Renting an Apartment Online

5 Things to Look for When Renting an Apartment Online

Can you imagine waking up in Paris in your own apartment? Sending your husband (or wife!) down to the local patisserie store to pick up fresh croissants, then enjoying them together on the balcony as you look down over the city?

Renting a city apartment seems to be a popular travel dream, with Paris everyone’s favourite destination.

After writing about the top 10 cities for travelers to rent an apartment for the booking site Wimdu I was amazed by the enthusiasm surrounding renting a house or apartment with so many people leaving positive comments about their experiences like Jenny who said:

“I’m convinced apartment living is the way to go. It also means you can stay longer in a city and really get to know it.”

Leanne, another reader and fellow travel blogger, also enjoys the space, convenience and lower costs of renting an apartment for families and explained:

“now that we travel with our kids, renting our own apartment versus staying in a hotel (where we need two rooms) makes so much more sense for us, both space and cost wise. Plus we’re in a neighbourhood, shopping at markets, dropping into cafes – love it!”

You don’t have to convince me of the joys of renting an apartment though, I’m right into it, having lived in rental homes in Costa Rica and Australia for over five years now so I’m happy to share another Wimdu inspired post

The best thing is it’s never been easier to rent an apartment overseas than it is now. There are a smorgasbord of dedicated apartment rental sites around with thousands of apartments to choose from, including fresh new upstart Wimdu as well as old suspects like Craig’s List, but it’s always a case of buyer beware.

We mostly hear about happy holiday makers and their apartment rentals but there’s the odd horror story too and we can learn for that.

Take the strange case of my fabulous style blogging friend Nikki Parkinson who just got back from New York where she rented an apartment online. The apartment was great but the excitement of being in New York was tarnished just a tad when she opened the apartment door one afternoon to find a debt collector delivering court papers for unpaid rent.

This interruption was swiftly followed up by a visit from the building superintendent who told Nikki that a court-martial would be around in a day or two to seize the property.

Not fun. Of course Nikki did the sensible thing which was pack her bags, find somewhere else to stay and leave immediately.

Hopefully the three nights she paid for and her security deposit will be reimbursed but it’s just not what you want to happen when you’re on holiday in a strange country.

So how can you make sure your apartment rental experience is dreamy?

What to Look for When Renting an Apartment Online

1. Talk to the owners

This is especially important if you’re renting an apartment from a private advertisement but highly recommended even if you’re using an apartment rental booking site. Wimdu allows you to direct message with the owners so you can find out more about the apartment and availability but I’d speak to the owners on Skype too to make sure they are genuine.

Traditionally we think the apartment renters wear the risk of hosting dodgy tenants but there are a few dodgy landlords out there. Most people will be happy to talk to you and if they’re not you should wonder why.

2. Inspect every property

You probably won’t be able to do this yourself but you might have a local friend who will be kind enough to go round and check out the  property. Even a quick drive by can give them an idea of the neighbourhood and neighbours.

One thing that makes Wimdu stand out from most other apartment booking sites is that all the accommodation on Wimdu has been checked out by them. You can also read feedback from other guests who’ve stayed there before.

3. Get insurance

Just in case something does go horribly wrong make sure you have insurance. No one ever plans to set fire to the kitchen, flood the bathroom or spill a glass of red wine on the cream carpet but accidents happen. Especially if you have kids in tow or if you are chronically accident prone like me.

Wimdu insures all guests against damages for up to €500,000 free of charge.

4. Use a safe payment system

You nearly always have to pay a deposit in advance when you’re renting an apartment but you can avoid being ripped off by making sure you really know who you’re paying.

Speaking to the owners will help but Wimdu also has a safe payment system where they hold onto your payment and it is only transferred to the owners 24 hours after check in.

5. Trust your instincts

If anything seems strange or suspicious, like when the listing address isn’t the same as the apartment address and warning bells ring then pull out and do contact the site to let them know your concerns.

There are plenty of apartments to rent all over the world  – on Wimdu alone you can choose anything from a stylish safari tent in the bush in Australia if you’re into glamping, to a luxury Sydney penthouse – so keep searching until you find the right place and are confident everything is above-board.

It’s obvious why renting an apartment when you travel is becoming more and more popular and, while there are a few horror stories around, you won’t come home with a horror story if you  follow these tips.

Instead, you’ll be boring your friends with stories about those flaky croissants, and browsing the Internet as you start dreaming about and planning your next apartment rental holiday.

Have you got any tips about renting apartments or houses? We’d love to hear your experiences, both good and bad. 

Author: Annabel Candy

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living September 12, 2012 at 3:01 am

I’ve always wanted to do that for a longer-term stay in say Panama.

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Annabel Candy September 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Hi Sonia,

I have a friend with an apartment in the old city – it would be a great place to stay, definitely our favourite part of Panama City:)

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Tracey September 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Have had only good experiences so far…(2)…and about to do a third.
Both times so far have been through VRBO.com (Vacation rentals by owners), in Whistler and also New York. Everything as advised and pictured, and very happy with apartments. Our next one is in Paris through perfectlyparis.com – such an economical way to see big cities instead of hotels (even though our NY apartment could only fit one person in the kitchen at a time!!).

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Annabel Candy September 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Hi Tracey,

That’s brilliant, I’m sure 99% of experiences are great. Lol, sounds like you got a true NYC living experience there:)

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[email protected] September 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Some great tips Annabel for renting apartments so that the experience does not end in tears. Every now and again you hear of a bad experience which keeps you on your toes but most of the time it’s the way to go. I always suggest to people to make any payments via credit card if they can. If not #4 is the way to go! Thanks for the mention!

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Annabel Candy September 12, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Hi Jenny,

That’s a good tip thank you. I think there are escrow payment systems which are safe too.

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Leanne (Getaway Guru) September 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Thanks for the mention Annabel.

You highlight what are the key steps for me in successfully booking your next holiday rental. I too have been told of people’s experiences of being scammed when booking holiday rentals and it’s why I believe your #1 point of ‘talk to the owners’ is so important. The stories I was told involved email hacking but when calls were made to the owners to confirm, the scams were uncovered.

Like Jenny, I think # 4 is also important point. Avoid wire transfers.

All in all, trust your instincts, do your homework and you’ll reap the rewards. There’s no other way to go for me!

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Annabel Candy September 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Hi Leanne,

Email hacking? How does that work? Sounds like actually talking to people face to face is important.

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Leanne (Getaway Guru) September 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Annabel,
it seems to be the new form of scamming on holiday rental sites. Owners emails get hacked and emails diverted to the scammer who ‘makes’ the booking and takes the $.

Easily thwarted by, as you say, pick up the phone (if at anytime something just doesn’t seem right).

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Annabel Candy September 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Hi Leanne,

Thanks for clarifying. Sounds like a good reason for us all to make sure we have decent passwords too! I find Lastpass really useful for storing and creating multiple passwords:)

Nikki @ Styling You September 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Great post Annabel! Yes, we did get a refund of the nights not used and the security deposit – it helped that we booked through Airbnb – they hold the monies until after the stay. And all conversations I had with the “host” were kept on the Airbnb message system.

What I’ve since learned from readers’ response to my story is that it’s actuallly illegal in NYC to sublet an apartment for under 30 days!

My biggest advice – if something doesn’t seem right in the inquiry booking process, then step away and find something else!

Oh, and have space on a credit card for backup accommodation!!!

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Annabel Candy September 12, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Hi Nikki,

Thanks for the follow up – so glad you got a refund. It goes to show it pays to book with a professional company and that’s a good tip about keeping records of what was agreed. Ah yes, emergency funds are always good to have – and hopefully not needed so they can be spent on travel mementoes – or clothes;)

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Jo October 27, 2012 at 6:30 pm

We have rented apartments (our preferred accm) in Paris, Quito, Cusco, Las Vegas from VRBO and have had amazing local experiences each time. It really does feel like you a living like a local and so much more comfy than hotels. Prefer to use Paypal – would not wire.

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