The home-sharing economy is heating up. Inevitably, more and more of us have been getting fleeced on fake vacation rentals.
Vacation planning often begins with excitement, optimism and nowadays the Internet. The online search leads far into a world of glossy photos, descriptive blurbs and, of course, countless promises of customer satisfaction. Even if you’re not inclined to rent a stranger’s house, you may find that for the most popular destinations, traditional hotels are booked or inadequate. So renting a vacation home is a natural alternative. According to the Vacation Rental Managers Association, 24 percent of leisure travelers report having stayed in a vacation home, up from around 11 percent in 2008.
Before the Internet, the search for a private vacation rental was slow and impractical. It involved trading a lot of phone calls, mailing printed packages and coordinating to solve all kinds of problems. Hoteliers like
Then along came online portals like VRBO, Airbnb and Craigslist. All of a sudden, we’re in the mood to share.
For the most part, the rise of all of this house sharing has been positive. Sophisticated channels like Airbnb and
Vacation rental scams come in many different forms. Some Web portals are run by technologists with no connection to the actual real estate. Through smart search engine optimization, these sites attract users, and then sell the lead to the true agent, who offsets the cost with higher rent.
The worst rip-offs seduce would-be vacationers with fabulous pictures of fictitious properties. Once the renter is hooked, the phony landlord collects an up-front “security deposit” and runs for the hills. Victims are left unaware they’ve been cheated until weeks later, when they show up at the address with their luggage in hand.
Other variations on the scam are only slightly less fraudulent. Some fakes use the bait-and-switch method by showing unavailable properties, only to divert the renter to another, less desirable spot. Other tricksters may double-book a property, then send whichever vacationer arrives last to a second-rate backup, along with sincere apologies.
You’re too sharp to be ensnared in any of these scams, right? Real estate is my business, so I used to believe the same thing. Then I tried renting a vacation home in Aspen, Colorado, for a summer holiday.
I found many remarkable online listings — only to discover after contacting their presumed representatives that the properties were always booked. After many failed tries and long phone calls I realized I was being conned. I stopped browsing and hired a high-quality local real estate broker to show me real listings.
My experience could have been worse — some friends from Germany were recently snared here in Miami. Fortunately, they insisted on withholding their security deposit from their seemingly delightful contact until after completing a property inspection. Still, she pressured these visitors to wire funds — right up to the time they were driving to the property after their long flight. Having stood their ground, they arrived at the home, which appeared exactly as it did online. Unfortunately, it was occupied by its unsuspecting owner — who had no intention to rent. Of course, my friends never again succeeded in connecting with their agent and had to scramble to locate a hotel room.
Why aren’t authorities cracking down? Perhaps because the dollar figures involved in each case simply aren’t enough to justify an intercontinental examination. The victims, by definition, don’t live anywhere near the jurisdiction of the reported crime. Most often, the crooks don’t either.
So how do you protect yourself? Here’s a list of 10 ways to combat this scam:
In my professional life, I am a lawyer, real estate advisor and businessperson. I’ve been especially involved in the world of luxury residential property, and I’ve always enjoyed demystifying its nuances for clients and friends. The fact is, even very wealthy people regard t...
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