We’re going away with the family. Six of us traveling to Venice. Not an easy place to get in and out of. A hotel for all of us is way too expensive, so we get in touch with Home Away, which the NY Times says is one of the best sites on which to find a rental apartment.
Months before the trip, we’re sent photos and descriptions of about 20 places. We narrow it down to five, then two, then to one. Rachel, the agent, sends us photos. Living room, three bedrooms, kitchen, two baths, up two flights of stairs and most importantly of all, air-conditioned. The photographs are gorgeous. The place looks immaculate. And spacious, with views over a canal.
The time comes to leave JFK. The Delta flight is right on time, gets to Venice right on time. Rachel is due to meet us at our vaporetto stop and right on time, there is Rachel. She’s about 25 and speaks perfect English. It’s noon. The sun is bearing down and the humidity is something you’d expect in the Amazon. In this weather, the last thing one needs are problems with the rental. I’m in real estate. I KNOW what can happen!
Rachel takes us about 4o feet away from our stop, turns a key in an ancient door of a three story building, leads us up two flights, opens the door to our home away and there we are: right in the kitchen of the photograph, just as it was advertised. There’s the living room, which looks just like the photograph; two large comfortable sofas, big screen TV, guide books, maps, internet hook-up. It’s cooler by many, many degrees. Immediately we’re a happy lot.
There’s a coffee pot (Italian and high-tech) and a can of Illy right beside it. Wine glasses, place settings for eight; plenty of pots and pans, and a blender.
The bathrooms have lovely Italian soaps, shampoos and two sets for every one of us of large white towels. The shower stall in one bathroom is barely large enough to turn around in, but there’s plenty of water whenever we need it; there’s a washing machine and dryer (very Italian and high tech) a floor below and all ours, a refrigerator already stocked with natural and fizzy water. Rachel gives us two sets of keys, says she’ll be back ten days later, two hours before we’re to leave, and that she’ll make the appointment for a water taxi to pick us up. Call me if you have any questions or problems.
We don’t have a one. I’ve been in real estate for a long time and done a million rentals in the Hamptons. Almost never has everything gone right or almost right and NEVER, perfectly. I wasn’t always on hand to meet the tenant, to show them around. Often the rentals weren’t as clean as the owners promised they would be. There were never enough towels, the outdoor furniture was often inadequate. Usually the a/c went off in a storm, and the tenants panicked; the housekeeper didn’t show up at the appointed and promised time, and there was not always a blender. AND I spoke no language other than my own.
But Rachel and Home Away were so good that all we had to do was walk around Venice, shop for food, bring it home for breakfast or lunch, eat, stop for coffee, eat, walk around Venice, eat, stop for coffee, come back to our cool apartment, hang around in the living room, go for dinner, come back and fall into bed.
I wish there was a Home Away (for rentals ONLY, independent of real estate sales agencies) that could do things this well, make sure each rental and its owner complied with a standard criteria so that there was never a question, never a complaint. It would give one a whole new appreciation for travel. Take away the guesswork, the apprehension, the time it takes to get things fixed, come up with more towels, more outdoor furniture, all those calls back and forth trying to find a plumber, an electrician, a housekeeper, a Rachel for every tenant. Then owners could charge what they charge for a summer, and no one would bat an eye.
Everyone would be happy. Summer in the Hamptons with everyone happy. Imagine.