Managing Your Vacation Rental

Red Flags During the Screening Process

Written by Joan Talmadge
3.3/5 - (7 votes)

Recently, there was an interesting discussion on our Vacation Rental Owners Community FB page. The focus was on the importance of communication between owner and prospective renters and what to watch out for. So, I thought I’d create a list of red flags when screening a potential guest.

Red flags when screening prospective guests

  • They are hesitant to engage in conversation, either via email or phone.
  • When you do connect, they are not forthcoming in their responses.
  • You have a small home, and they ask how many cars your property can accommodate.
  • You ask for their home address for the rental contract, and they are reluctant to provide it.
  • They want to make significant changes to the rental contract.
  • Their questions seem to indicate that they might be looking for a more luxurious home than yours.
  • They are anxious to secure a discount, or they indicate that your home might be beyond their price range.

One owner in the FB Community said it best: “When engaging with a prospective guest, the conversation just flows, doesn’t it? Even their initial inquiry sounds genuine, and then the back and forth via email, or during a phone conversation, just clicks. If you feel like you’re pushing a stone uphill in your communications with someone, best to step away.”

Why is communication so important? Establishing a rapport and a sense of mutual trust is vital.  You as the owner want to trust that your guests will care for your home as if it were theirs.  And your guests want to trust that you are a legitimate owner or manager, and that what you tell them about your property is an honest and accurate representation.  In short, it should provide assurance to both of you that your home is a good fit for them.

Ask specific and open-ended questions

Whether by email or phone (recommended if possible), keep the conversation natural and ask friendly, yet leading, questions such as:

Have they been to [your town] before?  If they’re not familiar with your area, they may make some assumptions that don’t match reality. So, it’s important to tell them as much as you can about your immediate setting, your town, and its surroundings. Naturally, this also enables you to “sell” your town as well as your property.

Ask about the makeup of their party — number of adults and number of ages of children.  (Is your home suitable for young children?) Do they have an older person in their party who might have trouble navigating stairs? (What are your accommodations for them?) Does anyone have allergies?

Ask what they are looking for in a rental.  Do they want an informal beach house with casual furniture?  Do they want a luxurious home with all the modern amenities? Do they want a quiet area or one with lots of activities?  No home has everything for everyone! Make sure yours suits them well.

Trust Your Instincts

All too often when I speak with a homeowner who had issues with a party that rented their home, they tell me that they had little communication with them prior to the booking. They received the inquiry, indicated that their home was available for the week inquired about, and sent the lease. Don’t be too quick to pull the trigger on sending the lease. Get to know who you’re sending the lease to first.

And, above all, trust your instincts. Some owners say “I had a feeling from the beginning that they could be trouble.” If you get the impression that a prospective guest is not right for your home, just say no. This blog post will give you a few hints about how to diplomatically decline a booking. And for a more comprehensive look at some of the risks to avoid, see our post, “Avoiding pitfalls in managing a vacation rental home.”

About the author

Joan Talmadge

Joan Talmadge - My husband Jeff and I created in 1997, shortly after buying our Cape home. My background includes teaching fifth grade for 8 years and writing and editing educational publications for 15. I get great joy from helping fellow homeowners successfully rent their homes. Jeff and I are proud to have two of our three grown children working for, truly a family-run business. For me, the Cape and Islands are magical all times of the year -- whether it's walking on Nauset Beach, playing golf, or enjoying family and friends. Email Joan


  • Dear Joan
    This is Nancy Ferreira from Coming Home Cottage who joined you back in 1997 and I would like to say thank you for all the years I was with you. You have come a long way and that is great. We have retired to M.V. our birth place. One of our renters now rents year round. Thanks to We Need A Vacation. Enjoy your news letters. Nancy

    • Thank you, Nancy! It’s great to hear from you, and it’s wonderful that you and your husband have finally been able to “come home” to MV for good! I’m looking forward to doing that in a few years, too!