It's no secret that Santa Cruz vacation rental homes continue to gain popularity among travelers over hotels for a number of reasons. They are typically larger, self-contained, feature more amenities like a fully-equipped kitchen and maybe a private hot tub, and offer a lot more privacy. Vacation homes are usually a lot quieter than a hotel room since you have your own detached living space, and many homes are located on a small residential street. And if you're traveling with friends or family you can ideally share the cost among the group, which makes booking a vacation rental home cheaper than a hotel, and excellent value.
But not all vacation rental houses are created equal, and some are definitely better quality than others. So you need to be a little careful when making your reservation. If you are a seasoned vacation rental veteran you already know from experience through trial and error what to look out for and what questions to ask before finalizing your booking. Listings don't always tell you everything, or they may be unclear, so it's important to ask the right questions before signing that rental agreement.
For the newbies we've put together a helpful list of some of the most frequent and important questions you should be asking when considering a holiday rental home by the beach, specifically here in Santa Cruz. Here are our Top 10 Questions To Ask Before Booking a Santa Cruz Vacation Rental Home:
1. When is the best time to book? You should start researching vacation rental sites and properties as soon as you know when you want to go on vacation. Booking early is the key – there will be more selection when you begin searching early-on. Many people start booking trips at or around the New Year's holiday, so starting your planning sooner than later can give you more options for finding that dream Santa Cruz vacation rental, for the dates you want it, because there will be more inventory. The peak season Summer months, special events and holidays are usually the first dates to be snatched up, because they are typically the most popular.
2. Is this a kid-friendly and/or pet-friendly vacation home? If you are traveling with children, especially younger ones or infants, you'll want to make sure the rental property is family friendly. If there are staircases you will want baby-gates. Oftentimes vacation rentals like ours will also offer high-chairs, a Pac 'n Play, newborn Rock 'n Play sleeper, outlet covers and an assortment of beach toys and beach towels. Ideally there are a few kids games and DVDs available too as a bonus. But these are not always a given, so it's a good idea to ask in advance so you you'll know what you'll need to bring along with you. Also you should ask if there is a playground close by.
As for pets, most higher end vacation rental homes do not allow pets in the property since they can sometimes be pretty destructive. But those that do, offer quite an advantage over hotels or other vacation houses that do not. There are usually some restrictions however, such as age, size , breed and type of pet, so be sure you are aware of any that might apply to you before booking. Santa Cruz is quite dog-friendly so there are lots of places you can bring your four legged friends along with you when visiting, dining out, shopping and relaxing at dog-friendly beaches like Seabright Beach. Some of the more popular pet-friendly vacation rental search sites are PetsWelcome.com, BringFido.com, DogTrekker.com, PetVR.com, and ThePlace2Stay.com. Otherwise you can also use the major vacation rental sites like VRBO, Airbnb, HomeAway, etc., and include ‘allows pets’ as a search filter. Some vacation rental homes offer dog bowls, poo bags, and dog toys and blankets to place on furniture so you can snuggle with Fido while binging on Stranger Things.
3. What are the amenities? When you book a vacation house over a hotel, you expect it to be well equipped with certain basic household items along with a few other perks for your temporary home-away-from-home. But that's not always true, so it's good to be clear about what's included, and what isn't, in your rental. For example, it's not unreasonable to expect enough bed linens and towels for all your guests up to capacity, along with toiletries, hand soaps, paper towels, etc., but some rentals don't provide them and you will need to bring your own. Any decent vacation home will provide these basic items along with free, fast, and reliable high-speed Wi-Fi Internet, cable TV, a fully-equipped kitchen, dishes and silverware, toaster, microwave, blender/food processor, coffee pot/tea kettle, outdoor grill, washer and dryer, laundry detergent, iron, ironing board, and a hair dryer. Other nice added-value extras might include a hot tub, gas or wood burning fireplace, dish washer, garbage disposal, high quality chef's cookware and knives, espresso machine, smart HDTVs with streaming, beach cruiser bikes, alarm system and more – although these might come at a bit of a premium.
House cleaning upon departure is usually included and you will typically be charged for this service as part of your fees. You won't normally be expected to clean everything yourself, although there are usually some items you'll be asked to do upon check-out to help minimize the cost, like stripping bedding, loading the dish washer, taking out the trash, etc. Each vacation rental is different with their requirements so ask in advance how much you'll be expected to do.
4. Where is the location? If you're visiting Santa Cruz to surf or otherwise spend time at the beach, you probably want to be close to the beach. Or if you are looking for somewhere quiet, it's often better to be on a residential street than in the heart of downtown. Or maybe you want to be close to coffee shops, restaurants, local activities and attractions like the Boardwalk, local markets and retail stores. It's good to know if these things are close by and within walking distance, or if you'll need to drive everywhere. Most listings online should include a map with the rental home's location marked so you can see where you're situated and decide if the location is right for you. If not, ask for the address and do a search on Google Maps yourself.
5. Is this a hosted or non-hosted vacation rental property? Santa Cruz has about as many hosted vacation rental homes (where the owner resides on the property, and may or may not be present during your visit) as non-hosted (where the owner does not live on the premises and it is not their principal residence). So depending on the type of experience you are looking for, if you don't want the home owners lurking around during your stay, you should make sure you are renting a non-hosted short term vacation rental (STVR). We personally stayed at a hosted property once... and only once. We found it a little creepy and a bit invasive, which made it a little difficult to fully relax. But some people like having the owners nearby so to each their own.
6. Is a deposit required and when will I get it back? Vacation rentals typically charge a deposit in order to secure and hold the reservation. Vacation rental property owners and management companies handle deposits/security deposits differently from property to property so make sure you're clear about your liability in case something is damaged during your stay. It's not unusual to pay a security deposit – just make sure all transactions are done securely and with a credit card, personal check, money order or through PayPal. Usually these security deposits are fully refundable once you've paid in full – usually about 45 days prior to your rental However, if you break something due to negligence, etc., you may be charged for its repair or replacement. The rule of thumb is to be respectful and treat your vacation rental home as you would your own home, and there shouldn't be any issues.
7. What is the cancellation policy? Again, this can vary across properties and listing websites. Airbnb has three standard policies (Flexible, Moderate, and Strict). The Super Strict 60 is often attached to higher-end vacation homes and allows you to cancel up to 60 days before check in and get a 50% refund (minus service fees). Cancel within 60 days of your trip and the reservation is non-refundable. Service fees are refunded when cancellation happens before check in and within 48 hours of booking. That said, if you book our property through our property managers, Beachnest Vacation Rentals, you can cancel up to 60 days prior with no penalty. Be sure to double check the specific cancellation policy for the vacation website or other resource you are using to book your reservation.
8. How do I gain entry or obtain keys? You'll want to make sure you can get into the home easily upon arrival, especially after a long drive. Usually there will be a set of keys in a key lock box close to the main entrance, and then another set or two inside the home somewhere. Some vacation properties like Beach Haven have key-less locks, in which case you'll input a code provided to you on the door's keypad, thereby negating the need for carrying around different sets of keys. Either way, the necessary instructions for entry should be provided to you about a week or so prior to your arrival, along with the specific address, the owner's or property manager's contact information and any other useful information you might need before you arrive.
9. Is there parking, and is it included in the price? Ideally your vacation rental will offer free parking on the premises for up to two vehicles; either in a secured garage or on the driveway. However, this is not always the case. You'll want to make sure there is convenient parking available close by, if not on the location. Also check to make sure "street parking available" doesn't mean that's it's on a street where parking permits are required and you will need to move your car every two hours. Santa Cruz has a few of these permit-only areas in residential neighborhoods, so make sure you have adequate parking options.
10. Who do I contact with questions or in case of any issues? If you are renting a hosted short term vacation rental the primary contact will likely be the owner. Otherwise you will probably be dealing with a professional rental management firm to take care of fixing any broken appliances or other household items, replacing lost keys, and additional housekeeping and maintenance needs, Either way, be sure to find out in advance who your primary contact will be and what services you can expect from them and whether they're available 24/7 in case of an emergency.
The bottom line is: when in doubt, be sure to ask!
Did you find this list useful? Please let us know along with any other questions we might have missed for this list. Otherwise we hope you enjoy your relaxing visit to Santa Cruz!
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