Comparing apartments can seem impossible. One agency might provide floor plans, dozens of photos, and square footages. Another might have only a description like "Lovely two-bedroom apartment near San Marco; from ¿200." Some agencies use star ratings, but there's no correlation to hotel ratings or other agency ratings. Do your homework to make sure the unit meets your expectations.
BOOKING: Getting what you pay for
Week-long rentals are typical, though some apartments are available for two or three nights at a time, especially in the off-season.
Peak season is roughly April to June, September to October, and during Carnevale, which falls in January or February.
Advanced reservations are essential. For high season, it's best to book several months, or even a full year, ahead.
Every owner bends the rules sometimes, so even if a website states that an apartment only rents by the week or longer, or that rates are completely nonnegotiable, it never hurts to inquire about flexibility. Small agencies and owners who rent one or two apartments are particularly likely to bargain during slower periods.
Bait and switch is pervasive when booking through an agency--whether intentional or because online databases aren't updated to reflect actual availability. Double-check that the apartment you want is the apartment you're getting. If the agency offers an alternative, make sure it's up to snuff and reasonably priced.
PAYING: Deposits and cancellations
A deposit (or caparra) will usually be necessary to hold your reservation. The amount varies: It might be the equivalent of one night's stay; it might be 30 to 50 percent of the total; it might be something totally different. The balance is due 6 to 20 days prior to arrival.
Bank wire transfers are required to rent some apartments, particularly direct-from-owner units. Banks in the U.S. charge $30--$50 for a transfer, and it'll take three to five business days to process.
Taxes, utilities, and an initial and final cleaning fee are frequently included in the quoted price, but that's not always the case, so ask. If the apartment has a phone, inquire whether local calls cost extra.
Expect to pay a deposit against potential damages, either through a hold on your credit card or in cash to the person who gives you the keys. The money will be refunded when you check out.
Cancellation policies vary, with refunds given on a sliding scale, meaning less money is returned the later that you cancel. The deposit is rarely refundable, though you may be able to get some of the money back if you cancel far in advance.
ARRIVING: Who will give you the key?
A representative will meet you at the vaporetto (public water bus) stop nearest the apartment at a prearranged time. He or she will lead you to the flat, show you the ropes (which keys fit which locks, location of the fuse box), point out nearby markets and cafés, and provide a local number to call if you have questions.
Most kitchens come fully equipped, but double-check that this is the case if you plan on cooking. Before heading to the market, look in the cabinets. There are often some cooking staples (salt, sugar, pasta, olive oil) left by former guests.
Towels and linens are typically provided, but bring your own soap, shampoo, and toiletries; this is not a hotel.
Maid service is rare, though a few rentals offer cleaning every three days or so. Remember: You're living like a Venetian, which includes taking out the trash and recycling. Your host will provide a schedule.