Where you lay your head can make for a dream trip — or headaches.

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Renting a home on your next vacation could make for a dream trip or, depending on the home you rent, turn out to be one that’s full of headaches, according to Cathy Ross, the chief executive of Exclusive Resorts, a Denver-based membership vacation company that offers home rentals. “You’re most likely choosing by looking at pictures and a description online,” she said, “but there’s so much more to be aware of that you can’t necessarily see or read about.”

Here, she shares her top tips for what travelers should consider before committing to a rental.

Understand the layout

A common mistake that renters make, Ross said, is focusing on a home’s aesthetics but not paying attention to its layout, an important factor in having a successful vacation. That house in the Caribbean or Mexico may be gorgeous, for example, but many beachside destinations have bedrooms that are accessible from the outside — great if you’re traveling with friends or want more privacy, but less than ideal if you have young children. Similarly, renting a home with interconnected rooms or shared bathrooms may not be best if personal space is a priority.

It’s all about gathering spaces

Communal areas, such as a family room and kitchen, are one of the highlights of a getaway in a rental home, Ross said. “You want suitable gathering spaces because they are where you enjoy the company of your fellow travelers,” she said. If you’re traveling with a group of eight, for example, but the dining room seats only six, you’re going to feel cramped during meals. Also, if you’re headed to a beach destination, a roomy outdoor area is key. On a skiing holiday, you want a home with a nice family room to lounge in after a day on the slopes, preferably one with a fireplace.

Ask about services

Your picture-perfect rental home may not be nearly as appealing if there’s a plumbing issue during your stay but you don’t know who to call, or if you want the home to be professionally cleaned when you’re renting but you don’t have a contact handy for a housekeeping service. “With some rentals, the owners may expect the renters to do their own leg work if anything goes awry, but you want to rent a home where you’re equipped with a list of reliable service people,” Ross said. And the best resource of all, she said, is access to an on-the-ground contact, such as the homeowner, who is available to answer questions and help with anything you need.

Safety comes first

Is the home safe? It’s a factor some renters don’t take into consideration, Ross said, but it’s essential. Confirm with the owner that the home has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Also, do some online research on the neighborhood — you want an area you’re comfortable living in, even temporarily.