Comparison Shopping for Vacation Rentals

I have been shopping for vacation rentals for our summer trip. Finding great cottages in England is easy. Local agencies in England tend to be good, to have hand picked properties and offer fair prices. You may find a better price renting from an owner directly, but many owners list their places only with agencies, and I have found the prices are not that different.

Now we are thinking about a week and a half in France at the start of our trip. We fly into Heathrow, spend a relaxing few nights in Windsor (to get over jetlag and visit nearby friends), then take the train to France. So I am looking at vacation rentals in several rural regions in France, using Slow Europe of course.

Renting from an Agency vs Rent-by-Owner

When you find a vacation rental that looks good, or an agency that you might want to use, always Google the property name and location to see if the owner has a site or it is represented somewhere else, so you can compare pricing. Here is a good example of what you might find.

Agency (US based) France by Heart – Property Saint Cyprien Petite Forge in the Dordogne near Sarlat, cottage on an estate (Bagnegrole) sleeps 2. Price in summer $1,490/week.

I googled “Bagnegrole Sarlat” to find the owner site, where the price is half what the US agency is asking.

Bagnegrole – La Petite Forge. Price in summer €550/week (about $715/week).

This is quite a difference in price. It is easier to book with a US agency – they can give travel advice, answer your questions, let you pay with a credit card or US check – but is it worth this much of a premium? No, I don’t think so.

Read more about vacation rentals agencies vs. rent-by-owner on Slow Europe.

How We Choose Agencies/Websites for Slow Europe

We still have a lot of work to do on the Slow Europe site. We have started out with a good list of agencies, but as we start to get feedback from renters and hear from travel businesses, we will update our lists.

For now I will keep France by Heart on our list, but will make a note that prices can be much higher than those on the owner site. I will also check through their listings to see if this is a common practice, or if I just got lucky and found the one place where there was such a mis-match in pricing.

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

5 thoughts on “Comparison Shopping for Vacation Rentals”

  1. It has been six years now, but I actually booked our first rental in France through France by Heart. I didn’t know much about Provence at all and looked at so many possible rentals on the internet. I didn’t understand the differences between the villages or where it would be good to be. Josette at France by Heart was so helpful to me in choosing a village and a specific rental. She was personally familiar with the villages and the rentals she listed. I didn’t have the slightest idea at the time that I could have tried to find the same rental through another source, including the owner. (I also wasn’t all that internet savvy then either.)

    Nowadays I usually try to rent directly from owners. Sometimes this isn’t possible. And in some cases, an agency offer a meaningful service to a renter, especially an inexperienced one. I don’t understand a 100% mark-up though– that’s way too much.

    Note: Some agencies do change the name of the house so that it is much more difficult to find it in an internet search.

  2. Thanks for that feedback Kathy. Maybe they have not updated their US dollar prices since the Euro was higher. You know that I am a big believer in agencies because of the help and advice they can offer, plus the pre-selection of quality properties. But sometimes the prices are just too high.

    I recommend googling the village name and part of the description if you cannot find a place by name. But sometimes you will not find it. Many places are only represented by one agency.

  3. I can’t tell you how many rentals I found on multiple sites when I was looking for our Paris apartment – it gave me blurry vision.

    Another trick I learned (haven’t read your stuff yet – just catching up – so not sure if you mentioned it), is to use Google Street View if you have the rental’s address. I did this and was able to clearly see the building under construction (something you’d want to know), which let me to ask the question about renovations (they owner said they’d been completed a few months ago) but still… it would stink to arrive somewhere you rented and have a ton of construction going on. Yes, you have to realize that those Google Street Views aren’t up to date but they do give you a feel for the neighborhood and what could be going on within your rental.

  4. I used Google Street View (and I recommend this on the About Vacation Rentals – How to Choose page) when looking for apartments in Nice and Paris. It is absolutely amazing! We could see what stores were under the apartments we were looking at (wanting to avoid beauty parlors etc. that use lots of chemicals that would waft up to the apartment), how busy the street was, where the local cafe was.

    They don’t have street view in England yet, but I remember several years ago when they did not even have satellite view for England but they do now.

    I also make a google map of all the places I am considering to help me keep the locations straight. And then another google map of the things I want to do in a place.

    Google maps are a great trip planning tool!

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