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Originally published Monday, January 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Simplify booking a vacation home

A weekly column profiling companies and personalities. This week:

What: Escapia, based in Seattle

Who: Bill Furlong, 43, chief executive

Mission: To make finding a vacation rental online as easy and economical as booking a hotel room.

More for your money: "Many people find that staying in a vacation home instead of a hotel is a fantastic experience," Furlong said. "They get a 2,000-square-foot furnished house for the same price as a 200-square-foot room with nothing but a bed. But it is a lot harder than it has to be, because it can take a week or two to find the right place."

Room for improvement: Users log on to the Web site (www.escapia.com or www.clearstay.com) and enter a location and desired date. That brings up a list maintained by property managers, which provides the details about specific properties. "They book the home and find out that it is available right away," Furlong said. "Without an automated system, people would book a property and find out later it was already taken. Our system prevents that from happening since once a property is booked, it is no longer available anywhere on the system."

Employees : 25, mostly in Seattle

Financials: The privately held company does not divulge any financial data. However, Furlong estimates that each booking averages about $1,500; Escapia receives an undisclosed percentage of the amount.

Safety net: Those renting vacation properties can't be as flexible as hotels when it comes to cancellations, as it is unlikely another traveler will come through the door. As a result, Furlong advises his customers to carefully examine the individual cancellation polices and take nothing for granted. The booking page provides a link to traveler's insurance to cover cancellation costs.

Mouse with a (re)view: Furlong hopes to institute a customer-review section. "This will provide a great advantage for the consumer in their ability to decide where to stay," he said. "The reviews will provide details that you won't be able to get anywhere else."

— Charles Bermant

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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