Spurred in part by the popularity of Airbnb and HomeAway, the vacation rental market has boomed in recent years, and now makes up a large – and still growing – part of the travel industry. Indeed, according to Dublin’s Research and Markets, the vacation rental market will be worth nearly $170 billion by 2019; it’s already valued around $100 billion right now.
It’s easy to see why they’re on the rise. Vacation rentals are an affordable alternative to more traditional vacation options, and they give travelers a more authentic, lived-in experience than, say, a hotel room, a sprawling resort property, or an insulated cruise ship.
But now, journalists and consumer protection experts are offering the same advice they’ve long given to travelers making use of timeshares and hotel rooms: “buyer beware.”
As Christopher Elliott writes for USA Today, “vacation rentals are a hit-or-miss proposition, perhaps now more than ever.” Why? As Elliott suggests, we live in a world where “everyone’s trying to get into the vacation rental business;” it’s never been easier to offer your home up for a quick buck, and consumers may find a lack of quality control to match the increasing glut of options.
There are no industry standards, and many organizations are only now catching up to consumer demands by offering virtual tours or 3D floor plans to prospective customers, or by screening potential rental homes with in-person inspections.
Still, Elliott writes, the only real solution for consumers is to “assume absolutely, positively nothing when you rent a home. Nothing.” He explains:
“Unless your vacation rental manager specifically says something is included in your rental — such as linens, a coffeemaker or a microwave oven — you should assume it won’t be there. Don’t take for granted that the unit is in a safe neighborhood or even that it looks like the gorgeous photo from the website.
Research the rental as if you’re buying it. Look for the red flags. Do business with someone you trust — either an owner you personally know or a brand you trust. Otherwise, there’s no telling what might await you.”
Those red flags? Elliott offers a few warning signs that a vacation rental listing may be “too good to be true;” he urges consumers to watch out for prices that seem too low (does the rental compare to other, comparable options in the area, or is it dramatically lower for no apparent reason?); overly staged photos; and an abundance of “code words” (are the owners overly descriptive about some things but not others? Do they rely on real estate clichés like “cozy” in place of “cramped?”).
One last important consumer protection piece of advice? As Elliott says, “never, ever wire money.” For more, we encourage you to read the full USA Today piece here.
Led by Attorney Michael D. Finn with 50 years of experience, the Finn Law Group is a consumer protection firm specializing in timeshare law. Our lawyers understand vacation ownership as well as the many pitfalls of the secondary market of timeshare resales. If you feel you have been victimized by a timeshare company, contact our offices for a free consultation. Know your rights as a consumer and don’t hesitate to drop us a line with any questions or concerns.