Apartment rental tips

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ITN is presenting subscribers’ advice on renting vacation apartments (outside of the US). Last month we covered the advantages and disadvantages of renting. This month we’re listing the sources travelers use to find vacation rentals. In later issues, readers suggest questions to ask the property owner or rental agency, cover practical matters and give appraisals of specific apartments.

If you write in with something to share, please state which city and country you have rented in and approximately when that was. If you decide to name a particular rental property, include contact info for it and state when you stayed there plus the approximate price you paid and what was included.

Write to Apartment Rental Tips, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com (include the address at which you receive ITN). Photos welcome.

I have found that the best way to search for apartments or houses to rent overseas is by using the Internet.

There are many websites that one can use, and a few that I might suggest are those of Owners Direct (Epsom, Surrey, UK; phone +44 [0] 1372 734555); Vacation Rentals by Owner, or VRBO (Austin, TX; 877/228-0710), and Home Away (Austin, TX; 877/202-9331).

I particularly like Owners Direct for European rentals because it is a UK company and many of their landlord clients are from the UK and speak English. I find that being able to speak directly to the owner (without language difficulties) about the property I plan to rent is very important.

Using Owners Direct, you will be able to review many different apartment selections and eliminate many based on location, amenities, price, etc. After deciding on two or three different apartments that meet your criteria, get your questions together and call or e-mail the owners.

Before you call, remember to check on the local time in the city or country you are calling so you don’t call someone in the middle of the night.

Rudy Cajka

Denton, TX

The website of Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) is well organized and simple to navigate. After clicking on the city in which you are interested, on the initial screen it gives the most vital information for different apartments (cost, area, number of bedrooms and how many guests can be accommodated). Our last few rentals have been from this site.

Interior of the second apartment in Buenos Aires rented by the Wil­kersons in February 2010. Photo: Wilkerson

If VRBO doesn’t help, then a Google search of “vacation rentals” plus the location you want will usually bring up several pages of listings. Unfortunately, these vary in usefulness. And many are from groups that include a gazeteer’s worth of place names but actually have listings in only two or three places.

Deciding in which part of a city you want to be located can be the most difficult part of a successful vacation rental. Even small and mid-size cities have distinct neighborhoods. I find the Frommer’s guidebooks’ neighborhood descriptions useful in making an initial evaluation. In addition, I always read guidebooks’ hotel descriptions for the information they give about the surrounding area.

Do you want to be close to the major sights or do you prefer a residential environment? Being in the center of things may mean crowds, traffic noise and food shopping in expensive convenience stores rather than supermarkets. Residential neighborhoods may be quieter, give a more authentic taste of life in that city and offer the opportunity to try local eateries rather than “destination” restaurants but will involve more traveling.

A great deal of guesswork can be eliminated by using a detailed city map in evaluating locations. Early in the evaluation process, request a street address with cross streets and the locations of the nearest mass-transit stops. A “10-minute walk,” “near major attractions” or “convenient to the metro” can mean a variety of things. Your map can help define these.

I have found DK Eyewitness Travel Guides to be particularly useful because they include street address indexes, which may be essential for locating small streets in residential areas.

Marilyn Lutzker

Sunnyside, NY

We have rented apartments for anywhere from one to four weeks.

Aside from using www.intltravelnews.com and www.fodors.com, I start with various websites such as www.tripadvisor.com (Newton, MA; 617/670-6300), which I use the most, www.iloveparisapartments.com and www.vrbo.com, searching for agencies that rent apartments.

I then search again with the agency name to find any reports either positive or negative. I eliminate any agencies with negative reports.

After identifying the apartment choices available in the area we want to stay on the dates we want, I enter into a tabulation each offering, the rental agency, the apartment size, its price and the pluses and minuses.

I then send an e-mail to the agency specifically for that unit on those dates and ask our open questions.

Al Andersen

Plymouth, MA

VRBO is a good site that lists rentals by owners. My two adult children and I rented a thoroughly satisfactory apartment in Provence years ago through VRBO, and it was cheaper than a hotel would have cost.

TripAdvisor sometimes lists apartments for rent.

We have not had problems, so far, in renting self-catering facilities.

Because I am very particular about my surroundings, I search extensively on the Internet and do not settle for anything less than a property whose pictures I find pleasing. I bypass properties that offer few pictures or whose pictures show mainly the view and not much of the rooms, themselves. I choose properties that appear light and cheery.

I also make sure that the unit is situated within easy walking distance of attractions or transportation.

I always communicate with the owners directly by e-mail, asking a few simple questions. How promptly they respond and how helpful they are are indicative of what kind of experience I might expect.

The method of payment varies with each place. An apartment in Bruge accepted credit cards, I prepaid the US owner of an apartment in Provence by check, and in Monterosso in September 2010 we paid in euros at check-in time.

Nancy Tan

Fresno, CA

I have found ITN contributors to be generous with good information. I hope to now repay the favor with what my husband and I have learned, having booked houses and apartments about a dozen times in the last 10 years.

Our self-catering experiences are limited to England, France and Italy.

Renting in a big city is more expensive than renting in the countryside, and sharing a rental with others can dramatically reduce individual costs. We have rented in a single location for as little as three days and as long as two weeks.

Self-catering rental websites fall into two categories: rent directly from the owner and rent through a third-party broker.

Before you start your search, pick out your top one to three areas in the city or area of the country you wish to visit and concentrate your search in those areas. Most travel guides will provide a rundown of city neighborhoods.

Pros of renting from the owner — it’s less expensive. Cons — the owner may not speak English, and it may be difficult to tell, from the photos and information provided, the quality of the rental.

Pros of renting through a brokered site — rentals are usually vetted for quality, and the broker runs interference for you. Cons — it’s more expensive, sometimes significantly so.

If using a rent-by-owner site, such as VRBO or Homelidays (phone +33 [0] 170 75 34 03), read all the information analytically. If it says “one bedroom,” check to see if the bed is truly a bed or just a sofa bed; the latter is quite common. A “matrimonial” bed is a double. For flexibility, owners often put twins in a room and push them together to make a double bed.

Look at all the pictures. Fish-eye views mean the rooms are small and they’re using that lens to give the appearance of greater size. The pictures are showing off each place at its best. If a room looks dark or if lamps are on, that means no light is coming in.

Ask the owner every question you have. A decent owner will respond in a helpful manner. If that doesn’t happen, move on to the next rental on your list.

Terms like “homey” or “in the country” or “rustic style” may translate into “rundown” or “furnished with cast-off old furniture.” Read between the lines!

If renting through a third party, such as www.rentvillas.com (Ventura, CA; 800/726-6702), you should still ask questions, though brokered sites make their living from having satisfied customers, so they tend to keep owners honest.

Set your price range, and set your search delimiters for the number of people, beds, bathrooms, etc., then start looking. Make a short list and start e-mailing inquiries.

I usually make the first inquiry brief, with just the most important details, such as, “My husband and I hope to be in (place) from (date) to (date). We will be traveling with another couple. Your apartment No. XXX looks as if it would meet our needs. Is it available for the dates we need? Thank you.” If the reply is positive, I begin asking more questions.

In addition to VRBO, Homelidays and Rentvillas, we have also booked through Dolce Roma (phone +39 339 2142009) and Gîtes de France (Paris, France; phone +33 [0] 1 49 70 75 75). The latter is an “official website of the French Government Tourist Office,” and rentals are rated and quality-assured.

The following are also of note:

Rentalo (Miami, FL; 305/558-5577) — direct to owner or book on website. Includes B&Bs, hotels and self-catering apartments worldwide.

Owners Direct — The site looks good, with lots of choices, and they’re not expensive. It doesn’t have the best advanced-search function, so have a map handy. (In Spain, self-catering apartments are listed at www.ownersdirect.co.uk/spain.htm.)

Dolores Maminski

Westminster, MD

When my partner and I were planning to visit Spain in April ’09, some friends said that an apartment was a much better option than a hotel or B&B. We decided we would rent one for the Barcelona portion of our trip, since we were going to be there a week.

I searched the Web for “vacation rentals,” and of all the sites that came up I was most satisfied with VRBO. I would recommend it as a good place to start your search.

Each rental listing has lots of pictures. There also are reviews from people who have stayed in the apartments, and the reviews are not censored by the owners. I have sent reviews in, myself, and they printed what I wrote.

You also may judge a rental by how the owner interacts with you.

Jack Lowell

Asheville, NC

My wife and I rented an apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in February 2010. Actually, we rented two apartments, staying 10 days in one part of the city, then moving across town and staying another 10 days. The idea was to stay among the locals and get a feel for two different parts of the city.

After researching several rental agencies and having read Jennifer Petoff’s article “Argentina — Apartment Living in Buenos Aires” (March ’09, pg. 38), we settled on ByT Argentina (Buenos Aires; phone [+54 11] 4876-5000).

The website was very user-friendly and left us with few questions. They had dozens and dozens of rentals in all parts of the city, and we could pick one in our price range and with the amenities we required. Each rental had lots of pictures of the apartment, inside and out. There was a calendar of open dates and the prices.

Looking back, we wonder why something didn’t go wrong — wondering just what (in Spanish) we were signing and not understanding the landlord or cleaning lady — but it must have been a reputable company; they didn’t seem out to take advantage of us, thank goodness!

Phil Wilkerson

Lincoln, KS

When we traveled independently, we used Idyll Untours (Media, PA; 888/868-6871). They have apartments, large and small, in lots of European cities. We found them to be honest and dependable.

Marilyn Gerhardt

Ft. Myers, FL

My wife and I rented an apartment in London’s Chelsea area for two weeks in June ’10. We had searched the Internet for “central London apartment rentals” and were directed to a number of agencies’ sites. Many of these sites were set up to allow searches by area, size of unit and amenities offered.

We ended up renting a unit we found through Central London Apartments.

Robert Major

Norfolk, VA

I have used, with great success, Cottages4you (Stoney Bank, Earby, Barnoldswick, UK; phone +44 [0] 0845 268 0760). They have apartments available in the UK, France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Cyprus. The website is user-friendly, and the information provided is comprehensive and includes reviews by customers.

Their representatives with whom I have spoken have been courteous and helpful. Communications were good.

Of course, ITN is a fabulous source, too! Our favorite place to stay in London, an apartment in Chelsea, was found in ITN’s MART section.

Once we’ve decided on which area we’d like to visit and make our home base, I search Cottages4you and also do a general Web search for “self-catering” plus the area, then cull the lists for those that seem appealing and within our budget.

Most apartments rent by the week, Saturday to Saturday, although some take three-day stays as well.

Quite often the photos look better than the reality. For this reason, and having been severely disappointed (and nearly frozen!) when renting a place in the Zillertal in Austria, we find it important to check references and read comments and reviews from others who have stayed in the apartment.

These may be comments posted on the website, itself, or on an independent site such as www.tripadvisor.com or copies of letters provided by the landlord.

Vicki Schell

Pensacola, FL

My husband and I began renting houses with friends in France in the early 1990s. We have found places in the Minervois region, in Normandy and near Saint-Tropez, mostly using the French gîte guidebook “Nouveaux gîtes de l’année.” (Order from the Librairie des Gîtes de France; phone +33 [0] 1 49 70 75 75. The 2011 guide costs €22 [near $31].)

We rented houses twice directly from owners and once by dealing with the local administrative department’s gîte-rental agency, paying the rental charges directly to them, not to the owner, but more recently we have rented apartments.

We have never rented an apartment from anyone with whom we had had no direct communication, that is, never from an agency. The wonderful apartment we rented in Nice in April ’10, which we found online, was backed up by glowing recent reviews, making us feel good about our first venture into online apartment renting.

Peggy Zeigler

San Francisco, CA

We took our daughter to Paris in November ’08 to celebrate her 50th birthday. Rather than stay in a sterile, cramped hotel, we opted to rent an apartment. We found a great website, www.vacationinparis.com (Newton, NJ; 800/403-4304), which lists over 240 rentals, ranging from single rooms to luxury suites.

As you click on each selection, you get photos of the property plus its location, amenities, cost, nearby transportation, etc. If you want to know more, you can call the 800 number and they will suggest certain apartments based on your criteria.

If you click on “Site Map” at the bottom of the homepage, the list of all 200-plus apartments will be shown. We made an initial call to Vacation in Paris and asked for suggestions based on nearby transportation and stores that were close to the apartment.

We looked at four or five possibilities and, once we found an apartment we liked, just about everything we might want to know was covered; the photos and write-up were very informative.

Edwin Sypolt

Florence, KY

I have rented apartments in Paris for a month in each of the past eight years, plus one year I went to Milan and in 2010 I rented a house in London. When looking for an apartment in Paris, I start looking through sources on the Internet.

Here are some good rental sites: www.parisperfect.com (US phone, 888/520-2087,), www.homeaway.com, www.paristay.com (US fax, 315/282-2377,) and www.parisluxuryrentals.com (Sausalito, CA; 415/642-1111).

I have never used the same resource twice, not because I didn’t like someone’s service but just because I am a shopper.

View from the Paris apartment Sheila Wolfe rented in 2008. Photo: Wolfe

Be aware that the same property may be listed on more than one website, sometimes at different rates.

I choose places by appearance first. I do not like some Parisian rentals that have “lofts” (read balconies) or exposed beams (which probably means the building is very old). I do like a lot of light, so windows are a must, preferably those floor-to-ceiling windows that we call “French doors.”

Because Paris is a city made up of a variety of neighborhoods, I have tried to be in a different arrondissement each time. With this approach, there is always a new local greengrocer and florist and different coffee shops and restaurants to give me a fresh perspective. I know the bus routes, so I can easily get to any place I want, and I prefer to have a bus stop and/or taxi stand within walking distance.

I think the 7th is my favorite arrondissement (7ème), just upstream from the Eiffel Tower, but 16ème, near the Bois de Boulogne and many embassies, has charm.

I select a number of possibilities and e-mail my trip dates to each. (Some websites will list when the properties are available.) I will be corresponding with the owner sometimes or with an agent who represents a number of properties.

Once I have selected the apartment, a deposit is requested, usually a bank transfer, seldom a credit card. Cancellation dates and rates must be established at that time. Final payments are made usually six weeks out.

One year, my apartment looked across the Seine to Notre Dame on Quai de Montebello and would have been perfect except it was over a Subway restaurant and smelled like pizza much of the time. But it fit all of my other requirements. Yes, you take a risk, but it is still Paris.

Sheila Wolfe

San Antonio, TX

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

ITN is presenting subscribers’ advice on renting vacation apartments (outside of the US). Last month we covered the advantages and disadvantages of renting. This month we’re listing the sources travelers use to find vacation rentals. In later issues, readers suggest questions to ask the property owner or rental agency, cover practical matters and give appraisals of specific apartments.

If you write in with something to share, please state which city and country you have rented in and approximately when that was. If you decide to name a particular rental property, include contact info for it and state when you stayed there plus the approximate price you paid and what was included.

Write to Apartment Rental Tips, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com (include the address at which you receive ITN). Photos welcome.

I have found that the best way to search for apartments or houses to rent overseas is by using the Internet.

There are many websites that one can use, and a few that I might suggest are those of Owners Direct (Epsom, Surrey, UK; phone +44 [0] 1372 734555); Vacation Rentals by Owner, or VRBO (Austin, TX; 877/228-0710), and Home Away (Austin, TX; 877/202-9331).

I particularly like Owners Direct for European rentals because it is a UK company and many of their landlord clients are from the UK and speak English. I find that being able to speak directly to the owner (without language difficulties) about the property I plan to rent is very important.

Using Owners Direct, you will be able to review many different apartment selections and eliminate many based on location, amenities, price, etc. After deciding on two or three different apartments that meet your criteria, get your questions together and call or e-mail the owners.

Before you call, remember to check on the local time in the city or country you are calling so you don’t call someone in the middle of the night.

Rudy Cajka

Denton, TX

The website of Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) is well organized and simple to navigate. After clicking on the city in which you are interested, on the initial screen it gives the most vital information for different apartments (cost, area, number of bedrooms and how many guests can be accommodated). Our last few rentals have been from this site.

Interior of the second apartment in Buenos Aires rented by the Wil­kersons in February 2010. Photo: Wilkerson

If VRBO doesn’t help, then a Google search of “vacation rentals” plus the location you want will usually bring up several pages of listings. Unfortunately, these vary in usefulness. And many are from groups that include a gazeteer’s worth of place names but actually have listings in only two or three places.

Deciding in which part of a city you want to be located can be the most difficult part of a successful vacation rental. Even small and mid-size cities have distinct neighborhoods. I find the Frommer’s guidebooks’ neighborhood descriptions useful in making an initial evaluation. In addition, I always read guidebooks’ hotel descriptions for the information they give about the surrounding area.

Do you want to be close to the major sights or do you prefer a residential environment? Being in the center of things may mean crowds, traffic noise and food shopping in expensive convenience stores rather than supermarkets. Residential neighborhoods may be quieter, give a more authentic taste of life in that city and offer the opportunity to try local eateries rather than “destination” restaurants but will involve more traveling.

A great deal of guesswork can be eliminated by using a detailed city map in evaluating locations. Early in the evaluation process, request a street address with cross streets and the locations of the nearest mass-transit stops. A “10-minute walk,” “near major attractions” or “convenient to the metro” can mean a variety of things. Your map can help define these.

I have found DK Eyewitness Travel Guides to be particularly useful because they include street address indexes, which may be essential for locating small streets in residential areas.

Marilyn Lutzker

Sunnyside, NY

We have rented apartments for anywhere from one to four weeks.

Aside from using www.intltravelnews.com and www.fodors.com, I start with various websites such as www.tripadvisor.com (Newton, MA; 617/670-6300), which I use the most, www.iloveparisapartments.com and www.vrbo.com, searching for agencies that rent apartments.

I then search again with the agency name to find any reports either positive or negative. I eliminate any agencies with negative reports.

After identifying the apartment choices available in the area we want to stay on the dates we want, I enter into a tabulation each offering, the rental agency, the apartment size, its price and the pluses and minuses.

I then send an e-mail to the agency specifically for that unit on those dates and ask our open questions.

Al Andersen

Plymouth, MA

VRBO is a good site that lists rentals by owners. My two adult children and I rented a thoroughly satisfactory apartment in Provence years ago through VRBO, and it was cheaper than a hotel would have cost.

TripAdvisor sometimes lists apartments for rent.

We have not had problems, so far, in renting self-catering facilities.

Because I am very particular about my surroundings, I search extensively on the Internet and do not settle for anything less than a property whose pictures I find pleasing. I bypass properties that offer few pictures or whose pictures show mainly the view and not much of the rooms, themselves. I choose properties that appear light and cheery.

I also make sure that the unit is situated within easy walking distance of attractions or transportation.

I always communicate with the owners directly by e-mail, asking a few simple questions. How promptly they respond and how helpful they are are indicative of what kind of experience I might expect.

The method of payment varies with each place. An apartment in Bruge accepted credit cards, I prepaid the US owner of an apartment in Provence by check, and in Monterosso in September 2010 we paid in euros at check-in time.

Nancy Tan

Fresno, CA

I have found ITN contributors to be generous with good information. I hope to now repay the favor with what my husband and I have learned, having booked houses and apartments about a dozen times in the last 10 years.

Our self-catering experiences are limited to England, France and Italy.

Renting in a big city is more expensive than renting in the countryside, and sharing a rental with others can dramatically reduce individual costs. We have rented in a single location for as little as three days and as long as two weeks.

Self-catering rental websites fall into two categories: rent directly from the owner and rent through a third-party broker.

Before you start your search, pick out your top one to three areas in the city or area of the country you wish to visit and concentrate your search in those areas. Most travel guides will provide a rundown of city neighborhoods.

Pros of renting from the owner — it’s less expensive. Cons — the owner may not speak English, and it may be difficult to tell, from the photos and information provided, the quality of the rental.

Pros of renting through a brokered site — rentals are usually vetted for quality, and the broker runs interference for you. Cons — it’s more expensive, sometimes significantly so.

If using a rent-by-owner site, such as VRBO or Homelidays (phone +33 [0] 170 75 34 03), read all the information analytically. If it says “one bedroom,” check to see if the bed is truly a bed or just a sofa bed; the latter is quite common. A “matrimonial” bed is a double. For flexibility, owners often put twins in a room and push them together to make a double bed.

Look at all the pictures. Fish-eye views mean the rooms are small and they’re using that lens to give the appearance of greater size. The pictures are showing off each place at its best. If a room looks dark or if lamps are on, that means no light is coming in.

Ask the owner every question you have. A decent owner will respond in a helpful manner. If that doesn’t happen, move on to the next rental on your list.

Terms like “homey” or “in the country” or “rustic style” may translate into “rundown” or “furnished with cast-off old furniture.” Read between the lines!

If renting through a third party, such as www.rentvillas.com (Ventura, CA; 800/726-6702), you should still ask questions, though brokered sites make their living from having satisfied customers, so they tend to keep owners honest.

Set your price range, and set your search delimiters for the number of people, beds, bathrooms, etc., then start looking. Make a short list and start e-mailing inquiries.

I usually make the first inquiry brief, with just the most important details, such as, “My husband and I hope to be in (place) from (date) to (date). We will be traveling with another couple. Your apartment No. XXX looks as if it would meet our needs. Is it available for the dates we need? Thank you.” If the reply is positive, I begin asking more questions.

In addition to VRBO, Homelidays and Rentvillas, we have also booked through Dolce Roma (phone +39 339 2142009) and Gîtes de France (Paris, France; phone +33 [0] 1 49 70 75 75). The latter is an “official website of the French Government Tourist Office,” and rentals are rated and quality-assured.

The following are also of note:

Rentalo (Miami, FL; 305/558-5577) — direct to owner or book on website. Includes B&Bs, hotels and self-catering apartments worldwide.

Owners Direct — The site looks good, with lots of choices, and they’re not expensive. It doesn’t have the best advanced-search function, so have a map handy. (In Spain, self-catering apartments are listed at www.ownersdirect.co.uk/spain.htm.)

Dolores Maminski

Westminster, MD

When my partner and I were planning to visit Spain in April ’09, some friends said that an apartment was a much better option than a hotel or B&B. We decided we would rent one for the Barcelona portion of our trip, since we were going to be there a week.

I searched the Web for “vacation rentals,” and of all the sites that came up I was most satisfied with VRBO. I would recommend it as a good place to start your search.

Each rental listing has lots of pictures. There also are reviews from people who have stayed in the apartments, and the reviews are not censored by the owners. I have sent reviews in, myself, and they printed what I wrote.

You also may judge a rental by how the owner interacts with you.

Jack Lowell

Asheville, NC

My wife and I rented an apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in February 2010. Actually, we rented two apartments, staying 10 days in one part of the city, then moving across town and staying another 10 days. The idea was to stay among the locals and get a feel for two different parts of the city.

After researching several rental agencies and having read Jennifer Petoff’s article “Argentina — Apartment Living in Buenos Aires” (March ’09, pg. 38), we settled on ByT Argentina (Buenos Aires; phone [+54 11] 4876-5000).

The website was very user-friendly and left us with few questions. They had dozens and dozens of rentals in all parts of the city, and we could pick one in our price range and with the amenities we required. Each rental had lots of pictures of the apartment, inside and out. There was a calendar of open dates and the prices.

Looking back, we wonder why something didn’t go wrong — wondering just what (in Spanish) we were signing and not understanding the landlord or cleaning lady — but it must have been a reputable company; they didn’t seem out to take advantage of us, thank goodness!

Phil Wilkerson

Lincoln, KS

When we traveled independently, we used Idyll Untours (Media, PA; 888/868-6871). They have apartments, large and small, in lots of European cities. We found them to be honest and dependable.

Marilyn Gerhardt

Ft. Myers, FL

My wife and I rented an apartment in London’s Chelsea area for two weeks in June ’10. We had searched the Internet for “central London apartment rentals” and were directed to a number of agencies’ sites. Many of these sites were set up to allow searches by area, size of unit and amenities offered.

We ended up renting a unit we found through Central London Apartments.

Robert Major

Norfolk, VA

I have used, with great success, Cottages4you (Stoney Bank, Earby, Barnoldswick, UK; phone +44 [0] 0845 268 0760). They have apartments available in the UK, France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Cyprus. The website is user-friendly, and the information provided is comprehensive and includes reviews by customers.

Their representatives with whom I have spoken have been courteous and helpful. Communications were good.

Of course, ITN is a fabulous source, too! Our favorite place to stay in London, an apartment in Chelsea, was found in ITN’s MART section.

Once we’ve decided on which area we’d like to visit and make our home base, I search Cottages4you and also do a general Web search for “self-catering” plus the area, then cull the lists for those that seem appealing and within our budget.

Most apartments rent by the week, Saturday to Saturday, although some take three-day stays as well.

Quite often the photos look better than the reality. For this reason, and having been severely disappointed (and nearly frozen!) when renting a place in the Zillertal in Austria, we find it important to check references and read comments and reviews from others who have stayed in the apartment.

These may be comments posted on the website, itself, or on an independent site such as www.tripadvisor.com or copies of letters provided by the landlord.

Vicki Schell

Pensacola, FL

My husband and I began renting houses with friends in France in the early 1990s. We have found places in the Minervois region, in Normandy and near Saint-Tropez, mostly using the French gîte guidebook “Nouveaux gîtes de l’année.” (Order from the Librairie des Gîtes de France; phone +33 [0] 1 49 70 75 75. The 2011 guide costs €22 [near $31].)

We rented houses twice directly from owners and once by dealing with the local administrative department’s gîte-rental agency, paying the rental charges directly to them, not to the owner, but more recently we have rented apartments.

We have never rented an apartment from anyone with whom we had had no direct communication, that is, never from an agency. The wonderful apartment we rented in Nice in April ’10, which we found online, was backed up by glowing recent reviews, making us feel good about our first venture into online apartment renting.

Peggy Zeigler

San Francisco, CA

We took our daughter to Paris in November ’08 to celebrate her 50th birthday. Rather than stay in a sterile, cramped hotel, we opted to rent an apartment. We found a great website, www.vacationinparis.com (Newton, NJ; 800/403-4304), which lists over 240 rentals, ranging from single rooms to luxury suites.

As you click on each selection, you get photos of the property plus its location, amenities, cost, nearby transportation, etc. If you want to know more, you can call the 800 number and they will suggest certain apartments based on your criteria.

If you click on “Site Map” at the bottom of the homepage, the list of all 200-plus apartments will be shown. We made an initial call to Vacation in Paris and asked for suggestions based on nearby transportation and stores that were close to the apartment.

We looked at four or five possibilities and, once we found an apartment we liked, just about everything we might want to know was covered; the photos and write-up were very informative.

Edwin Sypolt

Florence, KY

I have rented apartments in Paris for a month in each of the past eight years, plus one year I went to Milan and in 2010 I rented a house in London. When looking for an apartment in Paris, I start looking through sources on the Internet.

Here are some good rental sites: www.parisperfect.com (US phone, 888/520-2087,), www.homeaway.com, www.paristay.com (US fax, 315/282-2377,) and www.parisluxuryrentals.com (Sausalito, CA; 415/642-1111).

I have never used the same resource twice, not because I didn’t like someone’s service but just because I am a shopper.

View from the Paris apartment Sheila Wolfe rented in 2008. Photo: Wolfe

Be aware that the same property may be listed on more than one website, sometimes at different rates.

I choose places by appearance first. I do not like some Parisian rentals that have “lofts” (read balconies) or exposed beams (which probably means the building is very old). I do like a lot of light, so windows are a must, preferably those floor-to-ceiling windows that we call “French doors.”

Because Paris is a city made up of a variety of neighborhoods, I have tried to be in a different arrondissement each time. With this approach, there is always a new local greengrocer and florist and different coffee shops and restaurants to give me a fresh perspective. I know the bus routes, so I can easily get to any place I want, and I prefer to have a bus stop and/or taxi stand within walking distance.

I think the 7th is my favorite arrondissement (7ème), just upstream from the Eiffel Tower, but 16ème, near the Bois de Boulogne and many embassies, has charm.

I select a number of possibilities and e-mail my trip dates to each. (Some websites will list when the properties are available.) I will be corresponding with the owner sometimes or with an agent who represents a number of properties.

Once I have selected the apartment, a deposit is requested, usually a bank transfer, seldom a credit card. Cancellation dates and rates must be established at that time. Final payments are made usually six weeks out.

One year, my apartment looked across the Seine to Notre Dame on Quai de Montebello and would have been perfect except it was over a Subway restaurant and smelled like pizza much of the time. But it fit all of my other requirements. Yes, you take a risk, but it is still Paris.

Sheila Wolfe

San Antonio, TX