The Best Way to Arrange a Vacation Rental

Vacation rentals continue to be a popular and growing part of the accommodations spectrum. Compared with hotels, motels, and resorts, they offer some combination of more room for the dollar, lower cost per person, often superior locations, and the ability to cut costs by doing some of your own meals. Unlike hotels and motels, however, the vacation rental marketplace is chaotic and you may well wonder how to approach it.

A reader put the question succinctly: “I want to stay in a vacation rental instead of a hotel this summer. What’s the best way to locate and arrange a rental?”

As is so often the case, “best” is a totally subjective concept:

To many of you, “best” means “least expensive.” Whether you’re looking for a rustic cottage, city apartment, or luxurious beachfront villa, you want to get the best deal you can find.
To others “best” means “minimal risk.” When you arrange a rental sight unseen, and pay in advance, you want assurance that you’ll get what you want and won’t be disappointed in what you find after you arrive.

Fortunately, you have plenty of ways to balance cost and risk.

Direct—the Least Expensive

Renting directly from a property owner, with no intermediaries at all, is clearly the least expensive way to go. And you have several options. Maybe you know somebody who has a cottage or condo that’s available part time. Or you can ask around your circle of friends. Beyond that, you can check popular no-fee sources such as craigslist.

The risk can also be low if you know or trust the owner, or if you can rent a facility that someone you know has previously rented. If not, you can ask the owner to give you some references, although recognize that you’ll get a carefully screened list.

Agencies—the Safe Alternative

The other main branch of the marketplace consists of rental agencies that inspect the properties they list—some even manage them. Typically, they handle far fewer locations than even the midsize listing sites.

The main advantage of dealing with agencies is that the agency has actually screened the properties. Staff can discuss each individual property with you, and can jointly assess whether it’s right for your needs. Moreover, when you rent through one of these agencies, your deal is with the agency, not the property owner. And if you have a problem, the agency is on the hook to fix it.

This degree of security comes at a price. The agency has to charge enough markup to cover the cost of inspections and management. Although I’ve never seen the same property listed through both channels, I guess that an agency rental costs something like 20 percent more than one through a listing site.

Which Way?

I’ve rented through both listing and agency sites and I’ve been happy with both. Your choice is a matter of preference: Minimal cost through a listing site or minimum risk through an agency. Either way, you’ll find more than enough options to provide a great vacation stay. Enjoy!