Earlier this month, we “vacation rented” for the first time. We found a Santa Cruz house in which to spend our week off, made the arrangements and then vacationed there.
The concept sounds so simple, so practical, especially for a large group of compatible people. We’d all stay in one place, which presumably would be equipped with things that distinguish a vacation rental from most hotels: More privacy and space, a living room, a dining table, beach towels, frying pans, spatulas, wine glasses (and an opener) and maybe even a novel or two.
But the road to finding that nirvana was laced with potholes large enough to swallow a VW.
The first step was the hardest: We spent many frustrating hours of intense research to find a Santa Cruz house we wanted to rent.
After days of studying home pages for each house, we finally found several we all liked — and a whole bunch we didn’t.
Eventually, we picked our winner. Its online calendar indicated the house was available. We gleefully filled out and sent the e-forms.
Then we waited. And waited. Meanwhile, other possible sites were filling up rapidly.
Days later, the owner got back to us. “Oh dear, so sorry. We just now rented the house for that week.” Uh huh, right.
I began to think wistfully about the ease of booking hotel rooms instead, but other family members really wanted to have all of us in the same house.
Back to click, click, read, study. “Nope, won’t work.” Click, click, squint, read, study. “Might work, but I don’t like it.”
We finally found and rented our dream-home-away-from-home. It was way above our original budget, but after rationalizing the price of four hotel rooms plus meals out for eight people, the cost wasn’t quite so heart-stopping.
Here are some vacation-renting suggestions:
1. As one “how to” Web page said, “Unless you already know the house you want to rent or the agent you want to rent from, the process will take longer than you think it will. You will get crossed eyes from scrolling through page after page of small pictures and smaller type extolling the virtues of houses you’ll probably never see.”
2. Read the reviews, knowing ahead of time that many postings will be by people with gripes to air.
3. Ask for and study the rules, which change from house to house. Make sure you’re OK with the requirements (ours wanted us to dump the trash, do the dishes, strip the beds and wash a load of towels before we left).
4. Determine whom you’re to contact (and how) if there are problems, and then ask a question using that contact before you sign the agreement. Then see how long it takes to get a response back.
5. Make sure you have an easy rapport with the owners or managers. It’s a short relationship, but intense, and you want to be comfortable contacting them at 8 a.m. if the hot water’s cold, or at 9 p.m. when the lights go out unexpectedly.
6. Find out what isn’t included. We asked for a kitchen inventory, to make sure the house had a toaster, blender, coffeemaker, microwave, etc. It did — but only because the manager went out and bought a toaster.
And the house we rented? For all its 1970s quirks, it was as close to perfect as we could have asked.
Yes, one of the bathrooms was the size of a phone booth and had a strange little semi-triangular shower designed for only Tinkerbell-sized occupants.
But so many things about the house were so right that the things that weren’t didn’t matter as much. And oh my, that view!
We sensed we were sharing someone’s much-loved home, something confirmed later by expert vacation-rental manager Liz Pickart of BeachNest .com: The house has been owned, used and adored by three generations of the same family.
We now feel as if we know them and were their guests.
No, we’re not giving up entirely on hotels, especially for just two of us. There’s something really lovely about room service, swimming pools, hot tubs, exercise rooms and someone else changing the sheets.
But we do want the same vacation rental again for when my aunt comes to visit from North Carolina. We know she’ll love it, just as we did.