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How to Help Avoid an Airbnb or VRBO Nightmare (Tips for Renters)

So you’re super excited to go on a trip. Instead of booking a hotel, you’ve decided to try a vacation rental home for the very first time. While renting a vacation home through booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO has many advantages, first-time users may not always get the language used in listings.

The last thing you want is to pay in full and realize later that you had a completely different expectation of the rental than what was advertised in the listing. Today, I’m going to teach you how to read between the lines when it comes to vacation rental listings. That way, you can protect yourself and most importantly, enjoy your stay!

Potential Red Flags to Look For

1. “Keep to yourself”

If there’s a request for you to stay discreet throughout your stay, you have a reason to suspect that the host doesn’t have approval from the landlord or homeowners association. Allison Bieller, a travel blogger, has encountered people who say that you need to be quiet because “the building doesn’t allow this.” First of all, make sure that you choose an authorized rental.

2. “Near restaurants or bars”

Are you traveling with your family? If so, be careful of rental listings that claim the place is located near bars or restaurants. It can get too noisy, and you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night due to loud music. Consider your personal preferences when it comes to peace and quiet and your companions.   

3. “A quick uber ride from the city”

This language can imply that transit options are limited in the area. How far is the nearest shop? Will you be able to get there easily from the rental? Watch out for listings that suggest the need to take a cab or ridesharing service.

4. “The host was really friendly”

Reading rental listing reviews should be part of your research. In the reviews, pay attention to what people say about the experience. Do they describe the rental or do they focus on aspects outside the rental (for example, the host or places nearby)? Ideally, you should be able to get a solid idea of the rental itself. Because what usually happens is that renters who find the host kind and accommodating have a hard time writing a bad review.

What to Look for in Pictures

Rental listing photos give you a good idea of what to expect -- if you’re keen enough. Here are some tips:

1. If you don’t see it in the pictures, it may not exist. For example, a vacation rental photo that doesn’t show a bedside table means that the actual room may not have a bedside table.

2. Too many close-ups of furniture or decor could mean that the rental is small. Always ask about the actual size of the space.

3. While amenities attract renters like yourself, be sure to ask if these amenities are accessible by anyone and at any time. Just because there’s a pool in the photo, doesn’t mean you can use it.


There’s no perfect vacation. But what you can do as a potential Airbnb or VRBO renter is to research. Read reviews. Try to understand what the descriptions in listings imply. Don’t hesitate to communicate with the host to ask questions!

If you’re ready, make Landlord Prep your go-to resource for landlording education. Here, we offer a complete DIY landlording course to get you on the right track. Join our academy today. If you want, you can check out Flavia’s real estate investing webinar first!