If you are like me and live in a small apartment, you may be seeking a brief respite in a home with a yard, a den, and extra rooms to share with your adult children. Over the last four months, Scott and I decided to rent three different vacation home properties within driving distance of our apartment, and enjoy the time together with our family. Here’s what happened.
Vacation Rental Number One: Scottsdale, Arizona
We decided to drive our electric vehicle on the six hour road trip to Scottsdale. Scott calculated that we would need to stop twice (for 15 minutes each) to recharge the battery. I figured I would use those 15 minutes to make a bathroom stop at a gas station or fast food restaurant. We were both sorely mistaken. We ended up needing to stop 3 times, for 45 minutes each. (We found out that the more people there are at a charging station, the longer it takes for each car to charge.) I found out that while you can purchase gas or food along the road, you cannot use the restrooms, they are closed. In desperate need, Scott found me a place to “go pee” behind a dumpster in an abandoned shopping center. As I squatted down and splashed pee onto the concrete ground (and my shoes), all of a sudden I heard him yell, “Security! Security!” I looked up, mid-pee, and saw a security guard driving towards me. I jumped in the car, ignored his pleas to get my information, and sped away. As I still had not completed my task, I had to get ingenious. I ended up using a baggie from the food we had packed. I squatted on the floor in front of my seat and prayed the baggie wouldn’t overflow. Success. I ended up using this method on the ride home as well.
The Scottsdale home was spectacular! It was in a section of town called Pinnacle Peak, surrounded by gorgeous homes and desert wilderness. The house sleeps 12 and has a basketball court, paddle tennis court, pingpong table, corn hole game, swing set, jacuzzi, and swimming pool. Indoor amenities include a home theater, gym, dining room, bar, office, and breathtaking desert decor. We decided to ride bikes the first day, and we jumped aboard the 4 bikes that came with the home. As we headed up a hill, I noticed that everyone else was speeding up the incline at an easy pace. I thought the climb was grueling. Scott yelled to me, “Put your bike in a lower gear!” My answer, “What gears?” They were gracious enough to assign me the one bike without gears! After that, we took turns getting the gearless bike, but mostly Scott took it because he liked the workout.
Everything was going brilliantly at the home. We were cooking, getting take-out, watching movies nightly in the theater, and even dressing up in theme costumes for dinner. Then, one evening when I went to bed, I put my hand under my pillow to fluff it up. I felt what I thought was a “piece of glass” stick into my hand. It turned out to be a scorpion. Luckily I had read the handbook that came with the home. I knew right away to apply ice to the bite and to call poison control. Halfway through my call with poison control, Scott accidentally hung up on the operator while moving his phone. I never found out how long the pain would last! The following day my whole hand was numb, but after that, it gradually returned to normal.
Vacation rental number two: Indio, California
We were looking for something sunny and casual so we headed to Indio for our next rental. It was only a two and one half hour drive from Los Angeles, so no bathroom stops were necessary! The home was Spanish style, with a guest house, gym, game room, pool, lake, and ATV road. We were in awe that the property had its own lake and each night, we ate dinner al fresco at a lakeside table. We had been told that the home is a very popular rental for the Coachella Music Festival which is held nearby each year, so we dressed in festival attire for dinner one night.
During the day we enjoyed lounging poolside or playing games in the large game room. We spent Mother’s Day together here and it was a joy to be in the same home as my daughter for the holiday. Only mishap? A small snake slithering by the pool. The onsite caretaker swooped it up!
Vacation Rental number three: Malibu, California
Since our third rental would be in summertime, we decided to head up to Northern Malibu and rent a home in the hills above Trancas beach. In photos, this home looked terrific. In-person, it was not. It used to belong to Olympic diver, Greg Louganis. The swimming pool has his name and the Olympic rings embedded within the pool-tiles. Unfortunately, the home has not been kept in good condition. There is a mold problem and the house is filled with mice. (We pulled out a trundle bed and found rat feces covering the bed.) The indoor plants were dead and there were spiders all around. The outdoor fireplace was missing the knobs to turn it on, the kitchen cooktop had only 2 burners that worked, the screen doors had holes in them, and the guest room shower was missing the nozzle so the shower head was at waist high. The road to the house had been torn up by the city and had construction workers on it all day during the week. At times we would be subjected to a 20-minute delay for them to cover up holes in the road so we could pass by. We tried to get some money back from the management company, Avant Stay, but all they would do is deduct the cost of one housekeeping service (out of 3), and give us a 1-2 night credit to a stay at another one of their properties. Not sure I’m up for that. Despite the “house of horrors,” we had fun being together. My son flew out from Colorado and joined us. We celebrated Father’s Day, the boys went surfing and enjoyed working out together, we got to take our kids to our restaurant ( https://www.101northeateryandbar.com/ ) for the first time. We also wished our daughter a happy 30th birthday and were grateful to all be together.
So, what have I learned from renting these homes during Covid? I’ve learned that the management companies are open to negotiating a lower rate with you than what is posted on VRBO. That’s good. What’s not so good is that if you don’t have a pleasant experience, you cannot post your review on VRBO. (There weren’t any reviews at all for the Malibu home.) The best way to find the right home is by word of mouth if you can. The second best way is to read the reviews (if they exist) and check out who is writing them. Has the reviewer rented other homes? Do they usually rent them to have a party? Look at the photographs carefully. If they don’t show all the bathrooms and all the bedrooms, that’s a bad sign. Ask about wifi and tv channels, if that’s important to you. (The Malibu house said they had wifi, but it didn’t work. The hot water heater broke down too!) Lastly, during Covid, find out how much time there will be between the prior occupant and yourself. Inquire as to the Covid-cleaning policies. If they don’t have them, take a pass.
Will we rent another home? Yes, I think we will depending on how long we are all living this “new normal.” Next time, however, I think I will be a little more discerning in my selection and insist on excellent reviews. If you know of a good rental home, please list it below!