Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017
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Rent a villa 101

Want to rent a villa on your next getaway? Here's what you need to know

Getting started
1. Whether you want to stay in a big city or off any beaten path, look for a property where you'll be content for at least a week. Most rentals have a seven-day minimum.

2. Renters are typically advised to reserve six months in advance; however, you may need a year to secure top spots during coveted time frames (Europe in summer or the Caribbean over Christmas). If your schedule doesn't allow you to plan ahead, travel off-season when demand and prices dwindle. Another option is relatively "undiscovered" destinations: Languedoc is a good alternative to Provence and consider the Gulf of Mexico in lieu of the oh-so-trendy Mayan Riviera.

3. It's in the best interest of agents and owners to make their offerings look attractive. Once you add subjective tastes and differing cultural standards to the mix, unwarranted superlatives are bound to pop up. Read between the lines. "Villa" is frequently used as a generic term covering anything from a suburban home to a chateau; and adjectives like "recently restored" or "well equipped" are open to interpretation, especially when describing a property that is already centuries old.


The Q & A
4. I once picked a mountain-top spot in Italy because it promised "easy access to Florence, Pisa & Cinque Terra" (www.homeaway.com) - which would have been true if I was Mario Andretti. Since then, I've learned to ask hard questions about location then consult a topographical map. If you're renting a car, you'll need to know about distances and road conditions (like hair-pin turns and hair-raising inclines).

5. Check the number of bedrooms -- as opposed to the number of people the property sleeps -- as well as the configuration of the beds. A second room with bunks may be great for the kids, but not for another couple. If you're travelling with varying ages or abilities, pay attention to safety hazards like open stairwells and unscreened fireplaces.

6. Get info on amenities that matter to you. Understand how the kitchen is outfitted. Ditto the bathroom: there may be a bidet yet no bathtub. Opting for a pool? Ask about the size (you won't be swimming laps in a plunge pool) and ensure it will be filled during your stay and cleaned the week of your arrival. Ask what English-language channels the TV receives. The novelty of watching foreign-language game shows wears off quickly. Also ask what measures have been taken to insure renters' safety.

7. Since photos can be deceiving, find out what's outside the frame: that bucolic cottage may have train tracks running through the backyard! In addition, it's wise to request a floor plan of the property. This is particularly important in multi-unit buildings since common areas compromise your privacy. But even in private dwellings it matters. If I'd looked, for instance, at the layout of that gorgeous guardhouse I'd rented in France (Holiday-rentals.com, Property 2114). I would have known it wasn't really appropriate for families because the bedrooms were linked by a precipitous exterior stairway.


Money matters
8. Inquire about surcharges for things like linens, cleaning and parking and get estimates up front for pay-for-use items such as heating fuel or telephone calls. Extras like these can add 30 percent to your bill. In certain destinations, government taxes (ranging from seven to 17 percent) must be factored in. If you're dealing with an owner who doesn't provide a rental contract, work out the specifics by e-mail or fax: this makes communicating across time-zones easy and provides a written record.

9. You'll likely be required to pay a deposit (typically 10 to 50 percent). With brokers, the remainder is normally due 30 to 90 days before your check-in date; however, owners may accept the balance on arrival. Double check the "house rules" regarding payment and follow them to the letter. If a security deposit is needed, clarify what constitutes "damage" and determine when the deposit will be returned.

10. Brokers allow you to pay these amounts by credit card (which, depending on your server, offers an extra level of protection). Owners probably expect you send a money order or wire funds. Although I've done the latter many times without incident, it does take a leap of faith (especially since travel insurance is not, as a rule, available from owners). So it's imperative that you develop a rapport with and confidence in the individuals you do business with.

11. Standard property prices seldom include a cook or housekeeper, yet such services can occasionally be negotiated. My Mexican villa (for one, had an onsite caretaker who would prepare reasonably-priced meals. Unfortunately he only spoke Spanish; hence, menu-planning was like playing Pictionary. What every rental should include is the services of someone (be it an owner, property manager, or agency representative) who will walk you through the premises and run interference in an emergency. Know where your contact lives, how he can be reached and how well he speaks your language.


On location
12. Making multiple plane connections and navigating roads coated with volcanic ash was a piece of cake compared to finding the adorable Sicilian house I rented a rough-drawn map. Skip that aggravation by obtaining thorough directions before setting out. Ideally they'll mark the nearest grocery store in addition to the house itself. Rentals periods usually start Saturday afternoon: just when stores in many parts of the world are closing for the weekend. So if you don't buy essentials en route you might be out of luck until Monday. Alternately, you can ask your local contact to stock the house for a price.

13. Conventional wisdom says you should inspect your home-away-from-home before taking possession to avoid getting dinged with bogus damage charges. But between the exhaustion and the excitement I, quite frankly, find it hard to do a proper "inventory." If you feel the same, concentrate on the basics (like how to operate alien-looking appliances or turn on the shower).

14. Once you've settled in, remind yourself that some inconveniences come with the territory. Staying in any unfamiliar home has its frustrations and these are only magnified in foreign locales. In "sun destinations" you may have to contend with rust, must and assorted critters; in Europe, even the grandest homes might feature wheezing pipes, skimpy bath towels and a sporadic supply of hot water. When you choose to live like a local, it's best to simply expect - and accept! - such idiosyncrasies.

15. Relax… This advice applies to both the time you spend in your rental and the time you spend planning for it. I know the latter can be particularly difficult because going this route is a gamble. Then again, aren't all vacations? With all-inclusive resorts, you actually put more eggs in your proverbial holiday "basket" because dining and entertainment options are at stake too. Yet we regularly buy into those based on little more than a quick blurb in a glossy brochure. So go on: follow your heart, use your head and make yourself at home.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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