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What in the world is this new "Service Fee?"

VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) was one of the first sites on the web to allow renters to book directly with owners, eliminating the middle man and greatly reducting costs. A few years ago, property managers were allowed to list on VRBO, which greatly increased your choices, but also removed the personal touch and again increased fees for those choosing managed properties. HomeAway bought VRBO and most other relevant sites, almost creating a monopoly in the owner advertising arena. At the end of 2016, HomeAway was acquired by Expedia. So the VRBO that you always loved and counted on, is now owned by the Expedia Corporation, the same one that books flights and hotels.

Soon after this acquisition, VRBO/HomeAway (and all the other sites it owns), started leveraging a “Service Fee” to travelers who book their vacations online. VRBO slides the fee into the total and they certainly aren’t disclosing it in large bold print. The owners have no control over the fee and don’t see one red cent of it. If an owner is caught even MENTIONING the fee to guests, even if just to say it is only assessed if booking online, VRBO will take down their listing. (Keep in mind the emails to owners and their replies are inside a VRBO thread where they can see everything we write.) While an owner does have a choice to not offer "Request To Book," (instant online booking), VRBO punishes them by moving their listing to the bottom of the search results, IF they show it at all. Basically, Expedia wants a piece of the pie; a bigger piece than what the owners were paying. They realize they will make more money by charging you a percentage than charging us a flat fee. By the way, that flat fee was $1500 PER CONDO before this took effect, not small change!

I understand that plans for the future include a format that will prevent an owner from seeing a renter’s contact information, and likewise prevent an owner from steering the renter around this fee (outside of their system). This “service fee” that YOU pay is not small change. It started at 5-9% of the rental, and on the one year anniversary they bumped it on up to 6-12%. In my case, that swings from about $130-300 per booking depending on the season. Owners have been in revolt over this new fee, as we still pay VRBO to list. VRBO’s response was that their service was so valuable, renters wouldn’t mind paying. $300 fee, happy to pay it? I totally disagree!! You get the same condo and same great service with me if you pay VRBO’s fee or not. VRBO provides a listing site. I provide your service. You will find some owners who are happy to let you pay the fee. The owners that take the most online bookings (ie. make the most money for Expedia) get moved to the top of the listing/search results. (I will honestly admit, that’s worth a lot!) That means, the first units you see when you search VRBO are the ones that bring in the most service fees for VRBO. You might just want to slide on down the listing results just a little bit.

I am trying to protect my renters!! Be a savvy shopper. Visit VRBO and find some places you like. Then use Google to find the properties on another listing site that doesn’t charge the fee. If owners are true to their guests and have their guests’ best interests in mind, they will expand their advertising. Almost all of the owners I personally know are doing this. My website was created in fact for this reason!

What to do? Say you found one of my units on VRBO. The ad would tell you it is “Waterscape C203”. Search google for “Waterscape C203” (the unit number will be important for specific search results). You will find the unit in other places with no fees. I want you to be able to find vacation properties without unnecessary fees, not just in my units, but for all your vacation rentals! Here are some sites that are just taking off. I don’t know which one will become the “winner” as far as gaining market share because this is a brand new problem owners are trying to overcome. All of these sites allow direct communication with owners and do not charge extra fees to book through their site:

www.EmeraldCoastByOwner.com (Also known as ECBYO.com)

www.VacationHomeRentals.com (Do not confuse with www.VacationRentals.com, which is owned by Expedia and of course has the fee.)

http://www.vacationrentalbyowner.net

www.HomeEscape.com (brand new since the fee was instated but has a ton of listings!)

www.FriendsAndGuests.com (brand new since the fee was instated)

www.Tripz.com (been around but trying to revive itself since the fee was instated)

www.VacationStayz.com (brand new since the fee was instated)

I currently do 95% of my transactions through paper contracts and check payment, so most of my renters have not been impacted and may be surprised by this news. This is simply a word of caution to what is here and I think it's only going to get worse. Be informed!!