Managing Your Vacation Rental

Wanted – The Ideal Vacation Rental Tenant: How to screen for a better fit

Written by Elizabeth Weedon
Wanted – The Ideal Vacation Rental Tenant: How to screen for a better fit
26 4.7

That’s our goal, isn’t it?  To find tenants who enjoy our vacation rental home, are respectful of it, leave it in good condition, and will want to return?   But how is this best accomplished?

Step one is simple:

Speak to your prospective tenants on the phone

While an initial email correspondence is fine, there’s nothing like a phone chat to establish a rapport and a sense of mutual trust.  By “trust,” I mean that you want to trust that your guests will care for your home as if it were theirs.  And your guests want to trust 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 indeed a good fit for them.

Ask specific and open-ended questions

Keep the conversation natural and ask friendly, yet leading, questions such as, “Have you been to [your town] before?  If so, are you familiar with our location?” It’s important for you to know the makeup of their party (number of adults and number of ages of children).  Also, what are they 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?  Does your home and setting seem to have what they are looking for? Assure them that it’s important to you that your home is a good fit for their needs. 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.

Don’t hide the flaws or drawbacks

This is where trouble can start.  Be open and honest with potential renters about your home and its setting.  Is it on a fairly busy road?  Some renters won’t mind, but others definitely will.  Do you have a spiral staircase that might be difficult for children or older people?  Let them know.  Is that “fourth bedroom” really an open loft?  Don’t hide these details. In my experience, disclosing any potential issues gives vacationers a greater sense of trust that they won’t encounter any surprises when they arrive, and they are usually very grateful for your honesty. Manage their expectations: there’s nothing worse than having a tenant show up and be disappointed in your home.  They could accuse you of misrepresentation, or worse yet, demand their money back.  It has happened!

Trust your instincts

Occasionally, I get a phone call from a homeowner who has had an unfortunate experience with a renter and says to me, “I had a bad feeling about them from the very beginning.”   If you get the sense that your home is not appropriate for a particular party, do not agree to rent to them.  It is not worth the risk.  Be prepared to offer firm but diplomatic reasons for not renting to them. If possible, provide them with reasons why they might not want to rent your home.

Read more on respectfully saying “No” to renters who aren’t a good fit.

Do you have any special screening techniques that have worked well for you?

About the author

Elizabeth Weedon

Elizabeth Weedon - Although I’ve worked for since 2008, I’ve been a loyal homeowner on the site since early 1998, just a few months after the website was launched by the Talmadges. I grew up summering on the Vineyard and managed my family's rental home there since the mid-1980’s. I’m passionately devoted to the Vineyard – and to WeNeedaVacation, which I credit with enabling me to hold onto the special property that has been in our family for nearly a century. An enthusiastic member of the WNAV Homeowner Support Team, I endeavor to keep my finger on the pulse of the Cape and Islands vacation rental industry so that I can provide homeowners advice about how to ensure their booking success with us. With owner Joan Talmadge, I am also responsible for editing and writing much of the text on our website, our monthly newsletters, and Homeowner Blog posts. Email Elizabeth


  • This is a tough one because it’s difficult to extrapolate the kind of information that will give you confidence that they’ll take good care of your home. Still, I’ve been fortunate that my renters have been generally well behaved — and I have two basic rules: a) I never rent to college students about to graduate (you usually get these calls in mid-May) or have recently graduated — even if their email address is perfectly innocent (no mixmaster tip off) and, relatedly, b) I tend not rent to anyone who either doesn’t have children or, absent children, are under 50. Also, I do a little internet search, particularly on Linked In and Google, and I try to find out what kind of work they do, if they have appeared in local papers, etc. I have been thinking that I should subscribe to one of those services that tell you all about any criminal records etc., and I’d be interested to know if anyone out there (like Sandy) has found one to their liking.

  • I am new to the renting of our summer home. The tips from the landlords who have been doing this a while are extremely helpful and appreciative. We’ve worked too hard and invested too much in our vacation home to rent to people who really don’t care to treat it kindly, as I know all of you feel as well. I do understand however that silly things can happen such as a slat in our window treatment came off, a broken lamp, a baby toy went home with someone. These things we can deal with, I’m just so nervous about sloppy drunks that can cause real damage. Great detective work Jane on the email address, that is truly something I am going to watch out for. Also, thank you to Tahoe Chalet for the info on the websites to check out some renters, what a wonderful resource!

    • Hello Anne,
      I understand where you are coming from. I believe that you should consider the market you are going for and work hard to appeal to that market – you will likely attract people in that market and avoid the nightmare and fear you have written about. For example, we market heavily to a family market with young children. Not every homeowner wants young children but I believe you will attract young families who have a strong focus on ‘doing the right things;. I have never had a problem with anything broken in my home even with families up to 8 people.
      Like other readers, I too use many resources on the internet to check out who is inquiring. The best defense is information gleaned from speaking to a potential renter. The ‘question’ is the most powerful tool you have to protect your home. Asking fair and open-ended questions have given me the knowledge I need to have the confidence that the families who rent my home will respect my home.

  • Now with the power of the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn you can do a little sleuthing to see a bit of background on people with interest in renting. A funny true story (as I’m sure we all have those), I had an inquiry several years back from graduating students from a northeast university. The real caveat for me was the email address of the potential renter: “mixmaster@…”
    Needless to say, we did not offer our home up for rental to him.

    • You’re right, Jane, that is a funny story! I’m glad you’ve discovered how the internet can be a great source for learning more about potential renters, and that you’re not afraid to say no to those that are not your ideal guest. Thank you for commenting! Best, Shannon

  • The only way to really screen a renter is by gathering real facts like:
    1. Verification on name, date of birth, and SSN
    2. Nationwide criminal check, including a sexual predator and pedophile search
    3. Civil record check in every county the applicant has lived for at least the past 5 years.
    4, Contact with at least 2 prior landlords
    5. Employment verified ( optional as many may be retired)

    The fact is that if someone whats something badly enough they will say all most anything to get it, and after all this is not their property, so they simply don’t care. We supply a release that often “turns off” bad renters.

    • That’s some very thorough advice, Sandy, and necessary, I would imagine, for owners of long-term rentals or very high-end or luxury vacation properties. We wouldn’t recommend such an aggressive practice for our average homeowner, however, who typically charges less than $3000 per week. In other words, for a homeowner to ask a vacationer renting a condo for $800 a week to supply all of the above information in order to secure the home would be impractical, and frankly, an instant death sentence to a number of potentially legitimate bookings. We appreciate your commenting! Best, Shannon

      • Jeez…this seems like a bit much,Sandy. I don’t even do that for tenants in our year round house, let alone for wkly tenants. And..we have never had a problem with our tenants. I do insist on talking to tenants and will not rent via email only. They talk, I listen…and mostly they rent.

  • Great tips, I also like to use tools like and that let vacation rental owners find ratings and reviews on guests from other owners.