13 Home Rental Red Flags To Look Out For Before Booking Your Next Trip

A vacation rental is a perfect compromise when you're looking for getaway accommodations. They feel cozier and more private than most hotels, but you still get to be a little more pampered than you are every day at home. You won't be starving for home rental options, either. There are tons of websites to find vacation home rentals. On Airbnb alone, there are over six million different listings around the world. 

In the sea of all these viable listings, though, tons are bad home rentals or flat-out scams hoping to catch a sucker who doesn't know what to look out for. There are tons of scams creeping around the seemingly safe domain of vacation rental sites like Airbnb. You could encounter anything from fake reviews and deceiving photos to account hacking and elaborate property switches. While it's impossible for an open platform to ever be completely free from these rental property swindlers, you can protect yourself from falling victim to them. All you have to do is keep an eye out for these 13 home rental red flags before booking anything. 

Only having photos of one room in the house

Most people focus on photos when they're booking a vacation home rental. They make their booking decision based on their perception of the place from photographs, which is why sketchy rental listings love using good photo work to deceive travelers into booking their spots. Airbnb recommends that their hosts choose at least two to four photos that showcase the entire rental property. However, that's just a suggestion. Rental hosts can show as much or as little of a place as they want.

One of the ways that vacation rentals will finagle travelers is by only showing one little piece of the apartment or house they're renting out. If the bedroom has just been redone, they take photos of the bed from every angle, but they don't show a single photo of a bathroom, kitchen, or living room. When you only see one room feature on a rental home listing, sirens should be going off in your head. There is something they don't want you to see. Either ask the owner for more photos or move on to a new property. Don't book a listing until you see every space of the household or you may arrive to find some unwelcome surprises. 

There are zero reviews or only a few suspiciously good ones

You can tell a lot about a rental property from the quantity and quality of its reviews. A vacation rental's reviews are the main way travelers can gauge the accuracy of the listing. It's way easier to trust a fellow traveler who actually paid to stay at a property than a host whose main goal is to make money. If a paying customer arrives to discover a dirty, loud, or otherwise poor experience at a rental, they are going to let their voice be heard in the reviews to warn the next person. 

There are tons of red flags that can pop up in a property's reviews. Firstly, a rental property with absolutely no reviews should be making you hesitant. Unless the property's owner has several other listings with excellent reviews, you probably want to avoid this listing. At best, it's just a place that hasn't had any visitors yet, but at worse, it could be a total scam. On the other hand, a listing that has way too many cookie-cutter good reviews without any details can be equally as suspicious. Usually, these listings are from hired people told to write a bunch of glowing reviews on their home rental listing, even though they never stayed there. It boosts their star rating on the rental site and makes it more likely that bookers will trust them. If you see any of these red flags in a listing's reviews, continue your rental search. 

The price seems too low to be real

Everyone wants to keep their travel expenses as low as possible, but you should be careful with your frugality. There's a fine line between a bargain and a rental property scam. If you stumble across a price that's just too low to be real, that's probably because it isn't. That ridiculously low price is just bait for a traveler that's too eager to hit the 'book' button.

Before traveling, do a little digging into the average cost of a vacation rental in the country and city you're visiting. In California, the typical nightly price for accommodations was around $258 in 2021, but in that same year, the standard fare in Sydney, Australia was just $150 per night. So, if you come across a whole house in California that's only $90 a night or a 4-bedroom apartment in Sydney that's less than $60, it's safe to say there's something fishy going on. Save yourself the stress and cough up the extra cash for a legit listing. 

It's a brand-new listing

New rental listings aren't always a scam, but it's definitely a bit riskier than booking an established place with a history of happy guests. Remember, reviews are critical because they let you know if a listing is trustworthy. A brand new listing means there are no reviews, which means nobody to trust or ask questions to besides the host. When considering a new listing, watch out for red flags even more diligently than before. 

One thing you must be cautious of with new listings is properties with very professional-looking photos. The types of photographs are often so appealing that they look like stock images of a home. If you see a stock-photo-filled listing paired with absolutely no reviews and a super low price point, it's a sure sign of a scam. These types of listings are almost always a honey pot. The rental scammer is putting out an attractive, sweet trap and hoping that someone will fly in and get stuck. Don't be the one who falls for it!

There are more photos of the area's attractions than accommodations itself

When travelers are planning a big trip, it's exciting to think about all the cool things you'll do and see in a new place. However, dishonest rental property owners often use this intrigue to trick people into booking their property without ever really showing you what the property looks like inside. All they have to do is insert one photo of the property itself, followed by a ton of temping photos of the city and popular activities around the area. 

It's always a bad sign when a home rental listing is showing more photos of the surrounding city or local attractions than the accommodation itself. There is a reason they aren't showing the place -– they're hoping you'll use your imagination to fill in the blanks and book it anyway! Reject their tactics and go find a different listing with reliable photographs of the property itself, not the city surrounding it. 

If you want to verify if a property is real, a good method for figuring out a listing's legitimacy is checking out the host's profile. A profile can tell you a lot about a person (or a scammer). You can even take it a step further by requesting a virtual tour or video of the property, but only after looking up the address on Google Maps to verify if it is real. If the host is unwilling to give you any more information to work with, cut your losses. 

The owner won't answer you

When you really like a vacation rental, but you're just not 100% sure if you can trust something about it, there's an easy fix. If there is anything about the property listing that's confusing or makes you feel unsure, the 'message host' button is there for a reason. Start a chat with the property's owner by shooting them a quick message and asking a few questions about the place.

This will be the perfect test of how reliable the listing and owner are. If the host answers your message quickly and answers all your questions in detail, trusting them is a safe bet. However, if the host is extremely slow to respond or avoids the topics you brought up, the property probably isn't going to live up to your expectations. When a host doesn't answer your messages at all, though, that's a very bright, neon red flag that you shouldn't book the listing. Not hearing from them could mean that they also won't respond during your stay, which could be problematic if anything goes wrong. 

If you do end up booking a rental property and the host isn't responding, there are a few steps you can take to remedy the situation. Rental platforms like Airbnb have a readily available customer service team who you can call instead of your host and they'll help you handle whatever is going down. If they can't figure it out, they'll help you get a refund or find another place to stay. 

The listing uses strategic wording

Sometimes, rental home hosts use the power of language to disguise the negative qualities about their listing as positive. You would be surprised how persuasive a couple of extra fluff words can be in a rental home listing. It sounds like a trick that you could never get fooled by, but it's a lot more convincing than it seems. Every negotiation is really just a play on words in the end. 

For example, let's say you see an apartment described as "cozy" or "intimate." It's possible that the host is speaking in code and what they actually mean is that the apartment is "extremely cramped and small." If a listing says that the accommodation is "very secure," be careful! It very well might mean that the property is located in a more dangerous area of the city. When a place is said to be in a "secluded" location, you'll probably be miles and miles from civilization and will likely need a car to get around. Keep an eye out for all these phrases before booking your next trip to ensure you know what you're getting into.

The owner wants to talk to you off of the hosting platform

If a host asks you to take the conversation off of Airbnb or VRBO, tread lightly. This is one of the most popular forms of scamming on home rental websites. If they manage to get you to communicate or even pay off the platform, you're in an extremely vulnerable position. 

Rental scammers will promise you a lower price without all the high fees if you just work with them over the phone. Once you agree and send over the funds, they'll take off running with your hard-earned cash and there won't be a thing you can do about it. Once the convo goes off the platform, you won't be protected by the rental company's guarantees or warranties anymore, you're all on your own. It's such a common scam on vacation rental sites that many, like Airbnb, ask users to report any host that tries to take the conversation off the platform. While it can be tempting to try and save a few dollars in fees by dealing with a host off the platform, it's not worth it in the long run if you end up losing all your vacation funds. 

The owner tries to switch you to a different listing right before your trip

So, you find a home rental listing that's right up your alley, in your budget, and looks trustworthy. You decide to book the place and everything seems like it's going to be fine. That's until just a day or two before your trip when the owner reaches out and says there is a problem with the property you were going to stay at, maybe a plumbing emergency or an accidental overbooking. They tell you not to worry, though, because they have another property that's basically identical and you can just stay there instead.

By now, you should be seeing the red flags that have popped up all over this situation. This is a classic bait-and-switch scam that runs rampant on rental platforms like Airbnb. The nice-looking rental you picked is just a decoy to attract bookers. Usually, the original listing never even existed in the first place! Even though it may seem easier to just agree to the switch, avoid it at all costs and report the host to the rental website. The place will probably be nothing like photos of the original place and the whole experience will end up being a total rip-off. If you cooperate with the renal agency, you may be able to get a refund for your troubles.

The host has no other listings

Unless a listing has extraordinarily good and detailed reviews from other trustworthy travelers, you should be careful of hosts who only have one place available. Sure, it's totally possible that the host just owns one place. Maybe, they just own one spare property — that's understandable, right? Perhaps the host is completely new to the platform and not yet familiar with the ins and outs of running an Airbnb rental property. This is rather innocent, and possibly even worth giving the place a try, but it could also end up being an issue.

A host having only one rental listing could mean something nefarious. At worst, a host with no other listings could be running a fake listing phishing scam. In this vacation rental scam, swindlers will put up a listing with altered or completely fabricated photos in an attempt to convince travelers that the listing is real. Giffy travelers fork up their dough and the host runs for the hills with the money. One way to figure out if a listing is phony is by using a reverse image search to find out where the photos really came from. While this isn't the case with every single solo listing host, your rental red flag detector should be on high alert and you should definitely be reading those reviews. 

The listing includes a bunch of random fees

Everyone expects to pay a few fees when they book a vacation rental, but no one wants to get scammed with additional and phony fees. Seriously, this is a real thing! It's way easier to convince travelers that they should give you extra money when it's supposed to be for random fees. Some people won't even look to see each individual fee they're being charged when they rent a vacation property, so they don't even realize they're being scammed. That's why you should always keep an eye out for the potential charges that a rental home has in place before booking. 

It's normal for rentals to charge things like taxes, service, and reasonable cleaning fees. However, any unusual extras fees could be a scheme to charge you more money down the line. Somewhere buried between sentences, the host might outline how they plan to charge you $500 for every scratch or a wildly high cleaning fee for minimal mess. Some places even ask their guests to pay for utilities throughout their stay. Fees are a bit of a gray area because while additional fees are technically allowed, the host can take it too far and charge an outrageous amount for every little thing. One way to protect yourself from this trick is to take photos and videos of your stay as soon as you arrive, just like you would with a rental car. If they try to say you messed anything up, whip out the evidence. 

All the listing's reviews are from years ago

After 2020, it's never been more apparent that everything can change in just a few years. The same can be said for home rentals. Have you ever been to a restaurant right after they opened and the food was out of control amazing, but then, you returned a year later, and the quality had dropped dramatically? That can happen very easily with rental properties. When a host starts off renting, they're meticulous and they want every detail to be perfect. By the time some years go by, the spark is gone and they just want to collect their paycheck. 

Even if you're seeing a bunch of outstanding reviews on a vacation rental home, they're basically meaningless if they all came from years ago. The property might've been empty and neglected for years, you never know! After all, reviews on sites like Airbnb never expire. They're there forever. Make sure you check the date on reviews before just trusting them and pressing the 'book' button. If all of a property's reviews are outdated, but you still want to stay, try messaging the host and asking about the hiatus. They may be able to clear up the lack of new reviews or even provide a more recent video of the place.

You just get a bad vibe from the listing in your gut

You find a rental property that looks beautiful enough to book, but you're plagued with a feeling of doubt or worry that you just can't explain. You've done your homework and everything seems to check out, but you just feel uneasy. When all else fails, trust yourself! Your gut won't lie. 

Even Harvard Business Review says that a dose of gut feelings with analytical thinking can help you make better decisions in your everyday life. If you have a tough time connecting with your intuition, try using it to make small decisions throughout the day. Turn to your intuition to make decisions on the fly about where to eat or what to do for fun on a Saturday night. That way, when you're faced with a more difficult challenge, like deciphering a rental listing's legitimacy, you'll know exactly what your gut is trying to tell you. If you're getting bad vibes from a home rental, there is a reason for those feelings and you should avoid it completely. There are a million other listings out there that will make you feel excited, not nervous, about booking a vacation rental. Book one of those instead so you're able to sit back and truly relax.