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Regal Rentals

Whether It's a Mansion on Mustique or a Castle in Cork, Renting A Luxurious Vacation Home May Cost Less Than You Think
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 3)

"We never rent a villa if we do not have an on-island manager," says Jan Gordon of WIMCO, another full-service agency. "Our clients are met when they get off of the plane and are accompanied to the villa. The manager does not leave until they've shown the guests all the features. We don't mail out directions and leave the guests on their own. Every house has been toured by at least one of our reservationists, so we can recommend which houses are best for families with children, the elderly or those who have special needs."

Full-service agencies also offer travel arrangements, such as airfare and car rentals, as well as other services. Popular requests include provisioning the home with groceries and arranging masseuses, babysitters, chefs, yacht charters, and tennis and golf access. These agencies also tend to have someone on-call nearby, in case the guest encounters any difficulties or has additional questions, such as recommendations for restaurants or nearby attractions.

Renting from the owners themselves also offers a few advantages. Hideaways International's Vaughan notes that "since no fee goes to a property manager, you generally get the best price. This is the biggest difference." The owners can also be more flexible in terms of negotiating an unusual deal, such as a longer- or shorter-than-normal stay, or an off-season visit. What's more, no one knows the property better than the owners, who are familiar with all the operational issues, such as appliances, and know the local area more intimately. As Vaughan says, "Many times property managers have never even seen the home."

On the other hand, because owners are more eager to rent their homes, they may be less inclined to discourage guests for whom the home might not be appropriate. Owners generally don't accept credit cards or provide other support services. And, in the event of a disappointing or misleading experience, renters who deal directly with the owners often have less recourse. This is especially true abroad, where you do not have the American legal system to fall back on. Going through an agency, however, does not guarantee satisfaction, and thousands of happy customers have gone direct.

To rent direct, there are two options. One of the best places to find owners is in the classified advertisements of suitable publications, such as a sports or regional publication. Michael Thiel, founder of Hideaways, has published a book, Villa Vacations Made Easy, in which he recommends Caribbean Travel & Life, Golf Digest, Tennis and university alumni magazines as good sources. Others include Ski, Skiing and Islands magazines.

The second option is to go through groups such as Hideaways or the World Wide Home Rental Guide, which send subscribers a catalog containing advertisements from owners. These publications make their money on advertisements rather than rental fees. Hideaways also has a $99 annual membership fee, for which it tracks comments from its 18,000 members and makes them available to customers interested in particular properties.

Unlike the full-service agencies, which tend to concentrate on one or several countries, these guides cover a wider variety of destinations around the world. Since the owners write the advertisements, the information may be presented less clearly than in the full-service catalogs.

Many rental clubs or agencies also serve as U.S. agents for villa management firms abroad, especially in Europe. You can obtain the same catalogs of French vacation homes from different U.S. agencies. Since there is little exclusivity in the listings, identical homes are featured in many of the catalogs. Traditional travel agents can also book rental homes for customers, and in fact, 95 percent of LaCure's business comes through travel agents. However, for firsthand descriptions of the properties, go to the source--the rental agency or owner.

Prices vary greatly by location and by season, but these factors tend to affect nearby hotel prices as well. Due to their size, home rentals are popular with groups vacationing together, especially with children. Many renters also bring their nannies from home. Whether or not price is an object, few hotels can adequately accommodate three or four families and nannies traveling together.

"Suppose you go with two or three couples and the villa costs five hundred dollars a night," says Healy, the venture capitalist. "You have privacy and the pool to yourself. It beats a hotel six ways to Sunday." Families with children also find that dining on the premises can be a lot easier.

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