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Several months ago I booked a ski vacation for March through VRBO. Just received a message that the condo suffered water damage and will no longer be available. The full refund is being processed, but the owner passed along their neighbour's contact details and said they don't normally rent their unit but are willing to rent to us if we're interested. Normally, I'd prefer to go through a rental website for some protection but I'm a little desperate as it's only 4 weeks away and there is otherwise little availability.
What precautions can I take, assuming the owner is not using a property manager or vacation website? Payment by credit card would be best, but how would that work if it's an individual and not a business?
Call them. Offer 10% online. Balance in cash on arrival when you can transfer deposit
Something similar happened to us last year. Even though we didn't see any additional availability for a group our size on VRBO, we contacted a rental agency that specialized in the area. We explained our circumstances and they found us a place. The agency staff knew of homes that weren't typically available for rent but are occasionally open. We wound up dealing directly with the owner but we felt more comfortable knowing they had been recommended by rental agency.
In our case, it worked out well enough that we are renting the same place in a week.