After many years of planning villa vacations for clients and for my personal vacations, my first recommendation is to find a good villa rental specialist! Working with someone who has personally visited each property and knows the area well can make the process so much easier. Rather than sifting through hundreds of choices that all start looking the same, in a matter of minutes a knowledgeable agent can ask the right questions and lead you to the best available properties for your needs and budget. An agency can also give you assurance that you will be backed locally if things go wrong.
Here are some things to think about and questions to ask if you’re considering a rental property for your next vacation.
1. Look for an agency that’s been around for several years and specializes in one area, or at least has dedicated agents that sell the area you’re interested in vacationing.
Check out the agency’s reputation online and make sure the agent with whom you’re conversing has seen the properties personally. Ask if the agency has a local staff to help you if things go wrong.
2. Book at least 60 days in advance for the best availability – longer for holidays or choice dates for that area. In the case of St Barth for instance, the Christmas and New Year holidays are very popular so the earlier you book the more choices you’ll have.
3. If you’re looking for a discount check last minute for average 10% off in the value season, perhaps more if you’re looking for longer than a 7-10 nights stay. In the high season some owners will agree to a discount for a very last minute or extended stay (3-4 weeks).
4. If you only have 5 nights and not 7, ask. You can generally find a villa with availability between reservations for shorter than the 7 night minimum. Book in the off season and most villa agents can get the owner to allow 5 nights.
5. Look at pictures carefully. If the villa isn’t new has it been updated regularly, are the kitchen appliances and bathrooms fixtures up to date? Usually this is an indication of the condition of the property? A property that is new or has been renovated will most likely have replaced linens, something you can’t see in the pictures.
6. If a floor plan isn’t included ask about the configuration. Are the bedrooms separate from one another (good for couples traveling together) or are they interior connecting (a must for families with young children). If couples are traveling together are the bedrooms equal or somewhat equal so no one feels they got the short straw.
7. If bringing children ask questions about the safety of the property. Just because the owner allows children doesn’t necessarily mean it has the necessary safety features for young children. Is there a drop off in the yard, are there good railings around the pool, is there a pool fence or alarm.
8. It’s very hard to tell what the surrounding area of a house is like from the pictures. That’s when you need a good villa specialist who is personally knowledgeable of the properties. How is access to the house? Is there private parking, and for how many cars (good to know if you’re traveling with a group). Is the house close to a road and will there be road noise? What’s the distance to the local beach, grocery store etc.
9. If you’re bringing a pet remember you must have permission. Most owners require a signed waiver against liability and damage, some request an addition deposit or fee. Ask if there is easy access to a grassy area for the pet to “do his business”, not all villas have a yard.
10. Know what’s included. Is there maid service, how often, and is there an extra fee? Is there a dedicated manager and if so what are her or his duties? Are linens, beach towels, hair dryers, WIFI included? Can you grill outside? What about trash removal? Pool cleaning?
11. Look for reviews on the house and the agency but don’t rely on one or two reviews or sources. Read several. Everyone has a different expectation.
12. Does the agency offer other services to clients, car reservations, dinner reservations and other concierge services, food shopping prearrival, rental items for babies and children etc?
13. Does the agency with whom you’re booking your property have on site or on island presence if you need assistance ?
14. Finally, consider travel insurance, most rentals have stiff cancellation policies and things do happen. Be covered and secure.