To make the process easier, we've pulled together our most useful tips and Web resources for finding and getting a great deal on your next vacation rental. We'll tell you where to begin your search, when to reserve your property and what questions to ask the homeowner before your stay. Start here and you'll be well on your way to finding the house, bungalow or oceanfront villa of your dreams.
Is a Vacation Rental Right for You?
Start by visiting the many useful vacation rental sites on the Web (we've listed a few of our favorites below). They are well organized and will help you narrow down the areas that appeal to you most and what you can expect to find there. Many sites will allow you to save your favorite properties to a wish list for easy comparison, and to communicate directly with homeowners, who are usually eager to share first-hand knowledge of the areas where they have properties.
Your best bet is to compare rates, amenities, views and conditions before entering into a rental agreement. Keep in mind that certain sites are simply a forum for owners to list their properties, while other sites serve as rental agents and take a more active role in the process. You may pay slightly more when booking through an agent site, but they may also be more willing to step in if something goes wrong with your rental.
While there are many worldwide sites for vacation rentals, don't forget about smaller sites that offer rentals specific to your destination; often you'll find properties listed there that you wouldn't find on the bigger sites. Local real estate offices can also be a great resource, especially if you live within driving distance of your destination and would like to tour properties in person with a real estate agent. To find local realtors, try contacting the Chamber of Commerce for your destination city (if you can't find the number by searching the Web, contact the state tourism office). Keep in mind, however, that the agent's commission may inflate the price of your rental, and you'll probably be giving up your chance to bargain with the property owner directly.
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Tips for Finding a Rental
Many people begin planning their summer vacations right after New Year's. Also, in many popular vacation destinations you'll find loyalists -- people who rent the same house for the same block of time year after year. For the largest selection, start early and ask about early booking discounts. Sometimes you'll find that in exchange for the security of having their property rented, an owner and agent will offer a discount, sometimes as much as 10 percent.
Know What You Want
Need to bring Fido? Make sure pets are allowed. Have small children? Ask about baby gates for the stairs. Vacationing with an older family member who isn't very mobile? You might want to make sure you're only a short walk from the beach. Plan on having cookouts? Ask if the grill is in good shape. Get the details in writing and bring them with you to be sure everything is as promised. Also, be sure you have the name and phone number of someone you can call if anything goes wrong during your stay.
Wait It Out
In the most popular vacation destinations, supply outweighs demand. For this reason, the closer the high season gets, the more agents and owners are scrambling to fill houses. If you are flexible about your dates and amenities, you're likely to save up to 30 percent on your vacation rental by searching for last-minute vacation rental deals. Just don't get your heart set on a particular property and remember that this is a game of risk vs. reward. One good resource is LicketyTrip.com, which is dedicated solely to last-minute listings. Another option is OwnerDirect.com, which has a last-minute deals section.
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