Burke: Lodging a complaint over latest in vacation rentals

‘VRBOs’ offer a charming cabin, but do I tip myself after changing the bedding and cleaning the room?

By Tom Burke / Herald columnist

I get the new world. I’m modestly facile with a computer; I understand social media; and I’m semi-adept with the TV remote; plus I can tell Alexa to play Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and up comes “San Antonio Rose.”

I don’t mourn carrying a pocketful of quarters for phone calls. I can text, but don’t; if it’s really important I’ll call, if it isn’t, it’ll keep. And I remember when gig workers were called freelancers (we hired plenty when I was in the advertising business).

The only Twitter account I follow is @realDonaldTrump, but only because I write about politics and I like to see the latest lies the president is posting.

And, following last week’s VBRO — vacation rental by owner — experience, I’ve got some serious doubts about the brave new world of lodging.

Some background: Since I started in “business” 50-plus years ago (sailing, literally around the world as a merchant ship’s officer; then in the ad biz; reporting for newspapers; and working for state and local governments), plus traveling with family, I’ve stayed in eight zillion hotels, motels, BnBs, lodges, dorms, campgrounds, tents, and even spent the night sleeping curled up atop the harbor master’s desk in the Turkish port of Iskenderun.

My standard of quality isn’t the Four Seasons or the D.C. Ritz Carlton. I’m happy with a comfortable bed; clean linens; decent-sized towels; and HVAC that works. And I don’t mind paying for value, cleanliness, convenience and some measure of civility when I check in.

Now, it’s a Burke family “tradition” to gather the clan at my son’s cabin near Mount Baker for New Year’s skiing, board games, great stories and good food and drink.

Typically, my wife and I rent a condo across from the Chair 9 saloon, as it’s quieter and there’s a pool, which the grandkids love.

This year, however, we chose a cabin in the Mount Baker Rim community via VBRO.com.

It was a lovely place. All rustic with a big dining room table, cooking gear and adequate beds. Clearly the owners actually live there, so a hotel or BnB it isn’t.

And it isn’t cheap, as it goes for at least twice the condo-‘cross-the-street’s cost.

So what’s my beef?

All around the cabin, on almost every wall, were signs exhorting me to remember this is someone’s home and please take care of it. That’s fair, I guess.

However, that’s not what irked me.

What got me all dubious were the signs explaining how to take care of the place. Instructions, if you will. How, after paying nearly $450 a night, I’m supposed to make sure I have all the linens in the washing machine, running, when I leave.

Or, if I use the grill, scour it before I go.

Same with the kitchen, bathroom and dining room.

I was mandated to follow a complete regimen for shocking and chlorinating the hot tub (Woulda been easier if they’d said where the chemicals were) and we had to do the dishes before we left. And dispose of all the trash and recycling (but they didn’t tell us where).

The other disconcerting item was a warning that they have our credit card and anything we did “wrong” we would be charged for. And if we objected, well, they had our money and we’d have to fight to get it back.

Most of this I could understand, if I were borrowing a friend’s place.

But this was a straight business transaction. I rented through an agent, never spoke to the owner, and we simply traded money for a place to eat and sleep.

So why am I washing the sheets and pillow cases? I don’t do that at Motel 6.

Why am I hauling trash to the community dump? I don’t do that at the Hyatt.

Why am I maintaining their hot tub? I don’t treat the pool, or the hot tub, at the Icicle Inn in Leavenworth.

Why was I doing the work normally done at no extra charge at a motel and paying an additional $100 cleaning fee; $20 “transaction fee” for ?; and a $75 “service fee” to VBRO for nothing, plus tax. How does renting through VBRO make the owners generous people sharing their wonderful home? They didn’t “share” it, they monetized it, making them just another Holiday Inn-type mini-franchisee?

I’m at a loss to explain this new property-rental ethic of paying for services and then doing the jobs myself. But as the signs began to grate on me, there was one bit of good news: at least they didn’t leave a bucket of paint and rollers and a sign that read, “To help us be more efficient, and ready for the next check-in, please put a second coat of paint on the bathroom walls prior to your departure.”

Tom Burke’s email address is t.burke.column@gmail.com.

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