Vacation Rentals: An Inside Perspective
Those who have experienced vacationing in private homes and villas know the benefits of renting over staying in hotels: savings, privacy, freedom and space. However, the flipped side is that with vacation rentals what you see may not be what you get.
According to Costa Ricaâ€™s largest online vacation rental resource, Costa Rica Bedfinder, here are a few vacation rental pitfalls to avoid:
Photos – Do not fall in love with the photos and base your decision on the photos alone; a good photographer can make a tiny room appear spacious, hide a bad spot or make the neighboring houses disappear. Some condo unit owners prefer to display pictures of the model unit used for real estate sales rather than their own. In some cases, the view that you see in the picture is not a view from the property; while a picture tells a thousand words, it does not always tell the truth.
Internet – If you must have access to internet during your travel, you should confirm with your vacation rental host on internet availability and the mode of connection before you book. Costa Rica is not as widely wired as in the U.S. or Canada. Some vacation rentals may indicate internet access in the listings, but the access is through an extremely slow telephone dial-up connection, or the availability in the listings actually refers to an internet café in town.
Air Condition – Not all vacation homes that offer air conditioning are air-conditioned throughout; many, including some of the most luxurious villas, have air conditioning only in the bedrooms. And just because the property is fitted with A/C does not mean it is included in the rates. Due to electricity cost being notoriously high in Costa Rica, A/C is sometimes charged a specified extra daily or weekly price.
Taxes – Thanks to the recent annulment of the 3.39% hospitality room tax, tourist now pay just 13% sales tax on accommodation. For vacation rentals that are professionally managed by rental agencies, 13% sales tax is applicable but is not always included in the advertised rates, so clarify with your host if the rates are tax inclusive to avoid a last minute shock if you are on a tight budget. Vacation homes rented directly from homeowners on the other hand are not subject to government tax unless the owner has tax obligation through a corporation.
Pool - It is not enough to know the property has a pool; the question to ask is if the pool is regularly cleaned and chemically maintained. A family with 4 young children recently arrived at a VRBO vacation rental at a beachside village in the Central Pacific coast to find the pool alive with frogs and tadpoles.
Utilities – It is never a good idea to rent a vacation home at a location near ongoing construction no matter how good the discount is. Even with the guarantee of minimum noise, there are sometimes other graver risks involved. A young couple with a baby recently decided to cut short their one-week vacation in an oceanfront community on the south coast after enduring 3 days without running water; the villa owner received the bitter complaint and got hold of the community developer, who told her that they needed to divert water to the construction site to meet building deadlines.
Cleanliness – No matter what and where the vacation rental property is, renters are entitled to a thoroughly cleaned house; at times a property may fall short of expectations in ways that are not within the host’s control, but when it comes to cleanliness, there is never a justifiable excuse; renters should demand immediate remedial action or compensation if cleanliness is an issue.
To minimize the risk of disappointment, do your due diligence by asking as many specific questions as possible on what matter to you the most. To get the most enjoyment out of your stay, be prepared to adapt and always keep an open mind. Remember that, although Costa Rica rivals many developed countries in terms of healthcare and education, it is still a developing country, and the living environment may be very different from what you are accustomed to. In certain parts of the country for instance, there will be potholes on the road, power cuts from time to time, non-potable tap water, stray dogs in the streets and crawlies in the house.