LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- It's that time of year when families gather around the computer and scour VRBO and Sanctuary Retreats looking for that coveted summer vacation rental.
An affordable way for families to travel to far-off destinations like Umbria, Italy, or Provence, France, as well as closer to home in the Hamptons or Maine, is through Web sites for luxury rental pads.
But finding a great vacation rental isn't as easy as picking the best photo tour. With so much attention going into descriptions and wide-shot photos of various rentals, many forget to check the boring details that many take for granted.
For construction or budget reasons, most homes you find in the Mediterranean and Caribbean don't come with central air conditioning.
Make sure your house has heat or air-conditioning
and, if so, get specifics on exactly which rooms come with wall-mounted units if not central A/C. Often, just the master bedroom is climate-controlled, meaning your super-sensitive children or elderly mother-in-law accustomed to 67-degree naps could likely be invading your sleeping space.
When it comes to other household amenities, rental agencies often specify cable TV -- meaning there's literally a cable that may or may not lead to 120 channels and must-have CNBC.
Look for homes that offer satellite TV
, which means you'll often have a variety of programming, especially English channels, essential for anyone with small children.
For adults looking to communicate with work via Internet,
make the distinction between general Internet access and wireless broadband
. Many rental operators will list Internet access but really mean a phone outlet is available for dial-up service that comes with a hefty telephone fee. If the owner provides wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, get modem and password information before you arrive.
Many European and South American rentals will come with laundry facilities even when renting a small apartment. Those are often located in the kitchen, where the household wash has traditionally taken place over the years.
Just because they have a washer doesn't mean there's a dryer
. Owners will simply hang their laundry out to dry on terraces or on wire racks in well-ventilated spaces within the house.
When looking at kitchen photographs, check for appliances. In
most tropical destinations, homes don't have an oven
because of the summer heat and the fact that many homes lack air conditioning.
If someone in the family is a compulsive griller, be sure to
take a look at what kind of grill
is in the yard. If overseas, you'll most often find a basic grill on an open fireplace located on a terrace or balcony that requires firewood.
Having run across this problem one weekend in Palm Springs, this is more of an issue for U.S.-based rentals:
Is the pool heated?
If visiting during colder shoulder months, be sure that sexy pool, which was the deal closer, comes with a heater of some sort. Pools don't always come heated, and many times owners will charge a daily fee of up to $75 for gas heaters.
That musty odor you smell in many tropical places is the accumulation of moisture, mildew or mold as a result of improper ventilation or humidity.
Ask if the rooms have a humidifier or dehumidifier.
While the smell will only bother you as long as it takes your nose to adjust, it can penetrate clothes and cling to your hair.
When traveling to places like Sao Paulo, Brazil, Bangkok or European capitals, bear in mind that security is often an issue when booking into a single-family home. In places like Mexico City and Sao Paulo, residents live in high-rises for more reasons than just the view. If booking into a residential home,
be sure the home is equipped with a security system.
And should any of these issues arrive while you've already departed for your holiday, be sure you
have the contact details of a local manager or owner
whom you can call if any issues arise. Many vacation owners on VRBO.com or other owner-operated sites will try to cut overhead by managing their buildings or houses from afar. That will ultimately cost you time and energy on vacation.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.