You're travelling with kids...  You'd like the option to cook and eat-in some of the time to save money or time...  You're staying for a few weeks and a motel room would drive you into claustrophobic fits...  These are some of the reasons why some people have decided to forego the traditional hotel/ motel route and spend their vacation renting a privately- owned vacation home or condo.  Many are pleased to discover that it is often possible to rent an these units for little more than an upscale motel room.

But you've never done it before; there are new questions to confront:  Is it safe to do this?  How to go about finding a good place?  How to know what a fair rate is? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Finding a Condo

If you've decided to look for a condo, you are already halfway there to the best source of information- you're on-line!  There are generally four ways you can find condos on the internet. 

  1. There are many vacation rental websites that are available and most handle direct from owner listings exclusively, though some have agency postings as well.  Some of the most popular are:  VRBO, GreatRentals, VacationHomes, GulfCoastRentals, CondoRentalHelp, FloridaVacationRentals, CyberRentals and scores of others. Often a Google search such as "Captiva Vacation Rentals" or "Captiva owner direct rentals" will get you to these sites. Another source is the Chamber of Commerce.   Owner direct rental sites list privately owned properties for vacation.  They are useful to give you a listing of vareity of properties in an area allowing you to get a feel for the price ranges and kinds of rentals available.  Like  classified ads - the sites don't manage the properties, just advertise them.  You deal with the owner or their representative to book.  
  2. Private owner websites are becoming more plentiful on the internet.  Many of these link to vacation rental websites discussed above.  The owner web sites can often give you the most on-line information about the exact unit you're considering.  Since not all owners have their own website, you'll have the largest selection through the vacation rental websites.  You can find some owner websites with a Google search of  " Captiva Condo for Rent by Owner" or "Captiva Condo Owner Rentals" or similar query.  Owners who belong to the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce usually have hyperlinks under Where to Stay, Rental by Owner Condo and Rental by Owner Homes.  Owner direct rentals, however found, may have the best price because the owner can set their price lower than an agency.  Private owners are often more flexible on dates than agencies, especially in the slow off-season.  
  3. There are rental agencies that have a web sites that list units.  The selection will be limited to only units within their rental pool. These companies also act as agents for the property and can handle booking and other helpful services such as credit card processing, crib rentals and other conveniences.  As agents, there is often a service charge of 10% or more included in the rate as well as other fees that you should ask about such as booking fees, linen fees or other charges.  Be sure to get clear information about what is included in the rates quotes and read the contract Terms and Conditions.  Some of largest Sanibel agencies include Royal Shell, Grand Island Vacations, VIP, ResortQuest, Sanibel Holiday and Island Accommodations.
Note:  Owners, agencies and associations sometimes have last minutes deals due to cancellations, partial week stays, and just low occupancy periods.  Also, some offer discounts or internet rates through the Chamber of Commerce website under Daily Vacancy.

How do I Rent a Condo and Is It a Safe Transaction?

Renting a condo/home, especially through an agency, is very similar to renting a hotel room - with two exceptions: 

  • You pay for all charges up-front.  Usually a deposit of 10-50% is required to hold a unit.  The entire balance is typically due anywhere from 30-90 days prior prior to arrival. There may be a refundable damage deposit due as well.
  • There is usually no cancellation refund within a certain time before arrival although some owners and agencies will refund most or all of your payment if the unit can be re-rented for the same period and rate. Again, check Terms and Conditions as some owners have an immediate NO REFUND policy on the deposit.  If you cancel and the unit cannot be re-rented, you will likely lose your entire payment.  For this reason you may wish to purchase Trip Cancellation Insurance (see below).

Therefore, if you're not sure you can go, condos and homes may not be the best option. In this case you should wait till the last minute, especially off-season, and then rent when you are sure. 

With all rentals it is of the utmost importance to read the Terms and Conditions portion of the contract carefully and be sure to fully understand them

Agencies usually post them on their websites, but specific home and condo owners may cause the usual terms to be modified by the agency.  Always read the specific contact that is sent to you by the owner or agency;  some have very strict limitations on things like how much laundry you can leave or telephone usage.  Also remember, while in a condo you are bound by the association rules.  A copy of these are usually sent with the reservation confirmation; if you don't receive them you should ask for them.   This can be an issue on things like pool heat, where certain condo complexes do not turn it on till Dec 15 and turn it off on a fixed date as well, regardless of the weather.  Again, ask the owner or agency.  Happily the agencies on Captiva are usually good, but no one should be expected to know all the rules for every condo complex, so be sure and get any assurances important to you in writing. 

If there is a problem, off-season there can be some flexibility in moving to another unit but that can be at the discretion of the agent or owner and they always have the option to just refund your money and leave you to sort it out - though agencies rarely do.  Again, once you commit to a specific property, there are usually penalties if you cancel.   Unlike hotels, condos and home owners can't just fill their units easily.  So be sure to be aware of your penalty dates and if you are with an agency, any fees they may charge if you change your unit selection.  Occasionally things happen and specific units become unavailable for some reason.  Be sure and stay in touch with your agent or owner as your trip draws near.

Booking through an Agency or Owner

Agencies are businesses that take the reservations, send out confirmation and when you arrive check you in and give you keys and often manage the property or interface with the property manager to handle any problems.  Should you have a problem with anything in the unit, they are there to fix it or, if necessary, set you up in another unit in their system.  They will also hold damage deposits as well as collect the rental charges. Some, but not all, will take credit card payments.  Why use a reputable agency?  The risk of walking into a condo or house that is a disaster are is virtually eliminated.  That is perhaps the single most significant advantage of good agencies along with a wide selection of units to choose from.   Plus most Sanibel/Captiva agencies are located on the islands and you go directly to the office for assistance and advice.

Renting privately through an owner is usually less expensive but potentially riskier.  You are essentially sending a stranger a check and trusting that they will deliver what they promise. There may also be less services available such as 24 hour maintenance or late check in.  By far, most rental owners are legitimate and trustworthy.  But you do have to be careful.  References can be asked for. You can sometimes see how long they have been renting by information noted on their web site such as a copyright.  Talk to the owner directly if possible to get a good feel for them.  Your best deal might be here!  If you use VBRO or other listing site tied to the calendars, look for a comments section tied to Rentors.org, the popular calendar site.  The comments there are entered directly by renters and cannot be altered by the owner to 'spin' comments.  Just be aware - as with hotels & motels, not everyone has the same definition of 'perfect' and 'luxury'.

There is also a " Hybrid" option:  Rent directly though an owner that uses an agency to handle the booking process.  This will sometimes mean a saving, but rarely on Captiva homes.  You  will have the convenience and security that an established rental agency provides. This is done by contacting the owner first and then the owner refers the booking to the agency.  For some, it is the best of both worlds.  Any savings will depend on the agreement the owner has with the agency. 

Whether renting with an owner, an agency or "hybrid", the condo itself is privately owned so it the updating and decor of the unit is the owners' responsibility.  However the maintainence of the unit - cleaning, fixing or replacing broken items or appliances will depend on the arrangements made between the owner and the rental agency or other maintenance company, if any, that the owner designates.  Again, it pays to ask and/ or read your contract.

Travel Insurance 

Because of the potential risk for guest with respect to cancellations, especially less than 60 days prior to arrival, many owners and agencies offer or recommend  Trip Cancellation Insurance.  This can be purchased usually for about 10% of the rental rate. Many of the agencies provide this and the policy can reimburse you if you must cancel your trip due to illness, injuries or hurricane or certain travel interruptions.  As with all insurance products, they are not fool-proof and are subject to many exemptions and clauses.    Also, these products will usually not reimburse you for unfortunate events such as red tide or red drift algae blooms or non-hurricane bad weather.  Like your rental contract, read the insurance policy carefully. Also consider making all your payments using a credit card; this oftn gives you more protection against fraud or disputed charges and other consumer complaints.

 Prices

Prices on both homes and condos vary greatly based on many factors, including what the owner believes as 'fair market value' of their rentals. In general, newly remodeled units in the same complex will command a higher price.  Unlike Sanibel, Captiva has only a handful of Gulf front/view condos.  Most of these are across the street from the beach and the vast majority are within the grounds of South Seas Resort.  Condos run higher on Captiva than on Sanibel.  Outside Soth Seas figure $1300-$2000 for a two to 3 bedroom condo bay or beach views.  There are many locations within South Seas but renting thru an agency or owner will very strictly limit your access to resort facilities, including the trolly and main pool complex.  Be sure to carefully read what is and is NOT included in private and agency rentals to avoid disappointment.  Ultra-luxe units are substantially higher and there are only a few Gulf side and the remainder are bayside.  In the village area the bayside condos have wide open views of Pine Island Sound home to thousands of dolphin who routinely make an appearance by the docks along with manatee and many birds.  Private homes on Captiva have a very broad range of rates and even the small, remodeled beach cottage with garden views can command surprising prices.  For beachfront homes, figure $4000/week and up off season.  Near beach $2500 and up.  Bayfront - something not often found on Sanibel, $2500 and up.  These prices just general guidelines as so many factors impact pricing.  Unlike Sanibel, Captiva has both houses and condos bayside with docks available if you arrive by or rent a boat. NOTE: If you require and elevator, be sure to ask.  Not all properties have them. 

Homes on Captiva often can be rented for 7 days and sometimes less.  You'll find more Gulf front houses here than on Sanibel and some have heart stopping prices.  There are some well priced homes, so if you like the idea of a private home and don't have 4 weeks to spare, be sure to look at Captiva houses.  Great choices for larger family groups and those who enjoy the privacy of a private home well away from crowds.   Most have private pool or shared pools, but not all.  

Pros & Cons

Change your mind a lot? Need to be flexible and want to be able to make changes in where, when and how long you stay?  Need hotel or resort business services?  Want room service or maid service?  Enjoy having everything done for you?  Want all the resort facilities right there?  Well, condo or house renting probably isn't for you.  

Staying in a nice a home or condo will give you more space, personal privacy, a "home away form home" feel, extras such as games, videos or beach toys, and the surprising convenience of eating in for a change...  When you consider how much time it takes to get everyone ready.. drive to a restaurant.. wait to be seated.. wait for the meal.. eat.. wait for the check... and drive home two or three times a day, having some convenience food available to make in your own space saves you hours a day that you can then spend on the beach!  Plus most condos have 2 bathrooms which can be handy and in-unit laundry facilities which can limit your packing needs, dry out wet bathing suits and let you return home without a huge laundry to do on day one. 

The negatives are as outline above:  prepayment and cancellation penalties and no changing your mind once you're there. Additionally as each unit is individually owned, you are subject to the decorative tastes and maintenance standards of the owners so it pays to look at lots of photos if available and verify how recent the photos are of the unit and property.

With a little research,  a condo or private home can be a very enjoyable way to settle into your stay on beautiful Captiva.

Taxes

There are two taxes levied on condo and house rentals, sales tax and bed tax, totaling 11%.  Be sure to allow for that when budgeting for your vacation rental. 

Notes 

The City of Sanibel has a minimum rental time on homes of 28 days; Captiva offers more flexibility.  Condos have minimum rentals set by the association.  One week in season is typical, but some have 2 week or 1 month minimums set by the association.  Homes on Captiva have 1 week minimums in most cases and will allow less off-season.   Some of the homes offer negotiable number of days, but it rarely pays to rent for fewer than 4-5 days.

Important note: South Seas Island Resort has restrictions on who can utilize all their amenities, including pools and restaurants, to guests booked primarily through their own booking agency, so be certain what you will have access to if renting there through anyone other than the resort itself.  There is a warning posted on SSR main page at the bottom using the link above and most rental agencies have information about what is and is not included, though they are sometimes less than clear.  Read before renting.  If you do not have access to these amenities you must go off of the resort grounds to eat out or shop.