Everything you need to know about making money with VRBO

Written by Emma Kansiz

Published 2022-07-05 / 4 min read

Airbnb is not the only player in the vacation rental league. VRBO was actually first to the party, founded way back in 1995. VRBO differs from Airbnb, however, as it only has full properties on offer, which means no shared rooms or apartments. VRBO allows you to communicate with passionate travelers who are interested in making your home part of their dream holiday. If you have a well-appointed home that you’re dying to share with the world, read on, as VRBO may be the side income that you’ve been looking for.

What is VRBO?

VRBO (an acronym for vacation rentals by owner) is an online vacation rental marketplace. It allows homeowners to rent out their home or vacation property for short term holidays. Like its peer Airbnb, it has been touted for reshaping the vacation landscape. The site currently has over two million rentals listed, in over 190 countries. VRBO is more property-focused than Airbnb, which sometimes emphasizes a cultural or hospitality experience that involves mingling and socializing with your host. This aspect of VRBO makes it ideal for families, big groups of friends, or romantic getaways.

How does VRBO's earning structure work?

VRBO is a great option to make significant income quickly. They only take an 8% cut, which includes the credit card processing fee, if you choose the pay-per-booking option. Alternatively, if you plan on renting your property out consistently throughout the year you can also pay an annual fee of $499. If you are only renting your property out sporadically then it makes more sense to choose the pay-per-booking option.  

Travelers pay before arrival through the site and you are paid either once they have checked in or thirty days after they pay, whichever is later. It typically takes 5 to 7 business days for you to receive your income. VRBO also shows you a detailed list of your payments and offers a breakdown, including customized fees, commissions, and cleaning fees. You can also download a report by the week, month, and year which you can keep for your expenses and use for tax return purposes. 

VRBO uses Expedia’s fraud protection technology to ensure that every transaction is verified and legitimate. This reduces the headache on your end. Online bookings are covered by a million dollars of liability protection through VRBO. You won’t have to worry about being left empty handed if strangers trash your house and steal your heirlooms- we love that.

What is the time commitment for VRBO?

The essence of VRBO is simple: making your vacant property work for you (and your bank balance). The time commitment is truly up to you, and it falls under two general categories: the maintenance of your profile and presence on the site, and the time you will actually be away from your property, earning money.

The time commitment of running your property profile will depend on your location and the popularity of your property. You may have frequent inquiries and booking requests that you will have to respond to promptly if you want to establish a good reputation on the site. Once someone has booked your property, you have 24 hours to respond. Keep in mind that in order to rank high on VRBO’s search results you must have a quick response rate and a high booking acceptance rate. 

As for the time commitment of actually renting your property, well, that is up to you. Some people have second properties or cabins that they have available all year while others rent out their residence for special events or to earn money during their own vacations. Those who are more dedicated to their income from the site can hire property managers or assistants to manage the property, guest complaints and concerns, and inquiries before and after their stay. This depends on how hands-off you want to be, and how much time you have to manage problems as they arise. The built-in calendar system is intuitive to use and allows you to set your property’s availability in a foolproof way.

How to get started with VRBO?

In order to sign up you must provide basic contact information and  your property’s address. To finish registering you must upload photographs and provide details on the property. You will be asked the number of guests who can comfortably stay in your property, and the number of bathrooms and bedrooms. You can set your own rates so be sure to research comparable properties in your area. VRBO will ask you for your bank account details so they can directly deposit funds into your account. 

VRBO allows you to fill in additional, property-specific information, policies, and rules. These are highly individual and it is worth offering comprehensive details for clarity’s sake. The more time you dedicate right off the bat, the less redundant questions you will receive. It may be helpful for you to design a FAQ section to reduce inquiries that don’t lead to a booking.  

Once you have listed your property, wait for the booking requests to roll in. Don’t be afraid to offer a special or deal if you are new to the site to attract eyes onto your listing. 

VRBO requirements

Required Resources

No surprises here, you need your own home or apartment to rent out. This can be a primary residence or a spare cabin or lodge. If you’ve never considered renting your place out and you have no idea how to price it, worry not. VRBO has a MarketMaker tool which helps you discover the comparable rates in your area and offers suggestions on how to price your property. You can always adjust it for long weekends or special festivals and sporting events in your area. Theoretically you could create a listing for your rental apartment or home but that could open up a world of difficulty for you. Most leases stipulate against subletting or advertising the rental on vacation sites and the consequences could include eviction.   

You should also stock up on amenities for your guests and ensure that you have extra linens, dishware, towels, and toiletries. You may also consider stocking up on tea, coffee, and seasonings for your kitchen. Having a safety kit, a tool kit and extra light bulbs in an easily accessible location is highly recommended.

Required Skills

One of the most salient skills needed for success in the travel industry is an enthusiasm towards hospitality. You need to cultivate a compassionate, proactive, warm demeanor through messages and interactions with your guests. Being hospitable is an absolute dealbreaker. Prospective guests can be very fickle and if they get an impression of coldness, stubbornness, or abrasiveness on your part they may move on, even if they are in love with your property. If you are genuinely not a people person and you just want to cash in, consider a part time property manager who can be the gracious, solutions-oriented face of your property. 

You must have the ability to see your property through the eyes of a guest. Don’t cut corners simply to rush your place onto the market. Ensure it is in good repair, well-designed, and clean. Be realistic about the flaws and quirks of your property, as well. Guests will be disappointed if you fail to mention aspects of your property that are not ideal, such as low ceilings or proximity to traintacks or a busy thoroughfare. It is better to offer this information up in a matter of fact, authentic way than to scramble when guests are messaging you frustrated during their stay.

Required Documents

VRBO requires you to provide the address of your property. Though it is not required for the sign up process, VRBO recommends that you get a vacation rental insurance policy to cover anything that may arise. You do not have to show any documents that prove you are in compliance with city bylaws and regulations but it is imperative for your own business that you have access to any documents and licenses necessary to operate a vacation rental in your city or region.    

Other important details

If you live in a popular area, or in a particularly unique property, be prepared for lots of inquiries. VRBO also lists your property with its affiliate sites like Expedia, Kayak, and Trivago. Through VRBO you can see prospective traveler’s profiles and learn a bit more about the people requesting to stay in your house.

In order to stand out from the crowds, it might be prudent to invest in your property the way you would in your fledgling small business. Consider offering amenities that are appropriate to your region and the season. Offering bicycles, kayaks, skis, barbeques, and roller blades might seem trivial but they could be the deciding factor for some individuals or families. If you want to do it on the cheap consider creating an engaging library or board game cupboard. Consider creating welcome packages or gift baskets as a thank you to guests who choose your property. These small touches can have a big impact. VRBO allows you to create your own property title so be sure to include a punchy, original title that features the unique draws of your property. Consider offering deals for long term stays or during the low season to stand out from your competitors.      

Be cognizant that there may be restrictions and bylaws in place for your city or region. More municipalities are cracking down on short term rentals as they saturate the market with unaffordable rentals geared towards vacationers rather than residents of the city who need housing. Some cities have a minimum or maximum number of days you are allowed to rent out a property per year. It is also becoming more common for governments to require you to get a business license to operate your property as a vacation rental. You will have to pay to register your business and for any licenses or tourism taxes that may apply. If you live in a condo or townhouse be sure that you are not running afoul of homeowner’s association rules.     

If you rent out your property for less than 14 days a year you are not required to declare it on your taxes. For all other property owners, you will have to fill out an IRS Schedule E along with your tax return to ensure tax law compliance. You must pay tax on any profits after you have deducted any rental-related expenses. You can deduct expenses like cleaning fees, property agency fees, and repairs directly related to your vacation rental business. You may want to hire an accountant that has experience working with people who make a side income through rental properties as they may be able to provide insights unique to your situation.

Our review

Obviously VRBO is not for everyone, and is predominantly a side hustle for those who are already relatively financially secure. But we all want extra cash, right? For property owners, VRBO is a great option, but if you only have a spare room or suite to rent out then Airbnb would be a more appropriate option. 

VRBO offers a solution for those times when your property is vacant and it allows you to earn money at your own convenience. You can have your property listed for one week of the year or twelve months - completely up to you. Because VRBO has traveler profiles with reviews you can gain insight into your potential guests and screen out ones who might be a nuisance or a liability. And speaking of liability, VRBO’s insurance coverage, which comes free to you, is compelling. It offers peace of mind and allows you to rent out your place with confidence. That being said, it is always sound practice to take out your own policy that specifically covers vacation rentals. This is truly the kind of side business where you will want to have all your bases covered to ensure that you are not constantly on high alert whenever you have guests staying at your place.  

Because VRBO is affiliated with travel giant Expedia you can expect high quality care and support for issues as they arise. They are a transparent brand that is sensitive to their reputation, so they are incentivized to take care of their clients, which is you, the homeowner. You will also get significant exposure through their sharing of your property through the Expedia platform. If you have a home that is suitable to rent out for vacations, run, don’t walk, to VRBO’s website and get involved!