Tips for regret-free villa renting

An infinity pool overlooks lush forest at this rental villa in Costa Rica.
Exclusive Resorts
An infinity pool overlooks lush forest at this rental villa in Costa Rica.

Imagine this as your next vacation rental: One of 17 private residences set on 30 acres in the lush jungles of Costa Rica on the south side of Peninsula Papagayo. Your getaway home sits on a cliff with expansive outdoor-indoor living, four large bedrooms, a pro chef kitchen, and a private infinity pool and hot tub. Sound nice?

How about this one: One of eight private casitas in Los Cabos, Mexico, with four bedrooms and a large outdoor dining area, shaded patios with ocean views, and access to the Punta Ballena Beach Club amenities (restaurant, pool, fitness).

These are just two of the popular villa rentals offered by Exclusive Resorts, a leading travel destination club with more than 400 private properties worldwide. Browsing through Exclusive Resorts’ collection is like reading a vacation dream book. But villas (a fancy word for private residences) come in all shapes and sizes to fit all budgets, and their popularity is surging.


“Villa rentals are definitely on the rise,” says Cathy Ross, CEO of Exclusive Resorts. “When we launched the Club in 2003, we had maybe 20 or 30 homes and 50 to 100 members. Today we offer more than 350 luxury residences and have 4,200 members. For a growing number of people, this is simply a better way to vacation.”

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Villa rentals are especially appealing to families, who like the added space.

“Our clients ask for villas when they want privacy and total togetherness,” says Judy Stein, co-president of Ovation Vacations, a Virtuoso Agency in New York. “It’s about quality time and not having to mingle or be with other guests.”

It can often save you money, too, considering that you don’t have to pay for multiple hotel rooms; you don’t have to eat every meal out, and you probably won’t have to pay for extras like parking and Wi-Fi. Sound good? Decide where you want to go, what your budget is, and what you need in a property, and then consider these tips.

If it sounds too good to be true . . .

There are thousands of homes to rent and a huge fluctuation in quality and price. Before you hit the “book it now” button and punch in your credit card number, ask more questions. Often that bargain price does not include fine print extras.


“Be careful about additional fees,” cautions Ross. “Look for hidden costs like insurance, housekeeping, and reservation or administration fees.”

Don’t trust the photos

Any hot shot with Photoshop or a well-angled iPhone can make a property look good. That beautiful view of the ocean? It was taken from the neighbor’s house across the street. The lovely deck and pool? That photo was snapped several years ago. You get the point. Instead, work with a reputable agency or company specializing in villa rentals, and ask for recommendations from recent renters. Experts also say that renting villas on the grounds of a well-known hotel or resort increases the odds of it being well-maintained. Bottom line is you should talk to someone who has actually been there recently.

“The last thing you can do is trust photos on a website,” says Stein. “The important part from our perspective is that we never sell a villa rental that we haven’t seen personally, or that the villa specialist we’re working with, and trust implicitly, hasn’t seen firsthand.”

Consider location and layout

Do you want to be close to town, a grocery store, and activities, or would you prefer a more isolated experience? Do you want access to resort-style amenities like restaurants, spas, kids’ clubs and fitness centers? (Many villas offer resort access, located within private, gated communities within the resort.) Decide what location best suits your needs. Also, consider the home’s size and layout. “For families with young children, ask about special accommodations — like bunk beds or cribs,” suggests Ross. “It’s also important to make sure the villa works for all members of your group, especially young children or grandparents who may not be able to climb stairs or need special safety features.”

Other things to consider: Is there emergency help nearby? Does the local host speak English? Is there air conditioning in all the rooms? “Air conditioning is super important, especially in Italy and other European destinations where many villas do not have central air,” says Stein. “If you’re traveling in the summer months, this is the first point we address.”

Ask about extra perks


Don’t be shy; many villas will accommodate extra requests such as baby supplies, board games, sports equipment, water toys, use of a car, private chef, and more. They may even be able to organize local tours, airport pickups, and private, exclusive excursions. “Many times, homes can come with lots of extra amenities, like cribs for babies or gear rentals for skiing, but you must ask for those items if they’re important to you,” says Ross. And, be sure you confirm ahead of time if there’s an extra cost for these items.

Make sure someone has your back

We all know that even with careful planning and research, the best laid plans can go awry. What happens when the toilet backs up, the roof leaks, or the power goes out? Or the accommodations were not as advertised? You need to make sure, before you arrive, that you have a contact available 24/7 in case of emergency. “Make sure there’s an owner’s representative on site,” says Ross. “A vacation is too special, and if anything goes wrong, you want someone on the ground to fix it right away.”

Also inquire about refund policies and insurance options. Or, research independent traveler and trip policies at

Then sit back and enjoy your home away from home.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at