Many people planning to travel wonder if you can really find a good deal for a vacation rental from listings found on Craigslist. The answer is not as simple as yes or no. The reality is that there are some gem vacation properties listed for rent; however, there are precautions and procedures everyone must look for when considering renting a vacation property from a Craigslist poster.
Here are 10 steps you should seriously take when searching for the right vacation rental on Craigslist:
1. How Many Photos Are Posted?
Most Craigslist ads let the poster include up to 8 photos. If there is only one picture of the outside and nothing showing the interior, it could have been taken by a passerby trying to rent out a property that he or she does not actually own. If it’s a real deal, the owners will be happy to show off the inside and outside of the property and give a detailed description in the ad.
2. Send Someone Over If You Can
There is nothing like a personal inspection of the property to tell the whole story. If you have a friend, relative or realtor in the area, ask if you can have someone give them a quick tour. The refusal to let you or someone on your behalf inspect the property is a red flag.
3. Can’t Skype/Won’t Skype
As an alternative to an in-person visit, as Skype live tour should do. If the person says they can’t possibly do this, it could be a warning. If they have a rental property that goes for $100 or more per night but the person or person mysteriously states that they don’t have access to a laptop or other device with a webcam to give you a virtual tour, something is amiss. It may be that the property next door is under construction and they don’t want you to see the bulldozers lined up just steps from the rental property. The loud booming of sand trucks and forklifts racing in an out can put a damper on your experience.
4. The Grammar Changes
Some folks have less than stellar English skills; however, if the ad is written in perfect English and the first e-mail is proper, but answers to your additional questions that are “off script” seem odd and indecipherable or worse, hostile, you’ve contacted the wrong person.
5. Who Really Owns It?
Be sure to get the name of the person who owns the property and look them up online. For example, if you are considering renting a condo on Cocoa Beach, FL, the Brevard County Tax Assessor’s Office should have the current owner on file as public record, searchable on the internet. There have been many vacation rental scams, not just on Craigslist, where hapless vacationers have gotten off the plane, piled into a rental car and showed up at an address where they were not at all expected. It’s the internet version of one of the oldest scams in the book, renting out a property you don’t own and taking off with the money.
Once you have the exact address, do a map or Google Earth search to see if it really is close to the beach, or the ski lodges or whatever the attraction you seek to be near. Does “close to Disney” mean 15 miles or 50? Map it.
7. Use a Credit Card/No Cash/No Moneygrams
If a renter wants you to make a deposit by Moneygram or cash, you are probably being set up for a scam. Insist on paying with a credit card, that way if a problem happens, you have some recourse to dispute the charges if there’s a problem. Many vacationers have been “taken” by the MoneyGram scam. If the renter is legitimate, it will have a way to take your credit card payment. If they say they can’t, but the price is too good to seem true, tell them you will pay upon arrival and after you have access to the property. If that’s a problem, and they insist on you wiring cash up front, turn them down.
8. Beware of the House Swap
Vacation home swaps can be an inexpensive way to cut rental expenses; however, doing this with total strangers via Craigslist is risky. There have been cases where potential squatters advertise a property that either doesn’t exist or one that they are about to be evicted from. You end up facing an angry landlord and they end up squatting in your home, perhaps for a long time, while you work to get them out. You did leave them the key after all.
9. Tenant References
Most property owners or agents who rent out vacation properties can give you references from people who have stayed at the property you will be renting. Do your own sleuthing online. If someone had a bad experience staying at a certain property, they might have blogged or posted about it. Internet searches only take a few minutes and since this is your vacation, and your money, it pays to do your homework.
10. Pin Down the Unit
Some vacation unit properties are huge, and you may have a cabin that has mountain views, or one that faces the dumpster. It pays to ask for a floor plan of a large vacation rental resort. Just because you are staying at an ocean property, doesn’t mean it will be ocean front. You may have to walk through a bad neighborhood and turn right and then left to find the beach.
Extra: Women/Students Traveling Alone
You want to make your girl’s reunion trip or Spring Break the best ever but look for property rentals with caution. There are predators out there that use vehicles like Craigslist to lure unsuspecting teens and other travelers to them for nefarious purposes. If an ad says “Spring Breakers Only” or “Females Only” be very wary. If the ad references anything about a bikini contest, drinking, drugs, or a star search or auditions going on at the property, skip that ad! If it is an overseas hostel, be particularly on your guard and only stay in popular ones approved by the city or council.