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November 21, 2006

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Finding a Home Away from Home

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. Related stories: How to Rent an Apartment in Venice Affordable Europe: Villa Rentals A Guide to the House-Swapping Market

The Feel-Good Family Edition

On a Mexican Riviera cruise, my family experienced strong winds. Since my husband is constantly telling our son to lighten up and have fun, that's exactly what he did. Rebecca Abbott, Mesa, Ariz. My 4-year-old daughter had never had her hair cut before, so we decided to have it done in the Magic Kingdom. Since it was her first haircut, she was serenaded by a barbershop quartet and received a pair of Mickey Mouse ears along with a commemorative certificate. Amanda Carothers, Lake Village, Ark. While other kids were playing nearby, this little girl in Chongqing, China, sat with her book and whined pitifully to her mother in the shop. After the mother scolded her, she cried, which seemed to illustrate the universal truth that anywhere you go in the world, you'll find kids who really hate doing their homework. Teri Shikany, Danville, Calif. My daughter, Deena, came with me to sample blue crab in a Maryland seafood restaurant. Expecting a mountain of claws, we were shocked when our waitress arrived with whole crabs--guts, eyes, and all. After our waitress demonstrated proper crab picking and Deena tried a morsel, she asked, "Do you think we could go out for chicken tonight?" Kelly Curtis, Clear Lake, Wis. To celebrate our 34th anniversary, we took our son to Spain and returned to the beach where my husband had proposed. Lo and behold, the family who had operated the local restaurant was still there. Not only did they remember us, they showed us this 34-year-old photo on their computer! Do we keep in touch now? You bet. They're family. Mary Beth Nelson, Blue Jay, Calif. More Readers' True Stories

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