Vacation rental is smart

May 13, 2007|By Gregory Karp | Gregory Karp,Morning Call

Summer-vacation planning often involves exploring and choosing among hotels and motels. But you have other choices for accommodations.

Whether headed to the beach, the mountains, a lake or a theme park, more families are renting full vacation houses, cabins and villas. Rental homes, besides being much more spacious and with more amenities, can be less expensive than renting a hotel room.

In fact, renting a house instead of a hotel room is often a better choice, contends Christine Karpinski, author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner and Profit from Your Vacation Home Dream: The Complete Guide to a Savvy Financial and Emotional Investment.

Karpinski's books are aimed at vacation-property owners, and she has a financial stake in vacation-rental Web site But she highlights persuasive arguments for considering home rentals instead of hotel rooms.

Renting a house or condominium is a familiar concept for those who vacation in some parts of the country, such as East Coast beach locations. But in other regions, the idea of renting a vacation home is just catching on.

"It's a much bigger industry in Europe than here, but it's really been growing in the past 10 years in the U.S.," Karpinski said.

A vacation-home rental might be the smartest way to spend your vacation dollars. Here's what to consider:

Size of your party. Generally, if you are traveling with enough people that you have to get at least two hotel rooms, a home rental would be cheaper. You'll get a lot more space, often with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, and bigger living and dining areas.

In some expensive markets, rentals are cheaper than a single hotel room of comparable luxury. Envision a 250-square-foot hotel room with two double beds and a rollaway for the same price as a 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom house.

"For someone with two, three or four kids, staying in a couple of hotel rooms just isn't fun," Karpinski said.

With more space, you will be comfortable just relaxing, rather than feel like you have to be out of the small hotel room and on the go. And people accustomed to their 3,000-square-foot houses, or larger, might feel cramped in a hotel room all week.

"When we go on vacation, we don't want any less than we have at home," she said.

Eating in. Having a kitchen in a vacation rental means you will have to eat out less. Dining out for every meal is not only expensive and time-consuming but also can be a hassle if you have a large group or young children.

"You might say you want to eat out for every meal, but do you want to, really?" Karpinski said.

Sometimes, a quick breakfast of coffee and cold cereal or a bagel before hitting the beach might be more enjoyable than waiting for a table at a restaurant every morning.

Amenities. With a vacation rental, you won't have daily housekeeping, concierge service, room service dining and a fitness center, but you might have use of a grill on a patio, beach chairs and beach toys, bicycles and kitchen appliances and utensils. You also might have a free washer and dryer, which allows you to pack fewer clothes.

Vacation rentals are more likely to have video players, board games and books to keep kids occupied on rainy days. And, like many hotel rooms, rentals might have Internet access included.

Minor chores. With vacation rentals, you might have to put sheets on the beds when you arrive and take out the garbage during the week, among other small tasks. Of course, that's unnecessary with hotels.

Privacy. A vacation rental's walled-off rooms with doors means adults can steal some "alone time," away from children or other people in the vacation party. And separate rooms can facilitate young children's naps and early bedtimes.

Pets. Many vacation rentals allow pets, which can save you money on kennel costs. In general, rentals that allow pets will be nicer than hotels that do, Karpinski said.

Ease of reservations. Hotels win on this count because you can call toll-free numbers any time or book on the Internet. But booking vacation rentals has become easier with such Web sites as and its affiliates,, and

Though jointly owned, the sites don't contain the same listings and can't be searched together. Other sites are and, and you can find more with an Internet search engine.

"There are hundreds of thousands of properties for rent on the Internet," Karpinski said.

That also means it is more time-consuming to search through home rentals, though potentially more fun, than deciding on a hotel.

Flexibility. Pay-by-the-night hotels offer the most time flexibility, and you can cancel on short notice. But you don't always have to commit to a weeklong stay at a vacation rental. Many homeowners will let you rent by the weekend or on a nightly basis, particularly during the off-season. Most expect you to pay by personal check, but others accept credit cards or the online payment system PayPal.

Risk. Dealing with individual homeowners carries more risk than doing business with established hotel chains, so at first maintain a skeptical attitude by asking a lot of questions and insisting on a written contract. Ask if the property is professionally cleaned between rental periods.

Karpinski suggests using Web sites that charge homeowners for a listing, rather than free listing services. Pay sites might do cursory checking to make sure the property exists and may ban listings that garner complaints. And if the property is listed through a property management agency, it is less likely to be problematic.

Gregory Karp writes for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.

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