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5 Tips to Staying in a Hotel Alternative

Before you plan your next vacation, have you considered staying in an alternative to a hotel? Staying in a privately-owned home that is available for short-term rentals is becoming increasingly popular, mostly because of AirBnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). If you have never heard of either of these companies, you need to know about them before you head out on your next vacation or business travels!

Both of these companies allow people to list their homes or properties as rental properties on the website. Many homes or bedrooms are available on a short-term basis and are perfect for vacation or business travels. Of course, there are downsides to booking a short-term rental from a stranger on the internet, but there are many upsides, too. These include low prices, full houses to spread out in (as opposed to a cramped hotel room), amenities and cleaning provided, and an automatic connection to a local who answer all your questions about the area. After hearing about these companies, my husband and I decided to list our basement apartment as a rental property. Through our time running a rental property out of our home, I have collected some tips for anyone who is looking to book a stay in one of these places.

First, know how much you want to interact with the hosts.  Many of these rentals are listed as “entire house” or “private bedroom”. Renting a “private bedroom” means that you will get your own bedroom…but will be sharing the rest of the living space with the owners (possibly including the bathroom). Obviously, this would be less than ideal for a couple’s getaway or a vacation with children. If you are traveling alone and working long hours and really just need a place to sleep at night, this would certainly be a great option for you! Make sure you know exactly what space will belong to you and what space will belong to the owners.

Before booking, check for hidden fees. The apartment that we run books for $35/night. However, after several people stayed in the apartment, I realized that I was spending a lot of time cleaning after they left, and I did not feel like $35 was covering the costs of me buying cleaning supplies and all the time I spent cleaning. So, in addition to the $35, a guest also pays a $15 cleaning fee. If they stay one night, the cleaning fee is the same (I’m still doing the same amount of cleaning) as if they stay two weeks.

Before you book a private rental, make sure that you check into all the hidden fees. There are sometimes cleaning fees, state tax fees, damage fees, and the list goes on. This can almost double the price of your rental in fees. Check before you book what the extra fees are and if they are worth it to you. Keep in mind that a cleaning fee is a good thing because it means that the owners value the time and energy that they spend cleaning, which results in a clean space!

Read the small print. People often flip through the pictures, read one or two sentences and then book immediately. A few days later, they will inform me that they have four people coming and will need the extra double mattress. My response? I don’t have an extra double mattress and it says it right there on my profile. I’ve also had one or two people be upset with me that they can hear my children’s footsteps overhead. My response to that is that it is also clearly listed in our profile that we have three children who can be heard walking overhead. So many people just ignore reading through the profile and then blame it on us when they aren’t pleased. Don’t do this to your host- read the small print and know exactly what to expect.

Read the reviews. Ok, so you read the hosts’ entire profile and you know all the fine print. But what if they just decided to not be up-front and are hiding potential problems from you? Read the reviews. If other people have stayed and had a great experience, that is a huge vote of confidence that you can stay there comfortably, too. If other people are leaving negative reviews, make sure to take into account why they are being negative. Sometimes negative reviews simply come from a grumpy person who was hard to please. But consistently negative reviews? That would be a red flag.

Don’t expect a hotel if you aren’t paying for a hotel. One problem that we have run across in this short-term rental business is that many people expect a hotel experience when in reality it’s not a hotel stay at all. I am not a CEO and I don’t run a hotel. I do my best to make our apartment as homey and lovely as possible, but it is not a hotel. Remember, you will probably be paying 1/3 of the price that you would pay at a hotel, and often getting just as great of service. However, please remind yourself before you book and stay that if there are things that don’t fit with the hotel vibe, it’s because you aren’t staying at a hotel. You are staying in someone’s privately owned home.

What you do after your stay is important, too. Giving feedback and leaving a review is very crucial to the owner. They may not know that it is very dark at nighttime and they need to get some nightlights, or that the water smells awful for someone who is coming from out of town. These are both things that guests have kindly pointed out to us and we have fixed the problem as soon as possible. Leaving reviews is the best gift you can give to a host as it helps other people see their rental space and want to book. Leaving an honest review is also important because it attracts the right kinds of guests for future bookings.

Have you ever stayed in an alternative to a hotel? How was your experience? Do you have any success stories or horror stories you could share?

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