Tip of the Day Blog
    The Web
« CutePDF - Create a PDF of any document | Main | Hanging Indents in Word »

Vacation Home Rentals

More Choices for Vacation Home Renters


VACATIONERS seeking a true home away from home have been fairly well served by the Web's many house rental services. But options have recently improved, thanks partly to the re-emergence, after a two-year hiatus, of one of the more useful vacation home sites., which was owned by Expedia but suspended operations in 2003 because Expedia wanted to focus its attention on the travel package market, has recently reappeared - this time under the corporate flag of Expedia's sister company,, part of InterActiveCorp. The new site offers a refined complement to the array of less polished but increasingly useful sites in the category, like Rentalo, CyberRentals and

Those who click around to these and other sites may quickly notice that VacationSpot lists just 2,000 properties for rent, most of them in the United States - significantly fewer than its competitors., for example, has more than 33,000 homes and condominiums worldwide.

But Daniel G. Proctor, vice president of vacation rentals for, said: "We're very selective in who we accept for the site. Consumers don't want the 550 choices in Orlando. They just want the top 30 or 50." Among VacationSpot's listings are a number of exclusives, like Ors Vacation Homes, which manages 300 condominiums and homes with pools in the Orlando area; a three-bedroom Ors home was recently offered for $1,120 for a week in April. Rentalo, by contrast, lists 669 vacation homes in the Orlando area for the same period.

To winnow down the list, Mr. Proctor said, VacationSpot employees research the available properties in a given market, including, in many instances, on-site inspections by the company's regional market managers.

Executives at most of the major vacation rental sites say they will drop advertisers whose listings result in two or three customer complaints. And some will help customers get their security deposits returned.

VacationSpot does not guarantee satisfaction, but Mr. Proctor said it would mediate disputes and arrange for new accommodations if customers contacted the site immediately after discovering a problem. (VacationSpot declined to make a customer available for an interview.) Unlike some other sites, like and, neither of which offer phone numbers on their sites, VacationSpot offers toll-free phone support. Other sites, including and, make clear they're simply listing homes, not vouching for the quality of the properties.

At this stage in its development, VacationSpot's inventory is limited. While Florida, Phoenix and Hawaii are well represented, many popular destinations like Cape Cod and the New Jersey shore are barely accounted for. The type of housing is also unevenly represented: a very good selection of condos, but houses so far account for fewer than 20 percent of VacationSpot's mix.

Selection is much less a problem at companies like VRBO (acronym for vacation rentals by owner), which has been operating since 1995. According to David Clouse, founder of VRBO, it has made several recent improvements. Users can now search for properties within certain neighborhoods or condo complexes at the most popular locations, such as Lake Tahoe, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and Hilton Head, S.C., and peruse availability calendars for about half of the homes on the site.

Gauging how well an owner cares for a particular property is increasingly easy, as advances in technology allow sites to offer more pictures than in previous years., for instance, late last year began offering up to eight photos per home, compared with half that number previously., whose 16,500 listings are mostly in the Northeast, similarly offers up to eight pictures per listing and recently began listing the homes that offer online guest books. Executives of many rental sites said that the mere fact that owners feel confident enough to subject themselves to such reviews is often an indicator of quality.

Some rental sites have also begun using more sophisticated search mechanisms - a critical feature when the number of properties reaches 100,000, as with The site, which also sells rooms on behalf of about 40,000 hotel, motel and B & B properties, late last year started allowing users to search for homes by such criteria as the number of rooms and dates.

While the megarental sites offer the greatest breadth of inventory, regional sites like or can turn up houses missed by the others. Such were the sites that landed Suzanne Frisch and her husband, Jonathan Levine, of Guilford, Conn., in their vacation homes in recent summers. Ms. Frisch turned to the Web after using a broker who once arranged a rental that turned out to be particularly shoddy. "Online, you have a very good idea of what the houses look like, but you also get e-mail access to the broker or owner, and an e-mail exchange is so much easier than phone," she said.

Still, Ms. Frisch said Internet descriptions can be "as highly exaggerated as personal ads." Even with online rentals, she said, her family has put up with substandard grills, showers and furnishings. "So I've learned to take some of it with a grain of salt."

EmailEmail Article to Friend