Selecting Vacation Rental Homes

A first timer’s guide to selecting vacation rental homes on Hatteras Island

Hatteras Island, North Carolina — Newcomers to Hatteras Island and the Outer Banks are often introduced to a foreign term when planning their first vacation, the “vacation rental home.” While other vacation destinations usually feature hotels, motels, or all inclusive resorts, Hatteras Island’s most popular means of lodging is the rental home, and most of the island is populated with vacation homes of varying degrees of size and intricacy.

If you’ve never stayed in a vacation rental home, or are unfamiliar with the different types of rental homes available on Hatteras Island, what should you look for, and what should you know? The following frequently asked guest questions will give you a head start on selecting the perfect home for your family’s dream vacation.

What are the benefits of renting a vacation home? A vacation rental home is often more comfortable and more convenient than a week’s stay at a hotel or a motel. These are, after all, actual privately owned homes complete with full kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms, decks, and other features that a typical motel room can’t offer. Depending on the home you choose, many modern rental homes have additional amenities as well, such as private swimming pools, hot tubs, game rooms, and even movie theatre rooms. Also, because you are paying one fee for an entire week instead of a nightly rate, and because you may be splitting the cost among a few family members or friends, rental homes are typically cheaper than a week’s stay at a hotel or a motel. Also, many vacation homes allow pets, while most hotels and motels do not.

What are the drawbacks of a vacation rental home? Because vacation homes are rented on a weekly basis, it can be difficult to rent a home for just a night or two. Many rental companies do allow “partial” weeks for a short 3 or 4 day stay, however these reservations must usually be made on short notice- anywhere from within a week to a month of the arrival date. Call local rental companies or check out their web sites to see their partial week policies.

What do the different location terms like “soundside” and “oceanview” mean? On Hatteras Island, rental homes are grouped into different location categories depending on their proximity to water, and their location in relation to NC Highway 12. All homes that are on the Pamlico sound side of the highway that are not waterfront are “soundside,” and all homes on the ocean side of the highway are “oceanside.” After that, the terminology is decided by how close the house is to water. A “canalfront” or “soundfront” home borders water on the sound side, and an “oceanview” or “semi-oceanfront” home is very close to the ocean, with semi-oceanfront homes being 1 lot back from the beach.

Most rental companies also have maps online and in catalogs to point out the exact location and proximity to the beach of each rental home.

How do I choose between soundfront and oceanfront? There’s no question that the big attraction on Hatteras Island is the beaches. Oceanfront and oceanview homes are ideal for easy access to surf fishing, surfing and body boarding, shell collecting, soaking up the sun and sand, and just an all around good day at the beach for families of all ages. But for boating enthusiasts, windsurfers and kiteboarders, and families with small children, soundfront homes may be the best bet. The sound is a gentler body of water than the ocean, with virtually no waves and a very gradual slope, perfect for little kids. Soundfront homes also have the best sunsets the island has to offer, and kayakers, kiteboarders and windsurfers have made the sound their personal playground. Canalfront homes are perfect for boaters and typically have bulkheaded docks and easy access to the Pamlico. If you rent a canalfront home, be sure to bring your crab pots and cast nets as you’ll have lots of fun fishing off your deck.

What amenities should I look for? This is different for every family, but it’s best to start by knowing what amenities are available. If you like being close to the ocean, but don’t always want to swim in the rough waves, a home with a pool might be something to consider. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a small cottage with a hot tub would probably suit you fine. If you’re embarking on a working vacation, you might want wireless internet access or a quiet office area. If you’re traveling with a family member who has special needs, many homes are handicapped friendly with roll-in showers and elevators. A good way to narrow down the field is to make a quick priority list of what you family vacation needs are, and then search for homes accordingly. A good rental web site will allow you to perform an advanced search based on a checklist of amenities, so you can narrow down your options to homes that fit your requirements.

What’s with the travel insurance? When you rent a vacation home, most rental companies offer optional insurance in case your vacation is cut short. Depending on the circumstances, travel insurance will reimburse you the cost of your home and expenses, such as gasoline, if you have to cancel your trip due to an emergency, or in the event of a mandatory evacuation or other disaster that may prevent you from entering or staying on the Outer Banks. Travel insurance is especially recommended during hurricane season, from July to November. While travel insurance covers most emergencies and mandatory evacuations, there can be exceptions. Ask your rental company for the insurance company’s web site or phone number for more details on what is and is not covered.

What do I need to bring? Many people sum this up in two words- toilet paper- but there are actually a few things to bring when you stay at a rental home. Unlike motels and hotels, rental homes aren’t automatically equipped with paper products, toiletries, and other necessities you may need upon arrival. It’s best to bring a “starter kit” to tide you over before you make your trip to the grocery store. This kit should include paper products, trash bags, soap and other toiletries, snacks and refreshments. Also, unless your home specifically says it comes with linens, you will need to bring your own sheets and pillowcases for the beds.

How do I prepare for next year? After searching and selecting the right rental home, many people love the home they’ve chosen and want to make sure they can return to it the following year for their next vacation. Most rental companies give first dibbs to the folks already staying in the house, so if you would like the same house for the same week the following year, simply call or stop by your rental office and pre-reserve for your next vacation. The best thing about advanced reservations is that you’ll have an entire year to look forward to your next vacation.


Surf or Sound Realty, Hatteras Island’s premier vacation rental property manager has been serving thousands of happy Hatteras Island vacationers each year since 1978. With two convenient offices in Avon and Salvo, Surf or Sound manages nearly 500 vacation homes located in each of Hatteras Island’s seven charming villages. Guests can choose from 2 bedroom condos to 12 bedroom estates on the oceanfront, soundfront and everywhere in between. Many homes feature private swimming pools, wireless internet, elevators, linens, game rooms with pool tables and state of the art home theaters.


USA Today article encourages vacation home renters to book early

A January 7th USA Today article which examined the optimal times to book a range of vacations, from cruises to European trips, found that the best time to book a vacation rental home is early – at least 6 months in advance.

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