Whether you’re planning a weekend trip or a multiweek getaway this summer, finding a comfortable place to stay is likely to be high on your priority list. While some folks still prefer to stay in a hotel, plenty of others will browse short-term vacation rentals on Airbnb, VRBO, or similar websites. Scrolling through the many beautiful pics of places and amenities in rental listings makes it easy to dream about your upcoming holiday. But as you’re scanning for the appropriate number of bedrooms and free Wi-Fi, you also need to be on the lookout for some major red flags that could derail your entire vacation.
We don’t want you to show up to a home that’s ho-hum, or worse—at some far-flung place where you find there is no rental there at all. To help you keep everything on track, we’ve rounded up the top indicators that the vacation rental you’re considering may not be as wonderful as it first appears.
1. Barely any reviews
Most rental sites allow for previous renters to add both good and bad reviews about their actual experience of staying in a home. But if the property has little to no reviews, it may be a sign that it’s a scam; in the worst-case scenario, the property doesn’t exist.
There is, however, the chance that the home is new to the market. If that’s the case, reach out to the property owner and ask for more information. Brian Davis, a real estate investor, landlord, and a co-founder at SparkRental.com, suggests looking to see if the host has other rentals and if they’re well-reviewed.
2. Photos that seem too good to be true
If a vacation home looks ultraluxurious and the price per day is mind-blowingly low, guess what? It’s probably too good to be true.
“Photos can be manipulated and taken in a way that they distort the reality of the property,” says professional photographer Kenneth Purdom of RealEstatePhotographerPro.com. He suggests Googling the property and also checking out the property address on Google Earth.
3. Not enough photos
Most vacation home owners know that pictures will make or break a renter’s decision to book a home. So a listing with very few pictures—say five or below—may be a red flag.
“I want to see photos of every room, from several angles, and I want to see at least one photo of the entrance to the property,” says Davis. “If there’s outdoor space included, I want to see several photos of that as well.” Don’t commit to a rental until you know exactly what to expect upon arrival.
Watch: Buying a Vacation Home? Better Watch This First
4. The place is on every rental platform
A quality vacation rental will have an established presence—with good ratings and positive reviews—on the website it appears on. But if you notice the same home on multiple platforms, that could be a problem.
“One big red flag is when you see a property ‘churn’ through various rental listing sites,” says Paul Miller, editor of Familyskier.com, an online skiing and snowboarding source. This is a sign that the listing got poor reviews, so they simply moved platforms.
To make sure you get exactly what you expect, always copy and paste the rental description into a search engine. If the text shows up elsewhere, consider the possibility that it’s not altogether legit.
Google any other information connected with the ad. “If you locate the property on another site that lists it for sale, the rental ad is a scam,” says Robert Siciliano, Security Awareness Expert and CEO of Safr.me.
5. The host is asking for payment offline
If you’re renting a vacation home and someone requests payment off the original booking website in any form—via check, cash, or a different source—it’s another potential sign of a scam.
“Never make payments off of the app itself,” says Beverly Friedmann, content manager for a consumer website with years of experience in using apps to book rentals. “One of the benefits of using any vacation booking website is utilizing a secure payment method.”