Why you should stay in a house that isn't your home for the holidays

It sounds too good to be true.  The relatives are all coming, but you don’t have to clean the house.  You don’t even have to cook—unless you want to.  And the decorations can appear like magic.

The vacation club Portico has a new partnership with Sur le Table that not only includes decorating some of their houses, but has holiday linens for your table as well.  They’ll even arrange for a private chef to come prepare your holiday feast and the concierge will make sure everything you want is waiting for you.

Book an Italian villa with Doorways and the owner might even invite you for a holiday dinner.  What could be more fun than shopping for stocking stuffers in a town in Tuscany?  Relaxing.

You don’t have to change the beds, wash the towels or even do the dishes. And there is so much to do whether you are gathering near a ski resort in Italy or at the beach that you don’t have to figure out how to entertain everyone either.

No wonder more families are opting to do just that.  Wyndham Vacation Rentals is even touting some deals for the holidays.

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It may be cheaper than you think, especially if you  split costs with extended family and steer clear of top tourist destinations, according to HomeAway.com with more than 775,000 listings in 171 countries. Consider a lesser-known destination, they suggest, to get the best deals.

If you’re a newbie, HomeAway suggests:

--Read the reviews to get a better idea of what the property is really like. The more reviews and photos a vacation home has, the better.

--If possible, pay online by credit card or via secure services like PayPal. If an owner asks you to mail cash or use a wire transfer service, consider it a red flag and move on to another rental.

--Call first before paying to confirm the details of your reservation and payment before making the purchase.

--Talk to the homeowner and ask a lot of questions so you know what to expect upon arrival. Ask the owner about anything that’s important to you to see if it’s included in the rental (e.g., if it’s pet-friendly, wheelchair accessible, has a highchair or gates around the pool if you have kids, etc.).

--Before leaving for your trip, get the name of an on-site contact or property manager who can help you in case of an emergency or if any issues arise.

--Get all rental rules in writing in advance to avoid any last minute surprises. Ask about check-in/out times and cancellations, etc.

--Owners are a great resource. Owners  can provide the kinds of local tips and recommendations you can’t find in a guidebook.

Remember to bring the Christmas stockings!