What you need to know before booking that summer vacation home

ORLANDO, Fla. — A couple from Volusia County, Florida told WFTV they lost thousands of dollars after renting a luxury vacation home because of its deplorable condition.

Vacation home demand has soared since COVID-19, but some have complaints about rental nightmares.

Kim and Paul Walz thought they had found their dream vacation home in Cocoa Beach.

“Had a beautiful view of the pool, view of the ocean,” Paul Walz said.

Walz said that was according to the pictures and glowing reviews they found on Vrbo, a popular for-rent-by-owner website.

They paid $12,000 upfront for three months. They never expected the nightmare they found behind the front door.

“I’m thinking, I paid for this, and this is what I am getting,” Walz said. He stated there were broken toilets, a leaking refrigerator, broken blinds, busted furniture, and they found an old paint can supporting one corner of the bed.

“A paint can. The slats had broken, and this man thought the easiest fix was using a paint can,” Walz said.

The couple told WFTV’s Action 9 all attempts to have the home cleaned and repaired failed, since the homeowner did not respond to them or to Vrbo.

“They were not able to contact the owner, so it was pretty much put to bed,” Walz said.

The couple said they left one month early and lost $4,000.

“We thought it was going to be heaven, and it was hell,” Walz said.

These nightmares start online. Most vacation renters have not seen the property themselves and make reservations based only on the pictures and reviews they can see.

“We see this beautiful Florida home, this house really stuck out to us as a luxury home,” Tim said.

He and his wife rented from a property management company that handles homes for private owners in a resort community in central Florida.

“It was sort of immediate, you see tears and stains in the furniture,” Tim said.

He claims the pool was not the one pictured online, and the promised baby crib was nowhere to be found.

The couple says the unit had not been cleaned, and they found a chicken bone on the floor.

Tim said that after they complained, “No one called back for a full 24 hours.”

Both couples who contacted Action 9 made their decisions after reading positive online reviews but say they will not make that mistake again.

According to Walz, he and his wife wrote a critical review of the Vrbo listed property, but the rental company never posted it.

“Do you think they were suppressing reviews?” Action 9′s producer asked.

“Oh, it’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Walz replied.

Both families complained to Florida’s Division of Consumer Services and the state attorney general but say so far it has not helped.

According to consumer experts, the best defense is uncovering the nightmare before you book and pay. Consumers should critically review pictures on large screens, ask for photograph dates, and request referrals you can call.

“How can I tell if these reviews are real?” Action 9′s Todd Ulrich asked.

“Look at the dates for those reviews. Are they evenly spaced? How many reviews are there? Is there any sort of repetition to those reviews that could be a modified cut and paste situation?” said Better Business Bureau president Holly Salmons.

Ulrich contacted Vrbo. The company said the Walzes waited a month to complain so they were not eligible for rebooking, and their review violated company guidelines, so it was not posted.

Both families told Action 9 they will never book vacation homes sight unseen again.

Ask for the physical address of the property before making the reservation. Search multiple browsers for pictures and reviews posted by actual renters who have a real story to tell.

(WATCH BELOW: Family warning others after thieves steal thousands of dollars from rental home in the Bahamas)

Todd Ulrich

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.

Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly, WFTV.com

Jason Kelly joined WFTV in 2014.