Sanibel & Captiva islands offer hundreds of privately owned condominiums and houses that are available for vacation rental.
They may be rented directly from the owners or through companies that specialize in managing and renting the properties under contract from their owners.
Many, maybe most, private owners are honest, fair and forthright. If they promise you a standard of furnishings, condition of the unit/house or reservations for a certain date, you probably will have no problem. But VERIFY.
Ask for references and check them. Ask to see the latest pictures. Don't settle just for the view from lanai. How about the living room, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen? Any serious owner should have such pictures available and can email them to you. Hold on to them and, if your reserve the place, bring them with you to confirm that they are the most current pictures.
Does this sound a little skeptical? Well, consider. You will be reserving a place from afar directly from a private owner. In all likelihood, that owner owns one or possibly two places. If, for some reason, there is a problem with the unit/house you are renting, what do you do? Will they have another place to put you? Will it be equal to or better than the place you reserved?
What about check-in and emergency service? Will there be someone there to give you keys and directions to the property? Or will you be on your own. What if the microwave breaks or the A/C stops cooling? What do you do? How quickly can the private owner, who may not even live on the islands, service your unit so it lives up to the full value your rent is entitled to?
Even something as simple as a "lock-out", can create a problem. Suppose you leave your keys in the unit and lock the door behind you when you go to the beach, or worse yet, you lose the keys in the sandy beach. Who is going to let you back in so you can shower the sand off? An off-premise owner, no matter how well intended, is going to have a hard time doing right by you.
Yet, for some families, condos or houses are the preferred rental solution - in terms of value, space, privacy, convenience and self-service.
So what is the answer? For many people, rental management firms represent a kind of guest insurance. They offer check-in services. They are on hand to handle problems. They have standards of condition, cleanliness and furnishings that exclude properties that are substandard. Moreover, they have inventories of properties that they can move you to if a problem arises while you are in a unit and need to be moved.
Finally, since they are in the guest service business, they appreciate that you must be satisfied when you rent from them. If not, you will not come back to do business with them. They can't afford to lose your business or get a bad rap for the service they provide. After all, they have hundreds of units to rent. The private owner of a single unit may be able afford to lose a customer because he only owns one unit to worry about. Rental management companies can't.
So, when you plan your Sanibel-Captiva vacation, keep in mind that what you get is more important than what you spend. Insist on dealing with someone you trust. Stories of people who reserved island properties only to arrive and find they are occupied by the other owner guests, are not unheard of. Do everything right and you will have a wonderful vacation that your family will remember for years.