Sunday, February 16, 2014

How to Avoid Being Ripped Off or Scammed when Renting a Vacation Home.

Every season, our vacation rental management company gets calls from travelers, who had booked with another owner desperate to find a rental because the one they rented does not exist or is booked already (by the legitimate owner, most likely). They are stranded, with high expectations and huge disappointments, as well as anger for being scammed on a “vacations by owner” website or Craigslist.

ABC News recently ran a story on 20/20 outlining how vacation rental scams or ripoffs are becoming more common.

In most cases, the money was wired to a foreign bank account or money transfer company never to be seen again.  A credit card was never used. These vacationers are tired, out of money and homeless at the moment and looking for a solution.  We have helped guests in some cases and in others if we are sold out, we suggest a hotel as a quick fix. Regardless, as a professional vacation rental company manager and a vacation rental owner, I cannot imagine how a guest must feel in this situation.  However, just like the internet is called “The Wild Wild West” of our time, then the folks riding the horses looking for a vacation ranch have to look out!

I have owned vacation rentals as well as rented them myself through Vacation Rentals By Owner, Flipkey or management companies and have had mostly decent experiences.  I have also had hundreds of emails from potential “guests” asking for address information so they can send our company a certified check (for more than the rental, send back the difference…usually addressed to us as Mr. or Ms.) and you know the rest of the story. Delete, Delete, Delete!

So it goes both ways…

The last time I rented through a management company, I had an interesting experience.  Since we rented last minute, the Chat price, referred to as “CHAT” did not catch up with the price they charged me and we were overcharged.  The management company had to “review” the CHAT before they credited my account. The check in instructions did not arrive via email until after we got on the road, however we were instructed to download an APP with the info.  We had what we thought were the codes and addresses (initial documents upon booking and payment) and all, but it turned out we had the address to the unit, but the code to the “Post Office”...I mean management office door, now known as “FORT KNOX” (yes the company had bought an old Post Office)  It was like FORT KNOX when we got there (we went to the unit first because we couldn't find FORT KNOX initially).  Problem was the instructions did not give us the code to the key box inside of FORT KNOX.  So we tried the APP.  It did not work on my Android phone…OOPS! However my friend had an IPhone and we were golden (as in getting into FORT KNOX!). Got our Key and left FORT KNOX.  We already knew where the unit was because we had been there already.  


First thing we noticed when we got back there however, was a sign that we needed a parking pass or we would be towed.  We figured we would be okay since everything else had gone wrong…Wrong!  No, we did not get towed (we went in the next morning to the office and picked one up, they were not too happy with the management company however), we just could not find our unit because the numbers were not in sequence.  At this point we needed wine desperately, so we went against math logic and figured it out.  Well the unit was on the second floor without an elevator. That was okay. I like going up stairs with luggage, computers, Trader Joe's 2-Buck Chuck and K-cup coffee makers.

Key works!

We get in and it looks the same as the pictures with a great ocean view.  Wine gets open first and then we discover that the unit only has one full bath!  It was advertised as a 2 bedroom, 2 Bath condo on the beach.  I am okay with that.  My associate wanted her own bath.  More wine, please!

Before I go on…This was a working trip, so we were not there on vacation and really just needed a place to sleep and blow dry our hair.  NOT…The power downstairs went out at 8 AM the next morning.  This included the kitchen, half bath (the one that should have been a full bath), AC unit and Shore Dreams Vacation Rental Central on the dining room table.  So we called the management company’s’ number and got a very nice person on the phone.  “Oh sorry you are having issues. Did you check the Breaker Box?” she asked. “There is no visible Breaker Box,” I replied.  Anyway, I told her we had to go to work and that they could come over and fix it without us there.  “And by the way, the AC is out and it is 80 degrees…” I added. (I think she really thought I was clueless not being able to find the Breaker Box.  She kept on saying it was behind the refrigerator?)

Remember, I run a medium size vacation rental company, Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals, and I know how to troubleshoot most issues including Breaker Boxes hidden behind fake Picassos.  There was NO Breaker Box and it was HOT.

That afternoon we got back to the unit and the electricity was on but the AC was not.  Also a Phantom Doorknob to a Phantom Door had been broken (hollowed out) and the door was unlocked.  I notice these things! Upon opening, we discovered a lock out unit downstairs with a kitchen and bedroom!  And low and behold, there was our other bathroom and the Breaker Box!  We were cool and did not use the bathroom we paid for, regardless.

I called again that night and told them that the AC was still not working and they said that they sent him over during the day, but since we weren't there and he did not have a key he could not get in and that it was our fault that we weren't there!  With my inside voice, I told her that we were working and that no one told us that we had to be there and even if we knew and could, we couldn't. Outside voice came later…

To make a long story short, the AC unit was not fixed until the next day and I requested a full day refund.  They only gave me $50 refund for the AC being out for almost 2 days because I had already received a discount in the CHAT.  Guess I was pushing it after the CHAT discount?

They did admit that they had advertised the unit wrong and that it only had one full bath. Really?

So in conclusion, be it vacations by owner or with a management company the moral of the story is never pay by certified check, wired funds or use the HUGE management company, located in the FORT KNOX building, that we used on the East Coast of Florida for our working trip!  But I am not mentioning any names…

RenataCirceo-Loudon is the founder and owner of Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals. Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals is a Florida Panhandle company specializing in affordable family and pet friendly vacation condos and homes in Destin, Sandestin, 30-A, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach and St. Augustine, Florida as well as Atlanta and Eatonton, Georgia. In addition to welcoming thousands of guests and their furry kids from all over the world, Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals provides owners with full service property management options in the Florida Panhandle, St. Augustine Beach and Georgia’s Lake Country. Email us at for more information.