Brian Sharples, the cofounder and CEO of HomeAway, came by the other day to talk about the company's plans to become the go-to source for vacation rentals. HomeAway recently secured $160 million in financing to fund its growth, which includes the purchase of VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), one of the companies featured in our just-out story on how to rent an apartment in Venice. With growth come new challenges, however, and we're impressed with ways in which HomeAway is making renting a vacation property a less risky experience.
What HomeAway wants to do is be like Ebay without the auctions--bringing together buyers and sellers in a way that makes it easier for everyone involved. First, the company has introduced user-reviews to its site, so folks who have rented a house (or villa or apartment or whatever) can rate the property in several different categories--including how accurate the initial posting was, and how true-to-life the photographs were. We thought it was very clever to make sure that only proven renters can post ratings. Second, the company hopes to soon introduce technology that will facilitate payments--so you can use your credit card, or PayPal, to pay for the rental (versus having to deal directly with the owner, or worse, bank transfers).
According to Sharples, very few customers feel dissatisfied by their rental experience--and yet most travelers get nervous at the thought of renting someone else's house; there are just so many variables. What HomeAway would like to do is overlay the trust that any good brand can instill, so that travelers will believe that they're in capable hands. It's certainly worth keeping an eye on.