The benefits of renting a home while on holiday

I discovered that having an apartment abroad was the ideal way for our family to enjoy our vacation



Two years ago, my husband suggested that the kids and I “tag along” on his business trip to Paris. Delighted with the idea, I eagerly began searching for a place to stay. But after checking out a few hotels, I realized that we would have to fork out hundreds of dollars a night for a hotel room the size of a closet.

Not relishing the idea of squeezing into a tiny space or spending that kind of money, I typed the words “apartment rentals Paris” into a search engine and a whole new world seemed to open up. For the same cost per night, we could rent a one or even two bedroom apartment, complete with Internet connection, a small kitchen and, in some cases, a small balcony or terrace.

The catch? We’d be taking a place based only on photos provided by the owner and with little or no recourse if the apartment turned out to be less than what was “advertised”. As well, the sheer number of choices made the decision difficult. I spent several evenings clicking through rental websites, checking availability, prices and amenities.

We finally narrowed our choice to an apartment in the 13th arrondissement (not the most fashionable, but convenient for my husband’s work).The place seemed large by Parisian standards (75 square metres) and had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was also close to the subway and a lovely park where the kids could play.

After a pleasant exchange of emails and a conversation by phone with the owner, we took several deep breaths and sent off a money order for the deposit. And yes, it was scary to send money overseas with no guarantee that the person involved wouldn’t disappear with the money, leaving us homeless in Paris for the week. But we had taken some basic precautions – checking by Internet that the owner’s phone number and address matched and searching for any complaints about the property.

But in fact, the apartment turned out to be even better than we expected — large, bright and clean. The owner stopped by to make sure we had everything we needed and urged us to call her if we had any questions or problems. We spent a fantastic week touring the city and saved a hefty amount of money by being able to eat suppers at the apartment rather than dining out. We had use of a washer and dryer, free Internet and there was a stunning view from the balcony.

Since then, we’ve rented apartments in the south of France, Arizona and New York City. But like most things in life, there are some drawbacks to opting out of staying in a hotel. There’s no daily maid service and usually no pool. Rental properties aren’t always located in the downtown area so you need a car or at least access to good public transportation. Many apartments can only be rented by the week (sometimes the minimum is even two or more) so they aren’t ideal for a trip that includes short stays in several cities. Unlike hotels, you may be expected to at least tidy up the property before you leave (exactly what is required should be spelled out in a contract) and you’ll probably have to pay some kind of security deposit, which will be refunded anywhere from 24 hours to several days after you leave.

These days, unless we’re taking a weekend trip, our first choice for accommodations is a rental apartment or home. There are just so many benefits to go with having a place of our own while on holiday.

How to find rental properties

There are many real estate agents who will arrange a rental for a fee. This isn’t the cheapest method as fees will usually be in the hundreds of dollars. But if something goes wrong — the apartment isn’t at all what was promised — then you have some type of recourse. An example of this is New York Habitats, www.nyhabitats, which offers rentals not only in the Big Apple but also in several European cities.

Check out a property rental company that manages several properties. You can expect to receive a detailed contract from the company outlining each side’s rights and responsibilities. Read it over carefully, especially making note of things like arrival and departure times, what is expected with regard to clean-up (must all bedding be washed for example?) and how when security fees will be refunded. Rental agencies and property management companies can be found doing an Internet search using those terms and the city in which you are interested in visiting

Deal directly with an owner. Thanks to the Internet, this is becoming a popular option, with sites such as Home Away, Vacation Rentals and others (see sidebar) listing thousands of homes and apartments for rent. These sites usually allow you to search not just by location (and sometimes by neighbourhood) but also by price, number of rooms and amenities. But be prepared to spend time narrowing down the choices. Some sites allow renters to offer feedback on a property — but check the site’s policies to see if owners can edit or remove comments they don’t like.

Helpful websites listing rentals by owners

www.homeaway.com
www.vrbo.com
www.homelidays.com
www.vacationrentals.com
www.findrentals.com

It can be scary renting a place sight unseen. To increase your chances of having a good experience, keep in mind the following:

  1. Look for signs that the owner takes the job of renting seriously. Does the owner return calls promptly and in a professional, courteous way? Does he or she give you a cell phone number to call if there are problems? Does the owner answer your questions in a clear and friendly way? All these are signs that the person wants the experience to be a good one for both parties.
  2. Get everything in writing. If you talk by phone, follow-up with an email detailing what was said. Be very clear about what exactly is included in the rental (parking? Access to pool?), what your responsibilities are and who to call if there is an emergency or a problem.
  3. Be clear about your needs and priorities. If you like a quiet place to sleep, then ask if the property is near a busy street. If you have small children, make sure the place has been, or can be, child proofed.
     

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