Felt rental markup was excessive

My husband and I spent a week in the quaint little village of Katzenthal, Alsace, France, in a very charming, one-bedroom apartment filled with country antiques.

In a superb location, less than 30 minutes from Colmar, Apartment Stewla is one of the apartments in The Vineyard House, one of several properties owned by the Klurs, a gracious and helpful couple.

Part of the charm of this vacation — the Klurs, who own an organic vineyard, are winemakers and always had wine tasting. Francine Klur, who speaks wonderful English, also gave excellent recommendations.

From June 20 to 27, ’04, the cost for a week for this lovely place would have been €336 (near $410 at the time) had we booked online directly with the Klurs. However, we went through an agency called Provence West, Ltd. (visit www. provencewest.com), and were charged $800!

While I certainly agree that an agency should make a profit when booking properties, I think this markup is unacceptable. Their services were minimal and in our opinion certainly not worth, as we later found, over $300.

Denton, MD

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Provence West and received the following reply (edited for length).

I have received the letter of complaint by Judy and Glynn Hodges, former clients of Provence West, Ltd., regarding their dissatisfaction with the service our company provided them in connection with their rental of one of our vacation homes in the Alsace region of France. I truly appreciate the opportunity to respond.

I readily agree that the Hodges paid our agency a higher fee than they would have paid had they rented from the owners directly. While our markup on our “higher end” properties is typically in the 20%-50% range, it is slightly higher with the smaller properties, because the amount of work involved is the same regardless of the price of the rental.

That being said, our agency’s prices are consistent with, or less than, those charged by our competitors for comparable (or in some cases the same) rental properties, and each price includes a premium for the “intangibles” that go with using a reputable agency to find a vacation rental. In the case of foreign vacation rentals, the premium that we, and all agencies that I am aware of, charge over and above the cost of the rental charged by the owner covers the overhead associated with providing a number of services.

By using our agency, Mrs. Hodges had the assurance of the following: having a number of properties to choose from; knowing that the property has been personally inspected by someone closely affiliated with our agency (in this case, the founder and former owner of the agency, who herself has stayed at the property on more than one occasion); having all the paperwork handled (in French as necessary) and not having to deal with language issues; enjoying the convenience of having payments processed in U.S. dollars rather than euros, and having the assurance that any problems there might be with the rental would be mediated and handled with our agency’s assistance.

Renters can clearly find less expensive rentals by searching the Internet for properties, but they don’t have the confidence of knowing they have all of the above. In many cases, language is a real issue, as are currency exchange fluctuations, etc., and bear in mind that any disputes between the property owner and the renter must be settled in a foreign court.

Mrs. Hodges has held herself out to be an extremely seasoned traveler, thus I assume that she “shopped” a bit before deciding on the rental she chose through our agency. I further assume that she was comfortable with the rental rate she was paying as compared to other properties available on the Internet offered directly by the owner or by other agencies. I am certain that if the Hodges had found their Alsace rental to be substandard, they would have demanded compensation for what they deemed to be a deficiency in the quality they expected.

I would be happy to provide testimonials from other clients attesting to the value, service and support uniformly provided by our agency, and I am certain that you would be unlikely to find such consistent customer satisfaction throughout this industry.

MARGUERITE SADLER, Provence West, Ltd., P.O.Box 3146, Evergreen, CO 80437-3146