March 6, 2012 -- My husband's family has a vacation rental property in Corolla, N.C., in the northern part of the Outer Banks. During a casual conversation about a time we might plan to go to the house, he said, "Well, we have to go in September. There's only one week between Memorial Day and Labor Day that hasn't rented, and I'm sure it will go soon."
Hold on a second. It's March, right? I had this article scheduled for the first week in April, and even then I wondered if it would be a bit on the early side. Turns out even the travel expert can be caught by surprise on travel-related matters from time to time.
The bottom line? If you're planning to rent a vacation house this summer, do it now.
Jon Gray, Vice President of U.S. Business for HomeAway, says the site's average booking window is 90 days out. So if you're planning to rent a house for Memorial Day weekend, you're already behind the curve.
The rental market started earlier this year because of the warm weather, according to Paul Brennan, Hamptons Regional Manager of Prudential Douglas Elliman. But in good news for procrastinators, he also says there's more inventory this year than last.
While Brennan specializes in the high-end Hamptons market awhile Gray's site offers properties in many destinations and price ranges, there's much they agree on when it comes to renting a vacation home, starting with when to book: As soon as possible, if you're set on a particular house or location.
But there's a catch. "Generally the early bird catches the worm but you also pay for it," said Brennan. "The late comers play Russian Roulette, usually paying less but not getting the ideal location or house."
He also cautions against renting a property without seeing it first. "Photographs can hide many important details about a property," he said. "Rule of thumb is: Do not rent it unless you see it. Period."
But what if the vacation destination is a long distance away, and seeing a property just isn't practical?
"Almost all potential problems with a vacation rental stay can be avoided if travelers take the time to read reviews from previous guests and spend a few minutes to call the homeowner and chat about the property," said Gray. "Calling the owner is vital to finding out little details about the home, like how close it is to the beach, what items come stocked in the property and if there are additional views of the property not reflected in the photos on the listing."
When it comes to renting a vacation home and making sure you get what you want, honesty is the best policy, according to Brennan.
"Always disclose your situation and expect the same from the landlord. Transparency up front, on [the part of] the tenant, landlord and broker will save a great deal of frustration and potential litigation later on," said Brennan.
Here are three 'must-dos' before booking a summer rental:
1. Assume nothing, and ask lots of questions.
Are there any impediments to quiet enjoyment? Will the house be professionally cleaned prior to occupancy? Has the landlord returned the security with no issue in the past to tenants who have been responsible? Is the security kept in a separate escrow account? Does the property come equipped with with linens, paper products, condiments, etc?
2. Get it in writing.
All vacation home owners have their own policies regarding check-in/out times, cancellations, rules about having guests over, etc. Make sure everything is expressly stated in a rental agreement and that you're fully aware of all the details.
3. Get the name of a local contact.
In case of an emergency, it's always best to have a second phone number for the homeowner or the name of a local contact (if the owner doesn't live in town). Having this information will make it easy to resolve any potential problems that may arise while staying in the property.
"The process of booking a vacation rental isn't as cut and dry as it with a hotel," said Gray. "When booking a vacation home rental you do need to put in a little more effort to ensure a property is right for you."