Santa Barbara

Vacation Rental Photo Fakeouts

You find that perfect vacation rental and book online, only to find out when you get there it looks nothing like the pictures.

Peggy and Darcy McGinn booked a luxury home in Santa Barbara for a trip with eight friends. Photos showed lush green grass, an outdoor paradise built for entertaining, a spacious living room with a fireplace and "all-new" kitchen appliances. The place even had a telescope.

They booked the house, paying $5,400 for three days. But when they arrived?

"For a moment I thought I was being punked," Peggy McGinn said.

The fireplace wouldn't light and the kitchen appliances weren't brand new - some were damaged, including a stove with a crack in it. The outdoor paradise was missing patio furniture. And that telescope? Nowhere to be seen.

"They lied to me," McGinn said.

Jen Maier from Seattle rented a condo near Disneyland in March for a family vacation, only to find grimy glassware in the kitchen cabinets, shower scum in the bathroom and only a few working light bulbs. After seeing the bedrooms, she couldn't see herself spending the night.

"The bedrooms had old sheets, used sheets, piled up in a ball on top of the bed," Maier said. "It was pretty frustrating."

Maier eventually got her money back. To date, McGinn has not.

"There's probably a level of disappointment 25 percent of the time," travel agent Tama Holve said.

Not only can photos be misleading, but the reviews and ratings can also distort the truth, according to Holve, because some services allow vacation homeowners to flag reviews to be taken down.

"If you don't see anything negative posted," she said, "it may be that there have been negative remarks or reviews, but they're not there."

Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway and FlipKey all say they take misleading photos seriously, offering to refund renters if a house isn't in good condition. But that could leave travelers looking for a new place to stay the night at the last minute.

"We were lucky that there were so many hotels right nearby that we could choose from," Maier said.

Holve's advice? Try to look up listings on your own before you book, document what's broken or missing, and always pay with a credit card in case you need to dispute the charge.

"You can dispute anything," Holve said.

The company from which the McGinns rented their house told the I-Team others renting the same property have been satisfied with their stay. It also said it offered to bring in the missing patio furniture and send a repairman to address other concerns, but the McGinns declined because of their short stay.

The McGinns say they were offered a 10-percent refund, but are now disputing the full $5,400 they paid.

"You wrecked my vacation," Peggy McGinn said. "I want my money back."

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