Randi Kreiss

Renting a house, like trying on a new life


Have you Vrbo’d? Do you Airbnb?
When I first heard about renting rooms and houses online, it seemed both dangerous and gross.
I understood motels and hotels, but I didn’t get the concept of renting from actual people who might be smelly or predatory. Suddenly, real estate was on the market by the day, ranging from a room in an apartment to a cabin in the woods to a mansion near Central Park. But who would change the sheets? What if there were bugs? And the crazy uncle with the hatchet hiding in the basement — what about him?
I said it wasn’t for me, but I said that about the iPhone, too.
I began using Airbnb and Vrbo some 20 years ago. What I never imagined was the joy of discovering a new place and trying it on for a few nights. The plus is that instead of getting just a room, where your husband blasts the TV at deafening levels, you can get a whole apartment or a house and have a kitchen and make popcorn instead of ordering room service.

Hotels and motels have their own issues, especially these days, when maid service is sometimes optional, and the free breakfast went out the door with the bell person.
Reminds me of my “Psycho” motel stay on a car trip from Florida to Long Island when my husband and I were in our 20s. We didn’t have a reservation, and everything was booked. By the time we got to North Carolina we were falling asleep, so we pulled into the Bates Motel, where Anthony Perkins checked us in and watched us all night through a peephole. At least that’s what I remember. We slept in our clothes on top of the bed and left at dawn.
When our kids were in college, we started renting houses we found through classifieds. There were phone calls and letters exchanged. We rented for years in Montana, from Darby to Missoula to Flathead Lake to Glacier Park. Those summers changed all of our lives in the best way. The kids became hikers and climbers and fishers and campers.
When we had grandkids, we used Vrbo to rent houses in North Carolina for two-week stays in the summer. We never rented the same house twice, because that would have ruined the adventure. All in all, we did well, landing beautiful properties in the mountains. The only North Carolina bust was the summer we rented at the “famous” Lake Lure, only to discover that the lake had completely dried up.
This summer we rented three different houses in Maine. Experience has taught me to read the descriptions very carefully. Does A/C mean real A/C or a unit in one window? Does “all amenities” include a washer and dryer? Does “lively setting in town” mean you’ll live above a biker bar?
It’s always a risk, but you can pre-empt problems by asking all your questions upfront, by reading all the reviews and by taking out insurance. We narrowly missed a possibly haunted stay at a house in Camden when I noticed the face of a woman in the window over the garage, in the photos. Turns out she comes with the house. “Oh, she never goes out,” the owner texted. We took a pass.
One of our Maine houses was built in 1820, but was renovated and outfitted by someone who had a wonderful obsession with detail and fine linens.
Another house was run down. The online photos were obviously taken a long time ago, and the owner gave us the wrong lock box code, so we couldn’t get in for a few hours. It did have a stunning view of Casco Bay. The third house was in the woods, whispering pines, immaculate and well supplied with cookware. It was also well supplied with wild turkeys, which screeched outside the bedroom window at 5 a.m. every day.
There’s stuff you can’t anticipate. 
Airbnb and Vrbo and the other platforms have changed our travel experiences. Now, instead of being confined to a room, we can try on another life, with different walls around us and new neighbors and mountains or rivers or ocean beaches out the window.
We travel with Lillybee the dog. There are pet-friendly properties, and “no pets allowed” renters, but I have learned that sometimes an owner will be open to making an exception for my “very small, hypoallergenic, well-trained pup.” Lillybee has been an awesome Airbnb guest.

Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.