11 tips for choosing the perfect beach house rental every time
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So, you want to venture out of your home and make a getaway to the beach? That might be one of the best travel plans of the year. While Labor Day would typically signal the end of the season, remote schooling may allow some families to bask in the warmth of summer well into October in some parts of the country.
But if the idea of squeezing into a 300-square-foot room at a traditional beach resort with shared common areas and hundreds of other vacationers sounds far from relaxing, there’s another way.
I love a resort vacation, but right now I’m craving space and distance — even at the beach. That means breathing room not only from other travelers but also from members of my own family (because, well, 2020 quarantine life).
So, for us, the ideal getaway right now involves a beach house rental. In fact, we’ve already rented a couple of beach houses this year with at least one more penciled in.
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While you pretty much know what to expect from, say, a Conrad, Marriott or St. Regis beach resort (or you can at least can find enough online reviews to figure it out), it’s harder to choose the perfect beach house rental when each property is unique. Reviews can also be harder to come by.
But don’t worry. While it’s a bit more work upfront to find the perfect beach house rental than redeeming points to stay at a big chain resort, it’s also insanely rewarding.
Whether you’re dreaming of something big and luxurious or cozy and budget-friendly, here are 11 tips for finding the right beach house rental for you every time.
Related: The most popular getaways right now
Beachfront and beach view aren’t the same thing
They say location is everything. And if you’re looking to rent a beach house, location will strongly influence both the experience and the price. True beachfront houses are insanely convenient but will cost far more than those rentals a few streets, or even a short drive, away.
Decide in advance how close you need to be to the waves to have a good time. For travelers with mobility issues, babies or toddlers, being right on the sand may be more important. If you’re traveling with older kids, teens or only adults who can easily walk farther and help haul the gear, you may prefer to save the cash and stay at a beach-view house instead. (Speaking of mobility concerns, watch out for stairs, as many beach houses are elevated.)
If your beach location permits golf carts or similar on or near the beach, that’s an easy way to stay a bit farther away, while not trading too much of the convenience factor. Don’t discount how much you can also stuff in a wagon or a bike basket, if you have access to some of those modes of transportation, too.
Budgeting for a golf cart rental is likely much cheaper than paying the upcharge to stay at a true beachfront home. That said, if your dream is sipping your morning coffee while watching the waves from your deck, make that a priority.
Check the cancellation policy
Now more than ever, you want to carefully check the rental’s cancellation policy before going anywhere near the “book now” button.
The perfect beach rental won’t be perfect if a hurricane hits and your entire trip needs to be canceled. At our family’s most recent beach rental, even a hurricane directly hitting the beach house wouldn’t have been enough to trigger a refund or allow us to change our dates without penalty. For that, you’d need travel insurance, so read the fine print twice before charging a trip to your credit card. In fact, we bought separate travel insurance for the first time ever for a recent Florida beach home rental — and almost needed to use it as two hurricanes were swirling toward us at once.
Ask for the exact address
Often, you’ll see beach house rentals described by how far they are from the water.
By itself, that fact doesn’t tell you very much. Being 900 feet from the beach may mean you can still see the water and there’s an easy path to get there, or it can mean the beach might as well be miles away as you can’t see it and there’s no easily accessible path.
Try to get the exact address of the rental from the owner or property management company, and use Google Maps street view or a similar program to get a feel for what that truly means in terms of beach views and access.
Related: Best credit cards for home rentals
Sand management matters
The perfect beach house rental has thoughtful little touches that make the overall experience more pleasant.
If you’re going to the beach, you will be dealing with sand and water. If you’re traveling with the whole family, you’ll be dealing with a lot of sand and water. The best beach houses have outdoor showers so you can wash off the sand and salt before you even step foot inside. There will also be plenty of places to hang wet swimsuits and towels.
These are small details you’ll want to look for in the photos, as they can make the whole trip less stressful (and less messy).
Consider a pool
This one comes down to your personal preference, budget and priorities, but after having booked beach rentals both with and without a pool, I’m firmly on #TeamPool.
Yes, waves and sand are great fun, but it’s really amazing to have a way to enjoy the warm air and cool water without always having to haul down to the beach.
Not only is having a private pool a great alternative activity during the day, but it also opens up new ways to enjoy the after-dark hours, too. A nighttime swim or evening hot tub dip is a five-star addition to your beach house rental.
Related: Our favorite hotel pools in the U.S.
Also keep in mind that even on a blue-sky day, the ocean may have a red or even double red flag warning, meaning you can’t actually swim, which can of course be a major bummer on a beach trip if you don’t have a back-up plan.
Consider where everyone will sleep
This is obviously true for all home rentals, not just beach houses, but I’ve found that many beach home rentals may sleep 25, but only if half are happy in bunk beds.
Think carefully about not only how many people are coming, but also where they’ll be comfortable sleeping and relaxing. If you have a crew of children in the mix, prioritize a property with really fun bunk rooms.
Conversely, if you have multiple couples coming along, then be wary of how many the house can truly, comfortably sleep. A room with quadruple bunk beds, or even two queen beds, may simply not accommodate your group.
Related: 13 of the best beaches in Florida
Be wary of the sunset photo
All the same principles of finding a great vacation rental apply when browsing for a beach house. Read the reviews, examine the photos, cross-check other sites, run Google searches and more. That said, a gorgeous sunset photograph can be a dangerous distraction.
If most of the images are of the location and not the house, be wary.
There’s no guarantee those images are taken from the rental, or even on the beach nearest to the house. Research the beach separately from the home rental listing and just zero in on the actual property images in the listing.
As always, you’ll also want to carefully and critically examine any reviews. If you notice a pattern of problems, or of defensive responses from the owner or management company, it may be time to swipe left to the next property.
Bring your own towels — and toys?
At the beach, you’re obviously going to need towels, but you may also want beach blankets, chairs, toys, umbrellas or even a tent.
If you don’t want to be responsible for bringing all those amenities, be sure to look for listings that come with the beach towels and accessories you’re after. This will be especially important if you’re flying in or traveling with an already packed vehicle. It also never hurts to triple check with the owner or property management company that the house comes with the beach accessories you need.
You may also be able to rent these items on the beach (or in some cases, you have to rent these on the beach), so it pays to talk to the local management company to learn those details.
Form a rainy day plan
The perfect beach house rental is great not only on idyllic beach days, but also when summer storms wash out your plans.
Do you need a big living room where everyone can congregate to watch television or play video games? Do you want a big table for puzzles? A pool table? A covered pool? Or, perhaps, all you need is enough space so everyone can comfortably retreat to their own corner and weather the storm.
If you want the perfect home rental, think about not only how you’ll use the property on postcard-perfect days, but also for when the weather turns.
Go beyond the internet
While online vacation rental platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO are great, easy places to start your search for your next beach house rental, they’re just one type of tool you can use.
It’s not uncommon for popular beach areas to have a few major rental companies that manage a large number of properties. It can pay to give them a call to talk through your budget and what you want from a beach house. They may be the experts on the inventory in the area and, even if you don’t book through them, the call may really help narrow your search.
Sometimes, especially in some higher-end beach communities, the homes may only be available through local sites and not listed on the nationwide platforms at all.
And even if you have the choice between booking through a national platform or going direct, you may get a better deal with the latter, as rental platforms often add additional fees to the process.
Related: How to find the best Airbnb
Does your home rental include beach and pool access?
In certain locations, including some higher-end beach communities in the Florida Panhandle, the only way to access the beach is to stay in a beach home or cottage rental from that community.
This can be true in destinations like Ays Beach, Seaside, Rosemary Beach and more, so double-check that where you want to stay will include access to the beach or nearby amenities you hope to enjoy. Also, clarify whether that access includes the use of beach chairs, or if that will be an additional upcharge you need to budget for in advance. This won’t likely be an issue on a public beach, but it can be an issue with private beaches.
While there’s never a guarantee, my family has followed most of these steps and our recent beach home rentals have been just about perfect. So, follow these tips to find a flawless beach house rental for your summer vacation. Or, if you’re traveling around the Texas Gulf Coast region, I wholeheartedly recommend the six-bedroom beach house and pool we booked. (Just know what you’re getting yourself into on the closest beach.) In the Florida Panhandle, we also mostly enjoyed this five-bedroom home in Santa Rosa available through Marriott.
All images by Summer Hull / The Points Guy.
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