How to Book a Vacation Rental With Confidence: 19 Ways to Stay Clear of Vacation Rental Scams
Is it risky to book vacation rentals online? Are vacation rental scams common?
With more and more people booking vacation rentals online, it is unfortunate, but not surprising, that on occasion we hear about scammers who have found ways to weasle themselves into the picture, taking advantage of unsuspecting vacationers.
Fortunately, millions of people rent vacation homes every year, both from online travel agencies (OTAs) and directly from owners, and most have gone on without a hitch.
Here are 19 ways to properly vet properties online and avoid a vacation rental scam so you can have a safe and wonderful experience. (Get FREE cheat sheet here.)
How to book your next vacation rental online without getting burned: 19 ways to stay clear of vacation rental scams
1. Does the price of the vacation rental seem realistic?
If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Look at other comparable rentals in the area and see if the price makes sense.
That beachfront property for $3000 per week may seem like a steal but if other similar beachfront properties in the area are going for $20K per week, you probably need to run away. It could be an error on the site. Or, it could be a scam.
Utilities in Jamaica, for example, are very expensive. Properties near the sea bring high maintenance costs. Add in staff services on top of that and you can see why you should be careful of that “steal of a deal”. Expect to pay a fair price. To do otherwise will very likely result in a property that is well below expectations.
Read our blog post, Be Wary of Cheap Villas.
2. Is the property licensed?
Make sure you book a licensed property. Villas in Jamaica are required to be licensed. And, they are inspected once per year. This includes health, pool, fire, and safety inspections.
If you are renting from someone who does not even know what these inspections are, it is most likely not a registered property, which means that basics such as smoke detectors may be absent.
Additionally, since the COVID-pandemic, short term rentals accepting tourists are required to be certified COVID-resilient, meaning they have protocols in place specifically to address this issue.
Read our blog post on the value of renting a licensed Jamaica vacation rental.
3. Is the property verified by Google? Does it have a location on Google maps?
Google makes properties (businesses) jump through quite a few hoops to get verified, including confirmation of a special code that can only be obtained from a postcard mailed to the property’s postal address by Google. It would be one heck of a scam to fool Google.
4. Do the images on Google Earth match the images that you see of the exterior of the property and grounds on their website?
5. Is the property on other listing sites with credible and consistent descriptions?
Many owners who are serious about renting their property advertise in multiple places to increase their exposure.
Popular sites to be listed on include AirBnB, VRBO, Booking.com, TripAdvisor/FlipKey.
Many vacation rental scams have been associated with Craigslist. For this reason, we encourage potential renters to use extreme caution when renting this site.
6. Is the information about the property consistent across the internet?
The internet is your “in the know” friend. See what comes up when you search for the name of the property online. You should expect the information to pretty much be consistent from all sources. Be sure to ask about any inconsistencies.
7. Does the property have an official website?
From our research, scammers seem to focus more on creating fake listings and online ads. It appears to be less likely that a scammer would take the time to create and maintain a website. Even if they did, it probably would be fairly minimal. Plus, this would leave a digital trail for the authorities to follow.
Please note that the lack of a website does not mean that the property is a scam. I know many legitimate owners who market their properties via listing sites only.
8. How many photos are on the website? How recent are the photos?
Make sure the listing shows multiple photos. If not all the rooms are shown, ask for more pictures.
Don’t be so busy drooling over fancy photographs that you don’t realize there are only 4 photos of a 6 bedroom house.
Good quality professional photos generally means hosts who are serious about their business. But professional magazine style photography can set false expectations or be plain misleading.
9. Does the property have recent online reviews?
Read reviews on independent sites like Google, Facebook, AirBnB. Do they seem like they were written by real people or do they seem like they were written by friends and family.
For new properties without reviews, that is a challenge. We’ve been there. In fact, we remain very grateful to our first set of guests back in 2000 who took a leap of faith with us and rented the place although we didn’t have even one photo.
Since travel was basically shut down since February 2020, many properties, especially in fly-to destinations, will not have many reviews for most of 2020. Use the older reviews as a surrogate.
10. Does the property have valid social media accounts?
It would have to be one great big hoax for a scammer to also set up social media accounts for a fake property. Nevertheless, make sure that what you are seeing on social media supports the information that you are finding out elsewhere
11. Can you speak to a real live person about the property?
We know this is a Book-It Now or Instant Booking society but booking a home is very different from booking a hotel room.
Do not rely solely on the online listing or information in an email. Email addresses are easy to fake. You can get one on Gmail or Yahoo or any of those sites in two minutes for free. Company email address like firstname.lastname@example.org are harder more reassuring.
Talk to real person. The personal exchange will help you get a sense of the person from whom you are renting and also figure out if the home is a good fit for you.
Can you talk to a previous renter? This may be tough because for privacy reasons, many properties, especially high-end properties will not reveal their guest list.
12. Does the person from whom you are renting know the property and the area well?
Are they able to answer your questions or able to get answers to your questions? Are the answers consistent with what you are seeing online?
Access to insider knowledge of the property and location is part of the secret sauce to wonderful holidays at vacation rentals.
13. Is there an About Us page on the property’s website.
Read it. What is your gut feeling about the owners? Do you feel a connection with the owner(s)? Are they real people who care about your vacation?
14. Does the owner ask you to sign a rental agreement or do they want to rent based on a gentleman’s handshake?
Professional owners always want to have a rental agreement. This document lays out the terms and conditions of the rental so that both you and the owner are protected and know what is expected from each other.
15. Can you pay with a credit card?
For the best protection, always pay with either a credit card or PayPal.
Never pay with wire transfer, which is a big strategy that scammers use. A significant percentage of complaints to the Federal Trade commission (FTC) involve situations where money was wired to a ‘presumed owner’. This is especially true of wire transfers going to overseas banks.
16. Is the payment site secure?
Make sure to use a secure payment site. The url of the page for any payment should start with https://, not http://.
17. Do the rates seem similar to what you see elsewhere?
Again, this speaks to consistency. The rates might not be exactly the same because some owners have higher rates on sites that charge them higher commissions. Nevertheless, the rates should pretty much be in the same ballpark.
18. What sort of help is available if anything goes wrong during the vacation?
Remember you are renting a home, not a hotel. Appliances can break. Power could go out. Who will be there to help you? What commitment(s) have the owners made to your safety and security during your visit? A reliable listing will have real support for guests, as well as policies and procedures in place to handle such unexpected events.
19. When was the last time the owner actually visited the property themselves? How often does the owner visit the property?
Vacation rentals need love and attention to be properly maintained. Even if there is a property manager who oversees the home, the owner’s direct involvement, on some level, makes, or should make, a difference.
To avoid a vacation rental scam, should you book direct from owner or book through an OTA?
Regardless of whether you are booking directly from the owner or booking through an OTAs, we encourage you to feel comfortable with the answers to these 19 questions to dramatically reduce your chances of experiencing a vacation rental scam.
If you have any doubts about the vacation rental you are considering, don’t book.
If it makes you feel more comfortable, book through one of the OTAs. It will likely cost you more, one way or another; but, if you don’t mind, and it makes you feel safer, then, by all means, go ahead and book through them.
If you love our house and want to book it, we hope that you would feel safe enough to book directly with us rather than through an OTA. Regardless of your decision, we prefer that you book, and feel 100% confident with your choice, than to not book at all. Ultimately, we respect your decision and welcome you as our guest!
Can you think of any tips that we left out? Leave a comment. We will consider adding it when we next update the article.
Stay safe and Make it Jamaica soon!
‘Til next time.
Think and dream Jamaica!
Sherry, Darrell, and Darrian
Considering a visit to Jamaica with a group? Contact us today for more information about, Mais Oui Tennis & Spa Villa, our boutique 8-BR ocean view Jamaica villa rental experience in beautiful Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Perfect for multi-generational families and groups, retreats, and intimate destination weddings and vow renewals.
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