One of the great things about booking a self-catering property privately is not just the vast selection of rentals available and savings that can often be made, but also the direct line of communication you have with the property owner. As the majority of properties advertised on Independent Cottages are privately owned and managed, your enquiry will be sent directly to the owner who will then liaise with you (either by email or phone) to answer any questions you may have and take your booking should you decide to make one.
Booking independently should be a straight forward process and we have put together some useful tips to help you along the way. We also have some suggestions regarding making payment as there are always risks when purchasing anything online, not just a holiday rental.
Finding a suitable holiday home
You have a great selection of holiday homes to choose from so it is worth investing the time in doing some thorough research before making your booking. Some of the properties on our site have been assessed by the Tourist Board, whilst others have not. Either way, like many other holiday rental websites, we do not personally inspect or visit advertised properties so recommend you finding out as much as possible about the property, the area in which it is located and the owner before booking. Look closely at the photos (most owners will have a few internal shots so if there are only 1 or 2, ask to see more). Many owners also have their own website where you will find additional information, photos and possibly testimonials or a photo of the guest book with comments from guests who have previously stayed. You could also look at third party review sites to see what others have said about the property.
Contacting the Owner
Once you have found a property you like the look of, you are able to contact the owner directly via phone or by emailing an enquiry. Phone numbers are available on each advert on Independent Cottages (via the ‘enquire/book’ button) as are enquiry forms for emailing the owner. You will only have a couple of mandatory fields to complete and there is also space for you to ask the owner questions – one of the benefits of booking directly is your questions will be answered first hand! Don’t forget, if you are phoning an owner, it is likely it will be at their home so don’t be surprised if they sound somewhat groggy if it’s very late or early in the morning! The majority of owners will respond quickly within 24 hours to an email but at times, if an owner is away themselves, a response may be a little slower. If you need a quicker response it is advisable to phone.
The Booking Process
Once you have made your decision and asked the owner to book the property, it is likely that they will then take some details from you (name, address, contact numbers, party details etc). Key tip: At the point of making a booking and before you hand over your personal details and money, we strongly urge you to pick up the phone and speak to the owner directly. This will allow you to check that the person you are in email communication with, is indeed the property owner and give you insight into the sort of person you are dealing with. At Independent Cottages, we do not allow owners to self-register. We register all owners which allows us to verify the owner prior to listing them; and any changes to owner contact details whilst listed on our site, have to be made through us so we can make security checks before updating. Caution is always advisable when handing over money to someone you haven’t met so take a look at our tips below for checking an owner/property is legitimate, and do some checks for yourself before making payment:
- Firstly as mentioned, phone the owner and always phone the number listed on the advert, not one given to you in an email.
- Ask the owner some questions about the area where the cottage is located e.g. names of local pubs, attractions, beaches etc which you can then check against the internet (if someone else is posing as an owner, it is unlikely they would know a great deal of local information off the top of their head).
- See how long they have been advertising (all adverts on Independent Cottages show the date that the owner joined near the bottom above the calendar).
- Get the cottage postcode and check it exists on Google maps (you could also make sure the property looks similar to the one on Street View if available).
- You could ask the owner for a copy of a utility bill for the holiday home if you were worried.
- Do a little research about the owner and property on the internet. You could see if they advertise elsewhere on the web to check contact/property details are the same; search under the owners home address and also look up their cottage URL on who.is to check it is registered to the owner at the same address. See if you can find reviews about the property online. This will all help to build up an overall picture of the property and instil confidence in its legitimacy. There could of course be small discrepancies on the internet (due to a change of details not being updated online) but if there are major inconsistencies then this should ring alarm bells!
- Contact the advertising website directly for clarification – we are always happy to be contacted about properties advertised on Independent Cottages.
It is also worth noting that cottage owners are also at risk of being scammed and fraud so may be reluctant to pass over personal information until they are confident of the booking and the person they are dealing with.
Owners handle bookings in different ways but many will request that you complete a booking form and/or sign their rental agreement which should list out their terms and conditions. Key tip: It is important that you read these carefully to ensure you are aware of the cancellation policy, payment terms, restrictions, complaints procedure etc. Owners advertising on Independent Cottages manage their own advertising, bookings and the day to day running of the property. Should you make a booking, the contractual agreement is between yourself (the holidaymaker) and the owner so it is important you are happy with their terms.
At the point of booking, most owners will require a deposit to secure the booking (this could be a set value of say £100 per week or a percentage of the overall cost) with full payment normally due before arrival (to protect the owner against ‘no shows’ and often 6-8 weeks in advance). Owners may also require a separate security deposit to protect against breakages, damage, excessive cleaning etc.
Payment may be requested via credit card, bank transfer, Paypal, cheque or cash on arrival (although many owners prefer it in advance). Making payment by credit card (not debit card) is the most secure method for purchasing any products or services on-line, as your purchase should be protected by the credit card company under the Consumer Credit Act. In fact, any purchase over £100, under Section 75, should be protected, meaning that even if you just pay the cottage deposit by credit card (providing it is over £100!), you should get all of your money back (i.e. the full rental charge) in the event of a problem. However, it is worth mentioning that many owners are individuals and not companies and do not have the facility to take card payments (due to the costs involved). Many prefer to take payment via bank transfer or cheque. Should a bank transfer be requested, as we’ve already said, exercise caution before arranging the money transfer. Pick up the phone and call the owner directly to double check the bank details you have been given are correct (and don’t forget – call the number listed on the advert!).
Caution – Should an ‘owner’ ever offer a discount to incentivise you to pay the full balance quickly, be extremely wary, especially if the price seems too cheap or an owner asks you to pay someone else (e.g. their accountant or an account in a different name/foreign bank account). It is also worth noting that should you make a credit card payment via an intermediary (such as Paypal), it is unlikely that you will be covered by Section 75 (see exemptions to Section 75) or Paypal’s “Buyer Protection Scheme” as it does not cover “services” transactions or “real estate” (learn more ).
Take out holiday insurance
At the point of booking a cottage, we strongly recommend you taking out holiday insurance for protection against the need to cancel for unforeseen circumstances such as illness, jury service or bad weather preventing you from getting to the cottage. Companies such as Schofields can provide this for as little as £17 for £1000 of cover – in our view, money very well spent, but check the policy to ensure that the level of cover meets your personal requirements.
Once full payment has been made for the holiday, owners will normally send you details with all the necessary information for your arrival. Some owners will be available to meet you but some may not live near the cottage and will have a representative greet you or leave the key in a safe place. Before you set off on your holiday, ensure you have arrival details including the cottage address, directions on exactly where it is (don’t rely on a postcode and satnav); where to find the key (or take the key if this has been posted to you) and how to contact the owner. If the owner is meeting you, make sure you know at what time and try to let the owner know if you are delayed.
Problems during your stay
Contact details for the owner (or their representative) should be issued to you and/or left in the cottage. In the event of there being a problem (e.g. if something is not working, broken or not to the expected standard), you should contact the owner/representative immediately. Most problems can be resolved quickly and prompt notification will provide the owner with the opportunity of resolving any issues so you can enjoy the rest of your holiday.
Booking independently offers a great choice of holiday homes, a high level of flexibility and the opportunity to speak to and negotiate the rates with the owner directly. Gone are the days of brochures with just one or two photos to help you choose a holiday home. Now you have a vast amount of information available at your finger tips to help you make make the right choice. The booking process should be a straight forward one but just like purchasing any other product online, you need to exercise a degree of caution. Hopefully the above information will help you with this and provide some useful tips when booking your next holiday home.