||1st Choice Press
|IN THE PRESS: CBSMarketwatch.com
|Wednesday, February 19, 2003
ON HOLIDAY WITHOUT HOTEL
Sites list vacation home rentals in U.S., abroad
By Kristen Gerencher, CBS.MarketWatch.com
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) - If you're shopping for a place to stay on your summer getaway that has neither a neon sign nor corporate insignia at every turn, you might consider renting a vacation home.
Whether it's a week in a wine country cottage or a month at a secluded island abode, renting a home away from home can give you a new perspective on your destination without breaking the bank.
As the U.S. economic downturn grinds on, renting a villa, house or condo instead of a motel is becoming a popular alternative for vacationers looking for a more intimate setting or a way to defray lodging costs among a group, say travel experts.
"It usually is cheaper," said Kitty O'Neil, spokeswoman for EscapeHomes.com, which counts about one in four of its listings as vacation rentals. "It's more homey and there's more privacy but it also can be good for family vacations because there are common areas that don't add extra expense."
As friends and families plan their spring and summer breaks, more are discovering that paying just a few dollars more than a beach resort's $200-a-night rate may buy access to a whole house for a week - and the price could be lower depending how many people go in on the deal.
What's more, many Internet companies are making the shopping easy, listing property descriptions and pictures so consumers can identify which rentals are right for them, said Heidi Mitchell, associate editor at Travel + Leisure magazine in New York.
Sites such as Villa-rentals.com, BeachHouse.com, Choice1.com, Cyberrentals.com and VRBO.com allow consumers to search for specific criteria and contact the owners directly, she said.
"In some sense, it's better to rent a house than to stay in a hotel," Mitchell said. "You have some freedom, you can have friends stay with you, eat in, eat out or cook. That can mean real savings."
Renters typically prefer homes' individual flavors compared with the uniform nature of hotels, but they need to ask several key questions before putting money down, O'Neil said.
"The appeal of the vacation rental market is that every home is different," she said. "The flipside of that is every person you deal with will be different; policies will be different. It's not the Holiday Inn, but that's why people like it."
Will Mello, co-owner of Onlinevacation.com and Onlinevacationrenatl.com in Burlington, Mass., estimates there are nearly 1 million homeowners renting privately, and more than 1,000 vacation rental sites online.
Onlinevacation has 1,200 vacation properties listed, but the site doesn't screen each to make sure the owners are legitimate, Mello said. Even so, the site's only had one complaint in its three-year history - and that had to do with a cancellation policy, he said. "I've never had anyone complain that the property didn't exist."
What to ask
With that in mind, here are several factors to consider before locking in a fantasy retreat, according to experts:
1. Talk with friends and co-workers about their vacation home rental experiences. In addition to the Internet, word-of-mouth is still a good way to do initial research.
2. Call and talk to the owner or management company about the listing or referral. "If they give you trouble while just asking for information, that's a good sign to move on," O'Neil said. If you're unsure about an owner's history or legitimacy, contact a local agency such as the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce, Mitchell said. "Ask if complaints have ever been filed against them."
3. Confirm the location and layout. Call the owner and ask to see more pictures if the ones listed are unclear or don't show enough detail, O'Neil said. Get a specific number address, not a general location, she said. "Using the Web, run a map search and see exactly where it is. They may say it's beachfront and you see it's actually across the street."
4. Ask about bed distribution. Some listings will boast "sleeps 12" when in fact only six can snooze without turning into contortionists. Sometimes pull-out sofas count as sleeping accommodations, as do bunk beds, O'Neil said. "Bunk beds are very common in rentals. That's something that surprises people."
5. Find out about fees, amenities and key drop-off procedures. Cleaning fees typically range $50 to $250, and telephone service is usually limited to local. Make sure towels and linens are provided, and ask about on-site laundry facilities if you're staying for a while. Inquire whether the kitchen is stocked if you intend to cook, and be sure to know and approve of the key pick-up protocol before signing on. Upscale agencies such as Wimco and International Chapters' Villa-rentals may offer more for the money, Mitchell said. "A lot of times they come with value-added things like chefs or maid service."
6. Know the cancellation and refund policy for your deposit. "It varies by place and timing," O'Neil said. "Tahoe in the summer is different than Tahoe in the winter." Private owners may be more willing to negotiate or reschedule should your plans change at the last minute, she said.
7. Get everything in writing and pay by credit card. Be wary of anyone who insists on cash only, Mitchell said. "In case anything goes wrong or doesn't exist like they said it would, you want to have some recourse."
Kristen Gerencher is a reporter for CBS.MarketWatch.com in San Francisco.
|Join our 1st Choice Vacation Rentals Newsletter and get information on what's new with 1st Choice.