Vacation Rental Agency or Rent-by-Owner?
Where should you start your search for a vacation rental in Europe? There are two basic ways to find vacation rentals.
- Vacation rental agencies
- Rent from the owner
Both have their pros and cons. The goal is to find a property that suits you. There are thousands of quality vacation rentals in Europe listed with agencies or available directly from the owners.
What You Need to Know About Vacation Rental Agencies
Rental agencies are not created equal. Some vacation rental agencies operate in a limited region while others cover an entire country, all of Europe or the whole world. The best agencies hand-select their properties and inspect them at least once a year. They have knowledgeable staff who will help you make your choice. The worst represent one of the large databases and their staff have never seen the properties.
Local Vacation Rental Agencies
My favorite - agencies based in the country in which they have their properties. For example, an agency located in Tuscany with vacation rentals in Tuscany. Many North American and British agencies represent local agencies. You book with the agency, perhaps pay more for the same property, and then deal with the local agency on arrival. There used to be no way around this but now many of the local agencies are on the Internet and have English-speaking staff so you can deal with them directly.
Local agencies probably have a direct relationship with their property owners because they live in the same area. They know their properties and their area. They are close by in case you have problems.
Farms with Vacation Rentals
These are also my favorite :) - farms with a few vacation rentals. These may be apartments in converted outbuildings or independent houses. Some farms also offer rooms with meals (B&B). In Italy they are known as agriturismo, in France gîte and in England "farm stays".
I consider these a special kind of local vacation rental agency. You are dealing directly with the owner but we're not talking about a single vacation home owner trying to get extra income by listing their property on a directory. This is someone with several vacation rentals offered year-round. They are running a small vacation rental business.
While many of these farms are represented by agencies, many also run their own websites and do their own bookings.
Some farms offer a dinner where all the residents can meet each other and the family. Some give you fresh produce from the farm or a generous welcome basket of local things. The owners or managers are usually nearby to offer some local travel information.
You can have a wonderful travel experience staying on a farm in Europe. You have the owners nearby for help and you get to meet other travelers yet you have your own private apartment or house. You may get better amenities like a shared swimming pool or a laundry room.
Non-Local Vacation Rental Agencies
Most of the "non-local" agencies are based in the US, Canada or the United Kingdom and cater to travelers from those countries. They may have hundreds of listings in several European countries or may have a small hand-picked collection of properties in one region.
Small agencies with only one or two people (usually the owners) but with hundreds of listings may not know their properties in enough detail to offer good advice. They may represent one of the large vacation rental databases (these are lists of vacation rentals maintained by one company but "loaned" to other companies who put them on their website and earn booking commissions). But there are exceptions. Some small agencies have been in the business for so many years that they really do know most of their listings and make sure to deal with reputable local agencies.
Small one or two person agencies offering a small collection of hand-picked properties usually know their properties in detail and have good travel experience. But their prices may be higher and their listings may be limited to a small geographic area.
Large World-Wide Vacation Rental Agencies
Large agencies with loads of properties and a large staff offer a great selection of homes but do not always offer personal service or informed responses to your questions. Some large agencies overcome this by assigning each client a personal representative, creating a small agency feel within a large agency.
Vacation Rental Agency Websites
Most agencies now have high-quality websites with availability calendars and online booking capabilities, but it is also important that they are available by email and/or telephone to answer your questions.
I prefer to deal with an agency that has a good website with detailed property descriptions, good photos, location maps, prices and an availability calendar. This lets me do full trip planning before making a first email or phone contact. Otherwise you spend a lot of time emailing with questions and to find out availability from different agencies.
Advantages of Vacation Rental Agencies
- A good agency offers excellent properties that are pre-selected. They've inspected and evaluated the homes and have weeded out the lesser-quality properties.
- A good agency can offer advice on choosing a vacation rental. You tell them your requirements and they will suggest which ones would be best for you.
- A good agency will be accustomed to working with North Americans and have instituted easier payment options than the expensive and time-consuming bank transfer method.
- The agency can act as your advocate to resolve problems should they arise.
- Because they have a readily-available inventory, if you have a problem in the rental you've booked, they can usually accommodate you in one of their other listings.
Disadvantages of Vacation Rental Agencies
- You may pay more than if booking directly with an owner.
- The agency may be acting as a "middle man" and marking up the price of a local agency.
- You can run into bad agencies that take any properties they can find and only care about easy commissions.
What You Need to Know About Rent-By-Owner Vacation Rentals
Vacation rentals rented by the owner are not created equal. Some are wonderful places lovingly cared for by an owner who enjoys doing the booking and assisting renters. Others are homes purchased for investment and quickly turned into vacation rentals for income.
Owners may have their own website or may list on rent-by-owner directories. Most of these directory sites take all comers - you pay and you get to list your property. Some have reviews but let the property owner decide which reviews to display (so there are no bad reviews). Most sites will remove properties if they are a scam (this happens rarely) or do some type of validation to make sure the owner is legitimate. The directory site only lists the properties - you deal with and book with the owner.
Renting from the owner can be "riskier" since you don't know if they're reputable or what kind of standard they have for maintenance or quality. But renting from the owner can also be a great experience where you'll not only save money but have the added bonus of establishing a relationship with the local family, who is usually eager to help you enjoy their area.
Advantages of Rent-By-Owner
- Cutting out the "middle man" agency usually means lower prices.
- By booking directly with the owner you establish contact with them and get to know them before you arrive. (Remember, the owner you are corresponding with during booking may not live near the rental and may use a local contact.)
Disadvantages of Rent-By-Owner
- You may not get impartial or fully honest responses since the owner is representing only his/her own property.
- The quality of the furnishings or condition of the home may not meet the standards of the local agencies and that is why the owner is renting it themselves and not through an agency.
- If something happens or your booking falls through, you cannot be easily moved to another property since they have only the one place.
- You may be booking "blindly" without references or previous guest reviews.