Your dream vacation may be spoiled when the rental home you book online looks nothing like it does in the pictures. Now imagine finding out the home is stripped of all its furniture and you can’t get a hold of the owner.
Just ask Anne Gilmore, whose retirement vacation was nearly derailed when she learned the rental home she reserved was in foreclosure.
Gilmore spent 32 years teaching special education in central Illinois. So when she decided to finally enjoy her retirement by trading in snow and freezing temperatures for fun in the sun, she used the popular rental website VRBO to book a home in Florida for early 2017.
The four bedroom house in Haines City included a swimming pool. Gilmore locked-in the rental for the first three months of 2017 for herself, her husband and another couple for a total price of $7,616.66.
“Everything seemed great, so I went ahead and made my first payment,” Gilmore said.
But when it came time to make the second payment, Gilmore said the correspondence suddenly stopped and she could no longer get a hold of the homeowner.
“I called 2-3 times a day at all hours of the day and night and there was no answer,” Gilmore said.
VRBO did not have any answers, either.
“They said the house was still listed so I could go ahead and make my payment,” Gilmore said. “That's when I said, ‘I'm not making any payment until I talk to somebody.’”
A check of property tax records revealed the house was in foreclosure. New pictures featured on real estate websites like Zillow showed the home was stripped of all the furniture and fixtures.
The foreclosure process on the Haines City home actually started back in September of 2014. Gilmore made her payment in February, 2016. Seven weeks later, a final judgment was issued and the home was foreclosed,
“VRBO never told me the house wasn't available,” Gilmore said. “I had to tell them.”
VRBO parent company, HomeAway, responded to an NBC 5 Responds inquiry.
“When impediments like a foreclosure come to our attention, we reach out to the homeowner or property manager to confirm that they are able to still list the property for rent and that no future reservations will be impacted,” the statement read. “If it comes to our attention that an owner or manager is operating with unethical rental practices, then we will take appropriate action.”
Gilmore took action on her own by canceling her payment through her credit card. She then booked another house with a competitor, but at a higher price.
“I'm ready to be relaxed and away and enjoy Florida,” Gilmore said.
Travelers who book directly through VBRO and HomeAway’s other websites are protected by the "book with confidence guarantee", which means if an owner cancels a reservation last minute, their team will help the renter find a new place to stay at a comparable rate.
Gilmore tried to protect her vacation by purchasing cancellation and damage protection policies. HomeAway refunded the cost for both after NBC 5 Responds got involved.