Your house is my house — Part III

Searching for your home away from home in Italy.

This is my 3rd post about finding the right vacation rental in Italy. So, if you’ve determined renting a vacation home is right for you, and have a good idea of your basic requirements , then you’re ready for the fun part: searching rental listings for your perfect home away from home in Italy (or really anywhere).

Finding a vacation rental in Italy is fairly easy if you know where and how to look online. There are a plethora of resources. My goal with this post is to make it a little easier for you by sharing the places I go to for tried-and-true expertise.

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SlowTrav.com vacation rental resource

One of the best tools I’ve relied on over the years is a very good website called SlowTrav, an online community and  storehouse of some of the most valuable information for finding the perfect vacation rental in Italy, Spain, France, the UK, Ireland, and other places.

Under the “Vacation Rentals” section of their site, I usually start in the “SlowTrav Favorites” section. Listed by region, SlowTrav shares their personal recommendations for rental agencies.

For example, when we were looking for a rental in Campania, SlowTrav recommended SummerInItaly. They helped us find a great place in Agropoli, in the Cilento National Park. They were so helpful, we used them again the following year to find a spectacular property on the Amalfi Coast.

Check out the websites of the recommended agencies. The best ones offer advanced search capabilities that allow you to filter the properties using criteria like number of bedrooms, bathrooms, amenities (pool, WiFi, air conditioning, etc.), desired date range, and location.

SlowTrav also has a fairly extensive section of user-generated vacation rental reviews. This area of their site was especially valuable in the days before TripAdvisor.com. These are real reviews written by real people and curated by SlowTrav.  Organized by geography, this section allows you to jump start your search by giving you a pre-screened list of properties in the area where you are planning to stay. The properties may be offered by agencies or directly from the owner.

SlowTrav also has their own classifieds section that is worth a peruse.

Working with a rental agency

If this is your first time renting in Italy, or any other country for that matter, using a rental agency may make the most sense. The right agency can offer a sense of security that you are going to be taken care of, and get what you paid for. They are also there to help remedy any situation you encounter with the rental.

Things to look for in an agency:

  • Good reviews from other clients on SlowTrav, TripAdvisor or other sites. A simple Google search on the name of the agency usually yields the information you’re seeking. And if you can’t find any information about them, take that as a warning signal.
  • Well-organized and detailed site. Good agencies have good websites. They’ve invested in making it easy for you to search, sort, and prescreen properties.
  • Real-time support. I was searching on a web site this morning and a window popped up on my screen offering online chat with a rep. Other agencies I’ve worked with assigned a dedicated agent who consulted with me by phone and helped me narrow down my choices.
  • In their listings, lots of pictures of everything — especially kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Thorough information on the agency’s owners. Look for real names and pictures, and then do a Google search on them, as well.
  • On-the-ground help. If something goes wrong and you need help, you want someone local who can help.
  • Secure credit card payment. This one is sometimes a biggie. One, it makes it easier to pay for the rental. Two, if there is an issue, your credit card company can get involved to help resolve disputes. And, last, but not least for me, you get to earn points/miles/cash back on your charge.

Going direct to the owner

There are some real benefits to working directly with the owner. For one, my experience has been that there can be significant cost savings. There may be more flexibility on number of days and timing (e.g., you’re not locked into the standard Saturday to Saturday rental time frame).

HomeAway, based in Austin, Texas, is one of my favorite sites for finding properties listed directly by owners. They also own VRBO.  I have noticed that some smaller agencies now list properties on these sites, so definitely check to understand who exactly you’re renting from.

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VRBO and HomeAway offer protection to renters

Using these sites is incredibly easy. You type in your destination name, and then filter the properties by your rental criteria. Both sites allow you to save your favorites, and HomeAway and VRBO offer services to guarantee your property, which can offer extra peace of mind.

When renting directly from the owner, thorough due diligence is essential. Here’s a basic checklist:

  • Check for verified reviews of the property. Make sure they weren’t submitted by the owner.
  • Lots of pictures of everything — all rooms, especially bathrooms and kitchens, outdoor space, etc.
  • Google the name of the property and see what comes up.
  • You can also do an image search through Google, too. Simply use one of the property images to do a Google Images search to see where else it’s being used. If it’s in a listing for an entirely different property in another country, probably a good idea to steer clear.
  • Get the owner’s full name, contact info., phone numbers, and email.
  • Speak to the owners directly. Frankly, a good owner will want to know about you since you will be staying at their property.
  • Google the owners and review the info. Sometimes you’ll get other information from places like LinkedIn, which can be useful to understand who you are renting from.
  • Search the name of the property on places people write reviews. TripAdvisor and SlowTrav are good places to start.

One thing I like about VRBO, is that they identify the properties their staff have visited, which provides another level of validation. Look for the “VRBO Bear Stayed Here” logo.

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VRBO Bear = VRBO staff stayed at the property

Searching for properties can make your head spin, so, as mentioned previously, I keep track of all the properties I’ve vetted on a spreadsheet. Not only does this help me stay organized, it’s an easy way to share my picks with my friends.

Are you ready to rent the perfect vacation home?

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