How do you rent a vacation home safely, a reader asked recently. How do you know the property really exists? What is the safest form of payment? How can you stay safe when others also have access to the home?

I sense both hesitation and intrigue in the query. After all, it’s nice to have a washing machine in Maui or a kitchen in Fort Myers, but it can be scary to move from a standard hotel rental to the unknown, whether that is or a regional rental service such as Still, so many people are doing it that vacation rentals have grown into an $85 billion industry.

How can you ease in?

I’d recommend skipping Craigslist (yes, some people do post vacation rentals there) and instead stick with the tried-and-true, such as, or

Even then, it’s essential to take some precautions.

• Never wire money. Instead pay, via credit card, whose company will reverse charges if a property turns out to be nonexistent.

• Beware of outrageous deals. If the marketplace seems to demand $200 a night, but someone is offering their penthouse suite for $75, ignore the offer, no matter how pretty the pictures (which were probably lifted from another site).

• Read the reviews closely.

• Always speak with the owner by phone, and do some double-checking by checking LinkedIn, Facebook and other sites. If your gut tells you something’s not right, look elsewhere.


Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.