The rise in direct booking websites has seen a boom in owners advertising their own properties, and as a result holiday makers are seeing a similar rise in villa holiday nightmares.
With the huge amount of concrete gone into building villas in Europe in the last 10 years competition is fierce for holiday rental income and owners have decided to take matters into their own hands to get bookings.
Very often booking direct with owners means your villa may be available for a slightly cheaper weekly rental than similar properties with professional management companies or letting agencies. The disadvantage to booking direct however is you have no guarantees of the standard on arrival or indeed how professional the owner maybe.
We are hearing more and more horror stories of people being let down by owners as their holidays draw closer. Only last week I spoke with a lady who was due to travel to Quinta do Lago in the Algarve within the next 3 weeks - she had contacted the owner to confirm her booking and lo and behold - he'd only gone and sold it!!
So she had flights booked, deposits paid and no accommodation. Fortunately the villa owner was honest enough to return her deposit but she was still left with no accommodation and the peak season about to begin and availability limited.
We have heard of people arriving at villas to find the gas and electricity cut off as the owner had not paid the bills to the management company. Not to mention the villas still under construction, while someone who has booked a week can often be gazumped when a villa owner has the option of a two or three week booking over the same time period.
One of the more unusual stories I heard last year was the villa with pool in Spain - everything about the villa was fine, the pool was perfect - except for one minor detail - the lack of water in the swimming pool!
Booking direct is a useful way to save some of the cost but it does carry risk. A professional rentals agency will reduce that risk by ensuring that properties are professionally managed and cleaned, both on arrival and during your stay.
A client arriving a 7pm on a Saturday evening who suddenly realises that the keys have not been made available on arrival will have to chase the owner for a resolution, not easy when the owner is at the theatre watching the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber. A lettings agency will have people available or at least checking messages hourly to resolve your issues as soon as possible, they will also have management companies available on the ground to come to your aid.
The another advantage of the lettings agency is if problems occur a professional lettings agency will be able to help put things right - for example if the person in the neighbouring villa decides on the Monday after your arrival that he wants to install a swimming pool a professional agency should be able to get you alternative accommodation.
A professional letting agency should also know the resort they are selling so will be able to assist you with any questions you might have while on holiday - such as which are the best restaurants, most popular golf etc.
Booking direct can be a money saver, but as more and more people are finding out, it can sometimes be a false economy. Arriving on a long awaited holiday, exhausted from the flights and with cranky children (or husband or wife!), the last thing you need is to be having major issues with your villa. Using a reputable lettings agency is not the solution to all holiday problems but is does give you more confidence that things will work out as planned.
Michael Reilly is Marketing Manager of Select Resorts, a lettings agency who offer a range of Quinta do Lago Villas and La Manga Club Villas