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Renting Your Own Italian Villa

Who wouldn't want to live in an Italian villa and watch the morning breeze turn your olive grove into waves of rippling silver? Or sip your Chianti as sunset splashes scarlet, gold and purple across the Tuscany hillside?

What if you could have all that and not have to spend a lot of money or worry about maintenance year-round? By renting a villa, you can have an authentic, living-in-Italy experience for one, two, three weeks, or more.

For rental purposes, "villa" is a catchall term. You can experience virtually any type of property that your imagination can conjure up.

The advantages of renting versus staying in a hotel are many. Great locations and ambiance at per-person priced hotels can't be matched. On the other hand, rentals lack hotel services. There's usually no staff to clean your room or make your bed daily. No front desk, concierge, or room service.

"If you're the kind of person who needs five-star standards and pampering, you probably shouldn't rent," says Suzanne Pidduck of Ventura, California's Rentvillas.com.

There are big differences between Italian and American homes. Such features as air conditioning, window screens and clothes dryers are often absent - Italians like the open air for breathing and laundering. Plumbing can be balky and appliances may work differently from their US counterparts. "The happiest renters have a spirit of adventure that dealing with these things is part of the experience," Pidduck notes.

If demand is any indicator, the pluses beat the minuses handily.

"You should reserve as far in advance as possible," says Martin Wenick of Italian Vacation Villas, located in Washington, DC. Expect a lead-time of at least nine months to a year for properties sleeping eight or more people.

Summer is high season because it's the easiest time for adults and children to coordinate vacations. Fall and spring are optimal in terms of cost, weather and avoiding crowds of tourists. Winter offers the lowest prices, but many properties are closed, and those that aren't, require you to pay for heat, which can be expensive. Hint: Make like the Italians and wear a sweater indoors or look for properties in milder Southern Italy.

Villas may be available to rent through your local travel agent or you may have to use a broker who represents a variety of properties, or directly through individual owners. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars per person to several thousand. It all depends on the quality of the property and how many people are sharing the cost. Renting from owners can often mean saving money because you avoid commissions. Brokers, however, offer a bigger safety net if problems develop during your stay. They usually have representatives in Italy who can make quick repairs or move you to another property if necessary - something an owner of just one house can't do.

A good broker will also analyze your requirements and present you with a list of three to 10 possibilities, or let you make selections according to their suggestions.

"A good broker should explain any deficiencies," says Mario Scalzi of The Parker Company, a villa-rental firm in Lynn, Mass. "We spend as much time going over the drawbacks of each property as we do the benefits. That way, when you arrive, the only surprises you'll have will be good ones."

Read the rental agreement carefully to make sure you understand what's provided as well as all conditions, costs and penalties. Usually included with your rental are full furnishings, a kitchen with cookware and appliances for cooking and refrigeration, towels and bed linens, water, electricity, and cleaning before arrival and after departure. Food, cleaning detergents and heat are not included, nor is electricity if there is air-conditioning.

A deposit of 30 to 75 percent of the rental fee is usually required to reserve your villa; the balance is normally due 60 days before arrival. These payments are often fully forfeited if you then cancel. Trip insurance is highly recommended and may be available through your broker. The cost is usually about six to seven percent of the total rental charge, and you'll be covered for cancellation due to injury, illness, and other unforeseen events. (It does not cover simply changing your mind.)

Additional fees involved in renting your villa normally include a security deposit. Both of these are normally payable when you are in Italy; the security deposit is given back when you return the key or within a month of your return. Some brokers also charge a booking fee of $50 or so.

Renting Your Own Italian Villa