By February, even snow lovers who ride out the winter in cold climates are having doubts about not flying south. If you're a last-minute snowbird, you can still find a warm winter nest at the right price and terms provided you're flexible.
These days, retirees face more competition from travelers of all ages who can work remotely, says Nola Lu, spokesperson for VRBO.com, a website for vacation home listings by owners. For example, demand for VRBO-listed properties in snowbird hotspots is up more than 20% compared to 2019. Florida still reigns as a top snowbird destination, but winter bookings go early, leaving you with slim pickings in the Sunshine State now. You may find a better selection of vacation rentals in places like Flagstaff, Ariz.; Galveston, Texas; Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.
Plan for a Longer Stay
During snowbird season, many property owners set a minimum stay of at least a month. The longer you stay, the better the rate may be. For example, the rent on a two-bedroom Victorian cottage in Galveston for this March is regularly $289 per night, but a month-long stay earns a 25% discount. Besides rent, you'll pay additional fees as well as state and local taxes. In Tucson, Kimber Leefers, an agent for Solterra Vacation Rentals, says you may get a lower rate if you're willing to travel in April or May, when you can still avoid the last snowfall or mud season at home.
Cast a Wide Net
Search widely on sites such as Airbnb.com, Vacasa.com and VRBO.com. Try an undated search by location to yield the best selection, including less expensive options, says Lu. Also, contact a locally based vacation-rental property manager or a real estate agent, who can suggest communities that match your budget and interests. The rates through a local expert should be competitive with those on national search sites, if not better. Ask about last-minute cancellations or new listings, which may be offered for a discount. Feel free to counteroffer with a lower rate.
Read the Fine Print
The "Terms and Conditions" constitutes your rental agreement. Read it carefully to learn if utilities, Wi-Fi, parking and access to community amenities, like a pool, are included. Typically, a portion of the total cost is due when you book the property and the balance before you check in.
Cancellation policies are often tied to how much notice you give. For example, you may get a 100% refund if you cancel at least 60 days before check-in, 50% if it's a month before, and no refund for less than 30 days notice. The policy may apply even if you cancel for pandemic- related travel restrictions, natural disasters or illness. To protect yourself, buy travel insurance; some policies may cover cancellation for any reason, says Lu.
Emergencies can also arise at the house during your stay. Whether you're renting from a private host or a professional management company, find out who you should contact if any maintenance needs come up, says Shaun Greer, vice-president of sales and marketing at Vacasa.com. If you're concerned about breaking or damaging something during your stay, some properties have a prepaid fee for a damage waiver -- say, $79 for damage up to $3,000 -- or an equivalent amount of security deposit.
What happens if the specific property you booked was misrepresented or becomes unavailable or uninhabitable? Property managers typically will try to give you a similar or better property at the same rate or offer you another place at a lower rate and refund you the difference. The Terms and Conditions should state what happens if the replacement property is unacceptable to you.
Beware of Scams
If an online listing on classified sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace offers super cheap rates on premium vacation properties and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't be rushed into a decision. Get a copy of the rental agreement before you send a deposit. Check that the address of the property exists. If the rental is in a resort, call it to verify the listing. Never wire money. Instead, pay with a credit card, which provides some payment protection.
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