Staying in a big city hotel while on vacation isn’t for everyone.  While many like the personal attention, daily room cleaning, security, and not having to do anything associated with work that a hotel provides, others like the feeling of more space, being able to fix their own light meal or snacks, having guests, and in general “living like a local”.

If you are one of those who would rather rent an apartment for whatever reason, it is essential to understand there are RISKS INVOLVED. As in other tourist destinations, the explosive growth of private short-stay letting in Amsterdam has taken policy-makers, the hotel industry, and residents by surprise. This is a new market in which the rules are not always clear or consistently applied resulting in a degree of instability which is absent from the more mature hotel sector. While you will not be able to eliminate the risks, you need to make an effort to understand them and therefore minimize them.  To do so will take some effort on your part.  You will need to do some homework because the process is not as easy as booking a hotel room.  When you give your credit card information to a hotel, you feel certain that your room will be there as advertised on arrival.  That is not necessarily the case with apartment rentals.

Like hotels, one usually goes into the process evaluating the usual criteria of price, location, and amenities.  Do you want a private apartment or just a room?  In what part of the city do you want to stay?  How many people in the party?  Do you want to cook full meals or just some snacks?  How many bedrooms?  How many bathrooms?  Do you want a washer/dryer so you don’t have to bring as many clothes?  While the booking websites, whether from an agency or a direct booking platform, will provide answers to most of those questions there are still many questions left unanswered.  For the question on location, TA has another article aiming to help you.  See:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g18...

When starting your search, you need to read the provided information carefully.  Amsterdam is a city where space it dear.  Taxes were based on frontage of a residence.  Houses grew “up”, not “out”.  Therefore it is common for houses to have steep stairs in many instances almost like a ladder.  Also, apartment owners are usually not business people but everyday people trying to make extra money.  If the owner suffers a personal emergency or is suddenly offered more money for the same time period, there is no telling how they will react. All too often stories appear from renters who had been notified at the last minute their reserved property (and for which they had already paid a deposit) was no longer available.  In some cases people have literally lost thousands.

So exactly what can one do in light of the warnings to minimize the risk?  Here is a list of suggestions to follow and consider as you go about planning your trip.  Understand that there are no guarantees but if you go through the process carefully, chances of encountering many of the pitfalls outlined in the forums can be greatly reduced.

1.  DECIDE HOW YOU WANT TO BOOK - Whether using an agency or a direct booking platform, many of the pitfalls are the same.  A lot of people like the reassurance of using an agency.  There is a professional to deal with from the beginning, there is someone available during your stay to handle problems, and they have the experience of having dealt with apartment owners on a consistent basis.  However, in most cases they handle apartments with the same private owners you would be dealing with and therefore are subject to many of the same problems you might encounter.  Additionally, they are handling so many units they are often unable to personally inspect them on a regular basis.  Also understand that when you use an agency, you are paying their fee as well as the rental charges.  There are literally dozens of agencies throughout Amsterdam .  To find reputable ones, use the resources of the forum.  Do a search on “rental agencies” on the front page of the forum and you will get dozens of previous threads from people asking the same questions.  If you don’t, start a new thread and ask your specific questions.

If you want to save some money and deal directly with the owner yourself, there are several suggested direct booking platforms.  First, at the top of the Amsterdam Forum web page there is a button for “Vacation Rentals”.  Open it and you will find almost 1,300 properties listed.  Use the filters at the top (similar to all direct booking websites) to narrow your search based on what you are looking for.  Pay special attention to those properties that say “Pay on TripAdvisor”.  Those properties are listed through FlipKey, a wholly owned subsidiary of TripAdvisor.  They provide a “Peace of Mind Guarantee” outlined here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/peac...

Two other direct booking sites that come highly recommended are VRBO (HomeAway) and AirBnB.  Each has their own advantages and disadvantages.  AirBnB also has well over a thousand listings and has a little bit more of a process to go through.  You still deal directly with the owner.  Your rental fees are not released to the owner until 24 hours after check-in giving you a better feeling that the apartment will meet expectations before all your money is paid.  You do pay a fee for AirBnB to act as an intermediary.

VRBO has perhaps the easiest booking process.  All owner contact information is provided on the listing page.  All arrangements are made directly with the owner and there are usually no extra fees.  There is also information outlining trip insurance.  LOOK AT IT CAREFULLY.

Again, there is no reason to be overwhelmed.  Each of these sites has filters to help narrow the search.  Take time to find out how the site works and then use them to your advantage.  There is no sense in wasting time reviewing unwanted listings when you only want to look at a few.

2.  READ THE REVIEWS – The direct booking sites usually have a greater number of reviews than the agency listing pages.  Read them carefully.  Not only do they give you perspective from a traveler’s point of view, they often supply a lot of extra information not provided in the owner's listing.  More important, when taken in total, they provide an unbiased opinion of the property and the renters’ interaction with the owner.  If there are few or no reviews, it is either a new listing or it hasn’t had a successful rental record.  This may be a red flag indicating it is time to move on.

3.  DEVELOP SEVERAL CHOICES - Don’t become too enamored with any one property.  If you become dead set on a rental, you may have a tendency to overlook negative aspects that would otherwise disqualify that choice.  Do not be afraid to eliminate a property if you are not comfortable.  There are too many other listings out there.

4.  DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS – After taking time to study information provided, develop a list of questions to ask either the landlord or people on the forum with previous experience.  For instance, one of the frequently omitted pieces of information is what floor the property is on or how many flights of stairs you have to walk up.  While many owners are right up front with negatives about their property, others fail to list negatives thinking it will reduce their chances of obtaining a rental.  As with reading the reviews, ask questions on the forum to have a greater chance of unbiased opinions.  Owners will write glowing reviews alluding to a “city center location” or “near all the attractions” which may or may not be accurate.  There is no better place to find out than the forum.

5.  ESTABLISH A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LANDLORD – Almost all direct booking site properties will have either a “property manager” available during your stay or the landlord will be available.  Agencies will have a property manager or contact.  Get to know them BEFORE paying a deposit either through email or by phone.  Establish a comfort level.  Do they respond quickly to inquiries?  Do they answer your questions in a forthright manner?  Are they evasive?  Are they accommodating?  This more than anything else in the process should send up a red flag if you feel uncomfortable.  Again, don’t be afraid to move on.

6.  DON’T PAY CASH – You need to take every precaution to get your money back if something goes wrong.  Be sure to have a money trail.  Taking advantage of websites’ payment protection is important.  Experiencing the agony of a last minute cancellation is something you certainly don’t want to experience, but at least make sure you will have the money on hand to get another rental.  If insurance is offered, it is recommended you give it serious consideration.  If paying directly and if possible, use a credit card.  PayPal would be a second choice followed by a check.  But NEVER pay cash or with a money order. This warning includes possible scams "piggybacking" on legitimate sites like AirBnB. They advertise on the site but then redirect you away from it (e.g. an alternate webpage).   No matter how official the payment page looks, if it's not from the correct website it might be a scam and in the end may request an unconditional money order.

Renting an apartment in a city like Amsterdam can be a richly rewarding experience.  There are literally thousands of properties available.  Many are in beautiful neighborhoods where hotels may not be readily available.  Unlike many of those hotels with name recognition, private listings come in different sizes, shapes, locations, and price levels.  They sometimes have the possibility of an unscrupulous owner.  By giving yourself enough time to review everything carefully and then approaching the process with the proper attention to detail, you will put yourself in a position to take advantage of a great opportunity.