So you’ve found the perfect cottage for your summer vacation, but the listing falls a little short on detail. Ask yourself, and the lister, some questions to decide if a cottage is the right match for your family. Will your mom be able to negotiate the steps to the dock? Can you see the water from the deck? Once you have your heart set on a cottage, it’s disappointing to find it doesn’t meet your criteria. Figure out what’s on your must-have versus nice-to-have list before you start your cottage search.
Must have; nice to have… and in your dreams
Sit down with the family and brainstorm the essentials. This could be a dishwasher for Mom; a fishing dock for Dad; a sandy beach for the kids, or a “pets welcome” note for the dog. Call these the deal-breakers; they are the features you just cannot do without and you won’t be prepared to compromise on them. Stick to your guns on this—giving up on one because the cottage meets your needs in all other respects may not deliver the cottage experience your family hopes for.
The next set of criteria are all those features it would be nice to have, but won’t impact anyone too much if you have to do without. Perhaps satellite TV or air-conditioning would be nice, but not necessary.
Lastly, make an “in your dreams” list which might include a motor boat, a hot tub, or a complete outdoor kitchen.
When you’ve done all this, create a final list of questions you need to be answered from a listing, or directly from the owner. Here’s a few to start you off:
Do we have to bring linens, and if so, what is the bed configuration?
When you are travelling with friends and/or family, don’t leave it to the last minute to find out there’s one queen bed and the rest of the bedrooms have twins. Decide early on who will get which bedroom, and then establish what linens you need to take.
What are the check-in and check-out times?
You’ll probably find you won’t be able to check in until late afternoon and you’ll be asked to vacate the cottage by at least 11am on your last day. Since owners have only a short time for cleaning and maintenance between guests, don’t assume you’ll be able to come early and stay late.
What cleaning are we expected to do?
It is difficult to find reliable cleaning services in cottage country and although some owners are able to travel to their property to do a changeover, they often don’t have time to do a full clean between guests. You’ll generally be expected to leave the cottage in the same condition it was in when you arrived, and cleaning materials will be left for you to use before you leave. Some rentals do offer a cleaning service, but you may have to pay extra for it.
Do we have to bring drinking water?
Water is likely to come from the lake via a filtered system or from a well. Many owners provide a water cooler with a complimentary jug of water that you will be able to refill locally. If not, you’ll need to allocate car space for bottled water.
Can we have guests?
For many cottage properties, maximum occupancy means just that—and it includes all children and babies. This is often a restriction imposed by the owner’s rental insurance, or it can be limited by the cottage water and sewage system. Since the last thing anyone wants on a summer vacation is an overflowing septic tank, keeping occupancy to the levels permitted by the owner is a good decision. Even if your group is smaller than posted on a listing, it’s a courtesy to let the owners know if you plan on having guests.
Can we get connected?
If internet connection is important for you, find out if there are download limits. Don’t expect the fiery speeds of city broadband—you may be relying on a satellite connection or a portable internet system allowing just one guest at a time to have access to the service. Of course many cottages are in areas where there is no cell signal so check on this too, if you rely on an iPhone or Blackberry to keep in touch with the world.
A final tip
Before emailing owners with a cut-and-paste list of questions, check that the answers are not already provided on the listing or owner’s website, and only ask the questions you need to. Rental owners will appreciate not having to answer the same questions more than once.