Q: I’m thinking of renting a vacation place from an individual owner instead of staying in a hotel. What should I consider?

A: Vacations should be a time to relax and enjoy some down time. Whether you choose to rent a private home, stay in a bed-and-breakfast or splurge on a fancy hotel depends on your personality, desires and pocketbook.

For starters, some people crave privacy, while others prefer to schmooze with others and network about local shopping and attractions. Private homes offer the greatest degree of privacy since there are no other guests or staff to bump into while strolling indoors or out. For sunbathers or honeymooners, private homes can be a slice of heaven.

On the other hand, there are some drawbacks to renting single-family residences. They are designed and built for private use. As a result, most private home rentals are not regulated by government agencies, including the health department. Some people prefer the peace of mind knowing the place has been inspected and approved for cleanliness and sanitary conditions.

Fire safety in private homes is also a concern for some renters, since adequate or well-placed smoke alarms, exits and fire extinguishers are usually not required for single-family residences. As a result of safety issues, some areas are considering laws to curb the use of private residences. San Bernardino County in southern California has effectively outlawed use of private residences for short-term rental use.

For handicapped renters, private residence access is not required or guaranteed. Convenient access for some visitors may be limited as a result. Naturally, any commercial rental is regulated by a myriad of health and safety laws designed to protect both long- and short-term visitors.

Some people like the added luxury of a concierge, too, something you won’t find in a private rental. Staying in an unfamiliar area is daunting to some, a fun challenge or adventure for others.

1. Cost. Prices vary as widely as the possible selections. When deciding on a cost basis, try to compare locations and amenities, and consider length of stay when you do the math. For example, a private estate with pool and tennis court in California’s Napa Valley is offered for $19,000 a month, while a lower-priced bed and breakfast-type inn fetches $3,844. A deluxe resort in Napa Valley, with amenities such as pool, tennis courts and on-site masseuse, fetches $1,299 nightly, or just over $40,000 for a month’s getaway.

Another part of the equation? How many people are in your party? While some hotels and commercial accommodations provide large rooms, they rarely can compare to the space a private rental offers. If you’re traveling with a group or family, a private abode usually provides more space for a lot less money than a hotel or inn can offer.

Payment methods may affect your decision, too. If deferring the cost is important, stick to commercial accommodations that accept credit cards. Since most private owners do not take credit cards, some vacationers may find paying up front a bit inconvenient. Another positive aspect to credit card use? If there’s a dispute, you can summon your card company to put a hold on the bill. If you pay a private owner in advance, the only recourse for disputes may be small-claims court.

2. Dining. The difference between private rentals, bed-and-breakfasts and hotels depends on your appetite for adventure or relaxation. While a private home offers a “home away from home,” it usually mirrors home in the kitchen, too, including the need to shop, cook and wash the dishes. For some, the idea of cooking and doing the laundry in a new venue is hardly a vacation.

Naturally, most hotels and inns offer a range of dining, from home-cooked meals to lavish restaurants. While adding to the cost of the trip, having food brought to your table may be worth it.

3. Disputes. What happens when you are unsatisfied with your stay? Private homes don’t come equipped with a front desk, which can cause frustration to a dissatisfied renter. Naturally, hotels and the like provide on-site, sometimes 24-hour staffing to resolve accommodation disputes. For example, if the room isn’t up to par (or as promised in the brochure) a hotel can upgrade you to a larger space or reimburse you for any inconvenience. If a private rental isn’t up to par, or as advertised, you may be out of luck or headed to court.

By planning ahead and analyzing your needs, you can decide which choice gives you the features you’re seeking so you can relax and enjoy your vacation.

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