 tips to help you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Condo Vacation Rental in Scottsdale, Ariz.; photo by Karen Schaler

1. Choose a popular rental destination.

If you're looking for sensational savings your best bet is to choose a destination where there are a lot of vacation rentals on the market, keeping prices competitive. Some top locations in the United States for vacation rentals include: Arizona, California, Nevada, Florida, North Carolina and Hawaii.

For example, during the popular fall and winter months in Arizona, a hotel room can cost you more than $400 a night, but for the same price you can rent a two-bedroom vacation home for an entire week. When you get a vacation rental you also have your own kitchen, so you can cook some of your own meals, saving substantially.

2. Comparison shop.

Now it's easier than ever to comparison shop when you're looking to save on a vacation home rental. You can find some of the best rental home listings on the following four Internet sites. Always compare notes before signing any paperwork.

Vacation Home Rental on Atlantic Beach, Crystal Coast, N.C.; Photo courtesy of Crystal Coast Tourism Authority

3. Don't send money until you sign paperwork.

When renting a vacation home, never send anyone money until you've signed your rental paperwork. It's also a good idea to check out the person you are doing business with. Ask for references, and check out their Web site and their track record.

Many homes are run by professional real estate agents, so the rental paperwork should include all the legal details you need. If you're renting from the homeowner there should still be a lease for you to sign.

Read the fine print. Is there a cancellation policy if you have to leave early? Does it stipulate when you will get your deposit back? Spend the time up front checking things out so you won't have any hassles later.

4. Know exactly what's included.

Most rental homes will say "everything's included," but you want to double-check to be sure that there are no hidden surcharges. If utilities, Internet and cable are included, does this mean the property has WiFi and high-speed Internet? Is it basic cable or premium? If electricity is paid is there a cap? Many properties will say they include utilities, electricity and gas and then the fine print says it's included, up to the first $200.

Arizona realtor David Van Omen says you can't ask too many questions.

"If you're renting a home with a pool, make sure the pool is actually heated and find out beforehand who pays to heat the pool, because that can get expensive in the winter months," he says.

5. Have an emergency contact person.

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