Disaster Averted: 4 Reasons I Love VRBO.com

One of my favorite pictures from vacation!

One of my favorite pictures from vacation!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that we were heading to Florida at the end of this month.  And, I had it all planned out down to the last minute detail.  Since we’re going with my parents, I literally spent weeks searching for a condo that would satisfy everyone in our party.  And when I narrowed it down to the top three or four, I emailed them to my parents and let them decide.

They would’ve been happy with any of them, but we decided on a first floor condo at a resort I’ve stayed at before, mainly because of the lack of stairs and the fact that it was next door to a state park.  The total cost for seven nights was $1,210, including 11% tax and the $125 departure cleaning fee.  It wasn’t the cheapest place that we found, but that I still think that’s a great price for seven nights in a three-bedroom, three bath-condo on the beach.

Disaster Averted

Since I planned this trip and paid for it months ago, I didn’t anticipate making any changes.  Unfortunately, the condo management company had other plans.  The woman we rented from  called me Friday morning and said that she didn’t think we should come.  Apparently some construction had been going on that she wasn’t aware of, and it was taking far longer than anyone had thought.  Furthermore, they couldn’t guarantee that the workers wouldn’t be working on the balconies above us all week.  And, if they were, we may not be able to have full access to our deck.  Blech.

Even though none of it was her fault, she apologized profusely and said that she was mailing back our entire rental amount that day.  Of course, I had some seriously mixed feelings about this.  First, I was happy that she had been so forthcoming and willing to do the right thing.  On the other hand, our vacation was only eight days away…..and we now had nowhere to go!  So, I got back on VRBO.com and started browsing condos again hoping to find a condo that would work.  Fortunately, I found a similar place that was available on short notice.  What’s even better is that, because it was a last minute deal, they gave me a discount.  The Grand Total: $1,200 including taxes and the cleaning fee.

Four Reasons I Love VRBO.com

This is probably the 5th or 6th time I’ve rented a condo off of VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner).  If you’ve never used it, it’s just like AirBNB, HomeAway, or FlipKey.  Basically, condo owners and homeowners post their place and set their own price and policies.  Aside from renting a condo that was absolutely filthy once, I’ve had nothing but good experiences.  In fact, I love VRBO.com.  Here’s why:

I Like Renting a Home

When we take our family on vacation, I like renting an actual home vs. staying in a hotel.  Why?  First of all, I like having a living room where we can all congregate, and I’ve found that it’s much easier to spend time with family in a condo or home versus in a hotel.  I also like having a kitchen for obvious reasons.  Going out to eat is incredibly expensive and renting a place with a kitchen allows us to make most of our meals at “home.”

You Deal Directly With the Owner

If we had booked our vacation through a resort, there is no way they would’ve offered to refund my money.  They would’ve just let us show up and told us to deal with it.  But, since we were dealing with a human being, she saw things differently.  She told me that she would rather refund our money than have the construction ruin our vacation, and that she hoped we would consider renting her condo again in the future.  I think that’s very classy, and I know that we could never expect that kind of treatment from a corporation or resort.

It’s Usually Negotiable

I’m pretty sure I’ve negotiated the price down on every condo we’re every stayed it.  Usually I’ll ask for their “best deal” if I book that day, or if that’s the best they can do.  I’ve found that there is usually some wiggle room, especially if I’m booking way ahead of time or at the very last minute.  One time we got an oceanfront condo for a week for $800 including taxes and fees because we literally booked just a few weeks before.  That’s only $115 per night for a three-bedroom, three-bath, oceanfront condo!

It’s Usually Family-Oriented

We’ve rented oceanfront condos many times, and we’ve always found the atmosphere rather to be family-oriented.  And since we have two kids, this is obviously a good thing.  It seems like all of the drunk college kids lean toward renting hotel rooms instead of condos or private homes, which is fine by me.  All we want to do is swim and enjoy some peace and quiet, and that’s hard to do when people are being loud and obnoxious!

Have you ever rented a condo or private home?  What was your experience?


  1. says

    We’ve also used VRBO several times and had good experiences. Like you mentioned, it’s really nice to have a kitchen and a living room! We’ve gotten to stay at some really nice places in the mountains that we could never afford to buy. In short- we love VRBO! Better than a hotel for sure.

  2. says

    We’ve used VRBO on our last two trips to Disney to rent a house to stay in for the week. Love the experience of doing that as opposed to staying in a hotel or on site at Disney. Saved a bunch of money on lodging and food by doing some meals at the house. Also with VRBO you might get some added personal touches from the homeowner. The lady we rented from gave us a gift basket upon arrival plus stuffed animals for the kids. I thought that was a nice touch.

    • says

      That is a really nice touch! Yeah, it does save a ton when you can make your own food. Even eating breakfast and lunch at home helps.

  3. says

    I’ve never used VRBO before but I’ll have to check it out. There are soo many things that I’ve never thought to negotiate before and this was definitely one of them. I’ll have to try that out!

  4. says

    I have NEVER used VRBO, airbnb, or any other site that allows you to rent a private home/condo for vacation. I think it would be fun to give a condo a shot on our next vacation. I’m so used to going to hotels on vacation, though, it might be a bit strange at first. I like that you get more space and can negotiate, though, so it definitely is something I’m willing to try out.

    • says

      It’s probably easier to stay in a hotel for you guys since you don’t have kids. I personally cannot imagine cramming ourselves into a hotel room for a week with the kids.

  5. says

    Have not tried it but now i want to try renting a condo or a house when taking a vacation. I checked out the website and its pretty good. Thanks for the tip. This personal finance blog of yours is very valuable because it gave me new information how to save some money when going on a vacation overseas. How often do you take a vacation within a year?

  6. says

    We often browse VRBO when we’re dreaming about the day we’ll be able to take vacations again, and I would use them in a heartbeat, for the same reasons you love them. SO much better than a hotel, especially if you’ve got kiddos.

  7. says

    I have actually never used them, but I love the idea of renting a condo when I travel as well. It really does save you so much money (especially over a week) on food and entertainment if you are in a home instead of a hotel. I am SO happy that it worked out for you to change properties! I was scared when I first started reading this that your vaca was going to be busted.

    • says

      It saves money and hassle. Going out to eat for every meal is a huge time-suck because of our kids. I would rather have snacks, breakfast, and lunch at home.

  8. says

    So glad it ended up working out for you and I agree that if it were through someone else other than an individual you’d just have to deal with it. We’ve never rented through VRBO, or any other site for that matter. That said, we’ve actually talked quite a bit about doing it for our next trip so we’re definitely looking at it – I just like the idea of having the privacy of not being in a hotel and having that common area to do things in.

  9. says

    I have rented privately from owners before but not VRBO. 6 out of 7 times it’s been fantastic. We recently went to Hawaii and could have saved several hundred if we went this route rather than hotels/resorts. The one bad experience was when a woman took out safety/damage deposit money ($500) and said we had left the place a mess. We tried to dispute as we left the place is excellent tip top condition but she was crazy and took the money. I guess we could have sued her, maybe she had a scam going. Since then I am afraid to rent privately – I know this kind of experience is one in a thousand so I may try again but will go with someone who has a ton of positive customer reviews and has been renting on the site for quite some time!

    • says

      Yeah, we had one bad experience too. The condo was FILTHY. I mean, my kid’s feet were black from running around. I take special care to read all of the reviews of a place now. It was so gross.

  10. says

    We’ve used them a couple of times and had really good experiences. They know that good reviews book their places, so they go above and beyond. I think people also are just more friendly when you are staying in their own vacation home as well.

  11. says

    We haven’t used VRBO before but we are considering doing a trip to the west coast this summer. Maybe I should see what’s available in California : ) It’s reassuring to hear that you have had a great experience using their services.

  12. says

    I haven’t used this service, but I think I will from now on. I like dealing with owners and really like being able to negotiate. Sorry to hear about the problems, but I think that owner did what was right. Glad to hear you got another one even cheaper!

  13. says

    We love VRBO!! I agree everything you said about it. It’s definitely nice to deal with an owner instead of a “manager.” Thanks for pointing out that everything is negotiable. I don’t think we’ve ever tried to negotiate the price. We have negotiated the minimum stay and cleaning fees, but not the overall price. I’ll definitely try that next time.

    Good luck on your trip. Our last Beach Vacation was last August in the 30A area and it was completely rained out. :( Very sad week for us. The owner was very nice and gave us a 25% refund just because he felt so bad about the weather. Another benefit of VRBO.

  14. says

    We’ve used VRBO 3 times and really like it. We use airbnb more often. It’s been a while since we stayed at a hotel. I love the fact that there is so much flexibility with regards to check in/check out times and it’s always nice to have a kitchen. It does get pretty expensive eating out all the time. I also like that they have the CC information already and l can just choose the one l like without searching for my credit card. All my trip reservations are all on one page and they send reminders. I love it. I can be scatterbrained at times..lol..so it’s a nice safety net.

  15. says

    I am glad you were able to find another fun spot to stay! I am glad they told you about the construction though because I walked by that condo a couple weekends ago and some balconies looked pretty rough.

  16. says

    We have used VRBO before, and the experience has always been good. I prefer having a full house since we have dogs, and VRBO has many options for dog people like us! :)

  17. says

    It’s nice to get the opportunity to chat with the owner one-on-one so you know what you are getting, almost like a play-by-play before you get there. It might be more work for them but more money in their pockets as well. I’ll definitely be checking out VRBO.com. Thanks for sharing!

  18. says

    We just booked our place in Hawaii, super excited for having a whole Condo to ourselves. And much for the reasons you listed. We’ve got kids, and will have 8 people traveling total, so it’s going to be MUCH nicer and cheaper to just book out a whole place instead of individual hotel rooms. We’ve got a private BBQ area, full kitchen, private pool and beach. Should be a blast and save us a ton.

    Also, they keep extra gear like boogy board, snorkel gear, etc for the renters to use.

    • says

      Nice! You will probably get a lot more quality time with your family since you’re staying in a condo and not in separate hotel rooms!

  19. says

    I love renting homes or condos for the conveniences you mentioned. For my last few vacations I rented a home and a beach front condo from Homeaway.com and I loved them both. Like you mentioned dealing directly with the owner was a good experience. On my last rental they offered to help me plan my itinerary. The owner sent me a list of places to eat and things to do in the area based on my interests. It was great. When you travel with a big group it is definitely the way to go.

  20. says

    Very cool! We just recently started using AirBNB last year, so I’ll have to check out this new site, too. Do you find there are differences in the properties you find between those sites, or in the costs?

  21. says

    No, I haven’t used VRBO before, but I can see why you like using them . It was very classy of that lady to be so upfront with you. I guess my hesitancy has always been that it would feel awkward somehow. I know they are not there with you but I’d still like I’m imposing. It’s probably my own mental hang-up!

  22. says

    It’s awesome the owner was nice enough to give you a refund and be that honest with the situation. I’ve rented a condo before on homeaway, but it was through people we knew. I do enjoy the feel of staying at a condo or home as opposed to a hotel. It’s comforting and usually more convenient! If I go away on a trip with my parents I’ll have to mention VRBO.

  23. says

    That’s a great price for a three bedroom. Also hotels don’t have the capacity to hold more than 4 people per room. So the price goes up a lot for bigger families, which are forced to get two or more rooms. Three bedroom condo sounds good to me.

  24. says

    Yes! I love VRBO. My boyfriend and I have used it several times. It’s great renting directly from the owner. We celebrated an anniversary in Ojai one year, and the homeowner left us a lovely card and bottle of wine. So nice!

  25. Ali says

    We love VRBO, too! Our family of three recently rented a luxury Nob Hill studio with a washer/dryer and kitchen right near the Ritz Carleton in SF for $125 a night. There’s no way we could’ve found a hotel in that neighborhood for the price! We’ve also rented a studio through VRBO in Paris, and are in the midst of finding an affordable beach house for two families for a week in August. We will check out AirBnB, too, as we do our research.

  26. says

    We rented an apartment in NYC though a site similar to this and it was a great experience. We’re planning a family vacation next year and will look into VRBO for sure!

  27. says

    We’ve never rented from VRBO, but my uncle and his wife rent out a couple of their properties in Maine and have had mostly good experiences. Once in a while you get a jerk, but they’ve never had anybody ruin their houses or do anything crazy. They next time we travel I’d definitely consider a VRBO, especially if we’re traveling with my parents or grandparents.

  28. says

    I haven’t used VRBO yet, but I have used AirBNB which is similar. I too prefer to stay in a home (ie condo, house) because it is a much better feel than staying in a hotel. It’s more personal, and, as demonstrated by the woman who you rented from originally, usually the customer service is much better. You wouldn’t have a hotel calling you to let you know that there is construction!

  29. says

    I’m personally more of an AirBnB fan myself. Whenever I search on VRBO everything always comes up as “weekly rentals” or “monthly rentals” and while that would be all well and good for some trips, if I’m just looking for a 3 day get away I find VRBO a little more difficult.

    I’m not sure if it’s just the area that I have been looking in or if there’s some way to filter out places that only rent by the week, but I just find it difficult at times.

    But I did learn something from this post, I need to start negotiating more! Thanks for the heads up Holly!

  30. says

    We’ve been using vrbo for years now and have had nothing but great experiences! Not only in Florida, but also in Costa Rica, Sayulita & Oaxaca Mexico, California, and we’re sitting in one right now in Cape Town South Africa. It’s really wonderful to have your own place with a kitchen and a living room and a separate bedroom or two, and not have to deal with all the hotel stuff. We’ve met a lot of interesting and nice owners, who almost always give invaluable information about the area you’re staying in. It just feels better when you have a “home”, even if temporary.

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