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Please help alleviate unease with apartment rental!!

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We are down to the final two apartment options for our family trip to Rome during the Christmas holidays this year. DH is starting to get very easy about renting a place from a website or agency. He's concerned that the place will not be as it appears in the photos or that it won't be available or exist at all. We've had a deposit requested by end of day tomorrow (11/1) and the balance due in cash when we arrive. Is this normal....has anyone had a bad experience with apartment rental? One flat is thru 'fromhometorome' , the other is thru VRBO. I'd prefer to do everything with a credit card so there is recourse if necessary but that option is not open. Does using PayPay linked to a credit card offer any protection??

Thanks -

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