Is There a Villa in Your Vacation Future?
Why rent a hotel room or pay hefty resort prices when you can rent an entire villa? That's what many people, who routinely rent villas, often for very little more than they'd pay for lodging at a fine resort, say. I'm one of them.
Rent a villa and you can do your own cooking, enjoy a swim in the pool without sharing with others, and set your own pace by enjoying a private vacation.
Renting a villa in a foreign country or exotic location may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see what it's like to trade in your lifestyle and live like royalty for a while.
Not so fast. Don't send in a deposit before you do your research.
Let's start with the definition of a villa in the rental market. If you see a villa as a gorgeous marble-columned mansion with elaborate décor located in an upscale area, you may be in luck when you search for your dream house. Or maybe not.
"When we started looking for a villa online, we found the word 'villa' used to describe everything from small homes to beachfront condos," says Linda Tanner of Lansing, Mich. She and her husband, along with a couple from Great Britain, recently rented a villa on the Dutch side of the Caribbean island of Saint Maarten.
In some areas of the world the words 'villa' and 'home' are used interchangeably. "When our European friends refer to European villas, they are talking about homes of any size," Tanner says.
Finding your dream house--which may be described as a villa--boils down to finding a place with the amenities you're looking for.
Narrow your search
First, decide where you want to go. If you don't have an exact region of a country in mind, narrow your search to either a country or city house. Keep in mind a country home may be larger, but it's more apt to be in a remote area or small village. In the city, you're more apt to find apartments--a villa may have been split up into apartments.
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"We knew we wanted to go to a Caribbean island that was easily accessible for our friends who were flying in from Europe," Tanner says. "We also wanted a beachfront villa with a swimming pool. Next, we had to match our budget of $5,000 for four people for 10 days."
Tanner found a lot of luxury homes for rent online, but when they e-mailed photos back and forth, the couples selected the home called "Oleander," listed at www.wheretostay.com for their April vacation.
Whether you're shopping for a villa for the first or 10th time, here are some tips for making it the best experience possible.
Ask the right questions
So often people fall in love with a villa's setting, its architecture, or magnificent-sounding amenities, but they don't dig deep enough to find out what it would be like to stay at a specific villa.
- Ask if there is construction going on in the area. You might not think of this---but it can make or break your vacation. No one wants to spend a vacation next to a construction site. "There was cement everywhere when we drove up to the house," says Tanner. "We quickly learned they were building next to the house since they were jackhammering 15 feet from the back door."
Besides the noise, the villa's electricity accidentally was cut off. That was followed by heavy trucks coming up a narrow drive and breaking the water pipe that fed water into the villa. "Since we were without water and electricity, we called the local rental agent and told him we weren't happy despite the fact that the home was lovely."
The agent agreed to move them to another property, but it didn't have a beach or pool so the group stayed put and settled for a $2,000 refund.
- Ask if your villa is being built or remodeled. Oh, if I had only asked that question before I saw where we had to park our rental car on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas.
The villa, a work in progress for an Illinois couple who'd been building it for several years, was more beautiful than photos depicted. It was located a few feet from the ocean, but the unfinished driveway was a beach of sand. When it rained, there was no way to park near the house, which meant carrying groceries about a half mile to the house.
Find out exactly where the villa is located. How well are the roads maintained?
- Find out exactly where the villa is located. How well are the roads maintained? Online photos may look terribly inviting. The villa may be perched high on a cliff with ocean views, but if you don't want to be out in the middle of nowhere, ask how far is it from town, neighbors, a beach, or other points of interest. Ask about the quality of the roads if you choose a remote place.
When I rented a villa on St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, I was told it was far out in the Seven Hills area. Admittedly, the seaside views were breathtaking, but the drive to the top of the mini-mountain on narrow roads was a difficult climb, made even more nerve-racking since cars drive on the left on the island. Recently, I rented the same villa but decided it was easier and safer not to rent a car. Instead, I opted for calling a taxi shuttle service when I wanted to go to town.
- Ask about security deposits. If there is a security deposit, ask what it covers and how and when your deposit will be returned.
- Ask about insurance details. You may or may not be covered by your home insurance if items are stolen, lost, or damaged while you're renting a villa. Ask the rental agent what the agency's insurance covers. Also, discuss the possibility of adding a 'rider' to your insurance with your agent before you leave home.
Find out who is responsible for renting the property.
- Ask if a neighbor speaks English. With foreign rentals that can be all important. More than once I've rented a villa overseas and found that when something breaks down, it may be hard to reach the rental agency on weekends or evenings. Having a friendly neighbor who speaks your language can be crucial.
- Decipher the meaning of terms. Ask what a "corner kitchen" means. In some European countries, it can mean just a hotplate and burner in the kitchen's corner. You also may see the words "en suite" to describe accommodations. This typically refers to bathrooms that are attached to bedrooms.
- Ask about sleeping arrangements. What are the size and number of beds? How big are the bedrooms? If two couples rent a villa with two bedrooms, and one room has great views and is far more lavish than the other, it's best to know this discrepancy before you need to flip a coin when you get there.
Would Tanner rent another villa? "Absolutely," she says. "But next time we will look for a bricks-and-mortar business as opposed to solely relying on the Internet. And, we'll do more research before we leave home."
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