Do your homework before renting a vacation home

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HOUSTON, Texas - Renting a vacation home is quickly becoming an easy and inexpensive alternative to a hotel, but beware.  You may not always get what you bargained for.

Connie Paxton of Houston, Texas found a a beachfront, sunset Oahu home online.

"Every couple would have their own bedroom & bathroom," she said.  "I mean, it was just perfect for us."

They read glowing reviews and fell in love with the pictures posted on the website Vacation Rentals By Owner.  They were put in touch with the property owner and they signed a contracted and started making payments. 

Paxton, her husband and other couples planned their Hawaiian vacation for more than a year, sending nearly $6,200 in three payments.  But just after they sent the last check in January, they checked the website and reviews one more time.

The renters who stayed at the same home in September wrote there were "tiny bugs crawling" in the beds and "cockroaches everywhere." In October, renters said the home was "rat infested."  And in December, it was "termites." "cockroaches" and "stained furniture that smelled like mildew."

The couples were so concerned about the reviews, they called a Hawaiian real estate agent to check it out.  Instead of a sparkling pool, the agent found a green, slimy mess.  Screens were knocked off the windows and signs of disrepair.  When Paxton emailed the owner, Paxton says the owner claimed all of it was the result of vandals.

"If his house was vandalized, why did he take our last check?" said Paxton.

Paxton says even though the owner promised to refund their money by the end of March, by the time the couples landed in Hawaii in April, they still hadn't seen a dime.

Donna Bailey was prepared for a mess, but didn't expect to see windows smashed, the refrigerator door unhinged and roaches.  The couples stayed in a hotel instead.

It's a joke. It's unbelievable," said Bailey. "You know you want to just cry, but what good is that gonna do?"

Dan Parsons with the Houston Better Business Bureau said Vacation Rentals By Owner should make it right, but points to the company's C rating with the BBB and four other unanswered complaints. 

"I would call it misrepresentation, whether it is intentional or whether you've lead your own self into a misrepresentation," said Parsons.

What type of person could do something like that intentionally? I mean he intentionally took our money knowing this place was a dump," said Bailey.

Before you sign a contract on a property, consider paying a real estate agent who works in the area to go check out the place.  Also, don't pay for the full amount of your stay up front.  And always use a credit card, never cash or check.  That way you can dispute the charges later if you didn't get what you paid for.

Our sister station in Houston, KPRC, reached out to the property owner by email but he didn't reply.  However, he did finally send the couples their money back when they returned to Houston from Hawaii. 

Vacation Rentals By Owner told KPRC they removed the property from its website when they were contacted by Bailey and Paxton.

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