How I rent my summer vacation home

Own a vacation home? It's never been easier to rent out the weeks that it's vacant.

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- For vacationers, there's an affordable, comfortable and convenient alternative to booking a hotel room. It's renting a whole house.

And for owners of those vacation homes, the logistics of renting their excess weeks out for profit have never been easier.

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Ideally, it's a win-win for both parties; owners make some extra bucks and vacationers get more for their money, often surprisingly more.

Christine Karpinski, author of "How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner" and a director of, an online market place for vacation home rentals, says, "The average traveler thinks that vacation homes are expensive to rent . . . but the vast majority of the homes available are reasonable." Reasonable means within the $100 to $300 a night peak season range. Off peak, a nice place might be $100 to $200 a night.

As for the owner, Karpinski says a recent poll of her HomeAway clients revealed that the average weekly rate they received in rentals came to $1,656 and nearly half the respondents said their homes are occupied about 20 weeks per year. That suggests that an average owner could expect to bring in more than $33,000 in revenue a year.

Exploding market

During the past decade millions of Americans bought vacation homes. In 2005, nearly 40 percent of all single family home purchases were for second homes. Most were bought primarily as investments but about a third of the purchases were as vacation homes.

Hundreds of thousands of vacation properties are available for short-term rentals. HomeAway, alone has more than 70,000 properties available worldwide. These often are bargains for cost-conscious consumers.

Here's an example:

A beautiful three-bedroom, three-bath 2,078 square foot adobe-style house in Sedona, Arizona with one king-size bed and two queens, cable television and video library, stereo, fireplace, barbecue and more costs all of $1,400 a week, any season.

Compare that with a decent hotel in town, which will cost at least $100 a night per room - $2,100 a week. And hotel rooms don't have the extras that make a home rental even more of a deal and that add to the pleasure of vacationing.

For instance, these homes boast full kitchens and often barbecue grills; families save big money by eating in.

Plus, there are often things to do around the house itself. In a hotel room, there's a television and that's that, but many vacation rentals have stereos, DVD players, game rooms, pool tables and other family-friendly diversions.

"I've found that people who stay in private homes don't feel as compelled to cram in every touristy activity in town," says Karpinski. "They hang out more and relax, which is what a vacation should be about."

But for some vacationers it takes a leap of faith for some people to rent a house on line, sight otherwise unseen.

"Does the property really exist? Is it as represented? These are some of the questions vacationers ask themselves," she says.

Karpinski advices the faint of heart to take several steps to reassure themselves that the rental will go off as planned:

  • Talk to the owners directly. That will not only establish them as responsive individuals, it will also humanize them for the renter.
  • Ask specific questions. Know what you're looking for in a vacation home and make sure the house has those amenities. If the answer is vague or non-committal, move on to the next listing.
  • Examine the photos. Only consider rentals where you can see pictures of all the important rooms - each bedroom, kitchen and living room. Ask where and when the photos were taken and whether a zoom was used. That can make it look like the house in on the beach, rather than a block away.
  • See if you can pay with a credit card. Then, if the property is not as represented, you can walk out on it and ask your credit card company not to pay for the rental.

Karpinski's organization has a strict three strikes policy. After a property is the subject of three justified complaints, it is removed from the web site. Even one complaint, if blatant enough, can be grounds for removal.

What owners should know

For owners who want to rent out properties there are many places to list their properties. Besides HomeAway, there (vacation rentals by owner),, and many others.

Karpinski has advice for owners as well:

  • Put lots of photos on your web page and complete, accurate information; don't exaggerate. That will help avoid disappointment from renters who expect more than there is. "I, as a consumer, would not rent a place without seeing photos of each bedroom and the living room," she says.
  • Replace the furniture often. The normal wear and tear on upholstery and linens can prove a turn-off for vacationers. They're much more satisfied when everything is more crisp and new.
  • Hire a caretaker. You need "feet-on-the-ground" if there's distance between you and your rental property. That way, if there's a problem - the heat goes off, the oven won't light - there's someone who can offer quick problem solving.

According to Karpinski, who rents out a couple of vacation homes herself, owners have few problems renting out their properties to strangers. She says that most guests are very respectful of the properties.

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