Then they should make the warnings more prominent, simple!
Unless, my speculation here about the legal ramifications of that online form are correct.
Their legal team may have decided that their rear ends cannot be sufficiently covered by even the best warnings and disclaimers. They may realize that if they are going to support an online form, that form MUST securely deliver THAT FIRST MESSAGE to the homeowner on the account, because there is nothing on the page anywhere that tells a consumer to expect otherwise.
This is very accurate. Why would anyone filling out the inquiry think that it wouldn't go directly to the owner? Jen is right on this. They need to do what they are suggesting to do and that is make it so that the e-mail goes through a secure location only, OR, they need to eliminate the inquiry information altogether and require that they call the owner. OR (and I know some of you hate this part) they need to require that you use their RM for payment only and make that perfectly clear in their website. OR sometime similar....... I really don't care which one they opt for, just something needs to be done so that folks like Jen never have to experience this again.
What we are saying (at least I am) is that we were both guests before we were owners...Perhaps because of our "wonderful" experiences....we chose to open our homes to others. I think that is all we are trying to let you know....we were also YOU and only YOU at one time, so we definitely appreciate your info.
It's been mentioned that it is very difficult for owners to be scammed out of money other than the "My secretary sent too much money. Please send some of it back to me." That scam's been around forever, and I have little to no sympathy for anyone who falls for it. However, for every week we rent our properties, there are seven days in which we can be monetarily (not to mention emotionally) damaged by disrespectful renters who do damage to our homes. There is absoutely nobody to protect or reimburse us, certainly not HomeAway. We are not asking for protection. It is our responsibility to determine to whom we rent. Nobody tells us not to rent to a bunch of just graduated high schoolers or to a fraternity. I will not rent to anyone with whom I have not spoken on the phone, nor will I send a listing agreement before I have done enough investigation (sometimes 30-60 min) to satisfy myself that the would-be renter is legitimate, in most cases over the age of 35, and appears to be responsible.
Bottom line, we all need to take the responsibility to protect ourselves, our property, and our bank accounts. I don't want the government or big business to tell me what steps I must take. If I mess up, so be it, as long as I have not harmed anyone but myself. Now if my carelessness did cause harm to someone else, I would accept full responsibility and make reparations.
That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
They (HomeAway or whatever listing company) should do both of course. I think that is what the whole new system is about. It doesn't have to be one or the other. HomeAway must do their part but the traveler must decide how "sure" they want to be and if they want to double check by calling first. What I take objection with is people who say it is too much trouble to make a phone call, not as an initial inquiry (which I understand and about only 20% of mine do) but once they like the place and made up their mind they want it.
A one-two approach to centralized message delivery and telephone verification is key. Then, of course, never wire money. And again, you can use Reservation Manager if you choose for more security. Just like anything else in life, it is a combination of solutions. This will all seem obvious and taken as a given in a year or two I'm sure.
However, with generic listing sites like Craigslist, it is solely up to you the responder to be careful. It doesn't hurt for some of that caution to bleed over when using more reputable sites.
This was a good post for Guest/Travelers to see. We as homeowners sometimes take a great "risk" because of the unknown, perhaps even more than the traveler. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in our properties and so it is a very big risk.
I agree with Linda that each of us has a responsibility to take the time to do the very best due diligence in renting to others, and for those guests renting from others. We can't always look to others when we are cheated by someone if we did not use all the precautionary measures available to us. However, I do think it is appropriate for any company/business to do the best job in communicating what that is.
There is absoutely nobody to protect or reimburse us, certainly not HomeAway. We are not asking for protection. It is our responsibility to determine to whom we rent. Nobody tells us not to rent to a bunch of just graduated high schoolers or to a fraternity. I will not rent to anyone with whom I have not spoken on the phone, nor will I send a listing agreement before I have done enough investigation (sometimes 30-60 min) to satisfy myself that the would-be renter is legitimate, in most cases over the age of 35, and appears to be responsible.
And I think that any reasonable homeowner goes into this expecting the same thing. Homeaway makes no explicit representations about the kind of people who are going to contact you to try to rent your house, and I don't think there is anything in the way the website is built that would lead any homeowner to believe otherwise. Your expectation and their communications are very much in line with each other.
The consumer side is different. When I log on to Homeaway, I know that something about this site is different from Craigslist. I know that you need an account to list here. There are reviews that cannot be falsified. There is a history that cannot be falsified and there is a form that I can use on this site promising to connect me with a Homeowner that has been using their site for years. I know perfectly well that if I have a problem because the house is not as nice as I expected, I have no recourse to Homeaway, but (and I think at this point others acknowledge this) I should be able to rely on the Homeaway site to securely deliver my inquiry to the Homeowner on their account when I use that form. How any buyer could "beware" here is beyond me. And I still don't understand how HA can routinely ignore customers calls and require the involvement (and expense) of attorneys to resolve what never needed to be anything more than a simple matter of delivering respectable customer service.
Not everything you say is correct. Reviews can EASILY be falsified. All you need is a few friends and family to write them up for you. I'd never do this mainly because I'm a play by the rules kind of person. If I can't win fairly, then it's not worth playing the game. Owners are also permitted to submit reviews. I copied and submitted all the reviews from our guest book, making none other than a spellling error correction. There are no star ratings on these, and they do say Owner Submitted.
We owners are HomeAway's customers/clients. We pay the bill. Travellers don't pay a cent to HA for the service. You may or may not have read about renters writing bogus trash reviews for spite or to get the owner to refund some of their money. I've never had this happen, but I've read that HomeAway will not remove these negative reviews. I'm not going to worry about it because I fortunately have a great number of reviews. If some crackpot wants to say untrue things about their experience in our cottage, go for it. I'm sure anybody reading the reviews would ignore the one bad review. Do you use product reviews on Amazon? I first look at the 1 star reviews, and if most of the other reviews are positive, I tend to see what the 1 star reviewers have to say. Often it has nothing to do with the product's quality but rather shipping took too long, it was smashed or damaged during transport, or even that it didn't work, etc. But if the vast majority are happy with the product (and I do read those to see how happy and why), that's the information I was looking for.
In case I haven't said it already, from your story it does seem that you were treated shabbily by HA. I'm very sorry about that and hope you eventually get some resolution.
You bring up a good point. Jen is right to say she should expect that inquiries at least go to the registered homeowner she is contacting. That would seem to be the least they can do. Jen recognizes that it is not up to HomeAway to guarantee any place is how it says and that they have not inspected or verified or endorsed any listing or owner.
However, we do pay a lot to list on their sites (they are no longer "cheap" by any means) and we do take a risk allowing strangers into our homes. If it gets trashed, even as paying customers HomeAway does not compensate us, other than for those who take out insurance, etc.
I think it works both ways. Not only may some owners forget about seeing it from a traveler's viewpoint, but there's much that someone who doesn't own or manage but is only a traveler doesn't see on their end either. The problem is that up until now many travelers did not think they had to take any extra precautions once they respond to a listing on a site and also that the way you were dealt with by HomeAway after the fact may have been less than satisfying as well. We just ask that you try to see it from our shoes too, if you were putting out your home to strangers while paying hundreds of dollars per listing per year and had no guarantees on who you got. We must screen inquirers, and likewise travelers must screen owners/managers.
Interesting post under the VRBO Customer Support community area. Another reason to not want to be required to use the dashboard to reply to inquiries . here is the text including VRBO's response!
Aug 10, 2012 7:13 PM (in response to lmcdavis)
I just called Tech Support on the same issue. I had received an inquiry e-mail, but it doesn't show on my Inquiry list on my dashboard, and I can't reply from the e-mail because the inquiry hasn't made it to the dashboard yet. Their suggestion was to just send an e-mail to the requester outside of homeaway. The other option is to wait for the inquiry to show up but they couldn't say how long that would be. They did acknowledge the problem (huge step for HA ) but no ETA and I didn't get the impression it was being treated as site down event.
I'm very unhappy with this change. I don't want HA/VRBO to have access to my communications with my guests -- that violates both my and my guest's privacy! I have had trouble soliciting Reviews from our guests who refused to log in and provide information to HA/VRBO. It also means that I have to do an extra step to my process for every inquiry - I have to log into dashboard, find the inquiry and respond from there. That means that I no longer have a complete record of my email exchange with each guest, as some of them will reside only in the dashboard. I'll not be able to follow my own system of the background check for each inquiry.
It appears that HA/VRBO wants to take control of my entire business which is absolutely unacceptable! Their business is to provide an interface for communication between the owners and the travelers. All the rest remain MY business!
DEAR HA/VRBO, PLEASE DO NOT DO IT TO US!
The privacy issue is a really big deal to me!! They have no right sticking their noses in my personal business. They are just a service I pay to advertise rentals, not my overseer and not my mama! This really ticks me off!
I realized when I read their onerous and overbearing terms on their Reservation Manager payment policies (they keep YOUR money from payment by the customer until the customer checks into your unit — which is often up to a year in our case) that they were getting too big for their britches and way too money hungry.
It's a sure bet that if they implement this so-called "security" system — what a laugh ... we are such idiots we need to be "protected" from phishing — that they will soon follow by making their payment system mandatory, too, to "protect" the customer.
If they try to force this crap down our throats they will lose this customer.