NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Summer is nearly here. And if you're planning on going on vacation during the next few months, one option you should consider is a rental home. Rental homes can be a great way to save money if you have a large group to chip in.
Before you sign the papers on your new summer rental, you'll want to do some research to ensure you're getting a good deal. From Vera Gibbons at Kiplinger.com, here are five guidelines you would be wise to follow:
Always book through a reputable site -- such as or -- that provides pictures, contact information and insights from past renters.
This will cut down on unpleasant surprises like finding out the listing advertised as a "waterfront cottage" wasn't anywhere near the water.
Renting a vacation home is the most affordable and convenient plan for large families.
But beware of hidden costs, such as fees for additional guests, pets, house cleaning, air conditioning and Web access. To eliminate surprises, make sure all these details -- plus your move-in and move-out dates and payment schedule -- are spelled out in a contract.
"There's no level of protection in this industry," says Brian Sharples, chief executive officer of HomeAway.com. "You can try to get your money back, but owners and managers will rightfully say they can't give it back." Typically, if you cancel within 30 days of your stay, you will lose all the money you've paid. If you think you might cancel your plans and get stuck with the bill, buy travel insurance. To compare policies, go to . Figure coverage will run about 5% of the total cost of your trip.
Going in on a group house is an ideal way to cut costs for a summer-weekend getaway.
But it could cost you your sanity. Just ask Pierce Mattie of New York City, who spent many sleepless nights at his shared summer house on Fire Island. Why? Because his seven housemates blasted show tunes at all hours. Now Mattie won't go in on a group house without written guidelines that spell out everything from the schedule to sleeping arrangements to how costs will be shared.
Running into a mess.
"The most common complaint is cleanliness," says Christine Karpinski, author of "How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner," who has rented out her condo in Panama City, Fla., for more than 10 years. "The same people used to call me year after year to tell me about all the cleaning they had to do when they got there -- that there were Pringles underneath the couch or something," says Karpinski. She recommends including a cleaning fee in the price of the rental and requiring a reservation deposit that converts to a security-and-damage deposit when renters arrive.
By Marshall Loeb