8 rules for renting a vacation home or apartment

Written by admin on December 17, 2008 – 12:36 pm -

For a vacation or even an extended working trip, there’s no question it frequently makes sense to rent an apartment or a house rather than staying in a hotel. But how do you avoid ending up in a rattrap? Here are some rules to help find the right place.

Since the launching of the Internet, more rental sites than you can count are created each year. It’s no longer simply a question of surfing the Web. You have to be aware of some of the tricks of the trade and do your homework. After having rented villas in the countryside and rented out my own apartment in Paris, here are basics as I see them.

Dealing with agencies
There are agencies that handle excellent properties. If they’re doing their job, one of the members of the staff will have inspected the apartment, perhaps stayed there and worked with the owner to insure the apartment is in tip-top shape. The agency is your contact and it should be responsible for making your stay go smoothly.

Many have a local representative meet and greet you when you arrive and run interference if something goes wrong. It’s your vacation and who wants to wait for the plumber?

Agencies take various mark-ups over the payment the owner receives. Sometimes it’s hefty and much deserved. Other times, it’s too much for the service you receive. There are good and bad agencies. Some simply want to make the booking, deposit the commission and see you later.

Good agencies count on repeat business and don’t want to alienate property owners or rental clients. They take extra care to make certain the rental is a good match for both parties.

For rent by owner
Don’t dismiss rental sites that cater to people who want to manage their own property. I rent my apartment and I want to know for certain that twelve partying 20-somethings aren’t occupying my home when an agency said there would be four middle-aged adults. That’s happened. I want to establish a rapport with people who are sharing my Paris home and I’m more than happy to act as a quasi-concierge.

Special requests are accommodated. If someone wants an airport pick-up, no problem. No matter where the potential tenants live, a phone call is a cheap investment and creates a sense of bonding. Anyone renting a property, shouldn’t hesitate to ask if they may speak with previous tenants.

Know what’s included with the rental. Many landlords expect tenants to buy everything from soap to toilet paper. If they generally don’t stock the necessities, ask them to do so even if you have to pay. The last thing you want to do is dash to the grocery store the minute you arrive.

Here are 7 what-to-look-for rules:
1. If renting a house or villa, find out if there is a caretaker, gardener, pool person, maid, etc. and what time they come. It’s best if there is someone to speak with if, for instance, you can’t figure out how to light the grill or open the door on the European washing machine. You also don’t want to be surprised naked in the pool when the pool boy shows up at 10 a.m. to clean the filter. Serious owners have all this laid out for you in advance.

2. Know the house location and neighborhood. If it’s a totally new place,  independently determine what the specific location is like. Most disappointments generally have to do with homes in a neighborhood that might be very different than that imagined (farther from the beach, traffic noise, party neighbors and so on).

3. Study all pictures carefully. Wide-angle lenses can make a tiny spaces look like mansions. Ask yourself what can’t you see outside the borders? Don’t make any assumptions. Assume if you don’t see it; it isn’t there or it’s lacking. Be wary of listings where pictures provided look cropped and there are obvious things outside the frame (i.e., if you are assuming there’s five acres of isolated land, but if you don’t see the house surrounded by land in the picture then assume there’s a house right next door). Don’t be afraid to ask the owner to send more pictures if there’s more you want to see — they usually will.

4. Realize that the market drives prices. If a place is listed for 50 percent of the price of other places in the area, ask yourself what doesn’t it have? It’s most likely missing something (e.g. a pool or perhaps the beds are 2 twins in a small closet-sized room), make sure you understand what you’re getting. Study the fine print. Ask for the exact number of square feet or meters.

5. Home and apartment renters are often far more negotiable than a hotel. Unless the listing specifically mentions something isn’t flexible (i.e., “absolutely no pets”), see if you can negotiate check out times, check in times, small pets, schedules, even fees. Sometimes the answer is no, sometimes it’s yes.

6. Ask for discounts for extended stays. If staying longer than a couple of weeks, an owner may discount the rental.  And if staying a month or more, insist on a discount.

7. Sometimes renting a house can be an opportunity to make friends. If renting from an owner. Be friendly and interact with them. Tell them about yourself. Sign the guest book. Owners like re-renting to people who are good tenants. If traveling with children, many owners will be happy to introduce your children to others in the area.

8. Take care of the place, clean it up well, follow all the written procedures and check out by the agreed time. If you really like the property and manage to hit it off with the owners, frequently they’ll offer a free dinner or a discount the next time you have an opportunity to rent. Plus, they’ll email when there are sudden openings and bargains.

It’s judicious to take the time before your arrival to be sure you’re getting what you think and hope rather than spending  a week or more being frustrated.

As much research as you do, you may be still face surprises. The unexpected does happen. I’ll never forget renting a country home only to find that the day after we moved into our paradise, the people across the way started gutting their home. Thank goodness the workers left early each day. But still…

Feel free to add any ideas or tips I’ve missed. And I’m certain I have.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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