Whether you’ve got your eye on an Airbnb beach house or a HomeAway yurt, it’s important to vet the property and make sure your amazing vacation home rental reservation is legit.
By knowing what signs to look for when you’re ready to rent a home, you can avoid becoming the next victim of a travel scam. However, if you ignore the red flags, you could end up paying higher fees than you expected — or worse, find there’s nowhere to stay when you get to your destination.
Click through to see which red flags to watch out for when you book your next vacation rental so you can save money on your vacation.
1. No Reviews or Ratings
Reviews and ratings on popular travel sites can provide invaluable details about the property and what it’s like to rent from the property owner. If a listing appears to look like the average listing but has zero reviews and ratings, it could be a sign of a scam. Although a listing might be brand new and have no rental history, consider speaking with the owner about why it hasn’t been rented before.
2. Unclear or Inaccurate Fees
When property owners list vacation homes on sites like Airbnb or HomeAway, they’re required to disclose all fees upfront. If you use a third-party site to book the rental, it might impose hidden fees that could be listed somewhere else.
If fees for vacation homes are not listed — or the listing states that additional fees will be calculated later — consider this property a risky rental until you can verify the bottom line price.
3. No Cancellation or Rebooking Policy
Sites like HomeAway provide travelers with booking guarantee, but independent vacation property owners might not be so generous. Verify what the cancellation policy is to see if there are any rebooking fees should you need to change your reservation.
Everything needs to be disclosed up front and in writing when you sign the rental agreement. If these important details are missing, it could mean you’re working with someone who won’t follow through with the rental agreement — or honor a cancellation or rebooking request without a hassle.
4. Ridiculously High Cleaning Costs
Property owners set the cleaning fees for vacation rentals. Generally, smaller spaces start at about $50 to $60 for cleaning fees, but larger spaces might be as much as $200.
If you notice cleaning fees are much higher than expected — with no explanation why — you’re likely paying more than necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask the property owner what cleaning service he uses — you can request a quote on your own for an estimate.
5. No Deposit Required
If you stumble across the perfect property and find out the owner isn’t asking for a deposit for your reservation, you might be walking straight into a scam.
Legitimate property owners will ask for a deposit to make your reservation and will request full payment before you arrive, according to VRBO. Anything that differs from this standard process could be a major red flag.
6. No Address Listed
If you’re shopping independent listing sites or websites like Craigslist, you might come across vacation home rentals with professional-looking photos and clear descriptions. If there is no address listed, however, you might be looking at a property that doesn’t really exist on the rental market.
One easy way to verify if it’s a real property is to contact the owner and ask for the address. Do a Google Earth search for the exact address so you can see the physical building and determine if it’s the same one you saw in the listing.
7. Absurdly Low Prices
Very low prices for a vacation rental compared with similar properties in the area could be a sign of a scam. Like hotel rooms, vacation rental prices can fluctuate with the season, so any major price drops or increases should occur across all properties in the area.
If you find one property owner is listing a rental at a very deep discount, don’t be afraid to ask him why the rate is so low compared to other prices in the area. If the owner can’t provide a legitimate reason or you can’t get an answer, it could be a scam.
8. Property Owner Requires a Wire Transfer Deposit
If a property owner requests a wire transfer of funds to cover your deposit, it means you would be sending cash without any payment protection — the money is going straight from your bank account and your bank can’t protect you if you’re the one authorizing the transaction. If the property owner refuses to accept a credit card or PayPal payment — or use a service like DepositGuard to eliminate the risk of a bad transaction — you could be a victim of fraud.
“Never pay by wire transfers, never follow instructions to pay into a bank account if the homeowner claims to be affiliated with the booking site and watch out for a change in the email address you’ve been dealing with,” said Laurel Greatrix, TripAdvisor Rentals spokesperson. “If any of these things happen, cease communication with the homeowner and contact the rental company immediately.”
9. No Option to Tour the Property
If you live close enough to visit the area you plan to stay in, the property owner should be able to give you a tour of the property if it’s unoccupied. It never hurts to check out a listing in person. So if you can, schedule time to meet the owner and ask any questions in person. If the owner refuses to give you a tour, the listing could be fake.
10. High-Pressure Sales via Phone or Email
Booking vacation rentals over the phone or email is a sales strategy for many companies. It’s easy to be coerced into confirming a reservation that you might not actually want — or be able to afford — when you’re dealing with a high-pressure salesperson.
Politely end the call if you feel the salesperson is being too aggressive. Don’t end up being charged for a booking that you didn’t really authorize and have a hard time getting a refund.
11. Nonexistent or Negative BBB Reviews
Not all listings reveal the name of the rental company or manager behind them. If you can’t verify whom the property manager or rental company is, confirm those details so you can check reviews and Better Business Bureau information.
A limited liability rental company — one that has the letters “LLC” after its name — will likely have a business description and some reviews on the BBB website. If you can’t find any traces of a business entity or come across bad reviews, it might be a sign to steer clear of the rental.
12. No Secure Website for Credit Card Payments
Even if the property owner isn’t requesting a cash payment, money order or wire transfer, paying by credit card through the rental company’s website might not be a good idea. Make sure you’re providing payment over a secure payment portal or you run the risk of fraud.
Look for signs of a secure server. And if you’re not comfortable with making an online payment, ask the property owner to send you an alternative method of payment.
“You can also look for vacation rental properties that offer a payment guarantee, like TripAdvisor Rentals’ Payment Protection,” said Greatrix. “This will ensure you are paying securely and will cover you in the unlikely event that something goes wrong with your booking.”
13. Owner Doesn’t Disclose His Name
If you can’t find any instances of the property owner’s name in the listing but it looks like an independent owner wrote it, you might be dealing with a scam.
As a renter, it’s your job to verify the source of the listing and determine whether you’re comfortable doing business with the person who claims to own the property. If you can’t find anything about the person through a basic Google search and he doesn’t share his history with the property, proceed with caution.
14. Property Photos With Markings on Them
Many scam artists use photos and descriptions of real home listings from realtor websites to create fake ads on legitimate booking sites like HomeAway and VRBO, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Once the scammers receive money through PayPal or other safe payment gateways, they simply disappear.
When it’s time to book your vacation plans, look at the photos of a property very carefully. Any photos with the letters “MFRMLS” on them indicate they came straight from a realtor website.
15. Multiple Listings in Different Cities or Sites
If you’re shopping around for vacation home rentals on sites like Craigslist — where it’s easy to post anonymously and often for free — check the web for duplicate ads and listings. Some scammers might post a copycat listing of a certain property in several different cities but change the location.
You can find duplicates by doing a reverse Google Image search on the property photos or copying a portion of the ad text into the Google search bar to see where else it’s being posted.
16. A Lengthy Checklist of Amenities Are Not Included
When booking a vacation rental, it’s important to know exactly what you are going to get before you go.
Hugh Barton, president of LVH Global, a luxury home rental service said a trustworthy “rental service should have a lengthy and solid ‘checklist’ of amenities, like WiFi, a working safe, updated kitchen appliances, etc. This list is very indicative of the level of service you are about to receive.”
Always call and double check what amenities will be available to you when you arrive.
17. It Sounds Too Good to Be True
Have you ever seen a listing that looked and sounded absolutely perfect? Did it look something like this: “NICE ROOM !!! SUPER CHIC LOFT!!! YOU’LL LOVE IT!!!”
These claims are usually just hyped up distractions from their red flag listing. “Instead, look for listings where the user sounds professional with minimal use of slang and exclamation marks,” said Daniel Azizi, CEO of Normandie Law Firm. “Look for listings that contain more facts and less puffery.”
Too good to be true statements can also be a sign that you are on a fake site. “Often times, on a fake page, glowing descriptions and positive reviews are fake, and are put there to lure in gullible travelers,” said Nadezhda Demidova, lead web content analyst at Kaspersky Lab.
18. More Pictures of the Area Than the House
Looking for a vacation home rental near a landmark or destination? Beware of rental websites that have more photos of the outside of the house or local landmarks instead of the actual place you will be staying.
“Look for places that give you a good idea of what the property looks like prior to committing to booking,” said Jeff Walsh, co-founder of Nomo FOMO, a travel startup. If a rental home listing has more photos of a location, the actual rental will disappoint.
19. House Rules or List of Amenities Are in a Foreign Language or Broken English
When booking a vacation rental in a foreign country, there is a chance that the listing is in a foreign language. Not understanding what you are agreeing to is a huge red flag, obviously. Try running your listing through a translation app before you agree to anything. But be cautious — translation apps can often be incorrect when translating directly into English.
Similarly, poor spelling and grammar in a vacation rental listing could be a red flag. “I understand some people are not native speakers of English. But if the person did not even bother to spellcheck their listing, chances are, they also didn’t bother to make the place presentable for the next renter,” said Azizi. “Instead, look for listings where the user uses proper capitalization, proper grammar, proper spelling.”
20. The Vacation Rental Host Has Had Cancellations Before Guests Arrive
Do some vetting in the comments and reviews section on the rental website before you book. Look out for flakey hosts who cancel on guests last minute.
“Trying to find something last minute is stressful and usually costs more,” said Walsh. “If the owner has a lot of cancellations on guests, book with caution.”
21. Beware of New Properties
Staying in a brand new luxury vacation rental might sound amazing, especially if it boasts new beds, modern designs and a fresh atmosphere. Unfortunately, this could be a red-flag listing. Your just-built vacation home might not even be completed when you book.
“Sometimes things like AC or Internet might not work and you won’t know until you arrive,” said Walsh. So, ask for a video tour and if the amenities you need will be working when you arrive.
“You should look for a company that gives you the option to explore every nook and cranny of a home beyond showing you photos of the listing,” said Barton.
Priscilla Aguilera contributed to the reporting for this article.
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