You Will Be Given A Lot of Information - Use it!
All homes are unique and rental homeowners usually provide important information to renters to help them navigate all the features of their homes, especially things like entertainment centers, hot tubs, or anything that might require specific procedures to use. Additionally, there will be information regarding your responsibilities as a guest and what it takes to insure you get your deposit back. More on that later.
Get good directions to the home from your host! Any GPS enabled phone will get you close to your rental, but the last mile or two can be tricky and cel reception spotty. The Lake of the Ozarks never had what anyone would call a master city plan. Roads in the area are a mix of public and private access, along with a healthy sprinkling of easements and rights of way. It is far too easy to get lost trying to find a home and being frustrated is no way to start a vacation. Ask your host for a set of directions, we all have them ready to go and usually battle tested for readability and accuracy. Take the time to go over them before you leave, especially if you know you'll be arriving after dark.
Make sure you know how many vehicles your rental can accommodate. Many areas have restrictions on parking and unfamiliar renters can easily make a mistake parking in the wrong place. Make sure your hosts have provided clear directions on where to park, and where not too. Parking is a big deal at the Lake because it is so scarce and homeowners jealously defend their property rights. Garages are still something of a luxury for many homes and while those that do have them can easily handle one or two cars, if you are part of a large group it is best you discuss parking needs with your hosts to make sure space is available.
What Will the Homeowner Provide With the Home?
Typically everything you need for your stay with the exception of food and personal hygiene supplies will be provided. You should never be required to bring along such basics as bathroom towels (beach towels might be another issue), washcloths, or bedding. Sundries such as toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, dishwasher detergent etc. are normally supplied. While you can expect hair dryers in every bathroom like a hotel, don't expect complimentary body lotion or shampoo like one. Hosts also have a good idea of how much of these supplies a group of given size go through, and although your home will usually be stocked with more than enough for a given rental period, you shouldn't expect supplies to be limitless.
Condiments such as salt, pepper and other basic spices should be provided, but don't count on such things as mustard and ketchup. Again, you may want to check with your host if you have expectations since not all of them provide even the basic of spices. Dishes are always provided, but things like paper plates and plastic utensils are typically not, although other renters may leave them behind. When it comes to food, there are plenty of big name grocery stores in the area such as Dierbergs and Wal-Mart along with local favorites such as Wood's, and prices are comparable to other areas in the state so there is no need to haul a car full of groceries to your rental, unless you simply want too.
Deposit Tip: Do not leave food behind when you leave your rental. It's hard to throw away good food, but if you leave it that's what will happen once house cleaning finds it, and that means dealing with extra trash. Frequent home vacationers know well that leaving trash is a deposit buster, and unfortunately leftover food must be treated as such. If I ever figure a solution to this particular problem I'll let you know.
Speaking of Trash
Trash service is always provided, but private home renters may be expected to get involved in the process when it comes to weekly service pickups. Rentals generate a lot of trash and service at the lake can be inconveniently located when it comes to lake homes. Again, roads and driveways are focused on reaching homes on hillsides, not for accessible trash service routes. If you are staying at your rental a full week, you will likely be expected to bring receptacles to the "curb" or at the very least insure all trash is taken out of the home the night before. Properly addressing your trash is a big deal as any left behind, or receptacles not taken out to be serviced, can cost you a deposit.
Most hosts have an exhaustive list of everything that is provided at their rental and sites like VRBO will let you see it before you rent. Once you have chosen your rental, it's a good idea to review this list before you pack things that may not be necessary.
Look at any vacation rental home on the web and you'll see two prominent pieces of information, the number of bedrooms the home has and it's sleeping capacity. Bedroom counts are just that, but not all bedrooms come with king size beds, and sleeping capacity is based on any and every horizontal surface with padding there is. It is important to match the size of your group to the proper size home. To this effort both renter and homeowner must establish trust early on in the negotiations. Renters must come to trust that that the homeowner is honestly representing the home's accommodations, and homeowners must trust that the renter accurately represents their group.
For the renters part, the look, location and general condition of the home is easy enough to verify through available pictures and web resources, but as with all things, the devil can be in the details. A homeowner does not want to advertise sleeping capacity larger than the home can comfortably accommodate, but will always push that number to it's maximum. In turn, vacationers have a habit of finding a home that just meets the requirements for a group their size, and then go a little beyond that capacity. Renters need to understand though that when a homeowner advertises a sleeping capacity for ten people, they mean ten and not one body more. Rental homeowners know that overcrowding a home is uncomfortable for all and the strain on a home services such as hot water heaters or air conditioning can lead to unexpected and costly repairs. Overcrowding also increases the risk of guests being disappointed in the home, or even a bad review, and vacation rental homeowners live and die by their reviews. Matching a home's capacity adequately for the size of your group makes the experience more enjoyable for all. If you have a group of ten people, don't rent a two bedroom home and expect it to meet your needs just because some in your party are willing to throw out sleeping bags on the floor.
Hosts understand that renters want to cram as many people into a home as comfortably possible to spread out the cost of the rental, but you would be surprised what some people's interpretation of comfortable is, or even the idea of what constitutes an overnight guest of their own. Parties, or "events" such as family reunions, and overnight guests are often explicitly restricted and much of your rental contract is devoted to making sure over-accommodating does not happen . To be clear, there are homes that cater to large groups or events and clearly advertise as such, but smaller home rentals are typically meant for families and small adult groups. To help insure home rentals are not overcrowded, homeowners require contracts which include registering all expected guests, their names and ages, as well as specifying a minimum age for the signature holder of the contract, usually a minimum age between 25 and 35 years old. For first time vacation home renters, these requirements may seem a bit unnecessary, but it is mainly for the protection of the homeowner against groups misrepresenting themselves. Take for example the experience many vacation rental homeowners have had of someone, of the required contract age, signing a contract, paying for the rental, and showing up only long enough to open the house and leave their twenty-something adult children behind while they jet off to Cozumel to be by themselves. Other times, potential renters will simply falsify their age to meet requirements, thinking hosts will never find out. The truth is, groups who misrepresent their numbers and ages are almost always discovered. Large groups of twenty-somethings on vacation seem to have a uniform code of behavior, and the excessive use of the home and its resources will be clearly evident to cleaning staff familiar with the home. Excessive use is always mentioned to homeowners by cleaning services looking for an excuse to raise their fee which of course may simply be passed on to the renter.
Renters that misrepresent their group, or a host that misrepresents a home is bad for everyone involved. Unlike renters though, homeowners who consistently overstate their homes accommodations usually end up with bad reviews.
Not all rental homes will accept pets, four-legged or otherwise, and it would be unwise to try and bring your pet to a home that does not explicitly permit it. Again, it's hard to get anything past housekeeping and they will gladly report any evidence of an animal in the house if they think it happened. If pets are allowed, there will be rules, and please be considerate of the furniture. Fido may be welcome on the couch, or on the bed at home, but at your rental he is not. It's best if you bring a kennel for them to sleep in anyways since dogs do better in them when sleeping in unfamiliar places.
Please be sure your dog (I've never seen anyone bring anything but a dog, but you never know) is treated for ticks and fleas. Obviously this is good for the dog (the Lake has some of the hungriest ticks I've ever seen), but it's important for the home to not proliferate pests to other animals. You will likely be required to sign a separate document attesting that your animal has been treated, and if a flea infestation is discovered, you will likely get the pest control bill.
You may be required to pay extra for the privilege of bringing your pet in the form of a non-refundable deposit, but typically this should be about $50-100.
Clean up after your pet when it comes to relieving themselves. Many homes are in areas where picking up after your dog is required. Please follow the rules. Renters failing to follow the pet rules in their area have caused more than a few groups to band together against hosts and get their homes taken off VRBO (see parking rules, noise rules, etc.). Also, make sure your dog does not roam into other yards.
I'm a dog lover as well as a vacation rental host, so allow me to offer one or two tips when taking your pet to a strange house for an extended time. Your dog is house-trained of course, but it's important to remember they are more accurately "your-house" trained. When dogs get to rental homes, they smell other dogs before them and it tends to make them...territorial. I've seen seven year old Labradors who have been house-broken for years suddenly feel the need to mark new territory to the horror of their owners. Watch your dog closely, at least for the first few hours after you arrive and don't let them out of your site. Keep them with you until you can show them where it's okay to relieve themselves and they'll usually be as reliable for you on vacation as they are at home. Keep in mind, pet stains and furniture damage from pets is a deposit buster.
Leash your dog. I know that may not be something you feel you need to do, but again, some neighborhoods require it and, again, dogs in new environments can do strange things. Losing your pet on vacation is not fun. I know, you're going to say your dog never runs off. My dog never ran off either...until I took her to a beach house in Florida where she decided at the ripe old age 10 that a 3 mile walk down to the pier was something she just had to do. It was not a good day for myself, and she had an exceptionally bad week afterwards leashed to my chair.
Okay. You're on vacation. We get it. It's perfectly fine to have a good time and make a little noise. The Lake isn't exactly known for its serenity but staying up until 3am whooping and hollering is not going to go over well with the neighbors. Remember, the lake is a mix of vacationers and full time residents. Any excessive noise complaints may be called into the authorities as it is anywhere else. Obviously this depends on the privacy of your rental and its surroundings, but unbridled enthusiasm and excessive noise can likely lead to a one time rental. Full time residents aren't very fond of their renting host neighbors and frequent complaints regarding guests can lead to restrictions that make renting impossible.
Check-In and Check-Out Times are VERY important
One of the seven deadly sins of renters is not leaving on time, or showing up before regular check-in time. Everyone wants to maximize their vacation time, but stretching when you leave to the last minute, or showing up before the agreed upon check-in time is a real pet peeve of hosts. Unless you have specifically communicated your need for early check-in or a late check-out and been approved by the host you should leave and arrive on time. No excuses. Homes must be prepared properly and hosts know exactly how much time that takes so there is little margin for time. If you stay past check-out, cleaning services cannot start their work and that could impact everyone else's schedule. The same goes if you arrive early, the cleaning service may still be present and will likely not let you into the house anyways.
Hosts do their best to accommodate early check-ins and late check-outs if it is convenient for them, but there is no real incentive to do so. Renters should understand that extending time is asking a lot of your host. Getting an early check-in or a late check-out is where being a repeat customer can be very helpful sometimes.
Get Your Deposit Back!
Most vacation rentals require a damage deposit. Want yours back? Believe me, hosts want to give it back. Seriously, no vacation rental homeowner ever made money by keeping deposits. Some hosts are more lenient than others in forgiving minor issues, but damage deposits are meant only to discourage the mistreatment of homes and is rarely enough to cover the cost to repair such damage. Unexpected damages due to mistreatment also risk making the home unusable for the next guests, which are often only hours away.
Aside from flagrant abuse or group size misrepresentation there really isn't much excuse for holding anyone's deposit if renters do what is asked of them. This is where attentiveness to the house guide pays off. Your host will provide clear instructions as to what you are expected to do before checking out and it's a good idea to go over them well beforehand. You don't want to wait until the morning you leave to discover all that is required to do to get your deposit back. If you wait until the last minute, and discover a long list of requirements, you are likely to risk being late to checkout. Scheduling requirements usually mean that housekeeping arrives promptly after checkout time, typically 10 a.m., and discovering you don't have enough time to complete your checkout tasks creates a problem for everyone and may result in extra charges. At least the night before you leave, check your house guide for your responsibilities which typically include making sure all trash is at it's final receptacle, bedding removed, dishes put away, etc. As for everything else, simply make sure the house is left the way it was when you arrived. If you moved patio furniture, put it back. If a swim ladder was up when you arrived, don't leave it down in the water. If water toys were stored when you arrived, put them back where you found them. All hosts provide clear and specific directions regarding what is expected of you in order to leave the house in a condition that assures your deposit return. Waiting until the last minute to find out what these requirements are can be costly.
Make sure you haven't inadvertently packed something that belongs to the house. This mainly pertains to things like beach towels, but sometimes accidents happen to things like bedding. Some guests mistakenly think that taking a stained pillowcase is better than leaving it to be discovered. In general this is not true as the cleaning service usually performs inventory. Hosts would rather have to replace something because of an accident (we know they happen) rather than because something just went missing. If you realize you have mistakenly removed something from the house, let the homeowner know once you discover it. It is unlikely you'll be charged for it if the hosts know it was a simple mistake rather than assuming it was intentional.
Don't move furniture around. I've walked into our rental and been amazed at the re-decorating ideas people have about our home, Beds moved together, couches pulled out, patio furniture left on the dock, it's all quite maddening for hosts. Moving things around would be bad enough but then to not at least move things back the way they were is quite another. Cleaning services are not there to re-arrange furniture and knowing where everything is supposed to be helps them evaluate the condition of the home. So please just leave things where they are, and if you do feel compelled to move something out of your way, put it back before you leave no matter how trivial it may seem.
Remember, renting a home is a private contract and there is no law to force hosts to rent their homes to you just because it is listed on a website. If a host has a bad experience renting to you in the past, it is unlikely you will be renting from them again. Second chances are very rare. Just as renters have a choice in which home they wish to stay at, hosts can decide who does, and does not use their home. And yes, "bad" renters are duly noted by hosts for future reference.
Fees and Taxes
Most of the time the only "fees" that the guest is responsible for is the cleaning fees and the Tri-County lodging tax. Typically the Tri-County tax is absorbed by the rental cost, but some hosts itemize this out. Make sure you understand any hidden costs or fees before signing your contract so you don't get hit with unexpected costs.
Bringing a boat?
One of the major considerations for choosing a vacation rental home at the Lake of the Ozarks is whether or not you will be boating during your stay. Be it a small boat, or large boat, you want to know what accommodations your potential rental home has to offer. Are you bringing a boat to be close to the action such as the clubs, or even Party Cove? Are you bringing a boat to do a little fishing and maybe pull the kids around on the water toys? Do you plan to boat at all? If you will not be boating, choosing the right rental home is mostly about aesthetics, accommodations, and location, but if you plan on using a boat there are important considerations and safety concerns unique to a commercially developed lake the size of the Lake of the Ozarks.
There are some universal truths about all docks on the Lake of the Ozarks that should be considered when renting. Many homes, rental or not, are positioned high up on the property to gain a view, but by doing so usually sacrifice easy lake access, meaning it can sometimes be a long walk down a steep hillside to get to your boat. Regardless of accessibility, if the dock is located near the main channel, keeping your boat tied up may be very difficult without a lift, and possibly even dangerous as waves off the main channel can be quite large and unforgiving. On the other hand, docks in calm water are either located in "no-wake" coves or far back in larger coves that can take some time getting out of to play. The ideal home for a boater's vacation is one that enjoys a clear view of the lake, reasonably accessible to a dock, and located in relatively calm water for swimming and boating. The reality is that few homes have all of these qualities and some compromise from this ideal will be necessary, but it is up to the renter to decide what is important.
Vacation rental homeowners understand their homes very well and will clearly promote desirable boating related features such as large covered docks and calm water whenever possible, but no matter what is said in the description, it is best you take the time to ask the following kinds of questions of your hosts before taking on the arduous task of towing a boat to the lake.
Is there a dock? How big is it? How big are the slips? How many slips are there? Is the dock private or shared? How exposed is it to boating traffic? How accessible is it from the house? How close are the neighbors docks? Are there nearby facilities to launch your boat once you arrive? Is there a place to keep your trailer once you've launched it?
Getting a clear understanding of what support facilities the rental home has for your boat can make a world of difference in your choice, so if you'll be boating, and I highly recommend you do, find out exactly what to expect.
A Good Deal for All
Renting a vacation home is a great way to enjoy any destination, but it's not for everyone. Unless money is no object, vacation homes are usually too expensive or simply too much accommodation for a small group and better suited for groups of friends or family. If you decide on going with a vacation home rental the best way to insure you will enjoy your stay is to establish a good rapport with the homeowner before you arrive. This is really the secret to a good experience. The more the homeowner gets to know you, the more vested they become in making sure your experience is a good one. Homeowners who've been renting their homes for some time have dedicated many hours making sure any information they feel will be helpful is already available before you even make a reservation, but it's your vacation, you are the customer, so feel free to ask anything you like before committing. Secondly, be honest with your host. Don't rent a house for reasons it is clearly not intended, or bring more in your group than the stated capacity. If you want a home for a bachelorette party make sure that's okay with the owner. Yes, you may risk being turned away and not renting that particular home, but there are many other homes with hosts that will gladly have your business, without having to resort to false pretenses. From a homeowner's point of view, group misrepresentation is the deadliest sin of renters.
Both as rental homeowner and renter, I can easily say that the vast majority of time vacation rentals turn out as a win-win situation for both parties, as long as everyone understands what to expect. This is why repeat renters are a homeowner's favorite customer. Returning guests know what they're getting and hosts can relax that their home meets expectations. Repeat guests are also familiar with the home which reduces the chance there will be issues with how things operate, or what services the home provides. Renters can use their repeat business to their advantage too by asking for things like a discount. It may be a small discount, the waiving of some fee (even the deposit!), or just a reserved time slot for a coveted holiday period, but the chances are excellent your hosts will go the extra mile to see you return. Don't be shy about asking for a little something extra if you are coming back.
The Lake of the Ozarks is a premiere vacation destination and the choice of rental homes are plentiful and truly world class. If renting a home is your choice for vacation you should have no trouble finding a place that meets your needs. As for vacation rental homeowners, we genuinely enjoy sharing the lake experience with everyone and take pride in our homes ability to deliver the best vacation experience possible.
On one final note, if you found your vacation rental experience a positive one, then please take the time to leave a review. Rental homeowners love good reviews and of course are good for business but by telling others of your experience, it can help them decide if the home is right for them as well.