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Your little cabin in the woods can net some serious cash during the summer rental season.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

March may be coming in like a lion - or, at least, a big wet cat - but if you own a cottage, there's a good reason to start thinking about the lazy days of August right now. If you're interested in some extra income and don't mind having strangers in your bedroom, you might want to consider renting out your cottage this summer.

While people have been renting out their properties through word-of-mouth for decades, the growth of websites devoted to this enterprise is making the process more attractive than ever before.

Cottage Country Vacation Rentals is the largest holiday rentals site in Canada. Mara Sofferin, vice-president of marketing, says that unlike free services like Craigslist or Kijiji, a holiday rentals site makes the process more secure and more streamlined. As well, says Ms. Sofferin, it helps the right people find your property.

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"If someone is sitting at their computer and types in 'Ontario cottage rentals,' we come up first, so travellers can find you," she said. "We build you a mini-website for your property, every detail, every amenity, but at the same time, we give property owners everything they could need before, during and after the rental process. We provide a rental contract, an availability calender, and we provide a free merchant account so you can accept payments directly through the site."

Ms. Sofferin says that anyone can be a candidate to rent out their cottage, even if it's not the spiffiest property on the rural route.

"If you've got a luxury lakefront cottage, 10 steps to the water with a boathouse, perfect, you should rent out your cottage, you'll get big bucks," Ms. Sofferin says. "But there's also something to be said for a kind of more rustic, woodland-setting cabin, and there is someone looking for that too."

There's certainly no shortage of sites you can list your property on. In addition to Cottage Country Vacation Rentals, there's Cottage Country Travel Services, Cottage Portal, Cottage Connection, Ontario Cottage, and many more.

Let's get real here, though. I would think the concern most people would have is: How can I trust these people who are going to be living in my second home? Are they going to wreck the place?

To make things as secure as possible, says Ms. Sofferin, her site offers a 48-hour confirmation period after any potential renter attempts to book a property. This allows homeowners the opportunity to screen candidates before allowing the booking to go through. In addition to their credit card information, renters are required to include personal information about themselves.

"You might get, 'We're an elderly couple who just wants to get away; we're very mellow,'" she says. "Or you might get, 'We're bringing four dogs.'"

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Owners can also request to speak with potential renters on the phone before accepting a booking.

"A lot of owners find comfort engaging with people who are going to be occupying their home," she says. "At the same time, [many people have]an online identity, with Facebook and LinkedIn, so you can really background check. They're saying they're 50 years old, but you look them up and they're 25."

Most holiday rental sites will charge owners a fee to list their homes (at Cottage Country Vacation Rentals, it's $199 per listing annually). When it comes to other costs, you will likely need to hire a cleaning service (unless you opt to do it yourself), and possibly even a maintenance person if you will be renting your cottage frequently. Plus, there might be some investment required when it comes to decor and housewares. You should strip the home of anything extremely valuable or breakable. Move out family heirlooms and scour thrift stores or big box stores for cheap alternatives.

Another important factor to address before considering renting your property is insurance. Anne Marie Thomas, spokesperson for InsuranceHotline.com says anyone considering renting their property out should talk to their insurance agent before moving forward.

"Some seasonal property policies exclude damage caused by a renter," she says. "Some insurance companies will allow a renter for a very short period of time (maybe a week). Some policies will cover renters with specific conditions. Check to see exactly what you are covered for currently and inquire about how you can obtain coverage for renters."

Even with these added costs though, the return on investment can be considerable. Most cottages rent for at least $1,000 per week, some for $2,000 or much more. As long as the idea of strangers frolicking in your tub doesn't give you the willies and you're willing to stay in the city once in a while, renting your cottage can make you quite a bit of money.

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To get the most out of your investment, Ms. Sofferin suggests you get your listing up as early in the year as possible, because the most eager renters start looking in January or February.

"You'll probably also link up with experienced renters, people who rent every year," she says. "They know how to respect property, they've been through it before, so there's a comfort level on the side of the property owner and the renter.

"As we like to say, the early bird gets the best cottage."

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