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)

HOW TO SET YOUR VACATION BUDGET

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?

Tips:

  • 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.  

THE BEST TIME TO BOOK BEACH RENTALS

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?

Tips:

  • 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! 
  • Book directly to save money!

HOW TO DECIDE WHERE TO GO 

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’s 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?

Tips:

  • 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). 

WHAT TYPE OF HOUSE DO YOU NEED?

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?

Tips:

  • 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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47 Responses to How To Select The Perfect Beach Vacation Rental

  1. Annika Larson says:

    My husband and I are hoping to rent a beach vacation home over the holidays this year. We want to make sure we find the right rental home to make this a special experience. Like you said, we will have to ensure that we ask about any major events going on in the area when we plan our trip.

    • It is definitely something to consider, Annika. For our area alone, we often think that because we are a smaller beach town – the events are also smaller. With the NC Fourth of July festival alone, our area sees such an influx of people and traffic – it will undoubtedly affect your vacation (even if it’s just the beaches being slightly more crowded). Thank you for your comment, and consider looking at all of our rentals on our page to see if there is anything that jumps out to you.

  2. Rivaria says:

    Good suggestions and tips to how to select a best beach vacation rentals? When we select a property not asking all of each thing but here clear all that question and easily found best beach vacation rentals.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback. Please feel free to call us at 800.486.5441 if you decide to head our way, our reservationists will be happy to help you narrow down your selection of vacation rental properties.

  3. My husband and I are looking to get a vacation rental by the beach, but we need help in determining how to choose the right one. It’s good to know that when it comes to determining the time when to go, that there are some factors that we need to consider. I like how you pointed out that we need to look to see if there are any major events to know if there are some that we would like to attend. This is something that will be fun to try and find, and be able to choose the right one.

    • Thanks so much for the compliments! Events in the area are definitely something to consider when traveling, especially for our area when folks are wanting a peaceful and relaxing beach vacation. Feel free to call us at 800.486.5441 if you decide to head our way. Our reservationists are trained to ask questions to help you narrow down your selection of vacation rental properties. Some basic items to consider on a house basis can include: is the home pet-friendly, is it oceanfront or ocean view, are there a great deal of steps, do you need an elevator, would you like a pool, will you have small children and would you prefer taking them to a calmer (less congested) area of the beach, would you rather be on the waterway side rather than the ocean side, how close is the nearest grocery store or medical facility, etc.

  4. Larry Weaver says:

    I appreciate the tip to look for last minute deals if you have some flexibility. My wife and I have been looking at options for beachfront vacation studios for an upcoming vacation, so we’ll have to look for rental discounts in the area we’re going to stay. Also, adding 15% to the budget for surprise expenditures is a helpful tip for us because we like to be prepared for the unexpected.

    • The last minute deals are a great way to save a bit of extra cash in the long run! We constantly update our Specials page of our website as our owners approve discounts so I would suggest either consistently viewing rental company sites as well as subscribing to email outreach/newsletters as those will often highlight specials (both owner offered and agency offered). And…that 15% can always help when it comes to items like tipping associates, having to run out and buy supplies if you forgot something, and the list goes on! So glad you enjoyed our tips! If you decide to head our way, we have a great deal of Oak Island oceanfront properties (including condominiums) available. We’d be happy to assist you in planning your stay.

  5. Deb Pearl says:

    My husband and I would really like to go on a great and interesting vacation. Our friend suggested that we rent a beach house! It sounds like a great idea, but we have never rented a beach house before. That’s a good idea to set a budget before we do anything else. We wouldn’t want to spend too much money and not afford the rest of the vacation. Thanks for the tips!

    • We’re so glad the tips are helping you in planning your next vacation! All too often, people dismiss the idea of renting a property even though it may end up more economically savvy and convenient than a hotel stay due to the other benefits (in-house amenities like washers and dryers, kitchen, etc.) If you and your husband are considering an Oak Island vacation getaway, feel free to give us a call at 800-486-5441 as our reservation specialists are more than happy to assist you in making arrangements. Happy planning!

  6. Thank you for the information on how to select the perfect beach vacation rental. I definitely like the tip that it is never too early to book your rental. You want to be sure you get the villa of your choosing and so you should start looking and reserve the one you want up to a full year in advance. This also gives you time to save up for other things while on the vacation. Thank you again for the information.

  7. I like that you talked about the importance of considering the things that you will need and want in a rental place so it’ll be easier for you to find the perfect beach vacation rental place. My husband and I are going to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary, and I’m looking to find the best beach house that we can rent for the celebration. The entire decor of the house and its amenities are important to me, so it’s necessary for me to consider these two when finding the best rental place for us. I will make sure to consider all your tips.

  8. I like that you talked about how you must consider what exactly you want to do during your vacation so you’ll be able to decide where to rent a place. My husband and I are going to celebrate our 10th year wedding anniversary, and we’re looking to have a vacation. It’s important for us to choose a rental place that’s conveniently near important establishments such as grocery shops and bank to ensure comfortability throughout our stay. I will make sure to evaluate more our needs and wants to help us choose the best rental place. Thanks for the tips!

  9. Kayla says:

    I didn’t know that you need to start with the big picture things first and then narrow down the specifics. My parents want to travel for their anniversary. My sister suggested vacation rental and shared this article with them. It says that renting a vacation home can be a great way to stretch your vacation dollar.

    • Thanks so much for sharing our article with your parents. Renting a home rather than staying in a hotel can often times be more cost efficient – simply because of all of the “additional” that comes with being in a home. Especially when you consider prime rental season (summer for us) and the cost of just a hotel room on the oceanfront. Please give us a call at (800) 486-5441 if you have any questions about Oak Island specifically as we’d love to assist them in planning their stay.

  10. I like that you mentioned setting your budget before you plan the vacation. That’s a great tip! My wife and I are planning on renting a beach home for a week for our family to stay in this summer. I think it would be a lot of fun for all of us, and a great way to take a break. Thanks for the information-I’ll be sure to make sure our budget is realistic and choose something in line with what we can afford.

    • We agree that it’s a great tip! We set budgets for so many other “large” purchases but most people probably don’t think to do it with their vacations and/or trips. Good luck in your planning!!!

  11. The best part of your article is when you talked about the importance of making sure that you’re aware of what’s included in the price you’re quoted in choosing the property that you will rent. My parents are going to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, so I’m looking for the perfect place to rent for them without having to go over what I can afford. They once mentioned to me how they dream to have a vacation in a property that’s in front of a gulf. I will make sure to consider all your tips to find the best gulf front vacation property within my budget. Thanks!

    • That is a BIG part of planning, mainly because every rental agency is different with regard to what is included vs. what is not. Some companies include everything in their rate so they charge higher rates as a result. At MRA, we do like to offer select “optional” extras (i.e., bringing their own linens) for the purpose of allowing guests financial flexibility with their vacation. If you decide to coordinate an Oak Island vacation, please do not hesitate to call us as our reservation specialists will be happy to find the most affordable option for your parents’ stay. Happy planning!!

    • That is a BIG part of planning, mainly because every rental agency is different with regard to what is included vs. what is not. Some companies include everything in their rate so they charge higher rates as a result. At MRA, we do like to offer select “optional” extras (i.e., bringing their own linens) for the purpose of allowing guests financial flexibility with their vacation. If you decide to coordinate an Oak Island vacation, please do not hesitate to call us as our reservation specialists will be happy to find the most affordable option for your parents’ stay. Happy planning!!

  12. Braden Bills says:

    I want to find a nice home to spend a vacation at. It makes sense that a beach rental would be fun! I’ll be sure to come up with a budget first, so that way I don’t break the bank for it.

    • For sure! Try it out once to see which you like better and then go from there. If you need any help finding an economical option, definitely give us a call and our reservation specialists will be happy to assist you.

  13. Thank you for the post on how to select the perfect beach vacation rental. I definitely think you need to establish a budget and work from there. You’ll need to decide if you can afford to stay in the rental for the entirety of the vacation based on your budget or if you need to find something cheaper.

    • Agree, and with companies like us – that may determine the timing of your vacation. We do weekly reservations during the prime season; however, some of our homes do allow nightly rentals during the off season. So much can be determined if you take the first step of coming up with a budget. Thanks so much for your comment!

  14. Kyle Wayne says:

    I’m glad you talked about knowing exactly what is included in the price so you know what you’ll have to pay for besides that. My parents are looking to find some beach rentals they can go stay in for a week or so in the summer. I think I will talk to them about making sure they know all the details before renting.

    • Yes, definitely suggest it to them. We try to explain to our guests that the rate shown online is just the base rental rate for a specific property and urge them to call us if they have questions on an exact quote. With our agency in particular, some homes include the cost of departure cleaning and/or the linen package if you rent by the week whereas others do not to allow for a bit more financial flexibility. If they are planning to head this way, please have them call us at 800.486.5441 and we’d be happy to offer an accurate quote.

  15. Jordan Curry says:

    My girlfriend and I often go on beach vacations to luxury resorts. I like how you said that asking yourself beforehand how important decor is or an ocean view can dictate what type of rental or house you will need. I’m always looking for new properties to rent on the ocean and found this very helpful thanks!

    • So glad you found this post helpful! We definitely suggest narrowing down your “preferences” whether that be distance to grocery store or something as simple as “we want it to look beachy”. For example, we noticed you mentioned staying in “luxury” resorts. That would be a prime example of a preference to ask from your rental agency. Good luck in your search and please let us know if you decide to head our way!

  16. I like that you suggested including the travel expenses that you expect to pay when you’re setting your budget in finding a vacation rental property. My family is actually planning to celebrate my birthday while we’re on our vacation. We want to have a firm budget for our vacation because we don’t want to overspend, so it will make sense for us to consider all our expenses.

    • Birthday celebrations are great for making a vacation that MUCH MORE awesome! For us, we have visitors that come from as far away as Ohio so travel expenses alone can take a huge hunk out of that budget if you don’t take them into consideration in the beginning. Thanks so much for reading!!

  17. I like how you pointed out that it is best to know what type of vacation rental your family will need before booking. I agree with this idea as it is better to know beforehand what is the capacity and features of the vacation rental. My wife and I are planning to go on a weekend vacation with our parents and kids. I’ll be sure to discuss with my wife what type of vacation rental will suit as best. Thanks!

    • You’re exactly right! And finding out can be as specific or general as you make it – for example, even though we have homes that offer elevators for guest usage – they may not be ADA-compliant so it is best to finalize those things before hand.

  18. Amanda Drew says:

    My husband and I are planning a vacation for us and our two kids and my sister’s family. We want to find a good vacation rental that we could all fit in and have a great time in. So I like your suggestion to ask about things like how many bathrooms there are and what the parking is like. We’ll have to do that.

    • Yes, Ms. Drew. A lot of the items mentioned are things that you wouldn’t really consider when taking an immediate family vacation so it’s definitely worth it when traveling with extended family members! No one likes waiting for a bathroom. Please reach out to us if you and your family decide to spend your family vacation in Oak Island! We’d love to find a vacation rental to suit you and your entire family (with more than enough bathrooms).

  19. Maui Travler says:

    Great article with tons of great suggestions. I will definitely share this page. I think you covered most of the key factors for choosing a rental. looking at off-season rates can really save some money. Thanks!

    • Thanks so much for your comment! It’s definitely worth doing the research as oftentimes people just automatically think “hotel” when they go out of town. With the prevalence of Airbnb and other third party booking sites, vacation rentals have been brought more to the forefront; however, rental agencies (such as Margaret Rudd & Associates) can often provide the same types of rentals without the additional fees. Thanks so much for sharing!

  20. Hector Uba says:

    Having a budget set before doing anything else is a really good idea. I would imagine it can be pretty easy to want to go spend all of the money in the world and it can be easy to do as well. Setting that budget early can really help you narrow down your options and keep things in reality.

  21. Rhianna Hawk says:

    Good to know that people start booking for Prime Season as early as January; I would have thought nobody would be looking so early, but I guess a bunch of other people had that idea. My parents were looking to get a oceanfront rental for next summer now that they’re empty nesters, and it’s always good to know what season is the best to start looking. They might end up being one of those booked a year in advance people, though they might be interested in scheduling for the off-season like you suggested.

    • People certainly plan in advance. For example, like you’ve mentioned, most of our properties actually book those prime season weeks a year in advance. You will also see a good number book as soon as their kids go back to school and they have their full school schedule. Hopefully that information will help as your parents book their getaway!

  22. voyagerviva says:

    Thanks for sharing this helpful information with us about vacation rentals. I like your post. Keep posting!

    • Thanks so much for your compliment! So happy to know that you found the information helpful. We’re planning additional blogs with tons of vacation information and will be sharing them soon! We have a new website in the works for a January 2019 launch..so be on the lookout!

  23. Derek Dewitt says:

    My wife and I want to rent a vacation home for our next trip, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about asking if there are any cleaning fees or deposits first. I’ll be sure to ask about this so there are no surprise fees at the end of the rental period.

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