Two questions to ask before you put down a rental deposit on a Disney area vacation home!

Two questions to ask before you put down a rental deposit on a Disney area vacation home!

1: Is my vacation week in that home guaranteed (other than a natural disaster of course!)?

2: Is the property I am booked in currently for sale?

So a little background.  I recently rented a few vacation homes that I don’t personally manage, and was surprised to find out in the fine details of the contract, that my week could be canceled at the last minute (despite being paid in full!) if the owner decided to come in to town and use his/her home.  WOW!  I poked around a bit and found out that this is not at all unusual in the vacation home rental business.

contract

Secondly, one of the homes that I rented was for sale.  Who knows the reason, but I suspect the owner was in a bit of a financial pinch as things were starting to look a little shabby and neglected.  However, my main concern is what if I had booked the property well in advance and the home was sold in the meantime.  The new owner has no obligation to honor my contract for that rental week.  Heck they may want to live there permanently and not make it a vacation rental, so I really can’t blame them!

In summary, ask those two questions before you book your precious Disney area vacation week!

Happy hunting!

Is there anything else to do when visiting Orlando besides the theme parks?

What else is there to do in the Orlando area besides visit Disney World, Universal Studios and Lego Land?  Plenty!

One of our favorites spots to send people who are renting one of our Disney area vacation homes is an airboat ride to see alligators.  We always send them to Midway, which is about midway 🙂 between Orlando and Cocoa Beach or Cape Canaveral (two other great places to visit after your airboat ride).

airboat

We like Midway because you are really are out in “wild” Florida, and nothing is scripted.  Its just a fun ride through the central Florida waterways (mostly the St. Johns river).

If you are brave enough, you can hold a baby alligator before or after your airboat ride!  Either way, you will be treated to a fun ride and be able to view LOTS of large alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the river or in high spots on the marshes.

So pack the sunscreen and a good camera and head out for a morning or afternoon of fun!  Be sure and call ahead to make reservations to avoid any wait times, but if you are curious you can always stop in on your way to or from Cocoa or Cape Canaveral.

Have fun!

 

How far away are the Florida beaches from my Disney area vacation rental home?

Good question!  The drive usually takes  an hour or so if you are going to the East coast, and an hour and a half if you are going to the West coast.

So how to decide on which coast to visit?

The East coast has the famous Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral.  And don’t forget Ron Jon surf shop!  The East coast also has waves for surfers, especially in the winter time or when a storm is coming in.  There are great beaches both above and below Cocoa  – the whole coast, in fact!

The West coast is calm but the beaches are a little spread out and so harder to find.  In fact, the coastline gets marshy just above the Tampa area.  The West coast offers some more attractions like Busch Gardens, and of course you may want to visit the lovely downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Clearwater Beach west of Tampa proper is known for its large expanses of white sand, but it can take a bit of time to get from Tampa to Clearwater, so plan for some extra traffic to deal with.  We highly recommend Fort Desoto (south of Clearwater) for its quiet beaches and history lesson all in one!  In fact this picture on our website home page was taken by me at Fort Desoto!

No matter which coast you hit from your Disney area vacation rental home, be sure and pack the sunscreen and prepare to have a great time!

Quality of service?

Yesterday I was turning over one of the villas that I manage to another property management company, as the home was changing ownership.  As I was going through my checklist, I asked the new management company if they wanted me to change out the code on the key lock box and the code on the house alarm for the incoming guest.

His answer should not have surprised me! “You visit the house, do an inspection and change out the codes before every visitor arrives?  We have 60 homes and are FAR too busy to do this!”

When relaying this to my husband, who teaches business, he said “They have chosen a business model that provides a lower quality of service than you provide. This helps them maximize their profits.”

Unfortunately this “business model” usually permeates through the entire management company. Visitors to those homes will likely see poorly maintained homes, dirty pools, dirty garages, clutter, etc.  And worse yet, poor customer service when a problem arises for the vacationer.  This has been proven time and again when a poorly run management company has ruined a family’s vacation.

Unhappy Customer

So before you book that Disney area vacation home for your holiday, I encourage you to get to know the management company that manages the house, and ask a few tough questions on how they run their business.  You will be glad you did!

Happy hunting!

Don’t get ripped off when renting a vacation home!

The longer I am in this business the more scams and horror stories I hear.  Makes you wonder about our society.  Anyhow that is a topic for another time – today I want to help make sure YOU don’t get ripped off when renting a home or villa for your family vacation.  After all, I know that every minute of vacation time is precious, and the last thing you want on your vacation is a problem!

Recently I got a panicked call from someone who was promised a rental home that didn’t exist.  Luckily I was able to put her into one of my homes, and I advised she get her money back on her original rental.

Then I found out about a scam I was unaware of.  This person had paid the balance in full with a credit card over 90 days ago (a requirement to book the house she wanted, apparently).  I thought that was odd since most management companies like mine ask for 25% down to reserve the property, then the remainder a month or so prior to  your visit.  (That is the way our credit card processor wants it as well.)

Credit card

The scammers take adavantage of the dispute window timeframe common with consumer credit cards.  They know if you find out you were ripped off more than 90 days after they took your money, then you are powerless to dispute the charge.  You see, most credit card companies require you register a charge dispute within 60 days of the date of the statement the charge was on, effectively giving the consumer up to a 90 day window to dispute the charge.  By getting the full amount more than 90 days ahead of your planned vacation, the bad guys know you are powerless to reverse the charge once you find out you were scammed!

So how to protect yourself? Next time you book a Disney area vacation rental (or similar), make sure you don’t provide final payment until a month or so from your visit date.  If the company or homeowner you are working with refuses, find another vacation home to rent!

Happy and safe hunting for that perfect vacation!

 

Alligators freak me out – should I consider an Orlando vacation?

Well the good news, my friend, is that humans are not on the list of alligators favorite foods.  In fact, alligators don’t hunt humans at all!

That said, I wouldn’t lay quietly in the middle of a deserted marshy area on a hot summer evening.  Alligators, while not incredibly bright, are opportunistic diners.  So if your pet Labradoodle walks too close to a hungry gator, he might become a snack.  In fact, one of our Orlando vacation home rental communities just posted a sign on their nature trail to beware of gators, because someone did report a small dog gone missing, possibly to a gator’s stomach.

So while you shouldn’t be afraid of gators, you should be conscientious when you enter their habitat.  They were here first, after all!

gator

A few tips – alligators like to hide in marshy areas, waiting for a meal such as a small bird or fish to come along.  They will also actively hunt at night.  Normally only for something bite-sized, not a whole human!

Alligators that have been fed by humans begin to associate humans with food, which of course is a bad idea.  When you see a big one, you might want to keep your distance since you don’t know that particular gator’s history.  And if for some reason they mistake your arm for small prey (did I mention they are not too bright?!) you will be headed to the hospital for stitches.  Probably not worth the story to tell your grandkids!

Don’t let your small children or small pets wander off into marshy areas, of course, but you will be fine anywhere there is lots of human activity (all of our inhabited lakes, for instance).  Our water ski jumper friends say that alligators like to sun themselves on the jump ramp, so they have to chase them off before they get their training under way.  And to this day no jumper has been eaten, even after a big crash!

Oh, and don’t forget to take an air boat ride while you are here to see them in their natural habitat – after all, the more you know about this cool native beast the better!

Wow this Disney area vacation villa is SO CLEAN!

Ah, music to my ears!  Wish I had a penny for every time I made the welcoming phone call to my newly arrived guest and heard that phrase!  It may be an indicator of their experience at my competitor’s properties, or it may be an indication that the cleanliness standards of their own home are more like mine :-).  But in any event, guests really appreciate the experience of walking into a clean villa they are going to call home for a week or more, and I strive to make this a reality for all of our guests.

rear view of woman with yellow gloves in kitchen doing housework

How do I do it?  First off, I have a top notch maid service that I work very closely with.  This includes meeting with any new cleaning person assigned to one of my homes to make sure this new person understands my expectations.  In this digital age, there is still nothing like a face to face sit down to make sure two people are on the same page!

Second, my husband or I inspect each and every home before a guest arrives.  We also clean the places the maids don’t, including the garage (which sometimes houses a games room and is used heavily by the children), and the pool.  While the pool and pool deck are cleaned weekly by a separate vendor, if the guest left things a mess and the pool vendor has not been there recently, there may be some  issues to address on the day the new guest arrives.  This is especially true of “back to backs”, where one guest departs at 10 am and the new guest arrives at 4 pm.

Third, I have the carpets steam cleaned as often as possible and spot treat when necessary.  I wish I could steam clean the carpet between each guest (I can’t), but I do have it done as often as I can.

So, come stay with us and see if one of my Orlando area vacation homes meets your cleanliness standards as well!

Overwhelmed by search results while using VRBO and Home Away?

I was talking to a vacationer the other day who found one of our Disney area vacation rental homes using VRBO and rented the home directly from the owner.  While his result was excellent (he found one of our great homes, after all!), he mentioned that using VRBO to find the perfect home was a lot of work and a bit overwhelming!

tablet

For example, a quick search today of VRBO Orlando vacation homes yields almost 8,000 listings.  So I put in the sample travel dates of the first week in August 2014 which narrowed it down to 4,000 homes.  By using a filter for 4 bedrooms, I cut it down to 1300 homes.  Still a lot to sift through.  If you click “advanced search” a dashboard of filters worthy of launching the space shuttle comes up!  While useful, I still won’t know the actual community the homes are located in without some additional work.  (If I know enough to click on “Davenport”, “Kissimmee” or “Clermont” I can see the actual community near Disney I might be interested in.)  If I simply scroll through the listings, as the vacationer I was talking to mentioned, every home says “close to Disney” so that location description really isn’t useful!

So is there an easier way?  Sure!  Call me!  While VRBO and HomeAway are great for homeowners who want to advertise their properties, it is not really “easy one stop shopping” for the consumer looking for an Orlando vacation.  By talking to a property manager who has dozens of homes that they oversee, you can learn first hand about all the pros and cons of particular communities, floor plans, and amenities such as pools, spas and game rooms.  And we can tailor your search very quickly to what is most important to you (proximity to Disney, West facing pool, etc).

As a bonus, by talking to me or a similar property manager with many homes under management, you can save time by booking a property or getting pricing and availability on the spot.  Most homes listed on VRBO and HomeAway do not have “live” calendars and bookings, meaning you have to go back and forth with the owner via email to find out if the home is available for your dates of travel.  And those that do have online booking still make you wait up to 24 hours to confirm that the vacation home you selected is definitely booked for your requested dates.

So, next time you are frustrated with your online search for a Disney area vacation rental, give me a call!

What to do if your Orlando vacation rental home is “double booked”!

Now that the crazy Christmas season is behind us, I have time to pass along some information that might help you out of a jam.  More than once my phone rang over the holidays and on the other end of the line was some poor vacationer who showed up at their Disney area vacation rental home only to find that it was already occupied!  Calls to the owner or the management company got an “oops we’re sorry!”  So they tried calling around to see if they could find someplace to stay.

headache

First off, with modern technology (specifically good scheduling software) this should never happen.  But mistakes do happen, especially when owners and management companies are not “on the same page” and are using separate master calendars.

So, back to the original question – what to do if you are double booked?  Of course you will call the owner or the management company that you booked with and see if they have any similar properties they can move you to.  If not, my next call would be to the local management companies, especially the ones that have lots of homes under management.  You can use Google or Craigslist to get some numbers to call.  Keep calling down the list until you get a live human being on the phone.

To avoid this mad scramble altogether, you may want to check on the reputation of who you are dealing with before you book your next vacation.  Read website reviews, read the terms and conditions of the booking – in other words, do your homework!  If you are traveling during a busy holiday season, you may also want to call a month or so ahead to make sure you have the property booked properly. Oh, and next time book with us!  Happy vacation shopping!

What is the best time of year to visit Orlando?

While the kids schedule usually runs the family calendar, including vacation planning, you may want to give some thought to jumping out of the normal vacation cycle of summer, Christmas and spring school breaks.

With high temps in the 70s, and little to no crowding at the theme parks, January is a wonderful month to visit Orlando.  You will also save on Disney area vacation rental homes and enjoy a better selection of homes.  You can order pool heat so the water is still nice and toasty, or jump into the spa that heats up to 104 or so!  Oh, and winter is our dry season so leave the umbrellas at home!

sun

February has similar temperatures and is fairly quiet unless you hit a northern secondary school break week.  Even then, things are not as crazy as March when we have the Canadian secondary school break,  lots of U.S. college breaks, Easter break for many U.S. secondary schools, etc.

The “shoulder” months of April and October have lovely temperatures, low humidity and less than normal crowding at the parks.  A lot of Europeans come in October (school break) but the parks are still relatively quiet.  And did I mention the weather is fantastic?  Sunny, 80s and low humidity – perhaps my favorite Central Florida weather month of the year!

So whip out those planners (or smartphones or tablets) and get planning!  Find your spot in the warm Florida sun!