Gimme Shelter: Finding Short Term Housing

Update: We originally write this in late 2011 and nearly two years later, the short-term rental market has expanded dramatically. If you’re curious to see what’s beyond the typical hotel experience, this is an excellent time to experiment. We’re glad we can give you our tried-and-true tips for a great experience!

In August 2011, we gave up our apartment.

Since then, we’ve stayed in more than 20 short-term rental units: apartments, condos, beach houses, ski chalets, mother-in-laws, and even regular ol’ houses.

A short-term rental is better than you’d think:

  • Comforts of home: we get a complete kitchen, big comfy couch, and space to spread out. The, utilities, cable and internet are ready to go. We unpack our clothes, open our laptops, and ta-da! We’re home.
  • Surprisingly voyeuristic: We can discover how other people arrange their homes, and we also get to see the neighborhood from a local’s perspective. We get to “live like a local” by literally sleeping, eating and parking where our host would.
  • Prices are better than a hotel, especially if you book for an entire week. Plus, independent hosts are more willing to negotiate.
  • Safety: Rentals offer the safety of a private neighborhood home as compared to the big, shared parking lots of hotels, and new rental sites like Airbnb.com serve as third-party fiscal intermediaries, you can get out and get a refund if you’re unhappy with your rental. If you’re concerned about crime, ask your potential host if there have been any recent breakins or burglaries in the neighborhood or contact the local police department and ask for crime rates in your host’s neighborhood.
  • Cleanliness: Host homes, by far, act like hotels. Hired cleaning teams clean the house, do the laundry, prep the linens, etc., before the next guest moves in. We can’t guarantee every host’s cleanliness, and we’ve had one or two (out of over 20 rentals) that weren’t cleaned to our standards. In those cases the hosts were more than willing to send in a cleaner ASAP (usually next day). If this is a concern for you, ask your host what their cleaning standards are, and if you prefer regular cleanings, you can request cleaning services during your stay, usually for an additional fee.

So, where to look?

Airbnb

Airbnb has emerged as a leader in alt-hotel housing and it’s our number one go-to. It acts as a fiscal intermediary, it allows us to review our hosts (and our hosts to review us, which is great for building a list of references), and its user navigation layout is clean and intuitive. You can see photos of apartments, read reviews by others who actually stayed there, learn about your landlords, and a whole lot more.

Wimdu

Wimdu is a new kid on the block and appears to be jumping into the market as a direct competitor to Airbnb. In terms of rentals, it has a much more international (non-U.S.A.) focus, and we haven’t rented through it yet. But for overseas travel, we’d highly recommend you check out both Wimdu and Airbnb.

Homeaway and VRBO

Both of these websites are our back-ups. They’re like that friend you call late at night when your prospects for the evening are fading fast. The rentals on these sites are generally more expensive and the actual transaction is done between you and the owner/manger so there isn’t that level of extra security of an intermediary like Airbnb. Despite that, we’ve found a lot of great options on both sites. They’re well-known and popular options, especially if you seek a vacation rental like a cabin, beach house, ski chalet, etc.

Flipkey

This site is a newbie-but-biggie. Similar to VRBO, but managed by the travel giant TripAdvisor, Flipkey offers mostly vacation rentals, destination stays, houses, condos, etc. We like Flipkey because it has a lot of great rental options and explains all possible home amenities, calendar of availability, photos, etc.

Padmapper

Geomapped listings from other sites. This is a fantastic option if you know exactly where you want to go—it’s an aggregate travel site for rentals. Pick your city, price range and other details, and PadMapper displays a map of the area with markers representing listings onĀ  Airbnb, Homeaway, Craigslist, VRBO, Zillow Postlets and several other sites.

Craigslist

You probably already know about Craigslist….We’ve used Craigslist a few times as a reluctant backup, but we’ve found some of our favorite places on here, so if you haven’t had luck on other sites, give Craigslist a shot. It’s a pain because you have to get all the photos, amenities lists, etc from the host on your own, and there’s no third-party security, and listings are quickly swarmed with offers. We think of Craigslist as the digital housing fire sale: it pays to jump right in, get loud, and be persistent.

Local Classifieds

The classifieds dig up rentals that you won’t find elsewhere. But pickings are slim. Most listings are unfurnished apartments or 6-month lease minimum. We’ve attempted this with limited results, but we keep it in the loop when we’re desperate.

Local Realtors

Some realtors are willing to help you find a place for a few months. Don’t expect too much energy expelled on their behalf but if they’re a phone call away from a great apartment, they’ll do you that kindness.

Warning to New York travelers! The City of New York recently banned rentals shorter than 30 days. We’re not sure how this will affect the market, because rentals are still a-plenty and the law isn’t strictly enforced—but we’re watching to see what happens!

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