Zone Classifieds The Zoomer Edit 5 Expert Tips to Make Sure Your Vacation Rental Is Legit

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The Zoomer Edit

5 Expert Tips to Make Sure Your Vacation Rental Is Legit

BY Bert Archer | November 15th, 2021

While those big trips are still a little iffy for a lot of us, renting a cabin, camp, chalet or cottage for a couple of days can allow us to stretch our constricted boundaries, bust out and maybe get back to nature while we’re at it.

But we’re all out of practice, and the last thing we want to do is get ripped off the first time we venture out for a mini-break. One catch-all solution would be to call a travel agent who specializes in rentals. But in case you’d like to save yourself the commission, here are some expert pointers on how to tell if the vacation rental you’re considering is legit or not. 

1. Pictures and URLs Can Be Deceiving

Alison Broughton is a travel consultant at the Travel Desk in Spruce Grove, Alta., and her 20 years of experience have taught her that people renting out properties can be sneaky. All travel agents are familiar with the photoshopped beach pics that make the sand a little whiter and the palm trees a little more picturesque than they are when you get there. She says the same goes for spots closer to home. 

Keep an eye out for colours that aren’t quite natural, or areas that seem oddly fuzzy, and don’t rely only on the pics provided. Do a general search — TripAdvisor can be handy in this instance to see the pics previous guests have posted. (Here’s a site that offers some advice on spotting altered pics.)

But things get even sneakier than that. Broughton says she has learned to look very carefully at the URL — the web address — of places she’s researching, because she’s found they don’t always line up with the actual business name, a sure sign they’re trying to look more legit than they are.

2. Street View and Google Earth Are Your Friends

Want to know if that cabin really is steps from the lake? Creep it on Google Earth. And is that VRBO spot really on a quiet street but close to the action? Street View will let you know for sure. Travellers, especially women, have been using Street View for years to suss out whether neighbourhoods look safe before they commit. But caution can be just as called for on Georgian Bay or the Sunshine Coast as it is for Istanbul and Bangkok.

3. Check With Local Tourist Boards

All provinces and territories have some form of licensing for holiday accommodations of all sorts, and certain provinces require every property offered for short-term accommodation to have a license, even the ones on apps. Jackie Harnum, an industry development officer with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, says their licenses are physical objects, printed on paper, that you can ask to see a copy of before booking. And if you still think something’s fishy, you can check it against a master list the province publishes. Tourism Nova Scotia’s Afton Doubleday points out that the province doesn’t require places operating out of their primary residence to be licensed; this’ll be the same in several provinces, so best to check.

4. Make Sure There’s Someone Accountable

It can be hard to know who you’re dealing with, and who to hold accountable should something fall short when you’re booking through an app. The bigger apps offer some assurances, but if you’re an infrequent user, these can be obscure or hard to cash in on. Travel Desk’s Broughton suggests looking for places that are run by identifiable property managers — a company with an address, phone number and manager with a name you can look up on LinkedIn — so that there’s someone other than a virtual assistant to turn to with your complaint (and even to sue, if it comes to that).

5. Don’t Get a Condo on an App

I get it: condos are most often in the parts of cities where you want to be. They can be cool, they can be glam and they can have great views. But the fact is that most buildings do not allow short-term rentals, and the ones that do tend to be places you’d be better off staying away from. You should either look for management companies that do this, so at least someone identifiable is accountable, or go with an agent to navigate the hazards for you.

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