I just got back from a VRBO rental in the mountains of NC. Lake front 4 bedroom cabin place that usually rents for $350 per night. We only needed it for a few nights. I searched for Lakefront 3-5 bedrooms in the area we wanted. Spent maybe an hour or so going through listings. Some had special rates for short notice stays (within 2 weeks or so). I contacted 2 owners that were offering half off their normal rates - $175/nt for one, and $150/nt for the other. Both very similar places. The $175/nt owner called me first. I asked if she would match the $150/nt place. Yep. So I booked with her for 2 nights.
So I ended up paying less than half the going rate. She had great reviews, with no real negative ones on vrbo. No surprises during our stay.
My advice would be to do a little due diligence on the place (read reviews, see if the owner is responsive and a real person). Spend some time searching the listings, seeing if any offer discounts. Find some you like that are in your price range and see if they want to negotiate. Some owners will be of the mindset that their particular palace is worth every penny they are asking and will be insulted if you don't pay the asking price. Others just want to make a buck and will take a reasonable offer to fill up the space. In my search, we had the flexibility to go whenever we wanted for a variable number of nights, and also had the choice to simply not go on the trip if we couldn't find anything reasonable that met our specs. So we ended up getting 2 nights in between the normal weekly Saturday to Saturday rentals that the owner was having a hard time filling
We didn't have to pay any reservation fee or cleaning fees, which some places were charging up to $90-100. Our owner had wrapped these expenses into a 5% "admin" fee that she hid in the "tax" fee, but disclosed it when I asked her why her taxes were 5% higher than competing properties. $15 fee on $300 seems very reasonable since her credit card fees were probably close to that much (paid by paypal).
Retired in 2013 at age 33. Keeping busy reading, blogging, relaxing, gaming, and enjoying the outdoors with my wife and 3 kids (4, 10, and 11).