You may be familiar with the benefits of a private rental condo/home versus public resorts: more space, more privacy, and a more personalized way to enjoy your favorite vacation destinations. But even realizing that, how do you know you're getting the unit that best meets your family's needs and desires?

Eight years ago, Keith Kochner, founder of Five Star Vacations Inc., set out to design a vacation business that would not only place people in units, but help families customize their vacation and the properties they stay in based solely on the experience they wanted to create for themselves during the vacation.

"We manage privately owned luxury homes and condos," says Kochner. "We are based in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, the largest lake vacation destination per capita in the nation. Five Star Vacations also manages over 500 properties across the U.S. "We strictly deal with the upper echelon of properties." Five Star Vacations manages over 125 units in the Lake of the Ozarks industry; some of the condos or homes range in the half- to three-quarter-million-dollar range, with an average age of three to four years.

"We provide exactly what we tell them we're going to provide. We guarantee that the unit you stay in will be as nice, if not nicer, than the unit that you experienced on the Web." - Keith Kochner, Five Star Vacations

Kochner will tell you the benefits of private vacation rentals overall - you get a privately owned, professionally managed condo or home that hasn't been carelessly turned over to hundreds of customers all year; for example, all Lake of the Ozarks properties are all waterfront and in the highest-demanded locations of an area that draws even more people to it than Lake Tahoe. "We're right in the center of everything," he says. "We have luxury units right in the heart of vacation industries, as well as units available for family-oriented or family reunion groups in more secluded and private destinations." We asked Kochner, as an industry expert, what advice he would offer on how to avoid some of the pitfalls of renting a privately owned condo or home for a vacation.

The Technology Trap

For one thing, technology can be tricky. When researching a rental property, don't assume that because you can see the rental condo of your dreams via an electrifying, gee-whiz online tour, that this is the exact unit that you will be vacationing in.

"One thing that often happens is you're sold on one unit, and when you show up it's a different unit," says Kocher. "You see pictures of a beautiful condo or home online; then you make your reservation. But when you arrive, you get a unit you've never seen before. Unfortunately, that happens all the time to vacationers all over the nation."

Five Star Vacations does offer Internet tours of its condo complexes in which they manage units, but it also offers a unique guarantee. "We provide exactly what we tell them we're going to provide," says Kochner. "They get the exact level of quality that we tell them on the phone, or on the Web. On our web site, we make sure we have sample pictures of every complex. We guarantee that the unit you stay in will be as nice, if not nicer, than the unit that you experienced on the Web.”

Five Star also lets potential customers make reservations submission requests online,  where they can request specific information on the specific units they're looking at. "They're always getting what they want," Kochner says, "not just what's available."

Personal Service

Kochner recommends that, when choosing a rental property, pay attention to the transaction itself. How many times do you speak to a live person? How many questions are they asking you about your specific vacation needs and desires, and are they listening to the answers that you are giving? Although clicking can be convenient, the more personal the item you're shopping for, the less effective technology can become. Something as important as a vacation rental, which affects your personal surroundings for days and weeks at a time, should require human interaction.

"We still do everything in person," says Kochner. "We're technologically advanced, but with a balance of personal interaction as well. We combine the convenience of technology with the real customer service of human beings."

What Five Star Vacations understands is that your one-week vacation may be the only opportunity that you have during a year's worth of hard work to enjoy time off with family and important friends. You should expect to have the highest level of service from start to finish from the time that you make your initial phone call or inquiry all the way through to your check-out. He believes that you deserve and should expect the highest quality vacation experience that you could ever have. Kochner sums it up quickly: "If we can physically make it happen, we'll do it," he says. "If someone runs out of gas while grilling, we'll get them more gas. We are very, very, very dedicated to servicing all of our vacationers, because there's nothing more important than memories."

Making The Plan

Another important piece to the successful upscale rental vacation lies in the planning beforehand. If you like to shop, dine, boat, or go nightclubbing, the unit you choose should be centrally located to what you want to experience during your vacation.

Five Star Vacations offers professional vacation planners to assist you in making the best choices for your vacation experience.

"What we do is we try to help people plan their vacation," Kochner says. "They pick their units - we don't pick the units for them - but we do help them determine how they want to experience their vacation. We'll break it down based on their likes and dislikes, and send them where they want to go based on what they want to do."

All Five Star Vacations units are privately owned, luxury properties, and more destinations are being added every month. All units are rented on a nightly basis, with a two-night minimum (three-night minimum on holidays); for a seven-night stay, the seventh night is always free. While Five Star Vacations started with its core market in the Lake of the Ozarks the company has rapidly expanded to include properties in resort destinations throughout the nation. Kochner attributes the company's success to its family-based ownership and morals as well their dedication to providing families with the best vacation experience possible.

"Success takes two things," says Kochner. "Happy owners, and happy vacationers."

Five Star Vacations

Osage Beach, Missouri

0