Winter vacation home rental process made easy

Ever rented a vacation home for a family holiday? Worried it might be a complicated process? Not sure how to go about it? Pit Stops for Kids can help! This post was originally published in 2010, when we rented our first winter vacation home in Lake Tahoe through HomeAway. In the years since, we’ve rented homes several times, including two more Tahoe homes (once through Northstar California, and once more through HomeAway). Most recently, we rented a beautiful West Tahoe home for Christmas week, which was big enough to house our whole extended family. In March, we’ll be renting from HomeAway again on the island of Kauai.
vacation home rental

There are other great vacation rental sites (we also use VacationRoost), but because the bulk of our knowledge is in renting from HomeAway, we’ll focus on this company for the purpose of this post. There are many reasons why a vacation rental might be the right choice of accommodation for a winter stay, including space to spread out (and bring all that winter gear), washers and dryers, perhaps a hot tub, and the ability to cook in-house.

HomeAway makes it easy to find the right vacation rental for you and your family. Starting at their homepage, just click on ‘Find a Rental’. Enter where you’d like to go and when, and browse the available rentals. You can sort the selection by price, bedrooms, or even number of reviews. I like that the weekly and daily rental prices are listed right on the main page, so I can quickly get a feel for what homes in my desired location will cost. When you click on ‘details’, you get a map, tons of photos, and a list of amenities.

Once you’ve selected your desired rental, contact the owner. This, too, is easy: the rental owner’s contact information is listed right on the main page of each rental property description. I really like that with most rentals on HomeAway, customers work directly with the owners, the people who know the rental and surrounding area personally. Keep in mind that since all owners are different, the HomeAway process may feel different each time you rent. During our first Tahoe rental experience, after making contact, I got a confirmation from HomeAway immediately, telling me exactly what to expect. In my case, the owner of my first rental (this beautiful home in the Twin Bridges community of South Tahoe), emailed me a rental agreement within hours, along with a friendly greeting filled with such enthusiasm for her property, I wanted to pack up and go right then and there! During my second Tahoe rental experience, the owner preferred to call me and set up the rental agreement via phone. In this case, I worked with HomeAway less (though still had their support).


Pay your deposit (if applicable), sign your rental agreement, and count the days until your vacation, secure in the knowledge that HomeAway has your back. I was glad to see that even after I’d taken care of business with my property owner, the support for HomeAway continued. I was offered rental insurance, additional deals and incentives for future stays, and assurance that any additional help I needed was only a phone call away. Note: in most cases, a deposit will both hold your reservation and be applied to the total cost of your rental. In the case of our second rental experience, our owner preferred to keep the two separate. We paid our deposit, then paid our total cost for the rental, then got the deposit back in the form of a check. Be sure to ask owners which way they like to conduct business so you know what to expect.

Expect a warm welcome. Both times we rented a winter home through HomeAway, we hadn’t even arrived at our vacation rental yet, and I already knew the home fires would be burning brightly (so to speak). Both property owners went above and beyond, sending me a full inventory of items and supplies available to me in the home during my stay, just so I wouldn’t need to wonder whether to pack a snow shovel or a set of sheets. They also sent information on the local scene, grocery stores they recommend personally, and local service numbers should I need them.

homeaway rental


Ask questions about the possibility of power outages, local snowplow schedules, and alternative heat sources: This is crucial when renting in winter! During our 2010 winter vacation rental experience, we enjoyed an epic snowstorm. The power went out several times, but our home had a back up generator, which we knew how to use. Our owner had included full instructions. In our second rental home this past Christmas, we had ample parking space away from snow plow routes, but during our first rental experience, we had to move cars on snow plow days. Ask for this information so it doesn’t blindside you! Find out whether you’ll need fire wood, and know where candles and matches are kept in the home just in case.

And if you’re not sure what you’re looking for? If you’re undecided as to the sort of vacation you want, or if you’d like HomeAway to keep an eye out for the perfect rental for you and your family, fill out their Ultimate Travel Picks form to be sent alerts and info on rental availability tailored to you.

Pit Stops for Kids partnered with HomeAway for some, but not all, vacation rental reviews. All opinions are our own.

Read more about vacation home rental in our Home (Away) for the Holidays series.