18 Jun 2019
Admin note: tips as kindly shared by victoria m (TripAdvisor forum)
A vacation rental apt. or house. is a great option, especially for such a nice long stay. DC is a small city, but no one place will be walking distance to all the sites, so look for something near a Metro station.
There are three primary listing sites for vacation rentals now; VRBO or Homeaway.com. (Both now owned now by Expedia with basically the same listings.) and Airbnb.com. They all charge a 9%-12% booking fee plus hotel tax, so add 25% to listed price.
Many owners also post on Craigslist – but legitimate owners will always also be listed on one of the main sites. CL just gives a savvy guest the opportunity to book directly with the owner and skip the booking fees. Many owners also now have their own website, so always Google the “headline” or the name of the property, and again, skip the booking fees.
There are scams in every business, but it is pretty easy to check people out these days. Never wire money to anyone, anywhere, anytime. If a price seems too good to be true – it is!
1. Search results can vary a lot depending on what device you are using – desktop, laptop, tablet or phone.
2. Enter your exact dates if you have them. If you are flexible you can search without dates – but this will not give you an accurate price. (Properties will come up at $89.00, but that is really only good for Feb. Spring might be $250.00)
Sorting by neighborhood will make it easier. On Homeaway/VRBO you can type a neighborhood in the search box – “Washington DC Columbia Heights” for example. On Airbnb you have to click on “more filters” then you get a list of neighborhoods. (Too many actually, and some take you to a wrong location.)
The most convenient neighborhoods for tourists, with lots of rentals and nearby Metro stations are – Columbia Heights, Dupont Circle, U St., Eastern Market, Foggy Bottom, Penn Quarter and Capitol Hill. (Woodley Park and Cleveland Park are also good, but have few rentals.) For all listings, but especially Capitol hill – check the map first thing. Many people stretch the boundaries, but this is especially bad for Capitol Hill.
Some good bargains can also be found in more “developing” neighborhoods like LeDroit Park, Shaw, Bloomingdale. For larger houses – 3-4 bedrooms, also look at the neighborhood of Petworth and Brookland.
On Airbnb the “map” just gives you a big circle. All the sites restrict your communication with the owner before booking, but whatever site you are using, you can (and should) email the owner and ask for the nearest cross streets.
3.On Homeaway click on the “sort by” box and choose “price low to high.” You might not be looking for the cheapest, but it makes it easier to organize. This will also let you scroll past all the bad listings. Don’t even bother looking at anything under $120.00 per night.
You can also do a “map search” – but you have to enlarge the map quite a bit to see all the rentals. This is useful however, to find properties close to a Metro Station. Metro Stations are blue squares with a white M.
Do not even look as “Best Match,” “Most popular,” or “HomeAway Sort” – these are meaningless.
4. If you find a place you like – WRITE DOWN the listing number on a piece of paper! You might be looking at several properties, get confused and because of search algorithms, you might not be able to find it again.
5. Rates vary a lot by season. “Average Rate” is meaningless. You need exact dates to get exact rates. Also check the cleaning fee & tax policy. Some owners include cleaning & tax in the rate, some don’t. It can make a big difference.
6. Email the owner. Tell them a bit about yourselves, ask any questions. Airbnb & Homeaway favor properties with “Instant Book” or “Book it Now” but you don’t have to click these.
If you want, post the exact listing number, or a link here and we can tell you more about the location, etc.
Airbnb.com in DC has over 6000 listings, and they are all over the place – but if you know the city well and are looking for a specific neighborhood, it can be a good option. Airbnb offers rooms in shared apts. or an entire apt. They don’t let you sort by price, but you can enter a price range.
Do be aware that most condos and rental apts. do not allow Airbnb rentals, so be absolutely sure you are renting only from an owner of the entire property, or with written permission from their condo board. (Many rentals in DC are basement or top floor apartments in a “row house” where the owner lives.)
I own a vacation rental myself. I’m happy to. If you can find it among the 3,000 or so available, you will be very lucky!