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Rental Listing Sites and Your Options

Originally, I was pretty happy with the service Homeaway provided me. My vacation rental homes were listed in a pleasant way to attract potential guests and the strength of the site’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization – it’s a term used by businesses using the Internet to get the word out about their business) meant that vacationers would find my homes.

Within a year of subscribing to their listing service, Homeaway added a credit card payments option. Not knowing that I could have set up my own merchant account at the time, I joined the Homeaway bandwagon. I knew that some guests preferred this method of payment.

Over time, Homeaway made more changes but never notified me of these changes. I always had to call Homeaway and find out the story.

  • The credit card fee they charged me increased.
  • They moved my listings to use their “Book-it-now” feature which didn’t give me the opportunity to communicate with my potential guests before my calendar dates were blocked and a hold was placed on the person’s credit card.
  • They increased the minimum first payment over and above the $250 security deposit I required to hold the reservation which then violated my rental agreement.
  • And finally, this past February (2016), they introduced a “Service Fee” that just showed up on the quotes and invoices they generated for my potential guests. I only learned about this fee because an astute potential guest asked me about it after seeing it on a quote for one of my homes. It appeared to be my fee since it was on my online quote and it was only identified as “Service fee”.

From my vantage point, the online quote showed this large fee added but then later subtracted from the amount that I would finally receive. It appeared to be self-correcting. But I called Homeaway customer service once again to warn them that they had another problem with their system.

Lo and behold, it was not an error! Homeaway (and VRBO and VacationRentals, which are all Homeaway companies) was now charging our guests fees when they make reservations via Homeaway. It was subtracted from my view because that money wasn’t going to me, but to Homeaway. What? I explained that I already paid for my listings. I chose Homeaway rather than other sites, like AirBnB, because there are no additional charges to my guests.

The reason for the fee is pure bunk. They told home owners that it was to collect more money to increase advertising. I didn’t need more advertising…I was booking my summer weeks already. Homeaway always shows up on page one of any vacation rental Internet search.

They told renters that it was to provide 24×7 support and provide a “Book with Confidence” guarantee. I suggest you read the guarantee. The net is that if there’s a reason you should get a refund, you’ll have to work through the homeowner and your credit card company first and provide proof to Homeaway that you did that. If they decide to offer you a refund, the max is what you paid for the original rental. Some guarantee, right? Is this worth an additional $251 to you?  (This is what the quote said for my home.) And what if you’ve rented this same home before? You have a relationship with the owner already. Why would you need this “guarantee” from Homeaway?

Another change that has homeowners in a roar is the new “best match” algorithm. You would assume it’s making a “best match” for the traveler. Match the town, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, pool or no pool, etc. Turns out, it’s a “best match” for Expedia. Their goal is to collect this new service fee. So if you search for “Grand Isle, VT”, you will see listing in Addison, VT – 1.5 hours away, before any “Grand Isle, VT” listing that doesn’t accept instant bookings. And the result set jumps from 20 homes to over 200 homes — because the search results included towns you didn’t ask for! (I never allowed instant bookings because I wanted to communicate with the traveler before they paid their deposit.) Unaware travelers plan to visit with friends in the Champlain Islands during their vacation will be very disappointed to learn that they’ll be driving a lot to meet up with them.

It really boils down to this….Expedia purchased Homeaway in December 2015 for $3.9 billion!  Yes, that’s a B for billion! Now they want to get that money back fast.  What better way than to charge guests up to a max of $499 per reservation?!?! With over 1 million homes listed on their sites, income from both homeowner and guest will really add up!

Where to look now?

As a result of this major change, I sought out help. It turns out I’m not the only homeowner that is extremely unhappy about this and all these other changes that interfere in our businesses. I found multiple forums and Facebook Pages giving me the opportunity to interact with 1,000’s of other vacation rental home owners. It’s through these interactions that I received the inspiration to build and manage this Web site, VacationRentalsInVermont.com as well as spread the word about our homes on the Internet.

I’ve now listed my vacation rental homes on new No Fee listing sites. Unfortunately, they’re not well-known, may have a few imperfections and may not show up on vague Internet searches right now. But spreading the word and getting people to use these sites will make them more prominent over time.

There are also Facebook Groups/Pages that homeowners are listing their properties encouraging you to contact them directly rather than interface through Homeaway, VRBO, etc. Search Facebook for “vacation rentals” and the area you desire. Here’s a sample of what’s available on Facebook.

Other places to find mine and other vacation rental homes:

  • A Google map specifically set up for vacation rentals by owner.
  • www.vhrnetwork.com – Network of like-designed Regional Web sites
  • List of additional Regional Web sites. This site does include some or maybe all of the links in the Network site just above.
  • Local Chamber of Commerce Web sites
  • Yelp
  • Facebook search – Type in the town you’re looking for in the Facebook Search box. On the next window that opens, you’ll see a new menu across the top. Choose “Places”. Now you’ll see a list of Categories on the left panel. Choose “Hotels” and below that expand “Type” to choose “Vacation Home Rentals”.  There may be a quicker way to get there…but this way will help you locate the Facebook Page that most likely exists for the vacation home you’re seeking.
  • Pinterest
  • FourSquare
  • Zillow – This is really more for long-term rentals. But oftentimes, vacation rental homes are rented for longer periods too.

If you do find a property you’re interested in on one of the listing sites that charge you these fees, you want to try and reach the owner directly so that you can make a reservation and avoid these fees. If the listing site provides a means, contact the owner by message or phone. If that option doesn’t exist, do an Internet search of the property name from that listing. Hopefully, the owner has their own Web site too.

Update July 2017: Many owners are removing their homes completely off the booking sites. Be sure to search beyond the well-known booking sites for your next vacation rental home…maybe on page 2, 3 and 4 of your Google search results.

Here’s a cool trick to make note…

If searching for the property name isn’t viable, you can run a Google search using a photo of the property you’re interested. Again, it’s highly likely that the property owner uses the same photos in multiple locations to advertise their property. Open Google Images search and click on the camera icon in the search box. It will ask you to enter the URL for the photo you want to search. On another browser window, right click on the photo you’re searching and “copy image location” (or some similar words). Then paste this saved info to your Google URL search. A list of pages showing this same photo or likenesses will appear. One is likely to be the homeowner’s Web site or at least a means to give you more information about reaching the homeowner directly.

The net is that you want to know that there really is a homeowner behind the vacation rental home you want to reserve. This little extra leg work benefits you both by avoiding fees and giving you this additional peace of mind.

The future of our vacation rentals on listing sites….

One of my listings in Homeaway is due to expire in August and the other next January. I’m sticking with them until the term I paid for expires. We are pretty much booked for the 2016 summer … and that’s my annual goal.

I’m in a quandary about renewing my subscription because rumor has it that the next step is for Homeaway to remove contact between guest and homeowner until after Homeaway collects their “Service Fee”. I’d rather see my guests spend that $250 locally in my community and getting some real satisfaction from spending that money rather than give it to Homeaway.

Update July 2017: HomeAway has now hides guest and owner contact information. This contact information becomes available through the platform once the guest pays HomeAway/VRBO their service fee. I no longer list any properties on Homeaway.

Now that you’ve read through my blog post you know how to search for images and reach the homeowner in other ways. Unfortunately, the majority of vacation home renters don’t know about these other sites and tricks to find properties on fee-free sites. Please be sure to share this post with friends and family so that they can save on their next vacation!

 

 

 

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