In my first post on this subject we talked about how to narrow down exactly where you want to stay in any given city and where to begin your search for an apartment. Now we move on to selecting an apartment.

Purely because I am comfortable with the site and have great luck, I always begin my search on HomeAway. I registered with the website so that I can save a variety of apartments to my list of favorites for purposes of comparison and easy access to their details.

Using our upcoming trip to Paris as an example, my initial search from HomeAway’s homepage gave me 3,635 apartments that are available on the dates we will be visiting. As you might imagine, combing through that many apartments is an overwhelming and – in my case – an impossible task. I began by narrowing my search using the filters available which narrowed it down to 272 apartments.

When choosing filters I typically search using my non-negotiables which, in my case, are internet access and a washing machine. Now that I know that all of the apartments that will be shown have the minimum features I require, I then narrow it even further by selecting the neighborhoods I am targeting. HomeAway only lets you search one neighborhood at a time, so I start with the 5th Arrondissement which takes me from 272 available apartments to 25.

As shown below, you will then be presented with a small photo of the apartment, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the price and – assuming guests have left feedback – a number of stars representing their rating (5 stars being the best), with the number of guests that have left feedback in parenthesis following the stars. If an apartment does not have any ratings, I skip over it for no other reason that personal comfort level.

After renting more than 20 apartments over the last 5 years, I have found that I learn things from the feedback left by guests that help me in my decision making. When choosing an apartment I want to make sure we would be within a very close walking distance to a cafe and restaurants, that public transportation is within a short walking distance and that guests feel safe walking around at night. Though the owners of the apartments often touch on the public transportation nearby, it is the guests that share the names of their favorite restaurants within a block or two and are quite honest about any issues they had with the apartment and how the owners responded to their concerns. On more than a few occasions I have found apartments that look fantastic at first glance, but after reading through the guest comments I was able to determine that it was not the perfect fit for our family. The opposite has happened as well!!

It is always a good idea to email the owners of five or six different apartments, assuming you find that many that meet your needs. Some owners will be more responsive than others. Make sure you are aware of all of the costs associated with the apartment (cleaning fees, security deposit, fees for internet service), how much money is required for a deposit and acceptable forms of payment. I tend to lean towards renting from owners who accept Paypal or credit card for a deposit, as a bank transfer is not convenient for me and the one and only time I had a negative experience with renting apartments, it was via a bank transfer so I had to way of having my money protected. Additionally, I try to stay away from apartments that require full payment before arriving unless there is a great deal of positive feedback from previous guests, in which case I am more comfortable with those terms.

The process of finalizing an apartment can take anywhere from a few days to a week or more, given that you are communicating with someone in a different time zone. I recommend keeping copies of all of your emails just in case you need them in the future. I have had only one issue with an owner that I was not able to solve on my own and had to get HomeAway involved to help. In the end, the owner stole my money and there was no way for me to leave negative feedback on his page since I never actually stayed in his apartment. If you’re ever traveling to Palermo, Sicily let me know and I will be sure to tell you his name so that you know not to rent from him!

For first timers, the process may seem daunting or overwhelming, but don’t give up. Once you rent an apartment, it is unlikely you’ll ever stay in a hotel again so long as you’re traveling with kids!

For those that have rented apartments during their travels, I would love to hear your tips and tricks as well!

Happy travels – and don’t forget to pack the passports!