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5 Tips to Choose a Vacation Rental Property
This is the third and final blog offering the 5 best tips to choose a vacation rental property on Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells. It will focus on what I consider one of the most significant factors in the quality of your overall vacation – HOUSE SELECTION! Click on this link to read the first blog in this series that discusses the 3 secrets for choosing the best island LOCATION for your vacation rental. Click on this link to read the second blog in the series that explains the importance of TRAVEL TIME as it relates to selecting a property on the islands.
Now that you’ve narrowed down your selection to the right location, it’s time to pick the right house. With over 1,000 choices across the island chain you probably still have to choose a vacation rental from amongst 50 to 100 houses even after you’ve selected where on the island to stay. So, how do you go about it?
I’ve been arranging group travel for more than twenty years and I can tell you that picking a good vacation rental comes down to more than just picking a unique house. You really have to consider who you’re traveling with and what is important to them. If you ask them what they want you might be surprised at some of the things they find important or even critical.
I once had a friend traveling with my group who insisted on having his own bathroom. It really became a stumbling block as he refused to travel with us if that requirement was not met. To resolve the issue I had to make sure that at least one of the bedrooms had an ensuite bathroom. To be fair with the rest of the group we now had to look for a house that provided an ensuite bathroom for everyone so that there was no favoritism towards one individual. It’s really tricky trying to satisfy everyone’s requirements, which is why it’s important to prioritize. Let’s explore how to do that by looking at the factors involved.
Tip 1 Pick a Property Type
The first thing to consider is the type of property you want to rent. On Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells most of the private residences fall into one of four buckets – Apartment, Cottage, House or Villa. The designations are mostly related to size, however, owners do use those titles a bit loosely depending on what they consider their property to be.
A cottage is usually a smaller house that only has one bedroom. A villa designates a house that is considered more upscale. A house is somewhere in the middle of the two. All of them are houses yet the term describing the property type is selected by each owner and doesn’t necessarily follow any hard and fast rule. The only designation that seems consistent is apartment, which means it is a room or group of rooms in a building with other similar spaces within it.
Tip 2 Prioritize Needs / Satisfy Wants
When searching for a property it is quite normal to begin one’s search by looking for certain features. In my opinion, the most important thing to get right is the number of bedrooms and the proper bedroom configuration. There’s nothing worse than showing up at your vacation rental only to find that couples have to sleep in separate twin beds, or worse, a set of bunks! Pay close attention to how the bedrooms are laid out. Ensure that twin beds can be joined together to form a king if that is needed for traveling couples. Makes sure there are enough physical beds for everyone in your party or that folks don’t mind sleeping on sofabeds, air mattresses or cots if those options are available.
The number of bathrooms and how they are arranged matters, too. It’s always nice to have ensuite bathrooms with each bedroom, but that’s not always possible. Most houses come with showers, but not all of them have tubs so verify that if it’s important to you.
After you’ve got the bedrooms and bathrooms worked out then consider other essential needs such as the common rooms – kitchen, living room, dining room, media room, office, etc. You’ll want to know if the house has central air conditioning and reliable Internet. On the Bahamian islands, broadcast TV service can sometimes be hard to obtain except within the settlements. While it’s more common to have DVDs, Netflix and a video library, it’s uncertain whether you’ll get regular cable or satellite TV service. If that’s important to you make sure you clarify with the homeowner and know what would happen if the service is interrupted, which can happen.
After you’ve checked off all of your needs you should start considering wants, those exciting items that maybe you don’t have at home, but would like to have on vacation such as a private pool (maybe even infinity edge!), watersports equipment such as kayaks, canoes, SUP, snorkel gear, and fishing gear, and an outdoor grill (make sure to ask if it’s propane or charcoal).
Make sure the house is stocked with the basic things you need in the kitchen and bathroom such as blender, coffee maker, toaster, oven, stove, microwave, cooking accessories, utensils, dishwasher, washer and dryer, towels, beach towels, iron and ironing board, hair dryers, etc. Most vacation rentals on Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells will have many if not all of those items standard, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.
Privacy is a relative term on Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells. By most people’s standards these islands are very private and the rental homes offer high degrees of privacy. I’ve had visitors comment that sometimes they actually feel less safe because the homes are so secluded that they feel isolated. So, how much privacy is enough for you? Do you want a house without any other houses within eyeshot or one where the nearest neighboring property is several miles away? Is being in a small residential community where you might encounter other people too secluded or too populous? Are you looking to meet other people while on vacation? Remember, too, that a homeowner’s description of the level of privacy their home has may not match your expectations. I find that most homes on Eleuthera fall into one of three categories – semi-private, private and secluded. Semi-private is when there are other homes in the area and you are likely to encounter other visitors or locals. Private is when a house sits on it’s own large lot with enough acreage that you won’t see anyone else on your rental property unless they are visiting on purpose. Secluded is when there are no other homes or souls for miles and the likelihood of encountering someone else is slim.
The quality of the home is also a very subjective term, but one that factors greatly into the selection process. The age of the home matters as does its upkeep. It’s often hard to judge the quality of a property simply from pictures although the rental rate can give you a clue about whether the owner considers their property to be of superior quality. Good questions to ask include how often the owner uses the property themselves since this might indicate the amount of attention, or lack thereof, the home receives. Reviews can also be very helpful in determining quality. If past guests complained about the quality of furnishings, appliances and appearance then that might be a red flag if those items haven’t been addressed.
Finally, things like a house generator or reverse osmosis water system can be extremely important nice-to-haves. Electric outages are not uncommon and most house water is rain water that is pumped from a holding tank below the house called a cistern. Cistern water is fine for flushing, showering and cooking, but is not very good to drink.
Tip 3 Consider Fees in Budget
You’ve probably considered a suitable budget for your trip, but there can be additional costs that add up quickly. Some houses charge a Value Added Tax (VAT). Oftentimes there is a reservation fee to cover payment processing costs. Homeowners will sometimes charge for excess utility usage for things like electricity and water, costs that can be quite high on a remote island. Cleaning fees can sometimes be separate and you need to know what type of regular cleaning services, if any, are included. Be aware that most vacation rentals are only cleaned once before a party arrives. If you want additional cleaning during your stay it usually comes with a fee. Large Online Travel Agencies, such as VRBO and AirBnB, charge a fee of as much as 20% of the price of the rental for using their service as do rental agents and realtors.
If you want any additional services such as massage, cooking, or house stocking these must be added on, too. Don’t forget to ask about security deposits. Some owners have a fully refundable security deposit that could range from $200 to $1,000 depending on the house. That money is usually held by the owner and is returned in full unless there is damage, excess cleaning or above normal utility usage at which point some or all of your deposit may be held to cover such costs. Make sure you are clear on what conditions would cause a security deposit to not be returned because you’ll usually have little or no recourse. Some owners have security deposits where a portion of it is non-refundable. This is akin to an insurance policy held by a 3rd party that retains a portion of the deposit as a fee in order to handle any claims.
Finally, you’ll want to factor in trip insurance and understand what is or isn’t covered and under what conditions. Trip insurers won’t automatically reimburse you for a canceled trip unless it’s because of a serious illness or severe weather event, in general. Many insurers won’t reimburse you for a trip that is canceled due to failing a Covid-19 test. The Bahamas, as of this writing, requires all visitors to have proof of a negative Covid test within 5 days of arrival. You are also subject to a re-test on island 5 days after arriving as well as having to take a daily email screening survey. There is a cost for the re-test.
Tip 4 Special Considerations – Seniors, Children & Handicapped Needs Come First
When traveling with seniors, children or anyone who is handicapped you need to put their requirements over yours. With seniors, mobility is probably your greatest consideration. While many homes are built all on one level some have stairs both inside and out. Additionally, if you choose a vacation rental that has water access then you need to be aware of any steps to get into and out of the water. Ironshore, a sharp fossilized coral that is found on many properties, is a severe hazard for seniors if they happen to fall on it.
With children you need to consider the height of the property and whether there is suitable railing to protect from dangerous falls. Some properties include cribs, high chairs, pack and plays and children’s toys to keep them occupied, which are nice things to not have to bring or buy on the island. The water entry and ironshore issues are relevant to children, too.
There are very few houses that are fully handicap accessible on Eleuthera. If you require a wheelchair it’s imperative that you find a house that has ramps and handicap accessible toilets. The islands only have health clinics and no emergency medical services. If you have an issue requiring medical attention, then Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells may not be the best choices for you as you would have to be airlifted to Nassau in the case of an emergency.
Tip 5 Don’t Forget About Safety
Our trio of islands is considerably safer than almost anywhere else on Earth. Violent crime is so rare that it’s almost not worth mentioning. However, poor economic conditions have contributed to an increase in petty theft over the years. Twenty years ago I never would have dreamed of locking my doors at night, but times have changed. There have been enough reported instances of petty theft that it’s just common sense to protect your valuables. To limit opportunities, lock doors at night or when you are out. Keep valuables in a safe if one is provided. Don’t leave cash or other valuables in your vehicle or out in the open. Finding a house that has additional security features is an added bonus. Safes, hotel locks, deadbolts and exterior lighting are nice to have when you choose a vacation rental.
I probably made this more complicated than it needs to be, but there ARE a lot of factors that go into how you choose a vacation rental. While location and travel times are still the most essential considerations, especially on Eleuthera where things are very spread out, which house to select comes down to a myriad of personal choices and priorities. We’ve discussed the type of property, wants and needs, costs and fees, special needs and safety. If you are having a hard time boiling all that down then make a list. Number all the factors that are a priority and then search accordingly.
Good luck finding the vacation property of your dream. With a little patience and a bit of knowledge from these blogs I hope it is now easier to find what you are looking for!
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