Tips on Renting a Vacation Home in Europe

November 6, 2007

With the cost of hotel stays in Europe rising, rooms just big enough for a bed, and the quality of rooms in the same hotel ranging from nice to scary, travelers are turning to vacation rentals for some predictability, comfort and value.

The benefits are numerous. You get more space (i.e., multiple bedrooms and living areas), which is perfect for families. There are amenities you can have such as an Internet connection, a home entertainment system, a chef, and a kitchen – all to yourself. What’s more, with vacation rentals, you’ll feel more like a local than a visitor. This is particularly true if you find yourself in a charming apartment in Paris overlooking the Seine or a villa in the Tuscan hills.

How to Find a Vacation Rental in Europe

Companies such as HomeAway, provide rental listings with photos, lists of amenities, and location maps - just about everything you need to make a selection. You’ll also find the owners’ contact information or you may be able to book through the site.

When selecting a rental, consider the location and the type of vacation you seek. Do you want to be near all the excitement of the urban tourist sights or do you prefer a secluded, quiet area? Will you have to rent a car or can you walk to the places you want to go?

Beginning the Rental Process

To start the process, provide the owner with your arrival and departure dates; number of adults, children, and pets; and any special requests. In return, you will get a quote, a list of what’s included and instructions on how to pay the deposit.

It’s a good idea to make reservations as early as possible to guarantee your first choice at the best rate. On the other hand, if you book at the last minute, there’s a chance you could get a great deal on a cancellation or properties that owners haven’t been able to rent.

The Rental Contract

Before you send any money, get a rental agreement with the cancellation policy in writing.  The rental agreement specifies:

  • check in/out dates
  • fees and payment schedules
  • instructions for entering the apartment
  • pet policies
  • maintenance and cleaning information
  • additional fees such as telephone charges
  • penalties for cancellations, along with your recourse should the owner fail to honor the agreement

Owners sometimes require a deposit of up to 50% of the total to hold the rental for your dates. The remaining amount is often due the day you arrive. However, some owners ask renters to pay in full a few weeks before arrival. You may also be asked to provide a refundable security deposit. The security deposit covers maintenance and cleaning, damages and other fees such as telephone charges.

How to Protect Yourself

  • Book rentals through reputable agencies that have established terms and conditions. Or work with your travel agent.
  • If the vacation rental Web site does not display reviews from past renters, request references from the owner.
  • Before you pay anything, get a rental agreement or contract. This way, if something unforeseen happens, you have some recourse in getting your money back.
  • Pay with a credit card, which provides certain remedies (such as reversing charges) that are almost impossible when you pay in cash.
  • Avoid owners who rush you through the process, demanding that you pay through a wire service or bank transfer.

Arriving at the Rental

Before departing for your trip, be sure to get pre-arrival instructions. These include directions to the property, details on how to enter the rental (i.e., getting the keys, turning off alarms, opening gates, etc.) and the contact information of the owner or the owner’s representative in case something unexpected happens or if you’re going to be late arriving. 

Also, be prepared to pay the security deposit when you arrive; owners often expect it to be paid in cash.

When you arrive, the owner will give you a tour of the property and show you how to use the appliances. Should anything break down, you can always contact the owner or their representative to resolve any issues.

When You Check Out

The owner or representative will either be at the apartment to check you out or clearly explain beforehand what to do when you leave, (i.e., where to leave the key). If there is no damage, you will receive a refund of your security deposit, right then or soon after your departure.


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