How To Select The Perfect Beach Vacation Rental

So you’ve decided to take a vacation at the beach! You probably envision drinking your

Photo of dilapidated beach house

Find out ways to find your perfect beach vacation rental and avoid planning pitfalls!

morning coffee on the oceanfront veranda, happy children frolicking in the sand and surf all day and a family cookout to cap off the day before everyone dozes off in their own big, comfy beds. You probably also think I’m going to tell you to wake up and smell the burnt coffee from the 1970’s coffee maker in the kitchen! But I’m not! With a little planning and research you CAN avoid surprises and you CAN make your beach vacation dreams come true (and avoid that burnt coffee!).

To start the process, you need to start with the big picture things first and then narrow down the specifics. We’ll explore the main areas of selecting a perfect beach vacation rental and give you a list of important questions to ask and tips to help in planning. The areas we’ll explore include:

  1. Setting your budget
  2. The best time to book rentals
  3. Going somewhere new – what you need to know
  4. Consider what type of house you need (and where)


Renting a vacation home can be a great way to stretch your vacation dollar. There are many ways to save money by going the rental route (instead of the hotel/motel route) on things such as meals and amenities. Beach rentals also provide a deeper more meaningful vacation experience – which of course is priceless (but not free!).

Be sure you know exactly what is included in the price you are quoted and be realistic about expenditures that you will incur. Some rental agencies provide linens and departure cleaning in their rental price and others provide them a la carte.

Remember to set the budget, THEN plan the vacation. If you start planning ahead of setting a budget, the vacation daydreams take over and all good intentions are out the window. Also, don’t forget to include travel expenses into the budget and things you will want to do when you get there (i.e., movies, tours, putt-putt).

Questions to ask:

  • How much can we afford?
  • How long do we have to save for vacation?
  • What is included in the price of the rental? Taxes? Cleaning Fees? Trip Insurance? Deposits? Linens?
  • After we pay for the house, how much do we have per day per person for food and activities?
  • How much do we need to budget for travel expenses?
  • What types of activities are on our must-do list? How much do they cost?
  • Are certain amenities included if we rent weekly instead of nightly?


  • If you have some flexibility, always explore last minute deals. If a vacation rental isn’t rented for a particular week, owners will often discount the rate by several hundred dollars or offer extra nights. This is a great way to get more stretch out of your vacation dollar!
  • Whatever you budget, add 15% to it for surprise expenditures or emergency funds.
  • A standard vacation budget is about one month’s income.
  • Always when possible, do not put your entire vacation on credit cards. You simply end up paying way more once it is all finally paid off.  


Oceanfront vacation rentals start booking in January and February for the Prime Season – which is typically between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But many repeat renters book their vacation a year in advance, so it is never too early to start your planning and get your dream house on the books.

If you have flexibility in your schedule, you can often score significantly discounted rates and the crowds are gone and the weather and water are still warm. The price of everything from dining to groceries to activities drops in the off-season as well.

Last but not least, find out if there are any major events going on in the area when you are planning to book your rental. For example, where we live is home to the NC Fourth of July festival and for that week, in addition to the regular summer influx of renters, an additional 150,000 people come to town. This may be right up your alley or you may be looking for something more subtle. Be sure to ask if you aren’t familiar with the area because events and festivities will limit availability, the crowds will be bigger (and traffic) and the price of everything may be higher.

Questions to ask:

  • When do we want to go on vacation?
  • Do we have any flexibility?
  • Are there any events going on in the area at that time?
  • How many nights can we stay?
  • What days does the rental house book (some do Saturday to Saturday and some do Sunday to Sunday or even nightly)?
  • Does the rental book nightly? Perhaps you only want to rent Thursday to Sunday as a cost saving option?
  • Do we have time to save up our vacation budget by then?


  • Many beach rentals allow nightly reservations and do not require a one-week stay. This can be a great way to stay in your budget, save on time missed from school and work and perhaps break up your vacation into several mini-vacations throughout the year! 


I live in Oak Island NC and although the island is only 9 miles long, it has three distinct beaches that have very different characteristics. If you’ve never been to a particular beach before, you need to know more about it than where it is on a map. If you want a quiet beach get-away with nothing but you and your book, then you’d go to one end of our island. If you prefer to be near dining and shopping options and enjoy people watching, then you’d go to the other end of the island.

Even within our county, the beaches are very different and less than an hour away is Myrtle Beach, SC, which is worlds different. They all have their great qualities, but if you want to have the most enjoyable vacation for YOUR family, then you have to be honest about what you want and like.

Questions to ask:

  • How far is it to the grocery store?
  • How many restaurants are in the area?
  • What is the traffic and parking like?
  • Is it family-friendly?
  • What kind of off-the-beach activities are here?
  • How far is it from home – how does it affect our travel budget?
  • What is the weather like that time of year?


  • Know how many different modes of transportation are involved in getting there! Some awesome vacation homes are only accessible via ferry and one of them in our particular area, doesn’t allow cars on the island so you drive everywhere in golf carts. This would be important to know before you pack everything but the kitchen sink in the car!
  • Rainy days and bad weather happen – consider what those days will look like and if there are things to do off-the-beach (i.e., movie theaters, museums, aquariums). 


In order for your vacation to be perfect, this part of your planning requires you to be very honest with yourself. For example, ask yourself how important the décor is to you. Many oceanfront beach houses are great, but they haven’t changed in decades. Is an old couch and knotty pine walls okay if you can get an oceanfront house or would you be happier in a 2nd row home that has been updated with hardwood floors and granite counters? Perhaps you can get both, but it’s good to know what you can and can’t live with (or without).

It’s also important to consider the configuration of the house. If the fourth bedroom is a loft with a sofa bed, Grandma might not like that. This matters if two families are traveling together as well. How do you decide who gets the master bedroom? Many houses have a great option of a second living room or den which is great for giving the kids a place to call their own.

Questions to ask:

  • How many bedrooms/beds do you need?
  • What is the configuration of the house and the bedrooms?
  • Do you need oceanfront? Is a 2nd row home okay? If so, do you have to cross a busy street to get to the beach?
  • How far is the house from a beach access? Does it have its own private beach access?
  • Does it have a washer/dryer?
  • What types of small appliances are in the kitchen?
  • What is the parking like? Is it covered? Is it on-street?
  • Is there wireless internet?
  • Is there an outside shower? Is it enclosed? Does it have hot and cold water?
  • Does the house rent by the night or only week to week?
  • Is departure cleaning included or do we have to clean it ourselves?
  • Are linens and towels provided? If not, how much do these things cost?
  • What does dog-friendly mean? Is there a fenced-in yard? Is there a gate on the porch?
  • Is there a BBQ grill? A picnic table? Other seating outside?
  • Do you need handicap accessibility?


  • Bring a slow-cooker so you can save money and time in the kitchen. Most beach rentals are well-equipped with small appliances, but you definitely want to ask if this is one of them. 
  • If departure cleaning is not included, you need to bring cleaning supplies. Most rentals have cleaning tools (i.e. mops, brooms), but they do not provide bleach or sanitizing sprays, for example. You don’t need everything in the cleaning cabinet, just a good multi-purpose cleaner will get most jobs done. 

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