Renting a house during the summer is a quintessential warm-weather experience, especially on the East Coast. But finding just the right place can be time-consuming, and reservation competition seems to get fiercer by the year. Even if you routinely return to the same home, you'll want to make sure you don't lapse on summer preparations. Here's a 7-step guide to staying on schedule—because nothing feels better than receiving the keys to your perfect summer getaway.
1. Pick a destination. For some, this step is obvious—a long-time family spot or traditional summer trip usually trumps all other options. But if you have no ties to a particular place, there are tons of options all over the East Coast. Cape Cod and the Hamptons are perennial favorites from the New York area; Hilton Head and the Outer Banks reign supreme down South.
2. Shop around. Online window-shopping is the best way to start looking for a summer home. Whether you're searching through a local property site or a large national one (Vacation Rentals by Owner, HomeAway, and VacationRentals can take you all over the US), you'll have access to a huge amount of info on each spot. Pull up your rental site of choice and start defining your parameters. Picking a definite budget range helps to narrow the choices, but otherwise, remember to keep an open mind. Your dream summer spot might be in an unexpected area or have some quirks, so don't skip over anything without scanning the description first.
3. Finalize your choices. You've had your eye on some homes, and now it's time to make the tough decision. If you're debating a few properties, compile a list of amenities that your group requires and cross-check the listings. Love an outdoor shower? Double-check. Need to be walking distance from the beach? Make sure you reference a map, instead of just taking the owners' word for it.
4. Sign the lease. Don't drag your feet on this one—send in the security deposit as soon as you've decided, to make sure you snag your house for the week(s) you want it. If you're going for a high-traffic week (the Fourth of July, for example) you'll want to bump this step up a month, because renting competition is no joke. Check out the rental company's trip insurance policy (like HomeAway's Rent with Confidence Guarantee) and consider adding that to your deposit to protect your vacation expenses.
5. Plan for transportation. What will you need to get there, and how will you get around? If you're summering on an island (like Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket) you'll want to make your ferry reservations ASAP if you're planning to bring a car over. If you'll be renting a car, having those reservations made early will allow you to focus on more important things—like planning a strategy to hit every major ice cream shop in town during your trip.
6. Communicate with the owners. The listing should have included everything you need to know—but there are always lingering questions. Knowing whether things like linens, beach chairs, or a DVD player are included can drastically impact your packing, and keeping communication open can help you learn the quirks of the house before you even get there. If you're renting for the whole summer, you'll want to be nitpicky on this front; surprises aren't ideal when you're moving in for two whole months. This is a great way to dig up more info about local restaurants, bars, and entertainment, too.
7. Plan your packing. You've done your research, so now it's time to stop your mail, pack the car, and get ready to live like a local in your favorite beach town for a while. Some oft-forgotten items to remember: portable rainy-day activities (it's a sad but well-documented fact that every rental week has at least one gloomy day), basic groceries (often cheaper than in vacation-area grocery stores), and extra crew-neck sweatshirts (nothing better than a cool breeze on the porch at night).
8. Enjoy it! This is the easy part. Wherever you are, make the most of your temporary home by unpacking and unwinding. Try living like a local to combat being branded a member of the summer crowd—you'll have more fun trying out off-the-beaten path restaurants, undiscovered beaches, and shops touting more than seashell-laden souvenirs. Chances are, any year-rounder you find will be happy to share their knowledge with you.
9. Write it down. While you're there, take note of what's working and not working for your group. Would this spot be better for a group of girlfriends, or a family with young kids? Is the kitchen as updated as advertised, and do you really get a nice cross-breeze in the upstairs bedrooms? A site like Flipkey will let you post reviews of the property, which can help future vacationers pick a place—and keeping a record of your thoughts will combat post-trip amnesia next year when it's time to rent again.