Always review and sign a contract before paying. It should specify the number of people allowed, pet and smoking policies, check-in and checkout times, and how the property should be left upon departure. Also, check for a waiver of liability to see what the owner is responsible for.
Make sure the contract includes payment and cancellation policies. "It's important to know how long you have to cancel without incurring a penalty, and whether you'll get your deposit back," Bayer says. Most landlords require a reservation or security deposit of 10 percent to 50 percent of the rent total in advance.
You also may have to pay a damage deposit. If so, ask if the owner actually cashes your check, and how long it will take for the refund, Bayer says.
"That deposit could add $500 or more to your total payment," Bayer says. If you rent through a management agency, you can usually buy an accidental-damage insurance plan. Plans typically range from $45 to $60 and cover $2,000 to $4,000 in damage. If you get a plan, you might not need to supply a deposit.
Credit cards and PayPal are frequently preferred payment methods. De Belloy recommends avoiding homeowners who want you to use money-transfer sites like MoneyGram or Western Union, or payment with a cashier's check. "For your protection, credit cards and PayPal are traceable and you can take recourse if there's a scam," de Belloy says.