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A few tips from some well seasoned vacation home renters to pass along to you.

Have a List of Trusted Repair Service Providers Handy

The last thing you want is to have something like a garage door stuck open or closed on your vacation. It's happened! Make sure your provider has a list of all kinds of repair services you can call on a moment's notice - from garage door repair to plumbers, appliance repair, etc. You don't want to get stuck trying to find a good one yourself.

There's always next year. In many ways, the best time to browse for next year's rental is while you're on this year's vacation. On beach walks and scenic drives, keep an eye out for cool prospects bearing rental logos or phone numbers.

You know how some people are colorblind? Others are that way about lamps, paintings and plastic plants. You think you've seen it all, but you haven't.

The home-rental world seethes with Day-Glo flowers, wide-eyed waifs and anatomically incorrect horses. The maritime living room with the Old Salt lamp. The Hawaiian bedroom. But remember: Unless the art in question is a pointy bronze sculpture — and I have seen those in rental houses — it probably can't hurt you. Also, as long as the stuff is unharmed and in its place when you leave, you can temporarily redecorate a little.

Inspired in a thrift shop, I once laid out $7 to add a truly memorable painting to a Santa Cruz rental home. (The owner's thank-you note to me was apparently lost in the mail.)

Expect the unexpected. Just as there was for that Santa Cruz landlord, there will be a surprise for you. Maybe several. It's practically built into the process. Trawling Owners AT (, our friend AndY once discovered a house, within walking distance of downtown. The photos looked good, the price was right, so we booked it. On arrival, we discovered it wasn't really a big house BUT ON THE LAKE.

I learned the beach lesson two years ago, when we rented a vast home in Fort Bragg. It sat on a sleepy street within easy view of the coast and slept eight of us in great comfort and quiet. What we didn't realize until arrival, however, is that at the end of the block, private property blocked our access to the water. To reach the beach, we had to drive, not walk.

Get consensus. Got something specific in mind? Forget it. Very few rental houses look as enticing as a fancy hotel room (and lobby, and restaurant) photographed by a pro. And if you found a house that looked that good, would you trust your children in it? Anyway, you'll never find the one in your mind's eye. Instead, be alert to possibilities you haven't considered.

Six months ago, searching for a snowy mountain retreat in Idyllwild to accommodate four couples and four preschool daughters, our friend cheryl discovered a geodesic dome, painted lime green on the outside and orange on the inside, at the edge of a steep slope. I know, I know. Yet it called to her — and to us. While we scrutinized the relevant Web pages, Cheeryl made repeated calls for explanation and amplification. Then we went.

It was a triumph — the smallish kitchen adequate to our needs, the vast living room ideal for parading princesses, the patio Scrabble-friendly, the hot tub steamy, the vistas broad. True, the bedrooms were not all created equal (see No. 7), and we never did figure out how to work the pellet-fed stove properly.

Also, those rounded walls did have some startling acoustical properties. But we'd all signed on for some adventure and gone in with our eyes open. And we came out ready to rent it again.

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