Rent somebody else's house when traveling - and save money over hotel rooms

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Rent somebody else's house when traveling - and save money over hotel roomsShort-term rental services are booming as homeowners seek help avoiding foreclosure.

Money Magazine is telling travelers, don't rent a hotel. In this troubled real estate economy, rent somebody's home instead.

If you're a traveler, here's how to get started.

Websites like Airbnb.com, HomeAway.com, FlipKey.com and Craigslist are the best known and all of them are enjoying a surge of new listings. Money suggests that you ask for references and seek out rentals that let you pay via credit card, so you can dispute charges if things are not as they should be.

Personally, over the last few years, I've rented from HomeAway.com and its sister site VRBO.com a couple of dozen times in many parts of the country and Mexico and have had only a few disappointments. I think the key is to ask a lot of questions about things that will trouble you if they aren't available or aren't up to snuff.
  • We've gotten into the habit of asking about the age of the bedding. If the property owner is vague, I take that as a sign to look elsewhere.
  • When we choose a beach property, I'm also picky about the view. "Ocean view" can mean anything, including a glimpse available only if you stand on the roof and crane your neck. Insist on knowing where the owner was standing when those beautiful ocean views were shot.
  • Another turnoff for me are owners who want to charge extra for things I think ought to be part of the deal. For instance, I expect Internet to be included in the price. I don't want to pay extra for pool heat, and I'm flatly unwilling to pay a large cleaning charge. To my mind, cleaning the place between guests is part of running a lodging business.
  • Don't hesitate to negotiate, especially for a reservation within a month or for a long stay. Having the place filled is a much better deal for the owner even if they don't get top dollar.
If you are a property owner and you want to get started in this business, here's what you can expect to pay to list your property:
  • Airbnb.com – its full name is AirBed & Breakfast – is the newest of these sites. Since its founding in 2007, it has grown to encompass rentals in 5,700 cities in 148 countries. The company charges 10% to travelers and 3% to the homeowner.
  • HomeAway.com charges homeowners $300 annually to list a property -- nothing to renters. It is adding 15,000 new properties each month.
  • FlipKey.com charges homeowners $19.99 per month if you sign an annual contract. Renters don't pay pay.
  • Craigslist is free of charge in all but major cities.
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