This is a big weekend for vacation rentals. HomeAway.com is running an ad in the Super Bowl! This will introduce vacation rentals to millions of North Americans and put vacation rentals in the travel accommodation mainstream. My website SlowEurope.com gives you the tools you need to find and book vacation rentals in Europe, but I am not running a Super Bowl ad. Instead I am writing this blog post to give my view of vacation rentals.
What Are Vacation Rentals?
Vacation rentals are called many things – villas, vacation homes, holiday cottages, self catering, short term rentals – but all these terms refer to the same thing, a fully furnished and equipped apartment or house that is rented out by the day or week. Vacation rentals are an alternative to staying in hotels or B&Bs when traveling.
Vacation rentals have been a popular type of vacation accommodation in Europe for decades but they were usually booked by Europeans. Most Americans traveled on tour buses and stayed in hotels. In the last decade Americans have discovered this alternative accommodation and have changed the way they travel in Europe.
In the last ten years vacation rentals have become popular in North America, thanks to the HomeAway websites. Years ago you could rent a cottage at the shore or a condo in Hawaii, but when traveling anywhere else you stayed in a hotel, usually one from a national chain. Now vacation homes of all shapes and sizes are available for rent in most parts of the US and Canada.
Read everything you need to know about vacation rentals in the Slow Europe Vacation Rentals Guide.
It All Comes Down To a Vacation Rental, an Owner and a Traveler
Vacation rentals are big business, but they are also literally a cottage industry. A cottage is for rent, a traveler rents it. It all comes down to a vacation rental, an owner and a traveler.
- Some owners have their property represented by a vacation rental agency. The agency takes the bookings and payments. They may look after the property for the owner. The vacation rental agency does not own the property.
- Other owners decide to purchase a listing on a rent-by-owner website like HomeAway and take the bookings and payments themselves.
No matter if you book with an agency or directly with the owner, you are booking an individually owned property and many times when you arrive it is the owner who greets you (or who has put the key under the flowerpot and left the House Book for you).
So, you have two choices when booking: vacation rental agency or directly with the owner.
This week I am writing about rent-by-owner websites. Next week I will write about vacation rental agencies. Both have their pros and cons.
Vacation Rentals in the Analog Ages
Before we all moved onto the Internet (pre-1995) it was difficult to find and book vacation rentals. I wrote to tourist offices and asked for lists of places for rent (these were the analog version of rent-by-owner websites), then phoned the European owners in the middle of the night (which was during their working hours). Or I contacted US or UK vacation rental agencies and got them to mail me their glossy catalogs. Sometimes we just showed up at the local tourist office to see what was available nearby.
On one trip we met a couple from Holland who drove around the Tuscan countryside looking for vacancy signs. They ended up in the apartment beside ours on an estate outside of Siena. We had paid about 50% more and booked from a glossy catalog six months earlier.
When traveling in North America we stayed in those wonderful countryside motel-type places with a row of cabins – little cottages with a kitchen – the old style version of vacation rentals. They were cheap and you did not book ahead.
The Rise in Popularity of Rent-By-Owner Websites
When vacation rentals moved from print to websites, VRBO arrived – a website with lists of vacation rentals that you booked directly with the owner, via email or phone. They were the first on the Internet (started in 1995) and they were the biggest. VRBO was known for its ugly website with lists of thousands of worldwide vacation rentals. Now their website is pretty and they are owned by HomeAway.
VRBO changed everything in the vacation rental world. If we found the agencies were too expensive or did not want to spend any time helping us choose, we could go online and spend hours looking at the VRBO listings, then email or phone the owners directly. VRBO forced the agencies to become more competitive and service oriented (most of them).
HomeAway was founded in 2005 by Brian Sharples and Carl Shepherd in Austin Texas. They started small, but like many things Texan, became big. They immediately bought VRBO and the other leading rent-by-owner websites: CyberRentals.com, GreatRentals.com, TripHomes.com, A1Vacations.com, Holiday-Rentals.co.uk (the leading site in the United Kingdom) and FeWo-direkt.de (the leading site in Germany). In 2007 they added Abritel.fr (the leading site in France), VacationRentals.com and OwnerDirect.co.uk (the second leading site United Kingdom).
Do you see a pattern here? World domination of the rent-by-owner market!
HomeAway does not hide their site ownership. All their sites clearly show that they are part of the HomeAway group.
HomeAway is the Industry Leader
“With nearly 430,000 paid vacation rental home listings across 120 countries, ranging from condos to castles, HomeAway makes it easier than ever to find and compare the vacation rental homes. ” from the HomeAway.com website
HomeAway is not a vacation rental agency, they do not go out and select the perfect vacation rental properties in tourist destinations. HomeAway does not own the properties that they rent. HomeAway is a company that runs several websites where vacation rentals owners pay to be listed. HomeAway does not take the photos and write the property description, they do not take the bookings and the payment. The owner does this. If someone owns a vacation rental and pays the yearly fee, they are on HomeAway.
HomeAway is the place where owners of vacation rentals and travelers meet. HomeAway runs top quality websites with good cataloging and searching features. If I want to find a one-bedroom vacation rental in Italy near Lucca, I can find a list of them in a few clicks. I look at photos, read descriptions, check prices and availability, make my shortlist, contact the owners and then make my choice. The world of vacation rentals is at my fingertips.
It is Not All About Grand Villas for a Large Group
The popular travel press sometimes makes it seem like vacation rentals are for groups of ten affluent friends. This is not true. Vacation rentals come in all sizes, from a cute cottage for two to a magnificent villa for twenty. You might be in a cottage on a farm, or in a house in a village or an apartment in a city – many types of vacation rental accommodations are available.
Steve and I have been staying in vacation rentals in Europe for over 20 years. They are our primary form of travel accommodation. Usually it is just the two of us, but sometimes we have a friend join us and once we went with a large group and stayed in a villa.
Vacation rentals are an affordable accommodation choice. Prices per person per night are usually lower than equivalent hotels. You get more space and you can do some of your own cooking. This makes for a very enjoyable and “slow” travel experience.
Expect Different Booking Procedures
The main difference between vacation rentals and hotels are the booking and paying procedures. Because you are renting an apartment or house and not a room in a hotel you are expected to put down a sizable deposit (25% or more) which is not refundable if you cancel. Many also require full payment to be made 30 – 60 days before arrival. In Europe many owners do not take credit cards and you must wire-transfer your payment. Procedures vary by owner so be sure to review the booking procedures.
It makes sense to purchase travel insurance in case you have to cancel for illness in the family. (As a side note, we never buy travel insurance and in all our years of travel only had to cancel once.)
I always check the HomeAway sites first but there are other good competitors. These rent-by-owner websites are not part of the HomeAway group:
- HolidayLettings.co.uk – worldwide rent-by-owner vacation rentals
- Homelidays.co.uk – worldwide rent-by-owner vacation rentals
- PureHolidayHomes.com – worldwide rent-by-owner vacation rentals (new website)
- Rentalia.com – rent-by-owner vacation rentals in Spain, Portugal and Italy
- YourHolidayMatters.com – rent-by-owner vacation rentals in Europe (most in France and Spain) – all owners have been vetted and approved by this group
Farm stays are popular in Europe and there are many sites that put you in contact with the owners:
- Agriturismo.it – Farms in Italy, with B&B or vacation rentals
- Gites-de-France.com – Farms and other vacation rentals in France
- FarmStay.co.uk – Farms in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) with B&B or vacation rentals
Give Vacation Rentals a Chance!
When it comes to vacation rentals in Europe, I am a broken record. Traveling to Europe? Stay in a vacation rental. Traveling to Europe? Stay in a vacation rental … On your next trip to Europe, or anywhere, try a vacation rental. If you hate it, send me an angry email. If you love it, send me a happy email and write a review for Slow Europe so that others can benefit from your experience.
And now, back to the Super Bowl – Who Dat!! 🙂
- Slow Europe Vacation Rentals Guide
- HomeAway Puts Vacation Rentals on the Scoreboard (Super Bowl ad)
- 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree – I Love Vacation Rentals in Italy
Remember to use my Slow Europe website to find vacation rentals in Europe. I list my favorite resources by country and region – local agencies, farms, rent-by-owner websites and more – to make your searching easier. We also collect your reviews.