Trip Coach: January 9, 2007

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Christine Karpinski, author of "How To Rent Vacation Properties By Owner," answered your questions about vacation rentals.

Christine Karpinski: Hi everyone! 
 
I'm Christine Karpinski, the author of "How To Rent Vacation Properties By Owner" as well as the Director of the Owner Community for HomeAway.com. I advise owners of second homes on how to rent their homes on a nightly, weekly or nightly basis without the use of a middleman (property manager) to vacationers like you. I have been renting out my own vacation homes in Destin, and Panama City Beach, Florida as well as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN for nearly 10 years. 
 
I'm here to answer your questions regarding renting a vacation home for your next vacation. 
 
Happy Renting by Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Melville, York: How would I go about renting an apartment in or near Charleston, SC for about one month during February '07? Do you recommend any resources? Thank you!

Christine Karpinski: If you're looking for a property in Charleston you have a couple of different options. You can rent a property directly from an owner or your can go through a property manager. You can find properties rented by both of these groups easily on the Internet. 
 
If you're traveling in February, then you need to act quickly. Unfortunately, you may have a difficult time finding a property for this season because most vacation owners who rent by the month have already booked the upcoming season. The good news is there are about 800 properties for rent by owner on VRBO.com, 300 on HomeAway.com, and I've found several others by typing "Charleston vacation rentals" on Google. 
 
Choose a specific area you wish to stay and then start searching. So you may want to also do a search on Google that's more specific, for example "Kiawah Island Vacation Rental", rather than "Charleston Vacation Rental." 
 
Here are many of the Charleston areas:
Charleston, Awendaw, Dewees Island, Edisto Island, Edisto Beach, Folly Beach,Goat Island, Hanahan, Isle of Palms, Wild Dunes, Isle of Palms, James Island, Johns Island, Kiawah Island, Mount Pleasant, Seabrook Island, Sullivan's Island, Wadmalaw Island.
 
Happy Renting By Owner!
Christine

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Humarock, MA: Hello, I have always wanted to rent a villa in the South of France. Can you recommend how to go about this? Where do I search, how do I know what I am truly getting? Would a home swap be better? Thank you!! Debbie

Christine Karpinski: The South of France is beautiful place to visit and there's no better way to experience Europe than to rent a home, where you can live like a local. Even though renting vacation home is gaining in popularity for Americans, renting vacation homes in Europe goes back centuries. 
 
There are a few options that you can take when looking for homes to rent. You can look for properties that are directly rented by owner, through property owners, or through travel agents. 
 
When looking for a property to rent on the Internet, substitute the word "holiday" for "vacation" because Europeans refer to "vacation homes" as "holiday homes" or "holiday rentals." 
 
I would look atabritel.com. It looks as though this site has properties rented by owner and through property managers. It is by far the largest site that has homes available to rent in France; they have over 20,000 properties in France alone. Holiday-Rentals.co.uk is another good site, it has more than 5000 properties in France. 
 
Just as if you were renting a home in Florida, likely you'd search on a specific area of Florida, the same is true when searching for properties in the South of France. Because there are so many homes to choose from, you first step would be to figure out exactly where you want to go. Nice? Marseille? Montpellier? Once you hone in on an area your searching will be much easier. 
 
A few hints for Americans traveling to Europe: Amenities that are standard in the US are not necessarily standard in Europe. For example, many homes don't have air conditioning. Most don't come with clothes dryers and some don't even have a washing machine. Dishwashers are virtually non-existent. Some homes include a cook (usually depicted in the ads as "catered") and others do not ("self-catered"). And many homes don't have showers, only bathtubs.
If you prefer all of the luxuries and amenities "American-style hotels", you may be better off in a hotel. 
 
As far as knowing what you're getting, it's very important to ask many questions. Choose a property that has many photographs. But also be sure to ask specific questions about the photos such as when were they taken. If you see a photo of a "view" ask if that photo was taken from the home. You should have a minimum of 2-3 conversations prior to setting up any reservations. I also recommend that you have at least one phone conversation. 
 
To your question about home-swaps, that's entirely up to you. For some it's very uncomfortable, for others it's fine. Would you be ok with someone opening your dresser drawers? Sleeping your bed? Showering in your bathroom? If your answer is yes, then you'd be fine with a home swap. Going with a Home swap also means a lot of extra work before you leave for your vacation. You'd have to make sure that you home is ready to be the host home for the family that you're swapping with. I personally prefer to rent. 
 
Happy Renting By Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Hendersonville, NC: My biggest hang-up is sleeping. When a description says "sleeps 4" what does that really mean? There is not a universal code to go by when dealing with by owners. We have a 2 and a 15 year old. Both can make a bed just about anywhere. I don't want to email or call the owner and ask about it. I fear they might think I'm filling my room like a "Spring Breaker in Daytona".

Christine Karpinski: When you're dealing with vacation rental homes, because each is individually owned and operated, you'll find that there are no "across the board" universal codes. When a description says "sleeps" that most often means the number of people the property sleeps in beds, sofa beds, and/or roll out beds. I always recommend you ask the owner the specific layout and size of the beds before booking. 
 
While some owners will allow renters to exceed maximum occupancy rules--meaning allow you to rent their apartment that sleeps two, even though you really have four people (two adults and two children), others are very strict about their policies. 
 
As with all aspects of life, honesty is always the best policy. Some of the occupancy rules are not set by the owners themselves, rather by the Home Owners Association or through the local laws and/or occupancy ordinances.
If you are looking at a property that accommodates less than your party, I would email the owners and explain that you have two adults and two children and put in the comment field that you're okay with the kids sleeping on the sofa bed or floor. 
 
Happy Renting By Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Sanibel, FL: We would like to plan a trip with our three adult children and their mates to Florence in the late spring or early fall. We will need accomodations for eight adults and would prefer to stay -- for approximately three or four weeks -- in Florence itself or in an area that is a short car ride from outside the city. We are nervous about the quality of villas that we see advertised on the internet. Photos as you know do not always tell you all you need to know about the quality of the accommodations. Would very much appreciate your guidance and suggestions. Thank you. Allan

Christine Karpinski: Finding a villa that will sleep eight adults (four couples- meaning that finding a four bedroom, two-four bathroom home), in Florence might be difficult to find--as the city center of Florence mainly has small 1-3 bedroom apartments to rent. You will likely have to search outside the city.
When you're searching on Yahoo! or Google, try searching on "Firenze holiday rentals" (Firenze is the European spelling for the city of Florence.) You could also search by the region, "Tuscany" + Holiday + Rentals. 
 
As for being nervous about the quality of the villas, I don't think you have to worry as long as you're booking from a reputable website. Many of the "by owner" vacation rental websites take vacationer complaints very seriously and will boot off any owners who has had 3 or more vacationer complaints. 
 
Remember though, the villas will be old--some as old as 1000 yrs old. But don't confuse old with bad quality. Here's a villa, which is around 1 hr drive from Florence that I have personally stayed in that's over 900 yrs old. 
 
The best deals will be likely be found through owners, as the owners forgo the 20-50% property management fees and most pass along the savings to travelers; however, if you are worried and prefer to deal with a property manager, the Parker Company (theparkercompany.com or 800/280-2811) represents 350 properties in Italy is a reputable property management company. 
 
Happy Renting By Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Tampa, FL: Ms. Karpinski: We're very excited, my husband and I and our two children (ages 18 and 8) will be going to London the week of March 19th for vacation. This is our first time to London and we're looking for an economically priced vacation property we can rent from March 19th and we're departing early on March 26th. Any suggestions?

Christine Karpinski: London's a great city and you and your family are going to love it. Unfortunately "London" and "economical" rarely go together. Since hotel rooms in London are very small, you'll have a very difficult time finding accommodations to comfortably accommodate your family (especially for a full week). But staying in a vacation rental home will almost certainly be less expensive than two hotel rooms and the conveniences they have for your children will be the difference between enjoying your vacation and being stressed the whole time. You'll be able to save money by having breakfast or an occasional lunch or dinner in the rental home (most come with a kitchen).
  
Think about the difference between a tiny hotel room, possibly with limited amenities, and an actual home with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and kitchens, living and dining areas. No contest, right? You know that crowded, slightly stir-crazy feeling you get in a hotel room? It's doesn't happen in a vacation home. In fact, I've found that people who stay in private homes don't feel so compelled to wear themselves out cramming in every touristy activity in town. They don't mind just hanging out in the living room and relaxing more, which after all, is what a vacation is supposed to be! 
 
Vacation homes provide more privacy for Mom & Dad. Let's say you want to have some, ahemmmm, adult time while you're on vacation. There's nothing like being able to put the kids in a separate bedroom down the hall. 
 
Since your travel dates are Monday to Monday, I would start my quest looking for accommodation from the 17th to the 24th (Sat-Sat) since many owners rent their properties from Saturday to Saturday. If your flight reservations have been solidified, I would still send the requests for the Saturday to Saturday dates and then after you hear back from the owners you can give them your specific dates. If you do indeed find a "holiday home" to rent, then you might be required to check out on Saturday and then check into a hotel for the remainder of your stay. I think that this would still be more economical than renting two hotel rooms for your entire stay. 
 
Sites such as Holiday-rentals.co.uk, HomeAway.com, or VRBO.com have variety of listings in London. It looks like a two bedroom, two bath "flat" or "apartment" will cost you about 800 pounds which is around $1500 USD.
  
On a final note, be sure to pre-buy your attraction tickets, it's a great way to save some money on tourist-y things to do in London: hrp.org.uk . Your children will love the Tower of London!
Happy Renting by Owner,
Christine Karpinski

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Huntington Beach, CA: I am considering renting an apartment in the Costa Del Sol region of Spain for 10 days to 2 weeks. How do I go about finding one?

Christine Karpinski: Looks like HomeAway.com is your bet. There are nearly 2000 properties on in the Costa Del Sol area. Just as note: Most people rent their homes for a full week, so if you're up in the air about whether to stay 10 days to two weeks, you'd likely have an easier time finding a vacation rental home for two full weeks. 
 
If you choose stay in one of larger cities (Malaga or Cadiz), you'll be able to take buses to other cities in southern Spain. If you stay in a more remote area, you're going to have to rent a car at the airport to get around. 
 
Happy Renting By Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Baltimore, MD: Have not been successful at finding a Catskills rental for this summer by Googling it. Is there a good internet site thru which I can find a rental--searching the internet for a rental by owner has been great for us in the Adirondacks and in Maine, but this has been harder. Not sure why. Looking or older house/cabin for 8-10 with charm!

Christine Karpinski: If you're looking for a property in the Catskills, you may want to pick a specific town first. A lot of the little towns are really close together like Allan, Wararsing, Kerhonkson, and Shawangunk. I found 86 properties on VacationRentals.com, 243 on HomeAway.com, and about 175 on VRBO.com and 137 on NYvacationRentals.com
 
The trick in finding them is really searching on the specific town that you wish to visit rather than just "Catskills". 
 
Happy Renting by Owner,
Christine Karpinski

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Hollidaysburg, PA: My wife and I will be traveling to Kaui in July of this year for a wedding, staying about two weeks. We are considering staying at a condo or other type of rental property. Where should we look for this type of opportunity. There are other members of the wedding part who would be willing to join us and stay in a larger unit.

Christine Karpinski: If you're looking for properties for July 2007 for a large party, you should find and solidify your plans as soon as possible. Jan-Mar is the busiest booking season for vacation rental properties. After March your choices will be limited. And if you're looking for a large property or a bunch of condos in the same complex, it will be that much more difficult after March. 
 
The first thing you have to do is find out where specifically on the Island of Kauai you and your party wish to travel. That will narrow your choices and make it easier for you to decide. For instance, if you're going to be going to Princeville, you'll have no problem finding individual condos for each of your party to rent. VRBO.com makes it very easy and even breaks the search down by condominium or neighborhood complexes. However if you're traveling to Lawai (South Kauai), your choice might be much more limited since there are fewer homes to rent in that area. 
 
When looking for multiple homes to rent, be sure to let the owners know. Many owners know other owners that also rent out their homes/condos. The owners, since they know the area very well can be a plethora of information for many of your party's needs. 
 
Happy Renting by Owner,
Christine

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Minneapolis, Minn.: If I drive to Texas, could I find a mobile home park with rental trailers or other RV's?

Christine Karpinski: You can find some vacation rental RV's or trailers, but most will be homes or condos. 
 
I've seen just about everything on vacation rental websites, including cabooses, teepees, lighthouses, yurts, boats and yes even trailers and RVs. For example, I found these by searching "vacation rental Texas RV". vrbo.com/100985matagordatexas.com/lighthouserv 
 
If you are specifically looking to go to a particular destination and stay in a trailer or RV, you might want to put the location + vacation + rental + RV into Google or Yahoo! 
 
Happy Renting by Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Seattle, WA: Two of us will be traveling to Perth,Australia in October 2007. We will be staying 3 weeks in that area and wonder if renting a home would make more sense than a hotel or camping van. Value wise, what is your opinion? Thanks.

Christine Karpinski: Renting a camping van provides a much different experience than staying in a hotel or renting a vacation home. Are you planning on staying in one particular area or do you intend to travel around? If your answer is the latter, then perhaps a camping trailer would be your best bet. 
 
Renting a home is by far a much better experience than staying in a hotel room, especially for an extended period of time. I cannot imagine staying in a hotel for three straight weeks. To me I think I would go stir crazy, even if the hotel were a high end hotel--the thought of being cooped up in one room for that long does not sound appealing to me. 
 
On the other hand, vacation rentals are often more spacious, comfortable and economical. 
 
Here are a few other advantages:
You can get inside information from the homeowner. One big reason vacation home renters get to "live like locals" is that most homeowners love to provide their guests with helpful hints. They'll point you to the best restaurants in town, the best hiking trails and the best bike rental places. They'll tell you who has the cheapest gas, which roads to take to avoid traffic, and which attractions are overpriced "tourist traps." 
 
You can cook and do laundry. If you're on a budget, both of these factors can be huge benefits. Obviously, eating every meal in a restaurant gets pricey. The ability to prepare meals "at home" not only saves money (especially when you're staying 3 weeks), there's just something nice about savoring a home-cooked meal while on vacation. Washers and dryers enable you to pack fewer clothes. 
 
If it were me, I'd either rent a camping van and travel around the county over the 3 weeks or I would rent a vacation home in one, two or even three different locations during my vacation. 
 
Happy Renting by Owner,
Christine Karpinski

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Pinellas Park, FL : Is there a home to rent from Thanksgiving thru Christmas 2007 in or near Crystal Lake/West Dundee, IL? Thanks!

Christine Karpinski: Finding a vacation home to rent during the winter in an area that's normally a summer destination maybe a difficult proposition, that is unless there are ski resorts or other winter attractions nearby. Many owners of summer homes close down their properties during the winter. However, if you reserve the rental and wish to stay a full month, some owners who may opt to keep their property open for you. 
 
After doing a search for that area, I didn't find any vacation rentals on any of the major websites. You might however have better luck calling the local real estate offices to see if there are any available. I'm assuming that you likely have family in that area (as that's not what you would call a popular vacation destination.) I would have them check the small local newspapers and/or penny savers as well. I have had luck finding vacation rentals near my home town that way. 
 
Happy Renting by Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Los Angeles, CA: we found an amazing rental by owner in Vancouver Canada, Millionaire's shack is name, I think. http://www.vrbo.com/18391. We are looking for something for 4 adults, July 7 or so for one week this coming summer. We talked to the owner in September, she said she does not like to reserve so early, always hopes someone will take it for a month. So hard to get people to come and clean. She reluctantly took our name and emailed us saying we would be first for a weekly rental. Some digging on the web and her comments indicated she had wanted to turn it in to a Bed Breakfast but that did not work out. Question: How can we find out if this rental is in good condition? We have never done rental by owner, what is our risk of having her cancel at the last minute--in high season? How can we protect ourselves?

Christine Karpinski: I hate to be redundant but I think that honesty is the best policy. I find when you ask direct questions then you'll get direct answers.
I would ask the owner the specific questions that you have asked me. Believe me, after renting my properties for nearly ten years, I have had every question imaginable and no question offends me. 
 
What anyone who's renting a vacation home needs to realize is both parties (the owners and the vacationers) need to be comfortable with each other. Vacationers are trusting that the hundreds or thousands of dollars that they are sending is for the home portrayed in the ads. And owners are trusting that the vacationers will respect and take care of their thousand or million dollar homes.
I think that one thing that makes my renters feel confident when renting my homes is I always provide them with a written contract which specifies property address, rental dates, rental amounts, cancellation policies, and checkin and checkout policies. Here's a link to the contracts that I personally use howtorentbyowner.com/RentalRules.htm. I think that renters should demand something in writing from the owners. 
 
I also accept credit cards, which gives the renters the safety and security that if anything goes wrong they can always dispute it through their credit card company. If the owner that you are dealing with does not accept credit cards, ask if they can accept PayPal. 
 
From looking at this particular property's webpage, it looks as though these owners have been renting their property since 2002. You can always email the webmaster for VRBO and ask if there have been any complaints about this property. Their email address is webmaster@vrbo.com.
  
But one thing that would concern me is that it looks as though their photos were also taken in 2002. Five years and tons of renters later the place could either still look great (if the owners are diligent about upkeep) or it could be run down. I would ask the owners if they have more recent photos. I would also ask them how often they themselves visit the property. Properties that are visited by their owners at least two or three times per year are more likely to be kept in great condition. That is unless they have excellent maintenance staff on the premises. 
 
Bottom line, there are no guarantees when dealing directly by owner but I can tell you that the number of complaints that VRBO.com and HomeAway.com receive from vacationers is less than .01%. 
 
Happy Renting By Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Boulder, CO: We like to travel off the beaten path. How can we identify vacation rentals in Mexico outside of the main resorts that are popular with Americans? Cities like Colima, Veracruz, Catemaco, or Guanajuato.

Christine Karpinski: Actually a vacation rental is your best bet for finding a property off the beaten path. What many travelers don't realize is there are many off the beaten path beautiful places in Mexico. Last year I stayed in a Mexican Jungle Retreat. taninah.com/home.htm 
 
Because many of the vacation rental sites categorize the properties by specific geographical regions, there are some gems buried in geographical areas that don't fit into that cookie cutter box. 
 
The way I found Taninah was by searching on HomeAway.com first...but it was listed under "Playa del Carmen" which is the closest big city. homeaway.com/110057 
 
Here are some of the properties I have found for you:
Colima: vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/mexico/mexican-riveria#10339, vacationrentals.com/vacation-rentals/Colima-Central-Mexico.html
Veracruz : vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/mexico/central-gulf#4977, vacationrentals.com/vacation-rentals/Veracruz-Gulf-Of-Mexico.html,
Catemaco: vrbo.com/112261
Guanajuato: vrbo.com/107513, vacationrentals.com/vacation-rentals/Guanajuato-Central-Mexico.html 
 
Of course whenever you're looking for out of the ordinary accommodations or locations, you'll have to do some digging and likely it will take you a bit more effort than if you were just traveling to a popular destination. 
 
Happy Renting By Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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Welches, OR: We frequently rent through VRBO with wonderful success both here and abroad. But, on our trip to Hawaii last fall we ran into a difficult situation... Our apt. on Maui exceeded our expectations; our apt on Oahu was lovely but misrepresented. We were told it was a 1 bedroom, not a studio. It turned out to be one tiny room overwhelmed by the bed (our motor home bedroom was bigger), the kitchen was a hot plate and micro in the bathroom and the only window/door was the sliding door at the foot of the bed. We had to sleep with the doors wide open. The only place to sit was outside. To whom do we send an alert that the property is not as described?

Christine Karpinski: Many of the "by owner" vacation rental websites take vacationer complaints very seriously and will boot off any owners who have had three or more vacationer complaints. I know that VRBO has this policy as well. I encourage you to email the webmaster for VRBO their email address is webmaster@vrbo.com . 
 
HomeAway.com is the only site that I know of that has "Listing Reviews" on their site. This rates the accuracy of the advertisements and unlike guestbooks, they are mandatory for all owners. 
 
Many homeowners list on 3-5 different websites. You can always find out which other sites they list their property on my Googling their phone number. You should make this complaint to all of the sites that they are listed on.
As a final note, it's very important for you to ask many specific questions before booking a vacation rental property. When I rent my vacation homes, I always go through a detailed script about my home. I clearly describe the location, the view, the configuration of the bedrooms, bathrooms, what things are included such as dishwasher soap and things that are not such as laundry detergent. My modus operandi is to have my guests pleasantly surprised when they arrive rather than terribly disappointed. 
 
The thing to remember is there are most vacation property owners are honest and their ads are accurate. 
 
Happy Renting by Owner
Christine Karpinski

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Christine Karpinski: Thanks so much for joining me. The hour passed very quickly. If you have any other questions you can contact me directly through this web site: http://ownercommunity.homeaway.com/ 
 
If you're thinking of renting a vacation home for your next vacation, be sure to check out www.HomeAway.com the worldwide leader for vacation rentals on the Internet. With more than 130,000 vacation rental homes across 100 countries, HomeAway makes finding the perfect vacation home, defined as anything from condos to castles and bungalows to villas, faster and easier than ever. 
 
Happy Renting By Owner!
Christine Karpinski

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