With luxury rentals booming, finding a good online broker is trickier than ever.  Here's a four step guide.

STEP 1. The best villas get booked a year in advance, so it pays to plan ahead.

STEP 2. Focus in on a specific area you want to visit and a price you are willing to pay.  This will narrow down the number of regional specialists (see Resources).

STEP 3.  Do a background check.  Some brokers brokers are registered with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org): otheres are partnered with trustworthy companies like American Express.  Ask for references and make sure the broker employs a concierge or representative nearby. (If a pipe bursts in your Barbados villa at 3 am. for example, you won't want to wait until the morning hours to call your broker in New York.)

STEP 4.  Sweat the small stuff.  Ask for a floor plan: often rooms are of varying sizes, an issue if you're dividing the bill.  If a villa is described as near the beach, find out exactly what that means, and how you access the ocean.  If it's on the water's edge, is the beach sandy or rocky?  Is it private or open to the public?  Ask for its GPS coordinates and check it with Google Earth.

 

HAWAII  

HAWAIIHIDEAWAYS.COM Operated by locals, this broker has 150 villas spread throughout the islands; prices start at $5,000 per week.  It also serves as an adventure fixer, organzing surf lessons and rounds of golf.