** NEW: How to Find a Good Villa Rental Agency for Italy Rentals (Free Italy Travel Advice)**
Villa rental agencies for Italy are not created equal; they come in all shapes and sizes. The best agencies are run by people who hand pick their properties, inspect them annually, have close relationships with the property owners and have well-trained, knowledgeable staff who will spend the time to help you make your decision.
Large agencies with many employees and hundreds of listings do not always give a traveler the personal assistance they need. I have dealt with agencies where you talk to a different person each time you call or e-mail and the details of your reservation get confused. They do not know their properties or the towns where the places are located.
Some large agencies, like Rentvillas, overcome this by assigning each client a personal representative, creating a small agency feel within a large agency. They also have very detailed property listings, with lots of photos, so you can get all the information you need from the Web site.
Some large Italian agencies, like Summer in Italy, are really small agencies in disguise. They may have hundreds of properties, but they are a family run business with everyone actively involved in the daily operation by visiting properties, talking with owners and helping clients. Their office is near the Amalfi Coast where they have most of their villa rentals.
Small agencies with only one or two people (usually the owners) but offering hundreds of listings may not know their properties in enough detail to offer good advice. They may be representing one of the large villa rental databases. But there are exceptions, like Italian Vacation Villas, whose owners visit each one of the properties they represent.
Other smaller agencies limit their collection of properties. The owners usually know their properties in detail and have good travel experience. But, their prices may be higher and their listings may be limited to a small geographic area.
Vacanza Bella does not have hundreds of listings, but they do have properties throughout Italy, offering a range of styles and prices. ItalyPerfect has a great selection of apartments but they are limited to Florence and Rome.
Download Dream of Italy's
Guide to Renting a Villa in Italy!
This FREE how-to guide will give you everything you need to know about renting a villa in Italy...
Yes, I want to learn how to find the hidden gems of Italian villas -- send me the guide! I understand that I'll also receive FREE monthly Italy travel email updates.
Farms or estates with several cottages or apartments are not classified as rental agencies, but they really are small agencies. We're not talking about a single vacation homeowner trying to get a bit of extra income by listing their property on VRBO.com. This is someone with several villa rentals offered year-round. While many of these estates are represented by other agencies, they also run their own Web sites and do their own bookings. The advantage of booking directly with the estate owner is that you get the best price. Once you arrive at the villa rental, no matter how you made your reservation, you are dealing with the owner, so why not book with them too?
There are many good farms and estates with villa rentals; for example, Le Manzinaie rentals
on a farm near Montepulciano, Brigolante apartments on a farm near Assisi, or Le Case Gialle apartments on a farm near Bevagna.
How do I select a good agency?
I read the SlowTrav.com vacation rental reviews and the travel forums to find out which agencies people are using. I want an agency that is honest in describing their properties, provides good service during then booking process, and has someone available close by if I have problems during my stay.
The things I look for include:
Is their Web site good? Is it nicely set up and user friendly? Are there good descriptions and photos of the properties? Is there general tourist information about the areas they cover? These things indicate that the company cares about its business and wants to give you as much information as possible. You should be able to do most of your research on the Web site, calling only to get some personal advice.
Do they tell you who they are? Does the Web site tell you about the agency owners and their experience? I hesitate to do business with an agency that I know nothing about.
Do they answer their e-mail? Sounds basic, but you would be surprised how many agencies don't respond to e-mail. If you hope to do everything online, send them an e-mail to see if they reply. Some local Italian agencies are infamous for never replying to e-mail, preferring to work by phone.
How are they to deal with on the phone? Ten years ago I was trying to find a good short-term apartment rental agency for New York City because my husband was working there one week a month and I thought an apartment would be a better alternative to a hotel. Every agency I called to ask about the types of apartments they had said, "What are your dates?" I tried to explain that I did not have dates yet, but wanted to talk to them about what kinds of places they had.
The response was, "Call us when you have your dates." It is that "asses in seats" (or in beds, in the case of villa rentals) mentality that I do not want to deal with and, unfortunately, that is what you get from some of the large agencies. Phone and ask for some basic advice. See how they respond and if they offer to guide you through the villa selection process. Ask if they are willing to provide references from previous clients who have stayed at their properties.
Photo by rdesai on flickr.com