February 13, 2011

By Owner Rentals : Refundable or Non-refundable? ... Depends

I read Budgeting in the Fun Stuff written by Crystal, (good blog check it out).   She recently wrote an article  Please Comment on this Bad Experience with a Vacation Rental. Crystal is talking about a bad experience that Sandy from First Gen American had with a vacation rental home.  [edit : removed references to dead links] Sandy had rented a property on VBRO and had to cancel due to bad weather.   The owner of the property refused to refund her money.   The rental contract apparently doesn't allow for refunds, but Sandy thinks she was scammed.

 I read all about Sandy and her unfortunate $1200 loss.   At first it seemed like a rip off.   But then I thought that it really depends on the policy.   I wouldn't expect a refund from Hotwire since their hotel reservations are explicitly nonrefundable.    But if I got a standard reservation with a Holiday Inn Express directly and they wouldn't refund me then I'd be quite upset.   It all depends on the system and what the normal expectations are.   That all brought me to wonder:   What IS the cancellation and refund policy for vacation rentals  on VBRO?

I dug around the help section on VBRO to find out what their policy was.  Getting a straight answer on this was a lot harder than I expected.    First of all it was harder than I thought to even get a detailed answer to "what is VBRO?" or "what does VBRO do?"

They have a button/tab at the top of their page named "Rental Guarantee".   I click on that figuring that it will explain what VBRO's guarantee is.   But its just a link to buy vacation insurance.   No real help there.
 The "About VBRO" link should tell me more.   There isn't too much there either.   At least they have a basic description of what VBRO is:  "We provide an online space for homeowners to advertise their vacation properties and make it easy for travelers to search 150,000+ rentals in over 100 countries worldwide."

I wandered into their help section.   Finally on this help page I found the following at the bottom:

Note: You may want to consider the HomeAway HomeAway Carefree Guarantee, as well as a signed lease agreement with the owner/manager. See "Protecting yourself while renting "by-owner" http://www.vrbo.com/global/protect_yourself.htm for more details.

OK.   I then visit that last link to see what they recommend for "Protecting yourself while renting"
That page is mostly about how you should protect yourself from fraud on their site from property owners who misrepresent themselves or are outright scammers.   

They do say this :

7. Prior to sending any money to an owner or providing a credit card number, ALWAYS request and receive a completed rental agreement or contract. Be sure it specifies the dates you will be staying in the property, the cost of the rental, any deposits, taxes, cleaning fees, and the cancellation and refund policies.  Without a signed rental agreement DO NOT consider the rental to be yours. If you do and something unforeseen happens, you may have little recourse in getting your funds returned. If an owner prefers not to use a contract or written agreement, find one that will.

Ok, now thats more on target.    I then follow that link on  cancellation and refund policies.

The page on cancellation and refund policies has this to say:
...you will usually need to make a full or partial payment upfront in order to hold the property.
Normally this is not a problem, BUT if you have to cancel your trip (especially at the last minute), you should know that you may forfeit a portion or all of your rental fees. There are ways to protect yourself however - FIRST:  Make sure you know what the cancellation policies are for the property you are renting. SECOND: Consider purchasing Trip Cancellation Insurance for added protection.

and finally :

If you have to cancel your vacation rental trip, are you eligible for a refund? It depends on the cancellation/refund policy of the property that you are renting and how much notice you are able to give.

So the clear cut question & answer would be :

Question: What is the refund and cancellation policy at VBRO?   
Answer: It depends.

Its really your responsibility as a renter to make sure you get a rental agreement from the property owner and then read it before you give them your money.

VBRO is very much like eBay in the kind of service they provide.    VBRO is a medium for people to advertise their stuff.   Like eBay, VBRO does not have any real direct control over the property owners. 

Bottom Line:    If you're renting on VBRO then you need to be extra careful that you understand all the policies and get everything in writing and keep an eye out for scammers.  Don't expect VBRO to act like a big hotel company or a travel agent, they're more like the classified ads.

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