Renting vacation homes
Renting vacation homes is, for many families, a practical, even preferred alternative to staying in hotels.
Thanks to the Internet, access to information about homes away from home is available at the click of a mouse.
That's quite a change from my youth when summer vacation meant a rented beach house on the Central Coast of California.
My parents would find a property through word of mouth or a local real estate agent and secure our week along the Rincon, a coastal area between Ventura and Santa Barbara.
Two weeks ago I rekindled those memories with a visit to a Rincon beach home, this one owned by Richard Ross of Santa Barbara.
Unlike my parents, I found it online. I went through Vacation Rentals by Owner,
vrbo.com, one of the largest and most visited online vacation rental home Internet sites, according to Alexa.com, a website tracking service.
It has hundreds of listings along the Central Coast as well as thousands more around the world.
Beach houses have changed since I was a kid, and it's more than just by how they are reserved.
The places we stayed were really more accurately called cabins.
By contrast, the home I recently was in is 2,400 square feet and has three bedrooms, a Jacuzzi, a Swedish sauna and a Viking range in the kitchen. It is elegant, well-appointed and, during the summer months, rents for $4,000 a week.
Guests can find the house on the VRBO site.
"It works well," Ross said of the online services he uses to list the property.
He gets about two inquiries a week this time of year for low and high season dates and as many as two a day in the spring.
"Around April, I start turning people down," he said. "People tend to wait until the last minute."
Booking close to the reservation date is a double-edged sword.
Availability may be limited, but this is the only time Ross will negotiate on price, he said.
VRBO was founded in 1995 by computer programmer Dave Clouse to rent out a vacation condo he owned in Breckenridge.
The service has grown from his one listing to more than 31,000 vacation homes around the globe and is adding 30 new listings a day.
"Property management companies charge as much as 45%" of the rent, Clouse said. "It's hard to make it pay when you're giving away half the money."
Property owners pay $148 a year for a listing on VRBO.
Compare that with the $700 per season that Clouse said he paid to have a 15-word ad listed in the back of a ski magazine for his Breckenridge condo.
VRBO is not a booking engine.
The site puts renters in contact with owners and does not act as a middleman, either by charging a percent of a booking or mediating any disputes.
The traveler and the property owner handle transactions directly.
Previous guests can leave comments on many of the properties' ads.
The property owner cannot remove the negative comments, but they can be rebutted. If a property gets several complaints about the same subject,