Internet booking offers you the opportunity to see what you're getting, sort of, but listing lingo can be a minefield that you need to pick through carefully. Remember when you log on to a site, that each listing will show the best angles, the best light, the beautiful pool. They don't show you the cramped kitchen counters or the bathroom that needs updating.
With so many resources available, it's important to decipher who you will be dealing with. If possible, ask friends and associates for referrals to agencies they may have dealt with and can attest to the quality of their services. Another key factor is the actual location of the agency. Are they in the city or country you'll be visiting? In one bad experience I had, the agency was located off site in the western U.S. while promising delivery in downtown London. There are no oversight boards for these middlemen, so choose your booking agent carefully or deal with the owners directly.
When logging on to choose your ideal vacation haven, read between the lines of each listing. If something sounds dubious, e.g. one or two bedrooms, this might mean that the second bedroom is a closet, large hallway or the living room with sofa bed. What's obvious to Americans may not be straightforward in another culture. When my family traveled to Italy, we were surprised to find out that a listing for two-bedroom, two-bath, eat-in kitchen, meant there was no living room. We had just assumed there was a living room -- wouldn't you? Even different areas of the U.S. have different standards. Central air conditioning is a must in the Arizona desert, but not that preferable at a Northeast beachside cottage.
So be choosy, and be particular. Once you have narrowed down your choices, try locating the same house on competing websites. Many agencies share the same listings and you may be able to negotiate a lower rate if you can provide some examples of competitive pricing. For added savings, try booking off-season. You can also gain discounts if you have fewer people than a house holds or opt to do your own clean up.
Finally, when you walk in the door, be flexible. You're tired from a long journey, and anxious about what you'll find. The surprise that your pool will be shared for instance, may mean play pals for the kids, and new friends for you to have drinks with at sunset. It's time away from your busy life, enjoy and make the best of it. It's your new home, at least for a short while.
Vacation Rental Agency Picks: In The English Manner (England) www.english-manner.com; Drawbridge to Europe Inc. (Europe) www.drawbridgetoeurope.com; A1 Vacation Properties (U.S., Caribbean and International) www.a1vacationproperties.com; Rentvillas.com (International) www.rentvillas.com.