Services like VRBO and Airbnb have changed the way people plan their vacations.
Amateur hoteliers can now list their properties alongside the professionals. Booking a vacation home rental through a part-time landlord is only a few clicks away. But what does that mean for the guest? Explore the potential challenges on the frontier of interpersonal commerce, and find out if these by-owner rentals are right for you.
Sharing is Caring
The internet has changed the way we do just about everything. Ditching face to face meetings in favor of snippets of text, turning romance into a simple swipe to the right, and enabling us to buy novelty items from the comfort of our underwear at 3 a.m. are just a few of the wondrous things the internet has done for the modern world. With the advent of the “sharing economy,” we can now hire each other as taxis, go on errands for each other, and even share our homes with each other. Services like VRBO and Airbnb give internet shoppers the chance for peer to peer hospitality, and often provide a more cost-effective way to travel than using a hotel or property manager. Occasionally, renting a home or condo from an individual, rather than a company, can lead to exciting surprises—and not in the good way.
The Hospitality Ecosystem
Park City enjoys a robust hospitality ecosystem, with teeming herds of private homes, condominiums, and condominium hotels. Most of these units are owned by individuals looking to reap a rich harvest from their vacation properties. Many of these owners choose not to partner with a property management company, preferring to go their own way with their own property. A quick trip to Google reveals dozens to hundreds of one-off listings for Park City condominiums for rent, from one-bedroom affairs in an obscure part of town to four-or-more-bedroom behemoths on prime real estate. How many of these listings are legitimate? How many of them actually look like the pictures?
We get plenty of horror stories each year from guests who arrived to find that their accommodations were not as advertised. One recent visitor shared her unusual experience with a private homeowner. What was advertised as a four-bedroom home with four beds turned out to be four beds crammed into one room of a locked-off house. Despite seemingly thorough pre-stay research, the guest was left in the lurch. This particular trip ended in a time-consuming detour to small claims court. Hardly an ideal vacation.
Overbookings and the Little Touches
Here in Park City, demand is not flat. Some periods of the year are much busier than others. Christmas, Presidents’ Day weekend, and the annual Sundance Film Festival are hotly contested occasions. Massive crowds pour in from all over to enjoy all Park City has to offer. Some homeowners have their property listed on multiple home-sharing markets, and can accidentally book in multiple parties at once. This might be an honest mistake, but it means that what you purchased online could be suddenly unavailable. For a peak period, Park City might be entirely sold out. There’s no running down the road to a nearby hotel for a last-second booking.
These independent homeowners mean well, they just aren’t very good at getting their schedule straight. One group might get bounced, or shunted to a different property that is less desirable in terms of location or amenities. Check-in or cleaning timetables might conflict, leaving guests with long waits or untimely visitors. There are plenty of small ways that the guest experience can suffer under the less-than-able hand of the amateur hotelier, from insufficient bedding and poorly cleaned kitchens to unexpected toilet paper shortages and light bulb blowouts. They don’t ruin the visit, per se, but these little difficulties can certainly tarnish an otherwise pleasant stay. The last thing you want to do on your vacation is run to the store to grab some TP because the homeowner forgot to replenish his basic necessities between guests.
There are ways to avoid many of the headaches that can arise from the use of services like Airbnb, VRBO, or Craigslist.
Check the Reviews
First of all, check out your prospective hosts. The larger sites give stats on how long the renter has been doing business and the estimated time it takes to hear back from the owner. Best of all, these sites offer user-generated reviews. Take the time to look at the reviews, as these are the most valuable way to avoid a scam. Pick a host with an established history of excellence (or at least competence). Avoid those with a habit of disappointing their guests.
Don’t assume anything about your rental. Ask questions, even over the small stuff, like basic amenities. We spoke with a recent traveler who told us her condo had come with no sheets or towels. She was able to reach the owner, who informed her that the linens were in the closet. What he neglected to mention was that the closet was locked, and it took him until the next day to send someone by to unlock it. Nothing says dream vacation like a bare mattress and wet hands, right?
Use a Professional
You can always eschew the home-sharing economy altogether and stick with an established company. The professionals are professional for a reason. An actual property manager has the skills and experience to cope with problems and handle the rigors the hospitality industry. When a property is overbooked, when a room doesn’t meet expectations, when a toilet clogs, when the neighbors knock a hole in the wall, or any other possible oddity, the property manager is there. Alternate accommodations, maintenance staff, maid service, and more come part and parcel with the professional experience. Property managers are equipped to fix your problem, and get your getaway back on track. A real management service just has more at their disposal than a private homeowner who is basically making things up as they go along. Stay Park City, for example, is the best of both worlds—vacation rentals operated by trusted professional property management companies.
Choose Your Own Way
Sure, you can save a buck through VRBO or Airbnb. But you could also lose your shirt. The sharing economy is currently the Wild West of commerce. There are unforgettable experiences to be had in booking your vacation rental through a private individual on the internet. But unforgettable comes in two flavors. Exercise a little caution, and it could be a dream vacation. Get unlucky, and it could be a nightmare. If the luck of the draw element to this brave new world of hospitality isn’t really your style, the professionals are always there to help make your choice a little bit easier to manage.