How to Rent a Vacation Home

5 tips for beginners. Go forth and vacay!

spanish garden house - santa monica - one fine stay

5 tips for renting a vacation home or apartment

rue bixio - paris - one fine stay

Over the years, renting a house or apartment has become my favorite way to lodge when I’m on vacation. I’ve found that it’s a lot more likely I’ll get the amenities (and space!) I want, as well as the added benefits of privacy and the ability to make my own food if I wish. To be sure, renting a vacation house doesn’t work for every trip I take, but for the ones when I’ll either be with a bunch of friends or vacationing in one place for more than about 5 days, it’s an ideal solution.

I first tried a home rental a few years ago, when Joe and I were traveling through the south of France and we rented an apartment in Aix en Provence. Since then, both family, friends, and readers have often asked me how I find the places we stay in, so I thought I’d share a few tips on how to rent a vacation home in case anyone else is thinking about trying a rental and/or is planning any big trips for 2015!

1. KNOW ALL YOUR OPTIONS

It’s really incredible how many reputable vacation rental sites are available today. I always start with Airbnb, Home Away and VRBO. VRBO is technically owned by Home Away, so a lot of the listings will have crossover, but every once in a while, you find one that’s not listed on the other. If I’m considering a stay in Paris (or in the future, London, LA, New York City, or upstate New York), I always check out One Fine Stay. I got introduced to this company several years ago, and have not yet stayed in one of their apartments, but they’re gorgeous, and the amenities are awesome! Another great European rental option is Haven In Paris, which actually has properties in Paris, London, Tuscany, and southern France. I’ve also checked out listings on Trip Advisor before, though that can be trickier, because some people are really good about keeping their listings up to date, others not so much, so it can be a little more frustrating from a search perspective, when you’re already overwhelmed with information and options. If all else fails, I will just Google “vacation rentals city name” or “luxury vacation rentals city name” or some variation of that. I add in the “luxury” search term because it will sometimes return listings that have a little bit better design to them, and are better cared for. I actually found our apartment in Aix just through a Google search! 

Rue de Chazelles - Paris - One Fine Stay

2. USE FILTERS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Trust me, the search filters on all of these vacation rental sites are your friend. If you don’t use them and just casually browse, you will soon be overwhelmed with a huge number of apartment listings, and many that are kind of really ugly and definitely do NOT put you in the mood for a vacay. Know your exact vacation dates? Input them into the filters. Know what neighborhood you want to be in? Add it. It seems like an obvious thing, but trust me when I say the more info you have about your trip and what you are looking for, the easier the search experience will be. I also like to use filters to add specific features I’d like in a rental. For example, on our most recent trip to Paris, I would add the search filter of “terrace” or “balcony” or “outdoor space” to my searches. Since we were going in the summer, I knew we’d enjoy evenings in an outdoor space, sipping on a glass of wine before heading out for the night. And boy, did we ever! Similarly, when we’ve planned girls weekends in Palm Springs, searching for homes that had pools was essential. Filters. They’re your friends here!

 

hudson river valley, new york - one fine stay

3. IF IT’S AVAILABLE, GOOGLE THE HOME ADDRESS

This can be especially reassuring if you’re renting a home in a foreign country. If the listing has an available address, or even a street name and a neighborhood, search for it on Google maps (or through a regular Google search). By doing this, I’ve discovered places that were supposed to be in the “heart of Paris” were actually 25 minutes outside the city center. Just like when someone is selling a home, property managers want to make their rentals sound super appealing, which can sometimes mean stretching the truth ever so slightly. Doing a little Googling will not only give you reassurance about where the property actually is, it can also bring up any associated reviews with the property you’re considering (because it’s entirely possible the property has been listed on a site separate from the one you’re viewing it through, which can mean customer reviews you didn’t know about).

 

newton road - london - one fine stay

4. CHECK FOR DISCOUNTS

Yes, it’s always worth asking! If I’m staying at a home rental for more than a week, I will always ask if a discount is available. For stays less than 7 days, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get a “yes,” but it’s always worth a shot. For example, if you’re renting a vacation home last minute for one weekend, the person is a lot more likely to give you a discount, so they can have the property filled. They might say no, but on the off chance they say yes, it’s great for you! For what it’s worth, I have NEVER had a property manager not rent an apartment to me because I asked if any discounts were available because of a last minute rental or extended stay. If they don’t want to give it, they write back and say “sorry” with some reason as to why they can’t offer it, and I say okay and put down my deposit! No harm, no foul. In two cases though, we have gotten a discount on our extended stays!

 

muirfield road - los angeles - one fine stay

spanish garden house - los angeles - santa monica - one fine stay

5. READ THE FINE PRINT CAREFULLY!

Since every property has its own rental terms, it’s actually really important that you read the rental terms carefully and understand what’s expected of you, as well as any cancellation policies and fees that might be levied if you have to bail on your trip. I stayed in a house in Palm Springs with my girlfriends that required a whole litany of chores upon check out (taking trash out to the curb, stacking patio furniture just so, the works). If you didn’t complete said chores, you were slapped with a fine (note: we’re not staying there again!). Some rentals will require you to do things like gather up linens; others won’t. And of course, you definitely want to know when check out is, because if you’re still lounging around in bed and a cleaning crew busts in, it can be a little awkward. A similar situation happened on another girl’s weekend rental, when the cleaning crew arrived early and we were all still in pajamas, drinking coffee. Since we knew the fine print, we knew we had another hour or so to get packed up and get out of there, so the crew had to wait a bit. Read the fine print so you know your responsibilities, and your rights!

I hope those tips help get on your way to renting a vacation home! Right now, I’m working on planning a trip to Scotland next year, and I fully intend to check out home rentals while we are there. Joe and I have also long dreamed about renting a home in Provence or in the Rhone or Burgundy wine regions in France, and taking a vacation with a bunch of friends. I promise, once you start traveling this way, your vacation horizons broaden! Have you ever rented a vacation home before? How was your experience?

PS – all the images in this post are from listings on One Fine Stay. Aren’t they gorgeous?

 

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23 Comments

  1. Love this post! While staying in a hotel is always nice, my husband and I have found that renting an apartment/ home usually allows us to stay in the location we want for a cheaper price. I hadn’t heard of One Fine Stay yet either, I’ll have to check them out. Thanks for sharing!

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  2. Jenn wrote:

    We’ll do this all of the time for long weekend getaways around Virginia or the surrounding areas. I’ve found a lot of the rental properties are also pet friendly, which is great since some hotels will be very strict about one or two pets. We stayed in a gorgeous cabin in the Smokey Mountains a few years ago. I couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was, with its great views and remote location! We almost did this for Paris last year too, but opted for hotels instead. After visiting the markets and wishing for a home cooked meal halfway through the trip, I think we’ll look more into this for the future!

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  3. Erica wrote:

    Working for a hotel company for several years, I took advantage of the perks and haven’t looked into vacation home rentals. I’ll definitely be doing so for extended stays in the future!

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  4. Amy Lynn wrote:

    I love to rent vacation homes, especially with groups! Last summer my mom’s family got together for a reunion and we rented a very awesome house right on the Pacific coast :) It’s definitely a route I recommend!

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  5. em wrote:

    Awesome tips! I’ve used Airbnb but never heard of the other options. You make me want to call up my friends and schedule a vacation :)

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  6. Erika wrote:

    What a great post! We’ve recently bought a second home in Jackson Hole and listed it on VRBO after renting for years using the website renting in other locations. It has been a great experience and way to connect with some lovely renters. Your last point about reading the fine print is priceless…it is good to know your rights! Thanks for sharing.

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  7. Sam wrote:

    Definitely agree with Googling the address. My dad booked an apartment in Rome 2 years ago and while it was indeed in Rome, it was really in Aurelia which is more in the ‘burbs. The 15 minute bus ride into town wasn’t bad but it wasn’t what we were expecting either.

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  8. Ginet wrote:

    I’ve used AirBnB and VRBO. I think it’s more worth getting a vacation rental when there’s a few of you. Most rentals are more cost efficient than getting more than two hotel rooms. My favorite vacation rental was in Rome – it was a couple blocks away from the Vatican – not too far away from central yet still not too touristy. It was perfect! I also went with vacation rentals in Hawaii, Amsterdam, and Phuket. I wanted to rent an apartment in Paris, but it ended up being the same price for a hotel that provides daily breakfast. I kind of regretted it so next time I go (if ever), I definitely want to stay in a vacation rental! Make sure you do your research and compare a few in the same proximity you want to be in.

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  9. This is so helpful! I was looking on Airbnb for a dog-friendly place in Southern California (Ojai, Joshua Tree, Malibu, etc.), and though I did end up finding a great spot in Ojai that’s both in my budget and also allows our big dog, it was a long, long search (filtering was key!). Going to bookmark these other websites for future getaways!

    10 Feb 2015 · Reply
  10. Tab Byrum wrote:

    We’ve rented a couple times, in Paris we rented an amazing apartment in the St. Germain district from an agency called Haven In Paris. The apartment was gorgeous, clean and right in the heart of a wonderful part of the city, and perfect for 4 people on holiday together. Staying in a flat allowed us to be together in our comfies when we wanted to be or retire to our bedrooms when we wanted privacy and were done for the day. Last year we stayed in a hotel in London but we spent a week in the countryside in the city of Bath, there we rented a flat from a firm called Bath Holiday Rentals. It was WONDERFUL!!! Again right in the heart of town, very clean, posh and convenient. I would highly recommend renting apartments for a stay of any length of time, especially considering the size of most British and European hotel rooms and bathroom.

    11 Feb 2015 · Reply
    • Oh yes, I forgot about Haven in Paris (which also has properties all over Europe, too!). I’m adding them to the post. I’ve contacted them a few times to rent a place in Paris, but they are always booked quite early. Glad to hear a review from you on these two!

      11 Feb 2015 · Reply
  11. Janel wrote:

    definitely saving this, thank you for sharing!

    11 Feb 2015 · Reply
  12. Rose wrote:

    One of the many reasons I love your blog—another amazing and helpful post! I haven’t really rented outside of a few airBNB’s on the East Coast, but I’m likely heading to Germany this summer so I’ve already bookmarked your post :)

    11 Feb 2015 · Reply
  13. Agoprime wrote:

    GREAT POST, NICE PHOTOS!
    http://www.agoprime.it

    12 Feb 2015 · Reply
  14. Jennifer wrote:

    I’ve been wanting to rent a house for our next trip but have been a little intimated and not really sure the best way to go about it. Thanks so much for these great tips!

    16 Feb 2015 · Reply
  15. That’s a good idea to use filters when you’re looking for a rental for your vacation. If it’s not even available when you need it, it doesn’t really help that much to go through those listings. Being able to get the features that you want will make the experience better as well. Personally, I would love to have a balcony, so I’ll have to keep that in my search.

    26 May 2015 · Reply
  16. Thanks for the tips! There’s an spot that I love vacationing at in Portugal, but I’m not sure if I can afford a vacation home. The fourth tip about asking for discounts seems like a great way to find out if I can save some money on a vacation rental for my next trip. I always stay for at least a month, so it’s good to know that it’s likely for me to get discounts on a vacation rental I’m staying in.

    7 Jul 2015 · Reply
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