Beach-rental bingo

Save up to 50 percent on your next idyllic trip to the shore

By Donna Rosato, Money Magazine staff writer

(Money Magazine) -- Unless you're looking to buy a new home right now, you may be having a hard time imagining the upside to the bursting of the real estate bubble. Well, here's one: There are a lot more places to rent at the beach.

Usually the best shore rentals are snapped up while the snow is still on the ground. But this year inventory in vacation markets is up. Speculators - once lured by mega-appreciation - are having trouble selling, says David Stiff, chief economist at Fiserv Lending Solutions. "And if they can't sell their homes, the next best option is to rent them out."

But even though there's more out there than in prior years, it's getting late for summer 2007. The sooner you start shopping, the better choice you'll have in terms of quality, location and price.

And as for finding the perfect place...well, that's still a challenge. Though the number of vacation rentals listed online is rapidly expanding, there isn't one central place to shop, as many owners only advertise locally.

It's also hard to ensure that what you see is what you'll get. While you pretty much know what to expect when you book at a Marriott (Charts, Fortune 500), the house that looks fabulous in photos may be anything but fabulous in person.

You'll have to do some legwork, but it will be well worth the effort. You'll get the full sand-in-the-toes seaside experience without a hotel's cookie-cutter rooms and lack of privacy. You'll have space to spread out - no bunking with the kids. You'll get to imagine that your pied--sand is where you live year round.

And you may even save money: A rental is typically less expensive than a hotel stay, particularly if you cook your own meals and vacation with three or more people.

So what's holding you back? Your castle in the sand awaits. Follow these tips to make sure your vacation money is well spent.

How to book

It may be easier to have a real estate broker search listings for you, but you'll pay for his or her service, if indirectly. Agents and property managers take a cut of the rent, sometimes up to 50 percent, so owners who work with them often set their prices higher.

Additionally, brokers and managers sometimes charge fees for extras like cleaning or 24-hour emergency-call service. You could pay up to 30 percent more than you would on an equivalent agent-free house, says Christine Karpinski, author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner.

Where to look

So how do you find places on your own? First try VRBO.com, which has some 70,000 vacation-rental listings, all posted by owners. That will give you a sense of what kinds of places are available and the price range.

Doing a Google search on your intended destination and "vacation rentals" will pull up local listing sites like WeNeedAVacation.com (Cape Cod) and GulfCoastRentals.com (Florida). If these methods don't prove fruitful, contact the regional tourist office (via seeamerica.org) as well as the Chamber of Commerce to see if they have any leads.

Read online classifieds in the local papers. And, of course, ask family and friends for recommendations of places they have stayed and enjoyed.

When to go

The busiest weeks tend to be just when you'd expect: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, anytime in August. And when demand is high, prices follow.

"Timing is everything," says Brian Sharples, CEO of HomeAway.com, the listing site that owns VRBO.com. "If you can go a little outside the sweet spots, there are incredible deals to be had."

Excluding the holiday weeks, prices usually go up as summer progresses.On Nantucket, for example, a three-bedroom cottage an eight-minute walk from Sconset Beach is $2,700 the last week in June; $3,700 the first week in July and $4,200 anytime in August. Prices are lowest in the shoulder months: May on the front end, September and October on the back.

Really want to take your time off in August? Head south, where public schools start earlier. On North Carolina's Outer Banks, you can often get mid- to late-August rentals for June rates. (Just ask about the refund policy for hurricanes.)

Where to stay

A waterfront home will not only be tough to land, it'll be pricey. "You can save 20 percent by staying even a block off the beach," says Anne Banas, editor at SmarterTravel.com. You'll still have all the convenience of being within walking distance of the water, and you might even have a view.

In Santa Barbara a four-bedroom house on the beach is $4,000 a week, June through September. A four-bedroom house across the street from the beach goes for $3,500 during the same period.

How much you should pay

"This isn't like Expedia when it comes to price. There's always an opportunity to bargain," says Sharples from HomeAway.com. And in this regard, your lateness gives you leverage.

If a house still has a lot of unrented weeks as the vacation season draws near (check out the availability calendar on booking sites or just ask an owner what dates in the month are free), make an offer 5 percent to 10 percent off the published rate, says Karpinski. Top of page



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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.