Using VRBO: Tips From My Recent Experience

Using VRBO: Tips From My Recent Experience

I decided to get away for a few days but to stay on island. Kauai’s North Shore seemed like a good possibility since I love to swim at Hanalei this time of year.  Rather than book a hotel I decided to use Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) for the first time in years to locate a property.

Here’s a report of my experience with the site:

Availability Calendar Mostly a Miss

Some owners do not use this feature which means you’re contacting properties that may already be booked. Those that show their availability do not always keep their calendar current. I contacted 10 properties that showed availability for my dates. Two never responded and seven owners reported (within 24 hours) that they were occupied.

A Good Place to Practice Detachment

It was easy for me to get excited about a particular rental only to be let down when it was not available. Decide on your favorites and send out a blast request to all of them at the same time. My mistake was contacting one property at a time before proceeding to the next.

Photographs Are Important

I was more attracted to properties with good visuals and those that showed a balance between interior and exterior views. Property photos that looked dated did not impress me. I also ruled out those that focused more on the view than interior.

Research Reviews Of Your Finalists

If possible see if you can obtain the address of the property before exchanging money. That way you can do a Google Search for the address to see if reviews have been written. The VRBO reviews were usually not helpful as there was no way to verify if the writer actually had been a guest.

You May Need to Compromise

My goal was a beachfront cottage. When I couldn’t find one available on my dates, I settled on something else that turned out great. Consider what property features cannot be negotiated. I love to cook so a full kitchen was a requirement.

VRBO should have an improved search function

I was only able to narrow properties by location and dates. It would have been helpful to sort on additional criteria like number of bedrooms, price range, amenities and bed size for example.


I almost gave up with seven rejections in a row over the course of a week. Lucky for me I gave it one last go and hit a winner.

In my follow on later this week, I’ll be telling you where I stayed. Here’s a sample of my winning view for $100/night (not including cleaning charge, tax, reservation fee and security deposit which I’ll explain tomorrow).


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  1. cindy (5 years ago)

    Hi Rob and Jeff!
    I was looking through VRBO rentals for a weeks stay in Oahu. I came across this pretty nice place with great reviews but found they had availablity for only 5 nights. I ended up booking it in case I didn’t find anything else. They offered a weekly/per night rate and a nightly rate. The difference being $10 per night. I wonered if it would be rude to ask if they would apply the lower weekly/per night rate since they did not have the whole week available. What are your thoughts?

    • Rob (5 years ago)

      Hi Cindy,

      Good question. If it were me, I would not make an issue of the extra $10 per night. I hope you enjoy your VRBO rental on Oahu.

      Best Wishes,
      Rob @Beat of Hawaii

  2. Lulu (5 years ago)

    Over the years my husband and I have stayed in Kapoho Vacationland, Kona (HKK), and Puerto Morelos, Q. Roo in units found via VRBO and Home Away — all three times we were able to find reviews of the properties, communicate with the owners before booking, and were happy with our accommodations.

  3. Rob (5 years ago)

    Thanks for all the great comments and suggestions. I appreciate Cat giving us the owner’s perspective too.

    Aloha from Rob
    Beat of Hawaii

  4. Ukalady (5 years ago)

    We’ve successfully done VRBO numerous times in Hawaii but for first-time rentals, I prefer only working with owners who will accept bank card payment; this way there is some type of “relief” available if things don’t turn out well.

  5. casacaudill (5 years ago)

    In general I love sites like VRBO and We tend not to use them in Hawaii b/c we have access to a timeshare that is nearly always available. That said, I’m in the process of booking a trip to Vancouver Island and I’m finding nearly 100% of the prices listed to be misleading. The owners will give a range in the information and then somehow the place is always more for my dates, sometimes as much as $100/night. Maybe this is a case of people not properly maintaining their listings like noted in the comments above, or maybe it’s a way to lure vacationers into wanting their property and then going beyond budget (like the real estate game of a couple of years ago). I’d like to not be cynical about it but it’s very strange that this is the case with almost every single inquiry in Victoria.

  6. Cat (5 years ago)

    I think wrong Cat! We are on the Big Island…. but come and visit!

  7. Marsha (5 years ago)

    I too have found great places to stay on Kauai using VRBO. In fact, I stayed at Cat’s Kilauea cottage and absolutely loved it. Hi Cat !

  8. Michelle (5 years ago)

    We have visited Poipu Kai for the last three years and rented the same condo. The owner (George) is fantastic to work with. He obviously has a lot of pride in his unit and takes the time to market it well (which is reflected in his bookings!). His VRBO page is very well done. He is always very quick to reply to any inquiries, he provides excellent, clear and current photos (that were a true representation of the unit), and his calendar is constantly updated to reflect current bookings and availability.

    This summer, we are trying another owner/unit in the same condo complex (we needed a bigger unit this year). I am a bit nervous because the owner doesn’t update his calendar very often…in fact it still shows that it is available during the time we have reserved and sent a deposit for. The VRBO listing isn’t very detailed…he hasn’t taken the time to fully outline the condos offerings (wifi? beach chairs?)…we will have to contact him and ask him about specific items being available. There are no customer comments/feedback available. However, his communication (both in emails and phone) have been timely and friendly. He seems like a reputable business person who has a condo as an investment rather than his mail source of income…he admits he hasn’t taken the time to market it very well.

    I am crossing my fingers and rolling the dice that we enjoy this condo as much as we have enjoyed the other condo for the last three years! We love Kauai! :)

  9. Cat (5 years ago)

    I am sorry your experience was poor with the search for properties. We have a property on VRBO (and we keep our calendar updated). Let me offer some insight though – we have guests requests rates and availability and then hear nothing back. So when I respond I always say “at this time, we have availability for the nights of xxx, and to secure these nights … you do this and this”. Then three weeks later, after giving them to some one else, I get a response back to reserve those nights…. of course they are upset, but hey 3 weeks went by without a word. I also try to check in before I give those days away.

    The other issue is that I have gotten emails saying you took too long to respond (they sent me an email at 3 AM HST and I responded at 9 AM HST but they live on East Coast).

    VRBO also does not take off properties that are no longer available. They leave them on – and send emails to the owners saying if you want to update (pay) you can see this rental inquiry. I think any unavailable should be invisible because it gives others a bad rap.


  10. Kathy Wiser (5 years ago)

    My family has used VRBO six times to find rental properties in Hawaii, and we’ve been pleased all six times. Three of those six times were on Kauai, two in the Kapaa area and the most recent in Koloa. In each instance we contacted the owner several months in advance, and only once were we not able to get the property that we wanted. Since we value our privacy more than we value the amenities at resorts, we feel that using VRBO is the best fit for us.

  11. soozzie (5 years ago)

    You may also want to check to see whether your VRBO is a legal rental. Our beighborhood is awash in illegal rentals, which are making our lives miserable. As a result, we spend a lot of time screaming at the vacationers across the street and next door, and over the back fence to keep the noise down. And calling the cops. None of this is fun for the renters, either, who have entirely different expectations when they are here. Lately the legal B&Bs in the area have begun reporting the illegal ones to the county for enforcement. One clue is if there are lots of rules about noise, parking and outdoor activities — the owner may be trying to avoid being reported. Basically, if the rental is illega, it means you are not welcome in the neighborhood.

  12. Dodge & Sharon (5 years ago)

    My Wife and I have rented via VRBO (etc.) numerous times. Knock on wood, we have almost always been extremely satisfied with the experience.
    The exceptions have been, for the most part, related to sale of the property we had reserved. I now check MLS listings before, and periodically after, renting in an effort to reduce the chances of having to make a last-minute scramble to avoid sleeping on the beach.