Above: A lot of South Africans go to the seaside for their holidays.
Spring has sprung, summer has come and many people are now making plans for a December getaway – and trying to book their holiday accommodation.
“This has been a really tough year for most people, and those who can take time off are really looking forward to a break at the end of the year,” says Gerhard Kotzé, MD of the RealNet estate agency group.
“Popular holiday towns all along the coast are expecting a bumper season as people who have been living and working at home since April urgently seek a change of scenery, even if it’s just for a few days, and many tourism and holiday rental offices are already reporting that they are fully-booked for December and well into January.”
He says the fact that the schools are only closing on 15 December this year is adding to the pressure on peak-season accommodation and on top of that, many international destinations are still closed to South Africans, while many property owners have converted their short-term holiday accommodation to longer-term letting over the past few months.
Consequently, consumers need to be especially careful when making holiday bookings this year.
Gerhard Kotze, MD of Realnet.
“There are unfortunately lots of unscrupulous individuals out there just waiting to scam people who are desperate to find holiday accommodation at a reasonable price. Most of these people will aim to get you to pay a deposit for a holiday flat or house that doesn’t exist or that is not theirs to rent out, but others will use a bait-and-switch technique to get you to book and pay for horrible accommodation that is nothing like the photos they used in their advertisements.”
However, the following guidelines should help you to find your ideal holiday accommodation – and avoid the swindlers:
Start early. Many well-known accommodation establishments and resorts offer early booking discounts so that they can be sure of a full-house well ahead of the holiday season, notes Kotzé. “This could bring them within your budget and will certainly lessen the chance of having to deal with a fly-by-night ‘landlord’ because you’ve left your booking to the last minute.”
Book through big-brand companies. “If you are looking for a holiday house or flat, it really is best to book through a well-known and reputable agency that has a local operation with a portfolio of holiday properties. This should ensure that any deposit you pay is safe, that you get the property you expect in a good and clean condition, and that the handover is efficient and professional,” he says.
Be as specific as possible about what you want, and what sort of holiday you are planning. Do you envisage staying right on the beach, or a short walk away? Are you planning on fishing, surfing, sailing, diving or swimming? If you’re heading for the mountains, is it to go hiking or biking or just to rest and look at beautiful views? Is this an adults-only or family holiday and if the latter, how old are your children? Do you plan to self-cater or would you like a place with an on-site restaurant or coffee shop? How close do you want to be to the local shops, banks, and entertainment venues? Do you need DSTV and good internet and cellphone connections? Will you be renting a vehicle and will you need parking? All these details will help your agent identify the best available options for you, he says.
Guard your privacy. “We always advise property owners not to ‘hover’ when they have holiday tenants in residence, because no-one likes the feeling that they are being watched. In addition, we advise renters against sharing their holiday home, even with good friends or members of their extended family. And if you are young and renting with a group, we believe you should really try to ensure that you have your own room. It may sound like a good idea to share accommodation costs, but everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a good holiday, and the differences can often lead to disagreements and hard feelings that are exactly the opposite of what you want on holiday.”
Check everything and get it in writing. Kotzé says that before you agree to rent the property, it is important to find out if there will be any extra costs or fees charged for pets, cleaning services, TV hire, internet access, parking or any additional guests that might come and stay with you. “You also need to check what kitchen appliances the unit has, whether the electricity is prepaid, whether there is heating or air-conditioning and whether you need to bring your own towels or linens. And the rental contract must of course also specify your move-in and move-out dates and times, as well as when payments are due in order to secure the accommodation.”
Don’t cancel unless you really have to. Be prepared to forfeit any money you’ve paid upfront if your plans change and you cancel a high-season booking at the last minute. “This is only fair. On the other hand, if you’ve been asked to pay a damages or ‘key’ deposit, it’s only fair that you should get it back promptly when you leave the accommodation and equipment in good condition. This is another good reason to rent through a reputable agent who will conduct an inspection and check the inventory with you at the start and end of your holiday – and who will also be available during your stay should anything go wrong.”
In short, he says, renting a holiday home does not have to be a stressful experience. “The better you plan and the further in advance you can book, the more likely that you will find exactly the place you need and get the best value for money, so you can enjoy your hard-earned time off.