Should You Rent a Vacation Home or Stay in a Hotel?

Are you planning a trip in the coming months? If so, you’re among the 59 percent of Americans who expect to go on a summer vacation, according to an American Express survey. But your time away won’t come cheap:

The survey found that people were expecting to spend just under $1,200 per person for their holidays. One of the highest costs you’ll pay will likely be your hotel room rate. There are other options available, according to the California Society of CPAs, but be aware of the pitfalls associated with some of them.

Renting a Vacation Home

Instead of going with a hotel, nearly half of all respondents to a recent TripAdvisor® survey have stayed, or plan to stay, in a vacation home. If you’re trying to avoid staying at a hotel you have a wide range of choices, from a vacation house you might rent by the week through a realtor to a home or apartment you rent directly from the owner through an online site.

What’s the downside? If you find a rental through a site that essentially functions as a message board — allowing owners to post information that is not verified — you run the risk of finding the accommodations to not be what you expected when you arrive. That’s why it’s important to check disclaimers on any site you use, as well as information about whether what’s posted has been verified and what kind of recourse you may have if the rental doesn’t meet your expectations or is actually part of a scam.

If reviews are not available on the site at which you book the vacation home, ask the owner for recommendations from those who have stayed there in the past. Always check any contract carefully to ensure you are comfortable and that the terms of the deal meet your expectations.

Finally, remember that if there is a problem and you end up wanting a full or partial refund, it will be easier to get it if you pay with a credit card rather than cash or a check.

Doing a House Swap

Another alternative is to trade a week’s stay at your home with a family who lives in another location that you want to visit. If you’re interested, there are online sites where you can list your own home and look for available places in areas you want to visit.

Once again, you’ll want to ask the other homeowner for referrals from previous exchanges and have both sides sign a written agreement that sets forth the expectations and limitations, covering both your stay in their house and their stay in yours. Issues to cover in the agreement might include things like use of the homeowner’s car, expectations regarding pets and their care, and cleaning responsibilities.

By taking advantage of a house swap, your expense for a place to stay should be no more than the relatively low-cost of a membership to a site that specializes in these exchanges, which could save you a significant amount.

Moving Right In

Many people are familiar with B&B’s, but it’s also possible to find less formal arrangements in which people rent out spare rooms in their homes. Questions to ask in advance include whether you will have a private bath or kitchen privileges and whether there are pets or children in the home.

It’s generally best to book through a website that offers the chance for a refund if you find the room is not what you were promised. It’s also important to make sure you thoroughly investigate potential hosts before committing.

Ideally, find a place that offers online reviews or references so that you can be sure you are not compromising your comfort or safety. Additionally, confirm that the renter is acting within legal parameters for their city or state.

Consult Your CPA

Looking for alternatives to a hotel stay while you’re on vacation is just one idea for lowering your expenses. For more great advice on all your financial questions, be sure to contact your local CPA.

Copyright 2013 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The Money Management columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the California Society of CPAs as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.