6 Essential Tips Before You Rent
Know What You Want: The first step is to identify what kind of renter you are. Each booking method, whether a for-rent-by-owner website, a club, or a brick-and-mortar agency, has its advantages (see “Villa Rentals: Three Ways,” below). Working with an agency can cost more than dealing directly with an owner, but the search tends to be less labor-intensive and you can feel secure knowing the property has been vetted. Plus, you will often get hotel-style services (concierge; butler) and on-the-ground support.
Do Your Homework: Whenever possible, read guest reviews—not only on the agency’s website but also (if available) on rental sites such as FlipKey, TripAdvisor, and VRBO. You can also do your own sleuthing on Google Earth and Street View, which let you check out exterior images of the property, as well as nearby supermarkets, metro stations, restaurants, and more.
Pick up the Phone: Web research is useful, but it’s essential to speak directly to an agent to get the best match. Good agents have personal knowledge of their properties and can answer less obvious questions, such as, Does the villa have many steps? Are all bedrooms equal in size? Is there any current construction nearby? Be sure to discuss whether services are included or require a fee.
Take Advantage of Perks: The sale of vacation homes in the United States rose by 7 percent in 2011—and a full 91 percent of buyers planned to rent their new property within 12 months, according to a recent study by the National Association of Realtors and HomeAway. Increased supply can mean better deals, and rental agencies will often throw in extras to stay competitive. Ask whether the owner is willing to sweeten the deal with free housekeeping, a private chef, or use of a car. You might also be able to get discounts for extended stays or lower rates during shoulder season.
Make It Official: Always sign a contract when renting a villa—it will protect you, the owner, and the agent. A good contract outlines policies on cancellation, the security deposit, property damage, and what would constitute an unsatisfactory stay. It should also spell out what is and isn’t included in the price, such as air-conditioning, international phone calls, electricity, and heating the pool.
Consider Buying Travel Insurance: Renting a villa can offer good value, but it’s still a big investment. Insurance policies vary: look for one that covers cancellation because of an emergency (in case you need to get your nonrefundable deposit back). Compare plans at insuremytrip.com.
Villa Rentals: Three Ways
Rent-by-Owner Sites: Websites such as FlipKey, VRBO, HomeAway, and Airbnb (see Testing the Peer-to-Peer Travel Trend), all of which have tens of thousands of listings, can save you money, but you probably won’t get the services and insider information that you would receive from a traditional agency.
Clubs: A new crop of companies including Inspirato, Portico, and Getaway 2 Give Collection (G2G) use a club-style model: clients pay annual dues ($2,500 to $5,000) on top of a hefty initiation fee (up to $15,000) in exchange for deeply discounted rentals and perks such as concierges and housekeeping.
Agencies: Agents act as middlemen between villa owners and renters, and they often list exclusive properties. The agent uses your criteria—number of rooms, amenities, level of service, local activities, and more—to come up with the best match in your price range.
Closer Look: Listings
Before sealing the deal, make sure you know how to read between the lines of property descriptions. Below, a few pointers.
Beachfront or Oceanfront: “Oceanfront” may mean there is no beach, and “beachfront” doesn’t always mean the water’s swimmable and doesn’t always guarantee access. If the listing mentions water views, find out how far the property is from the ocean—and if there are any roads in between.
Sleeps Six: Ask for the total number of bedrooms (and make sure foldout couches aren’t part of the count).
Pool Access: This is not the same as a private pool. You may be sharing it with other guests, or it could be off-property.
Guest House: Make sure yours contains bedrooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen, and that it is not simply a pool house or storage area.
Personal Chef: Find out whether it’s the housekeeper, who may prepare simple meals, or a professionally trained chef who will pull out all the stops.