By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Here I am again…I hope you enjoyed Bob’s travel logs as much as I did. While he was enjoying the midnight sun in Iceland and playing the Old Course in Scotland, I had planned to spend a month in Nipomo, a small community on the Central Coast of California where we have spent time over the past seven summers. We have always rented through VRBO and have had wonderful relationships with the homeowners. It was a good deal – they provide us with a nice house and we treat it as if it were our own. A win-win for everyone. But the Wall Street Journal ran an article this past winter cautioning against renting directly with homeowners. They cited all manner of problems, from “phantom” houses where people would arrive at the given address to find no house at all, to owners who weren’t responsive to plumbing emergencies or insect infestations. Instead, they advised, go through one of the professional rental agencies where you were assured 24/7 care and responsiveness. So, since the house we normally rent had been sold, we rented a three bedroom condominium at Blacklake Golf Course through TurnKey Vacation Rentals. We rented the unit for the month of July and eagerly anticipated getting the heck out of the Arizona heat and over to some cool, coastal fog.
We have been to Nipomo so many times that we had seen the outside of these condominiums countless times. Our unit was adjacent to the fairway of the ninth hole and has a beautiful, expansive view overlooking much of the golf course. Unfortunately, that is it’s only virtue. As we entered the unit it all looked okay – dated, but comfortable. Kind of like me. It was only as we began to settle in the following day that we noticed how grungy the place really was. Clearly the unit had been “glamour shot” on the TurnKey website. The coffee pot was grungy and the coffee cups weren’t any better, as you can see from the photo. The pots and pans were filthy and scratched, the potato peeler didn’t peel, and worst of all, the “pry open” wine opener had pried one too many bottles. It took both of us 10 minutes to open a bottle. I was getting so desperate I considred cracking the neck on the edge of the table and guzzling wine straight from the bottle.
As bad as all that was, the sink was straight out of a horror movie. In all of my rental apartments, as a starving student or poor working girl who could only afford bologna sandwiches on white bread for dinner, I have never had a sink this disgusting. I tried to recall when we last had a tetanus shot. So…what to do? We decided to suck it up. We drove to the local Ace Hardware to buy a coffee maker, pots, pans and coffee cups. As for the sink, I scrubbed it within an inch of it’s life. But cleaning it was futile…its life had been snuffed out long ago. We made do and ate out. A lot. Four days after arrival the Wi-Fi broke down. A representative from TurnKey came to fix it later that day and acknowledged that the unit was a bit “dated” and had the good grace to look embarrassed. She said someone from TurnKey corporate offices would be in touch with us on Monday to discuss compensation to make up for the condition of the unit.
Of course, Monday came and went with no phone call. On Tuesday I went to the mailbox as I was expecting a package and found a letter addressed to “Occupant” from the City of Nipomo. The letter was pink. I don’t know much about utility company billing but I’m pretty sure that pink is not a color you want to see. I opened it, hoping that the city was simply notifying us of upcoming road work or utility repairs. Nope. The owner was delinquent in her payments so they were going to shut the water off within the next week if they didn’t receive their money. So, again, I called TurnKey. They were shocked, SHOCKED!, to learn of this. It was going to be taken up with management and someone would get back to me. Long story short, I finally heard from someone who said they would refund us $100 for our troubles and “not to worry” about the water bill. Sure…these owners hadn’t replaced a coffee cup in 35 years but I was supposed to sleep soundly knowing they would pay their delinquent water bill. Two days later I called again, raised hell, and they offered us another $300.
So now we had $400 to offset our “inconveniences”. But we weren’t done yet. Every Wednesday evening they have band concerts on the lawn outside our condo. Not real bands. More like garage bands comprised of Baby Boomers who, “back in the day”, dreamed of becoming the next Beatles. Now, they are just off-tune and loud. But “loud” was redefined the following Saturday night when a wedding reception took place outside our window. It featured a live mariachi band and a DJ who played heavy metal. The windows (which of course were vintage 1985) had all the soundproofing capabilities of Saran Wrap. For FIVE hours the windows shook and the music blared. Surely this is how we torture ISIS prisoners. Needless to say, we were miserable. We tried to put the best spin on it but our normally pleasing personalities were getting a bit testy. Finally we realized that it was better to forfeit two weeks of rent and go home than to stay and be unhappy. That is when, after 30 years of marriage, you know you’ve married the right person. So we packed up and got out of there. I called TurnKey to let them know we were leaving early. The person had no knowledge of our previous calls. Over the course of two weeks I spoke with seven different TurnKey “customer experience” people and – at their request – sent them photos of the unit. Most never bothered to look at the email exchanges or the pictures of the unit. To say the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing was an understatement. The best example is when a manager called – at last, someone with some decision-making responsibility! – only to have him tell me he was from Florida and was calling about the water problem in the master bedroom. Nope. Not even close.
We ended up spending the remainder of the month in Scottsdale, where the weather was blessedly under 100 degrees. Of course, the monsoons arrived which made my hair frizz and my thighs stick together. But it was still better than looking at that sink.