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Home Away From Home - Finding The Perfect Rental

(September 2000)

Tired of cramming your family into a single hotel room, or longing for more space to relax and spread out while on vacation? As nice as hotels are, they sometimes aren’t big enough—especially if you brought the kids along or plan to settle in for a week or more. When staying at a hotel, there’s also the hassle and expense of eating out for every meal. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a kitchen right there and not have to dress to go out and eat? Instead of checking into a hotel, consider renting a house, apartment, condominium, cabin, or cottage on your next vacation—they tend to be more spacious and have amenities that are more like home.

A vacation rental is a relatively hassle-free getaway option. Renting a vacation home can be cheaper than a hotel, and can even give you a taste of local culture as you stay among the residents. Better yet, there are a lot of rental properties that are close to attractions—including beaches, lakes, theme parks, and ski slopes—so you can maximize your recreation and relaxation time.

Finding a Good Rental Rate: Try the Internet

As great as vacation rentals may be, finding a good price has become more difficult than in the past. For several years now, my family and I have enjoyed renting vacation homes. In the past, we had rented the same beach cottage on Cape Cod for one week every summer. Unfortunately, last summer, the owner informed us that he was upping the rental rate from $1200 to $1700!

I talked to one Cape Cod real estate agent who told me that rental rates are going up because the number of summer homes keeps dwindling as more people are buying second homes. All these new buyers tend to live in the houses themselves, reducing the number of available summer rentals.

Sadly, because Cape Cod has become increasingly overcrowded and overpriced, it was time for us to move on. Thus, last October, I began my search to find the perfect vacation rental. In the past, the only options to find a rental were to use realtors, ads in newspapers and magazines, or referrals from friends and family. However, the Internet has become a great tool for finding a vacation rental as well as an inexpensive way for owners to highlight their rental properties.

I ended up finding the perfect rental in Maine through A1vacations.com, which advertises and promotes vacation rental homes for homeowners and rental agents online. Currently, A1vacations lists 1800 properties in its database, and it has a nifty search function that lets you narrow down your choices by location, price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, type of view, disability access, and more. The rental property we found was a spacious three-year-old contemporary home, with great views and all the modern amenities you would want. And for only $850 a week, it was even less than our previous Cape Cod rental!

Renting Is Worldwide

Renting accommodations isn’t just for this side of the pond. Even staying at a moderately priced hotel in Europe can be expensive, especially if you bring your kids along. Many European hotels only allow three to a room. For the average family of four, that means renting two hotel rooms—a budget buster for most families.

For About.com writer, Durant Imboden, renting apartments in Europe is the only way to go. He says, “It’s usually cheaper—or at least you get a lot more for your money—and you can enjoy a taste of what it’s like to live in the place you’re visiting.” This past year, he and his family rented a three-bedroom apartment in Venice. Imboden says, “It cost less than a double room in a three-star hotel.” He adds, “It came with a private courtyard, a washing machine, and a modern kitchen that was big enough for the whole family to eat in. It was quite literally a home away from home for the two weeks that we stayed there.”

However, if you plan to rent in Europe, Imboden recommends that you also do some homework before you go. He says, “websites of local tourist offices in Europe often have rental listings, and you can find web links to agencies that handle apartment, chalet, and villa rentals at sites like Europe for Visitors.”

He adds, “Be sure to compare prices. Local rental agencies in Europe are often cheaper than U.S. agencies, which tend to focus on upscale properties.” For example, he mentions, “British rental agencies frequently offer good deals, especially in popular vacation areas like Tuscany, the Algarve, and the South of France.”

Imboden has written extensively about Europe and has one of the best Internet sites on Europe at About.com’s Europe for Visitors.

Things To Consider

Know before you go. Because rental homes are individually owned and decorated, they can be unpredictable and are often not up to hotel standards. Using the Web can save you from getting a sub-par rental. In my case, the Web allowed me to view many homes, amenities, and surroundings within a few clicks.

Ask some additional questions. Traditional realtors or brokers often provide photos and an outline of rental properties. What these photos and outlines usually will not show is the rental property’s immediate surroundings. The place itself may look quaint, but you may also get more or less than you expected. You’ll need to find out about the neighborhood and ask questions like the following: Is the property on a busy street or a quiet road? If there is a beach nearby, how close is it?

Keep in mind that rental rates vary by season. You can usually save money if you take your vacation before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. Beach locations usually have high seasons between June and Labor Day, and spring and fall are usually slow seasons across the board. On the flip side, remember that at mountain destinations, summer rentals aren’t quite as expensive as ski-season rentals.

Other Questions To Ask Before You Rent

To avoid any unwelcome surprises (and perhaps discover some nice ones), ask the rental agency or owner of the property the following questions:

  • Is there a minimum stay requirement? If so, what is it?
  • Are there any extra charges, if so what are they?
  • How much is the security deposit, and when will I get it back?
  • What is the cancellation policy?

  • What amenities does the property have? (Usually, linens, kitchen utensils, dishes, and coffee makers are included. Ask about TV, radio, kitchen appliances, and telephone service.)
  • What are the sleeping arrangements? (Ask how many beds per room and what sizes the beds are.)
  • How many bathrooms are there, and do they have tubs or only showers?
  • Is there a washer and dryer?
  • Is there air conditioning or central heating?
  • Is there a special hot water heater? Is it automatic? Will I have access to temperature controls?

  • Is maid service provided, and how often?
  • Is there a cleaning fee? If so, how much?
  • Must I supply my own cleaning products?
  • Where can I buy basic provisions?

  • How will I get the key to the property?
  • How do I return the key?
  • What do I do in an emergency?
  • Who do I call if something breaks down?
  • What if I simply hate the property? Can I exchange it?

  • How do I get to my vacation home from the airport or train station? (Many agencies and owners supply maps and detailed directions, but ask for them anyway.)
  • Will someone meet me at the airport or station, or at the property?
  • Do I need a rental car? Where can I park a car if I bring one?
By taking the time to do your own thorough research, you will ultimately save yourself and your family from a vacation disappointment.

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