How to Spot Good (& Bad) Properties on Vacation Rental Listing Sites
How to find a Great Vacation Rental in the Orlando Area
When looking for a vacation rental property on an online vacation rental listing site, the number of choices can be dizzying and confusing.
How do you know which is a good property and which isn’t? Most operators in Orlando are legitimate, and are offering relatively good properties. Unfortunately, with Orlando being the largest tourist destination in the world (by number of annual visitors), the percentage of bad apples out there is surprisingly high.
Caution is always warranted.
Some of the suggestions below require some separate online research, but that is always worth doing once you have narrowed your search for a good vacation rental down to a few final candidates.
Here are some great tips to help spot good and bad vacation rental properties in online listings:
- Does the property have a name? Any good operator or property manager worth their salt will give their property a name, so look for it. If you can’t or don’t find one, that’s a bad sign. Why is a name important? It makes things easier for guests! A unique name makes it easy for guests to do research online about a property. Good owner/managers want to make it easy for guests to find, and book a property directly.
- Do they have their own website? Yes, I’m referring to something off the listing site you’re looking at, and I mean a full website, not just another listing on another listing site elsewhere.
Any good owner/operator will have their own website, not just book through VRBO or (far worse) AirBnB. You should be able to find the property name with a Google search. (You may need to add the location if the name is too common or being used in multiple ways.) The search results will give you a good picture of the owner’s professionalism and stability. (Sorry for using ourselves as an example, but try searching “Breezy Oak Villas” to see what I mean.)
- Once you find the property’s website: How in-depth is it? What is its quality? What history does it have? (ie How old are blog posts on that site? For example, ours go back to 2010. It’s a sign of longevity and stability.) Or, just as importantly; how recent is it? Are there recent posts or additions? Is it being kept up to date?
- Does the owner/manager have their own independent booking capability on their own website? Could you book them directly, without going through a listing site?
Those property owners that offer this are demonstrating commitment and professionalism towards their guests. Booking directly with the owner is usually significantly less expensive for guests! And believe it or not, puts more money in the owner’s pocket at the same time! It’s a win-win for everyone!
- Check the quality of the photos. Are they dark or out of focus? Are there enough of them?
A quality owner/manager will always want to present their property in the best manner possible. If they can’t be bothered to get and use quality photos, they are either trying to hide something, or just don’t care much. Either is a danger sign for you to avoid them.
- In the listing photos, ensure that they are all of the same property. Photos from different properties in the same listing is a sure danger sign.
- Do the lead (or first) photos promote a clubhouse or community pool or other common facility and not the property itself? Often these photos are used to attract people to listings because the property itself doesn’t compare well on its own.
- As you look through listing photos, you may see some change in the property over time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But are there enough recent photos? Or were they all taken years ago and don’t show the current state of the property? (It’s all right to contact the owner or manager and ask about this.)
- Take a good look at the furniture and its quality. A vacation rental property is not an excuse or refuge for old, out of style, out-of-date furniture you wouldn’t want in your own home now.
- Does the listing or website feature a map? If so, how accurate is it? Orlando Vacation Rental Owners and Managers are notorious for creating hand-drawn maps designed to present their properties as much closer to the theme parks than they actually are! Make sure any map you view is based on actual map data!
- Is the description in the review complete and well written? Is it informative? Does it provide everything you want to know? Does it paint a great picture of what it is like to stay in the particular property?
A good listing description will do this. If an owner/manger can’t be bothered to take the time to provide a quality listing description, why should you expect they’ll be willing to take the time necessary to ensure you have a good stay?
- Is complete information on security or damage deposits, optional extras, fees and taxes provided?
A good owner will present this information up front, not make you hunt or ask for it. Note: Some listing sites do make you hunt for it. For example, VRBO has recently started hiding fee details under a ‘fold’ in the listing page, so you have to click on a ‘See More’ link to get all of the details. Update: We have found that on many listings they have removed this information altogether, without informing the property owners! We prefer they be upfront about these types of things and not hide them at all.
- Look at the lawn in the property photos. Is it well maintained? The first thing that Vacation Rental operators who don’t take good care of their properties will let go is the landscaping, and lawn irrigation. During the dry winters in Florida, it kills the yard, and you can often see it in the lawn pretty easily.
It is surprising how often photos are taken revealing bad yard care, which is a great indicator of the quality of maintenance everything at the property receives. It is equally surprising how often guests completely overlook that the landscaping isn’t being maintained, even when it’s clearly evident in photos. The lure of a Florida vacation rental is so great that obvious flaws are often completely overlooked!
- Look for photos of what’s IN the cabinets in the kitchen. It is shocking how few dishes, glasses, pots and pans, etc. are in badly run vacation rentals. It’s something you can’t generally see in photos, but is a great indicator. Quality owners will show off what’s hidden behind closed doors.
In a similar vein, are the shower curtains pulled shut, hiding what’s behind, or can you see a sparkling clean shower in the photos? (We always try to have ours open, but on occasion a photographer will ignore our instructions and close them because they’re so used to being told to do so!)
- Look for the quality of the TVs and home electronics. In 2021, every single TV should be a flatscreen. If you don’t see them in the photos, check with the owner, as an individual photo may have not been updated. But if any TVs are not flatscreen, then the property is simply not receiving proper maintenance and upgrading.
- Look for photos of dining areas. How many seats are there around the table? It is shocking how many Orlando vacation rentals have sleeping for ten, but then a dining table that only accommodates 4 or 6 people.
If the owner/manager isn’t careful enough to provide space for everyone to eat together, what else might they be missing out on? Do look for additional seating capacity on islands or breakfast counters.
- See if the property photos show what is around the property, especially in the rear.
- What direction is the sun coming from in pool photos? How much shade is on the pool? Are the photos taken on a sunny or cloudy day?
Outdoor pool photos on a cloudy day reflect a lack of professionalism, and may also be an attempt to hide a badly shaded pool. You want sun on the pool for your vacation, particularly in the winter time.
- Is there enough pool furniture and loungers around the pool? If not, send the owner/manager a quick email and ask exactly what will be there when you arrive.
- Are pool photos taken looking only towards the house?
Look at the photo below taken looking toward the house.
And look at the same pool, but in a photo looking away from the house.Does the first one provide a realistic impression of the pool area?
- Do photos show the pool with the house in the background, or do they show what you will see outside of the pool area, (and what or who you’ll have for neighbors, watching you in the pool area)?
- Can you get a good idea of the roads around the property? Do any have a view into the back of the house? It is surprising how many vacation rental subdivisions are designed to maximize the number of properties that can be squeezed in, but sacrifice privacy at a few, or even many of them.
- Are there any freeways, or railroad tracks nearby? Check the location of the subdivision for these using Google maps. It is shocking how many ‘high end’ vacation rental neighbourhoods in the Orlando area are really close to the SunRail tracks, with LOUD freight trains going by in the middle of the night. Or the areas are too close to highways like I-4, 192, or Highway 27.
You’ll never see that in photos! But you’ll sure hear it in the property, especially at night! Often a large solid wall is a sign of traffic or a commercial property beyond.
- Look for sewage pump stations. You can’t smell a bad area in online photos. Even our own neighborhood has a couple of sewage pump stations, they’re a fact of life, but in our case they are blocks away from our villas.
The homes within a two or three lot radius of sewage pump stations have to put up with a really bad smell! I always wondered if the vacation rental hosts next door to one of them told guests about it before they arrived… It’s worth asking about, with a guarantee from the owner of a full refund if their information isn’t accurate.
- Check for positive reviews online. There should be a long history of them. Do they seem genuine, or that they may have only been posted by family and friends to provide an incomplete picture? How many of them are there, and how far back in time do they go?
- Check for negative reviews as well. You should find a few bad ones, or less than perfect ones, too. This will provide you with a picture of how truthful the reviews are. Every business, no matter how great they are, will get a few bad apple customers who complain unfairly or incessantly.
Unfortunately, it is also common for some guests to try to scam vacation rental operators by attempting to extort refunds. After having a great stay and leaving, they tell the owner: “Give me a refund for half the price of my stay or I’ll post a bad review against you online!” Attempts such as these will cause a few bad reviews for the best owners at some point or another. Sometimes bad luck is all it takes, and even a great vacation rental operator will have something go wrong once in a while that prompts a bad review from an unsympathetic guest.
Perfect reviews over the long term are just about impossible in today’s online world. Look for a LOT of great reviews, with a few bad ones… on the owner’s own website. When you find that combination, you likely have a legitimate collection of honest, truthful reviews from real guests. Check for reference data about who left the review and when. Do the reviews seem honest? Don’t rely too much on social media sites like Facebook or even Google for reviews, as the vacation rental owner may not spend much time online with social media. Sites like VRBO and TripAdvisor will provide a much better picture.
- READ through the reviews in detail. See how the owner responds to reviews, both good and bad… but particularly the bad ones. Do they respond in a positive way to legitimate negative reviews? And in a fair way to dishonest reviews? You’ll get a good idea of the quality of the owner/manager you’re dealing with.
At that point, if you’re not confident you’ve found one of the best, they don’t deserve your business and you shouldn’t take a chance on them. If you have any concerns about a negative review you find online (the owner should address them) don’t hesitate to contact the owner and ask for their response. How they handle the inquiry will reveal a lot about them.
For more information on booking a great Orlando Vacation Rental, don’t miss Sham Bookings & How to Avoid Them!
Of course, you can simply not bother with these tips at all, and just book your stay with Breezy Oak Villas!
Truly… that is the only tip you need to ensure yourself a great stay in the Orlando area in a quality vacation rental property!