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VRBO or Home Away booking scam

After much searching through VRBO (confirms as "Home Away") for an apartment in Paris, we finally picked one we liked. We received an online quote and I requested that apartment, giving my credit card for payment. In less than 12 hours I received an "updated quote" that increased the service fee and added an "online booking" fee of 150 euro. The quotation increased by almost 160 euro in less than 12 hours after accepting my credit card for the reservation. I intended to use VRBO for my whole 30 day trip through Europe. NEVER again !!!!

Posted by
5697 posts

We booked an apartment in Paris which we had used before -- the rental amount on the owner's contract was more than shown on the HomeAway site, which had already charged my credit card. I wrote the owner a detailed message and he agreed to go with the original quoted price (turns out HomeAway had quoted the lower August rates instead of high-season September -- but that was HIS problem, not mine.)

Posted by
509 posts

We experienced no problems with VRBO bookings in Normandy, Provence and Paris last May. In each case, we exchanged several emails with the owner/agent confirming dates, price, accommodation details, etc. I always initiated the inquiry with the "email the owner" button on the VRBO website. When the terms were firm, we received the deposit request -- through the VRBO connection I believe -- but it had been initiated by the owner/agent in accordance with our email exchanges. I'm wondering if this up-front dialog operated to eliminate the bait-and-switch and/or other mischief you experienced by using the VRBO website (and perhaps its unreliable software), to confirm your stay? (A perhaps greater cause for concern might be the governmental "crackdowns" on "unauthorized" VRBO, AirBB, rentals in Paris about which others have posted.)

I'm not trying to change your mind. I would do the same in those circumstances. Just posting our experience for the benefit of others.

Posted by
7050 posts

Are you positive the second e-mail with the increased quote was a legitimate e-mail and not some kind of scam? Meaning a bot posing as VRBO?

Posted by
1540 posts

I have also had a very bad experience with VRBO/Homeaway on an apt in Paris. (for 8 people) The photos of the apt. looked lovely and we really wanted to stay there for a week ( 4 bedrooms)
I was asked to send the money for the whole week payment to an escrow account at Barclay bank in London . It was a total scam and the property did not even exist.
I had exchanged emails with the "owner" - with fake credentials as vice-pres. at a real estate company in France.
I spoke to the people at VRBO and they admitted that they do not vet their properties.
So be very very careful when dealing with them. I have heard from dozens of people who have not had any problems and use VRBO and Homeaway and recommend them.
Fortunately I was able to get my $3500 back because I was able to trap it at FOREX before it
had been deposited in the Barclay account.
Buyer Beware!!

Posted by
1681 posts

I've used VRBO/Home Away many, many times over many years with never a problem.

I'm sorry that happened to you, but I don't think your experience is representative of the site.

Posted by
2466 posts

HomeAway bought VRBO several years ago, along with a lot of other small rental companies.
HomeAway sold all its holdings to Expedia, recently.
Expedia passes on new charges to both the property owner and the rental client.

This article might help explain where the charges came from, but it is also possible that the site was hacked, because booking websites are not totally secure:
http://www.geekwire.com/2016/frustrated-homeowners-say-expedias-homeaway-changes-dramatically-impact-their-rentals/

Posted by
2 posts

Regarding the question of a possible hacker...... I had already made the reservation and given my credit card for nearly 1,200 euro. Would a hacker come back and try to get another 160 euros or would he take the money and run? I this case I got and "updated quote" asking for more money. Originally, after the automated system didn't take my credit card I phoned the VRBO number and talked to an agent. The agent filled in all the reservation requirements and took a different credit card. She personally confirmed the price at the time. Then, within 12 hours, I got the "updated quote" and a new request to accept the new price. Not likely to have been any unauthorized intrusion into the transaction.

Posted by
7061 posts

If you have an email confirming the first amount that was charged to your credit card, can you not dispute the add'l amount through the credit card? I certainly wouldn't jump on VRBO/Home Away and refuse to do business with them until you have completed the dispute process and see what the results are. Would you stop shopping at a certain store because one item didn't live up to your expectations in some way. I, and many others, have used both VRBO and Home Away without any issues but you do definitely need to be careful when using any booking site.

Posted by
2466 posts

No, it doesn't sound like a hacker. It does sound like some people haven't been completely trained since the Expedia takeover. Most of this work is out-sourced, for those who don't know.

Posted by
101 posts

My wife and I booked a VRBO rental for a Paris/Christmas trip a few years ago. The location was perfect (a block from Notre Dame) - and the rate was decent. The pictures looked nice. However - it turned out to be a terrible choice. The VRBO listing advertised free France to US phone calls (but the phone never worked - despite repeated calls/attempts to get it fixed). The shower (which upon further review must have had its picture taken with some kind of fisheye lens) could maybe have fit a Ken doll in. The bed had the comfort level of a 28 year old mattress sitting in a dumpster. And to top it all off - the tenant directly above us was on some schedule where he/she would get home around 2:00 AM each night and proceed to (a) walk across the floor in what could only be assumed to be cowboy boots with tap studs on them - only to take them off and (b) have crazy/loud sex every night.

This isn't to say that VRBO/HomeAway/AIRBNB can't provide a reasonably priced, comfortable stay. But after this experience - I vowed never to risk that chance again.

Posted by
358 posts

What BB said. I don't know that this is representative of the company or most people's experiences with it. AirBNB is my preferred choice and we've had really good luck using it throughout Europe.

Posted by
10308 posts

We tried VRBO once in 2007 but wouldn't do it again. At the time there was no feedback from previous renters to go by, but from what I read here once, feedback is vetted by the owner nowadays, meaning it's biased. We chose the place for price but found the photos misrepresented the apartment as a one bedroom when in fact it was a studio with an open alcove next to the dining table. VRBO was finished for us. Luckily we found another place via sabbatical homes.com to use for the rest of our sabbatical stay.

Posted by
2466 posts

VRBO and HomeAway are not the warm and fuzzy companies they were years ago.

When HomeAway bought out VRBO and several other companies, the rates and conditions were changed for owners - who had to pay increasing amounts for their properties to be placed where someone could actually see them. Other fees kept being added, so a great number of owners simply chose to list on other websites. When the owners left, management companies moved in, because they could afford the increased charges. There are very few actual verified owners left who can afford to advertise on this site.

Now HomeAway has sold its business to Expedia, which is one of the largest booking portals.
It's not likely that you will be able to do business with an individual property owner, unless you are extremely lucky or are renting an expensive apartment.

Posted by
4173 posts

I've had a few VRBO/Homeaway/Airbnb disappointments, too. Most of them revolved around the cleanliness and maintenance of the places.

The most annoying was a VRBO apartment in Bruges that said it had a fridge freezer, but only had a large fridge. We arrived to find out that we were expected to clean the place ourselves before we left. I was furious! That was not mentioned anywhere in any of the information on the place and the owner also never mentioned it in our email correspondence.

He obviously didn't check everything at least before we arrived because the grill pans in the oven were full of grease and the bathroom rugs were a little iffy.

I didn't use the grill pans and I didn't clean them. We made sure that the sheets, towels and rugs were thoroughly used and mixed up so that the next renters hopefully could count on clean linen.

There were many issues with deferred maintenance that my husband actually fixed while we were there.

BTW, those next renters were due the same day, and he expected his wife to do the preparation for them. He was elderly and I'd bet she was, too.

The best apartment rentals we've had were found through VRBO/Homeaway, but the owners also had their own websites and we rented directly from them. In one case, the owners lived upstairs and in the other, the owner had 3 properties that she rotated through, staying in whatever one was vacant. I don't know what she did if they were all full!

Posted by
244 posts

We rented an apartment through VRBO for 9 days in Paris. I booked 8 months in advance. Had many conversations via email and phone, then 3 days before arriving in Paris she sent me an email that she had to cancel our reservation! I'm pretty sure she was shut down by the mayors office. She had a website with at least 6 apartments. Once she contacted me, all of her apartment listings we no longer available. Luckily I went to my RS Paris book and contacted his recommended Paris Perfect apartment rental agency. We ended up renting a better apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Our original landlord refunded all of our money, thank goodness! Our new apartment ended up cheaper and better! Paris is wonderful! Love to go again!

Posted by
2466 posts

Unless maid service is included in the price of the rental (and you will definitely see the charges for this) clients are expected to clean the rental - including sweeping and mopping floors, dusting, doing the laundry, washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom and re-stocking paper products and anything else they used up.

It doesn't matter what the condition was when you got there, if you don't clean up properly, you won't receive your entire damage deposit.
Paris rentals are not well-maintained, basically because the turnover is so great, and there's no time to schedule "deep-cleaning" and other normal maintenance.

Posted by
1097 posts

I've rented through VRBO a lot in the US and have only once had a bad experience, but it was not the owner's fault and was quickly resolved. I think a previous renter or neighbor caused the unit to smell strongly of cigarette smoke which I could not tolerate. We stayed one night and had to find another place, but the owner, who I had paid directly with a check, just tore up the check and never charged me a dime. I found another VRBO unit in the same condo complex and the owner was very accommodating in getting us contracted and in on Christmas Eve!
We also rented this summer through VRBO in Normandy. I made payment through the VRBO site and had no problem at all. It was very clean and in a perfect location. There were a number of very positive reviews on the site and the owner had a separate website advertising the rental plus another that they own. A poster on this site had also stayed there and gave a great review.
Which brings me to my point. I would never rent a unit unless it had multiple positive reviews. I also will do other research on it to the extent I can before I book it. Over time, I've come to recognize warning signs, but I read everything I can find in advance of handing over my credit card!

Posted by
3941 posts

I find - at least with airbnb - that if a place is dirty, people will often say that in the reviews and it def dissuades me from renting - there are many other fish in the ocean to stay in a dirty apartment/home. I had one I was interested in in the south of France, until I read a few reviews saying that it was dusty/dirty and I kept looking. The vast majority of our stays have been in rooms with the owners present (prob 85%), a few have been apartments. If we use dishes, we'll clean them and put them away, but I've yet to run into one where you have to launder the towels/bedding - we've had a few where they ask us to take the garbage to the bins when you leave....one that asked us to take the bedding off, but never to mop/sweep/launder...I actually may have seen a few where they tell you that in the listing, which causes me to just keep looking.

...and as someone who hosts counchsurfers (and is contemplating airbnb'ing our spare room) - darn right I make sure the place is clean as I can without being obsessive. Usually the day before or day of someone arriving I do a quick vacuum, wipe hubby's toothpaste mess off the counter, clean the toilet (I mean, we generally do this weekly anyways)...with a dog in the house, there's gonna be fur around, probably even fur on the bed sheets, and I'm horrible when it comes to dusting, but I don't want people to leave thinking we're dirty people (as long as they don't look too closely at the shower...lol).

Posted by
1681 posts

Hmmm.

I've used this service as recently as August (i.e. last month). In fact, I used it twice this summer and had positive experiences both times and did not experience anything like the OP described. (Not saying it didn't happen to the OP, but that I haven't found this to be typical.) For the place I rented in July, it was also advertised on Air BnB, but Air BnB wanted to charge an additional $180 fee, so I rented it through Home Away, instead. (Nothing against Air BnB, per se, but it wasn't the better choice in this case, and I've found that to be true with most of the rentals I've done.)

I think it's great and helfpul when people share experiences, both positive and negative, but when someone is very insistent on pushing their experience and discounting that of others, it makes me wonder what their real agenda is.

One thing I do with any place I rent is read the reviews, of course, but I usually take reviews that are either overwhelmingly negative (especially about petty stuff) or ridiculously glowing with a big grain of salt. Those kinds of reviews make me suspect the motivations of the reviewers. I trust reviews that seem balanced and discuss both the positive and negative points (and then I decide if the negatives are deal breakers).

I've had experience renting vacation places for over 20 years (since long before Air BnB made it trendy).

Posted by
15 posts

AirBNB has had no financial transaction irregularities with my rentals as you mentioned with the exception of canceling a previously made reservation due to owner issues. Having used AirBNB many times over several years in NYC and in Europe. I have become more inclined to use hotels unless the whole family is traveling and in need of lots of space. Otherwise, we are staying in an apartment no one lives in, has no services connected to it, check in is often a hassle (no where to leave your bags if you arrive early or leave late) and I feel I am subsidizing someone's personal income at the expense of keeping available apartments off the market and potentially inflating prices for local residents. They like to present themselves as all touchy feely but it is purely a business transaction.