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How to Read Online Vacation Rental Listings - and Find the Perfect Property

OK - it's time for you to search for your next vacation rental property. If you're like me, you probably go straight to Google or the website of your favorite rental company, such as Summit Mountain Rentals.

Before starting your search, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for, but there are still a ton of questions you still want answers to, especially if you’re trying to plan a trip for multiple people or families. Truly knowing the property you are booking is very important. After all, it's your job to make sure everyone is pleased with the lodging arrangements you chose - and if you mess up, you’ll never hear the end of it!

Finding all the answers you're looking for online can be challenging. There are plenty of vacation rental companies (and large booking sites such as VRBO and Airbnb) who have the information you’re looking for listed on their websites. But the quality and accuracy of that information can vary!

A picture is worth a thousand words … and the more, the better
Just like the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Seriously, it is. A good picture can go along way by giving you a better look inside the property you want to rent. High-definition photos will allow you to see the better side of the property.

For instance, take a look at the pictures of this 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo in Breckenridge. The pictures are bright, clear and in focus. And, there are lots of them! You get multiple views of the living area, kitchen/dining area, and both bedrooms and bathroom. Plus, there are several outside shots to give you a sense of condo’s location, plus some great shots of the properties amenities including the pool, hot tubs and workout rooms. In this case, “what you see is what you get” … and you’re getting a lot! Make sure that the listings you look at don’t just tell you what’s included with the property; you want to see pictures, too

Let's get specific
When you’re looking for a vacation rental home, there are a lot of specifics you need to know. In addition to great views, a fireplace, a hot tub and other amenities, is the equipped with appropriate appliances, such as a crock-pot, toaster or icemaker? How many TVs does the property have? Are they LCD and/or high definition? How about Blu-ray players?

A good property manager will make sure that information is available for you.  These types of things can usually be found in the property’s long description or listed under amenities. (Check out this great luxury home listing and click on the "Amenities" tab.) When it comes to vacation rental home specifics, there’s no such thing as too much information.

Ratings and reviews
You need to truly understand a unit’s quality rating, e.g., "luxury," "premium," "deluxe," "moderate" and "basic." What exactly do these terms mean? A good vacation rental website will explain the terms to you, as Summit Mountain Rentals does here. If a detailed breakdown of the quality ratings is not listed on the company’s website, then call and ask them. And if the answers seem a little vague and "loosy goosy," you might want to look elsewhere.  

I also recommend that you check out the property’s reviews. This will give you a picture of how others felt about the unit and the company. People love to talk about their vacations, whether their experience was good, bad or somewhere in between. And they definitely love to talk about their experience, if it was a bad one. But always keep in mind: There are just some people in this world that you’ll never be able to please. If you see a negative review, see if the company responded to the negative review professionally and if they made an effort to correct the situation. Also, if a property or company has 50 glowing reviews and one horrible review, the reviewer might have an ax to grind that has nothing to do with the quality of the property or company.

Location, location, location!
Location is probably the biggest deciding factor for vacation rental bookings.  The location of a property has to be convenient for you and your family or group. Whether you’re looking for a ski-in/ski-out property, a property within two blocks of Main Street or a quiet, remote getaway in the woods, you want to know exactly where you’ll be, right?

Most property management companies will include a map with their listings, but sometimes old-fashioned maps just don’t cut it. Look for websites with Google maps on every property listing that allow you to zoom in and out and truly get a sense for the property’s location.

Recognize red flags
When you’re looking at property listings online, there are a few words that might (or might not) be red flags. For example, the word "cozy." What exactly does that mean? Does it mean "intimate and comfortable" or does it mean "small and cramped"? Another example is the word "affordable." Is the property actually "a good deal" compared to similar properties or is it a "cheap dump"? These are things you can easily figure out by either looking at pictures (again, another reason why lots of good pictures are important) or by asking the property manager for more information.

You deserve to know!
The bottom line is: You deserve to know everything about the properties you're considering plonking down your hard-earned cash to rent. The best online property listings will provide you with:

  • Great pictures — not only of the inside of the property, but of the outside and amenities such as hot tubs, swimming pools and more.
  • A complete list of other amenities — kitchen appliances, TVs, etc.
  • Unit quality rating.
  • Unit reviews.
  • A Google map of the property’s location.

If you don’t find the information you need, call or email the property manager. If they reply in a prompt, courteous, professional manner, that’s a good sign. But if you finish looking at an online rental listing with ALL your questions answered? Well, that’s even better!