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I'm from Canada and new to renting in the U.S. Using VRBO, everything went fine.
There's only one thing bugging me and its the payment by check. I don't feel it's safe enough. Most owners asked for this type of payment though.
One asked for a check of the full amount of the rent for a week + safety deposit to be sent with a signed lease agreement. How can I be sure the house will be truly reserved for us when we arrive? I mean, can't the owner simply cash the check and double book it?
I understand the lease agreement should work has a safety for this type of problem... But how do I deal with such scam if it does happen (especially since I'm canadian and living across the border, it does seem like quite a lot a trouble to go through)?
I have to say we're only 3 weeks from the renting time and it must have some effect on the way the owner wants to deal with the payment...
Does anybody can reassure me or maybe a fellow canadian can tell me of another way to deal with this?
I'm an owner who only takes checks. You are wise to be careful; there are scammers out in the web world who steal the owner's email and pretend to be the owner. Here are a few things you can do:
1) Phone the owner using the phone number on the web site, not one provided in the email. Homeaway and VRBO do check that the owners phone number is valid and they strongly encourage travelers to make a call to be sure the person you have been corresponding with over email is the real person they have vetted.
2) Read the reviews for the property. If there are no reviews, this is a yellow warning flag, not quite a red flag. The listing could be new, but you can ask the owner about this.
3) Google the owner, the address, the owner's email, and the owner's phone number. Most of us have a large web presence and you can get some comfort in knowing that the owner has a life and connections in the real world.
4) Check the online property records for the property's town to see who owns the place. Zillow.com is a great place to start; for some counties, it has a link to a web site where you can look up the property records. (This assumes you have an address, which many owners legitimately will not share until the contract is signed)
5) Since it is so close to the rental period, you could ask the owner if you could bring cash instead of sending a check. I don't like getting checks less than 4 weeks from check-in -- the check could bounce and I wouldn't know it until after the rental is over. However, don't do this if you are alone, you should have someone with you if you are carrying large sums of money.
Please remember that the overwhelming majority of owners are honest and it's rare to hit a scam.
but how do you know that the check will be good? I have had a couple people give me bad checks and before the check was cleared (B of A took 7 days) they were gone, do you do credit checks on vacation homes?
To those questioning accepting a check just weeks or days before rental, there is a solution. Require a bank check by overnight delivery. There isn't a clearnce period; a bank check is cash.
This obviously does not address a renter's concerns re scams; sending cash is never recommended when there are any concerns about the owner, property, or transaction process.
Just a reminder that paying by check can be safe for owners up to days ahead of a rental period.
Unless you have a US dollar bank account, you will need to mail the US owner a US$ money order. Since you can't really easily find out if it's been received/cashed, you will want to send the money by registered mail or something like that to ensure you have a signature on delivery. Mailing a letter registered mail within Canada means guaranteed delivery within 2-3 business days with a signature at the other end. However, in the US it means that it travels in a secured bag which is inventoried at every stop. I once sent a cashier's check (the US equivalent of a money order) back to a Canadian guest. It took 17 days (!!!) to get from Hawaii to the Montana/Alberta border. Once it cleared customs, it took 2 days to get to a small town in rural Alberta.
My point being, if you're three weeks out, there is no way you can mail a US money order to the owner and have it delivered on time with signature receipt, unless you use Fedex or UPS or something similar. I guess you could wire the money - do you want to go there? - or offer cash on arrival.